Thursday, August 2, 2012

Proper Etiquette in Bangkok

Although Bangkok may seem a city apart, it is still a part of Thailand. Westerners, called “farang” in Thai, flock to the city and a lot have chosen to take up residence there. In Bangkok, farangs are pretty much a normal part of everyday life and most citizens have become used to the mistakes foreigners make. It should always be remembered, however, that etiquette is important in Thai society and is much appreciated. Whilst most Thai are too polite to point out gaffes, they may go down badly. Any small gesture that shows some respect for Thai culture will, however, make your stay a lot more pleasant. Here’s how you can avoid the worst gaffes:


Smiles are pretty much a good way to communicate with anyone and a good rule of thumb is to smile when you are not sure what else to do.


Wais are pretty complex to master because of the social standings of all parties. Foreigners are generally not expected to start one off but you could return one if offered. This is done by holding your hands in front of you as if you are praying and bowing slightly. In Thai society, one only offers wais to people who is your equal or who are of greater social standing.

Keep it cool

When it comes to a quintessential Thai expression, “Mai pen rai” is probably the best example. It basically means “Don’t worry no worries or never mind.” You should never let yourself get angry or show anger in public. You should not shout in public either. This will just lead to embarrassment all around.

Your head

In Bangkok someone’s head is considered sacred and you should never touch someone’s head or pass anything over it.

Your feet

Feet are generally considered dirty. Never use your feet as a means to point out something or to move something. You should also never point your feet at anyone or reveal the soles of your feet. Make sure in temples that you point your feet away from any Buddha.

Your shoes

Just like feet, shoes are considered unclean and should be taken off at the door. There are a number of places where it is good etiquette to remove your shoes before going inside. If you see a shoe rack outside, you should be prepared to take your shoes off.

Public displays of affection

PDA’s are discouraged. You seldom see Thai couples holding hands. Make sure to avoid touching anyone of the opposite sex in public.


It is easier to dress properly in Bangkok than you might think. Think about how you would dress if you were off to meet your new in-laws for the first time and adjust this for warm weather. Thais always seem to look polished despite the awful humidity and you should aim to emulate them. Women should generally look to cover up their shoulders and cleavage but can wear shorts and short skirts. You need to wear a top over your bikini top.


Temples generally have strict dress codes and these should always be adhered to. You should be barefoot and should not touch any of the monks. Don’t point your feet at any religious icons and, when in doubt, follow what the locals are doing.


You need to ask permission of people before taking their photos. Consider the spectacle if you went up to a group of stranger’s kids at home and started snapping photos. How would your local hot dog vendor like the same kind of attention?

The Royal family

Be respectful or risk landing up in jail. Whenever the Song for His Majesty the King or the Thai national anthem is broadcast or played you need to stop whatever you are doing and stand. Do not deface images of the royals.

At the BTS

People are very polite on public transportation in Thailand. People form orderly queues when waiting for the train. It is considered polite to offer your seat to the elderly or those that need to sit.


Tipping is never essential but you should tip when a job has been done well. Like everywhere else a tip is expected in the hospitality industries and a lot of places incorporate a service charge into the bill so check for this before you add any more money. 

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