Thailand is an amazing destination for whatever your reason may be. Whether it is a long overdue vacation or your regular annual trip away there is plenty to engage you.
- The climate is very pleasant.
- The cities are amazing.
- The tourist attractions are well presented.
- There are always so many options to vary from your original plans.
- The culture and traditions are vibrant and colorful.
- And most of all the Thai people are ever welcoming and always happy.
So having said that, what's to know? As with any destination outside your normal 'box' you need to consider that you are in an unfamiliar environment. The things you do and say in your home country may not completely match the expected behavior in your destination environment. It is sensible and respectful to take a moment to familiarize yourself with their local culture and customs. Particularly the ones that may offend through no direct intention.
Consider that in western culture we invariably shake hands when greeting someone. We do this with the right hand. Using the left hand implies disrespect. Where did this custom come from? In many countries with Hindhu cultural influence, it is custom to eat food using the fingers of the right hand. To use the left hand while eating would often bring scorn. There is a reason for this. The right hand is associated with hygiene and eating, The left hand is used for attending to your toilet. To make the error using the wrong hand during eating implies a careless regard for yourself and those you eat with. Especially when eating is often from shared bowls.
In Thailand you may be aware the traditional greeting gesture is the "Wai". Similar to placing your hands together when praying. The "Wai" is performed with the hands pressed together anywhere from chest height to forehead height. The height denotes the degree of respect for the other person. The highest Wai is reserved for the King and Buddhist monks. Then people of respect in the community. Age is also important. Older people should be offered higher respect and you are expected to "Wai" first. They may or may not return the "Wai" which is acceptable in Thai culture. You should not offer the "Wai" when dealing individually with children and is seen as bad luck.
Culture is a mix of many things that make up the identity of a people. Thier history influences their language, their religion, and their identity. It is the template that influences how they think. Don't make the mistake expecting people to act or think as you do. They have a different template. They see the world from different eyes through a different window.
Make yourself a little more educated before you go and your experience will be all the more rewarding.
When you arrive in Thailand, take off the old 'thinking hat' you wear at home.
Be open, courteous and enquiring in this new environment. The locals are endlessly helpful hosts. If they can help, they will.
Showing anger or raising your voice is a sign of a person not in control of their emotions in many Asian cultures. Thailand is no exception. Don't do it.
Western cultures express themselves this way when dealing with frustration. Many Asian cultures are less sensitive to frustration because their religious/cultural focus is that they rely on themselves for what they need in life. There is no expectation that someone else is responsible for their anguish or "lot" in life. Shouting at someone else is seen as pointless and disrespectful. You may find yourself being intentionally ignored.
When paying for things in Thailand you will notice it is significantly cheaper than in your home country. You may notice bartering exists quite widely. In some situations, it is expected and the starting price has been set accordingly (remember you are a tourist). In other situations, the price is set and not negotiable. Always keep in mind your current exchange rate. If you calculate the asking price as being cheap then go ahead and buy. Remember many of these people earn a fraction of what you do. Don't push them to the last cent of discount out of sport. It may feel like a game to you but these people have to live too.
So do your homework, it won't feel like a chore, there are a lot of interesting things to know. Read some of the other articles under this heading as a helpful guide.