Samui Wining & Dining
Just follow a few simple steps and Thai etiquette is easy to master.

Just follow a few simple steps and Thai etiquette is easy to master.Seen on the ferry to the mainland, a man slumped in a seat, his bare feet propped up on the seat in front of him. And in a restaurant, two drunks yell at the staff for more beer. Meanwhile on a local beach, a woman shows off her new breast implants. They’re all on holiday, and on holiday you can let yourself go a little (or even a lot), right?


It’s a deeply obvious yardstick: if you wouldn’t do it at home, then don’t do it in Thailand. Many visitors and, alas, a number of foreign residents too, don’t bother to think along these lines. Or perhaps they’re relying on the famed tolerance of their hosts. Who knows?


The first rule of Thai etiquette is simply this: follow accepted, universal standards of behaviour. Enough said. The rest is barely any trickier. Here’s a brief guide to etiquette concerning the most important facets of Thai culture.


The Royal Family Always show the greatest respect to members of the Royal Family by doing as all Thais do: make no disrespectful comments about them, either in spoken or written form (think Facebook and other social media); treat any object that carries their image or photograph with respect, especially money, portraits or displays. The same goes for the Thai flag or any symbol that’s associated with the country or the Royal Family. If you’re at the cinema, stand during the royal anthem.


Appearance and Body Language Thais never wear dirty, unkempt clothing, and neither should you. If you’re visiting a bank or government office, look clean and wellpresented.


On the beach, nudity isn’t allowed and neither is going topless if you’re a woman. When leaving the beach, put on casual clothing (and nothing see-through). It’s quite amazing the number of people who blithely visit supermarkets wearing Speedos and bikinis. Don’t be them! If you go around half-naked, Thai people will think you are incredibly vulgar. Not just them. Other westerners will also find it rude, and may well not be so polite about it.


It’s also rude to sit pointing your feet at anyone. So be careful even when sitting on that chair waiting for your number to come up at the bank. Similarly, it’s still good manners to take off your shoes in shops – but all that’s slowly changing so you have to ask the proprietor what they’d prefer you to do. Just follow a few simple steps and Thai etiquette is easy to master.They’ll make it quite clear. Go into someone’s house or a temple and the shoes must always be taken off.


Table Manners

In restaurants, it’s polite to eat with your spoon. The fork is merely used to guide the food onto the spoon. If eating Chinese-style food of any kind, you’ll probably be offered chopsticks. If you don’t know how to use them it’s fine to request a spoon and fork. But whatever you do, don’t point at people using chopsticks.


This pales into insignificance compared to the way you treat the staff. Be friendly to them rather than snapping out your orders. Staff work long hours for little money. Be patient with them, especially if their English isn’t so good. Your tip will go a long way, should you wish to give one. Don’t get familiar with staff – “Darling, you’re looking lovely tonight!” And don’t be loud in restaurants.



The main rule is to dress appropriately for going to a place of worship. That means no shorts or sleeveless tops for either men or women. Try to avoid baring any skin apart from head, face, arms and feet. Most temples have some sort of clothing that they will loan you. Make sure you take your shoes off before going into virtually any temple building. Do not act loudly, impolitely or disrespectfully. In addition, women aren’t allowed to touch monks or vice versa.


All Buddha images are sacred. Don’t therefore have your picture taken in front of one. Neither should you climb over religious statues, even if they are ruined. (By the way, if you export a Buddha statue you’ll need a special licence to clear customs.)


Alas, when in Rome, don’t necessarily do as the Romans do. It has to be said that many Thais and foreign residents do not follow the religious precepts: Buddha images should not be used as trivial decoration; they are for devotional purposes. Drives are being made to ban the use of Buddha images and statues in bars and restaurants and other places where they simply do not belong.



Thai etiquette seamlessly melds with Thai philosophy in the idea of ‘jai yen’, meaning ‘cool heart’. Keeping your heart cool means thinking and behaving in a calm, relaxed fashion. This is what most Thais try to do. Of course, not even they succeed all the time – but the concept is a prized one in Thai culture. Therefore, try your hardest not to lose your temper, shout at people, or even appear irritated. Shout at someone if they’re in danger or are a long way off and you need to attract their attention – but not because you’re getting angry. Even if you’re justified, it’ll just make you look bad in their eyes.


Follow the above precepts and you’ll have a more enjoyable time in Thailand. Your hosts will go to considerable efforts to help you throughout your holiday. Every single one of them will have, alas, seen disrespect in ways both big and small. Try to make their day easier for them, rather than give them a new shock-horror story to go home with. (“Guess what I saw today ...”) They certainly don’t deserve any disrespect.


Dimitri Waring


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