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In most cases, being polite and respectful will get you through a lot of situations. While the rules can vary widely from culture to culture, most reasonable folks seem to understand that you are at least trying to do the right thing. That said, here are some specifics about Thailand that may help you better respect the folks you’ll be visiting.

Disrespectful behavior toward a Buddha image is a crime. This can include climbing on statues, touching icons or artifacts or being perceived as making fun of a sacred image, such as striking a goofy pose next to a special item in a temple.

Same thing for images of the Royal Family. Do not make jokes about the King and Queen, or comment inappropriately. Many Thais display portraits of the monarchs in their homes and shops. Since the Thai King is pictured on most paper money, do not crumple up bills or throw money at a taxi driver.

Do not touch people, even kids, on the head, as this is a sacred place. Apologize even for slight, accidental touches.

Women should never touch Buddhist monks, and should never hand anything directly to a monk. The correct etiquette is to hand the object to a man, who hands it to the monk.

At the other end of things, the bottom of one’s feet are considered a “dirty” place, so do not show the soles of your feet to others, and do not sit with your feet pointing at someone. In temples, notice how many people, even men, sit kind of side-saddle, to avoid pointing their feet at the sacred images.

The traditional Thai greeting of placing one’s hands together, a wai, is usually returned by you. The exception is with children, who’s wai you usually do not return.


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