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Ko Lanta sunset | © Rushen/Flickr
Ko Lanta sunset | © Rushen/Flickr
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How to Travel Responsibly in Thailand

Picture of Iona Proebst
Updated: 13 August 2017
Thailand is not only known for its stunning white sand beaches, delicious food and vibrant markets, it’s also world-famous for its friendly and welcoming people. Like any culture different to your own, some customs and traditions take some getting used to. We’ve put together a few helpful tips for you to be respectful and travel responsibly in the ‘Land of Smiles’.

Learn the lingo

Wherever you travel it is always useful to learn a few simple words and phrases of the local language. Impress the locals by learning how to say hello in Thai “sah wah dee khaa”, if you are female, or “sah wah dee khrap” if you are male, or thank you “khob-kun-Ka” (female) and “khob-kun-Krub” (male). Thais love it when foreigners make the effort to learn their language, so why not impress the locals!

Market food vendors
Market food vendors | © Johan Fantenberg/Flickr

Why wai?

An essential part of Thai etiquette is the wai. Thais do not always opt for a handshake, instead, they offer a friendly wai. The prayer like gesture is used for greetings, goodbyes, to show respect, gratitude or for a sincere apology.

In Thai culture, the head is the most sacred part of the body and the feet the least. Please take off your shoes when entering a temple, shop or person’s home. It is also important to not to touch people on the head or point with your feet. Public displays of affection are generally frowned upon in Thailand and you rarely see couples holding hands or kissing.

A tradional ‘wai’
A tradional ‘wai’ | © Paul Sullivan/Flickr

Bargaining

Keep it light-hearted when you are bargaining in a local market. This playful dance is a great way to mingle with locals and have fun. Please keep in mind that what might seem like a small amount of money to you is most likely a lot to the local stall vendor.

Do as the locals do

There is important etiquette to follow when visiting a temple, watching what others are doing around you is a great way to ensure you do not unintentionally offend.

As Thai people are generally softly spoken, it is advised that you adjust your volume accordingly and under no circumstances should you raise your voice. Thai people dress modestly, to travel responsibly it’s best to take the locals’ lead and do as they do.

Gold statues of The Buddha in Wat Pho
Gold statues of The Buddha in Wat Pho | © Farhan Perdana (Blek)/Flickr

Don’t speak about politics or the Royal Family

Both politics and the monarchy are highly sensitive topics, it is strongly advised to avoid discussing either topic, particularly in public. Thailand has strict lese majeste laws, reading up on the laws can help avoid landing you in any trouble.