Thailand is a rather liberal country and Thai people are very accepting of the differences in the behaviour of foreigners. Generally, the need to save face means that Thai people will not draw attention to it if you have made a mistake or comment if you have offended them, so it is up to you to be aware of expectations.
However, there are a few things which are guaranteed to cause offence and should be avoided when possible.
All Thai people think very highly of the royal family and will not permit criticism. In fact, Thailand’s lese majeste laws mean that criticising the king can result in 7 years imprisonment, which applies to both Thais and foreigners. Pictures of the king should also be treated with respect and if placed on the wall – as they are in most homes and businesses – must hold pride of place. Defiling a picture of the king also carries a serious penalty, as a tourist in Chiang Mai discovered when he drunkenly drew a moustache on an image of the king. He was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, but was later pardoned by the king and released.
Always dress ‘politely’ when entering a temple or religious shrine. Many temples require you to cover your knees and shoulders and it is very important to remember to remove your shoes. Shoes should also be removed when entering private homes and some shops.
Buddha images are sacred and must be treated with respect. Never climb on a Buddha image, and be very careful about taking photos – some images are so sacred that photographs are forbidden. When sitting on the floor, you must be careful not to point your feet at a Buddha image. Sit with your legs crossed or with your feet tucked to the side, the soles pointing backwards.
Women must be careful not to touch monks as they are forbidden female contact. If a woman wants to give something to a monk it must first be given to another man or put on a piece of cloth. Often, special seats are allocated on public transport for monks only, be careful to avoid them and give up your seat for a monk if there are none available.
Head and Feet
In Thailand, the head is very scared, whilst the feet are seen as unclean. Be careful not to touch a Thai on the head and avoid touching them with your feet or pointing to things with your feet.
In Thailand it is considered very impolite to shout and show of anger, regardless of the situation.
Showing affection between partners such as kissing and cuddling in public is frowned upon – especially amongst older Thais.
Thailand is quite conservative and people do not appreciate seeing too much bare skin. Men should avoid walking topless as what are often mistaken for looks of appreciation are actually shares of disgust! Spaghetti tops, sleeveless tops and bottom revealing micro shorts should also be avoided.
Smoking and dropping litter in the street are illegal a 2,000 Baht fine awaits anyone who is caught.