Customs and Traditions
Thailand is understandably famous for its tolerance and for the sense of hospitality felt by every visitor. However, in order to feel completely at ease within the country, it is helpful to have an idea of the local customs. Firstly, the Thai people feel a deep reverence for the Royal family. It is considered to be in poor taste to joke about the Royal family or to in any way show a lack of respect for the King. Similarly, serious religious offences are punishable by law. Take care when greeting the Thai people. It is considered impolite to gesture using your feet, as this part of the body is thought to be impure. Accordingly, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body, and therefore it is important to remember never to touch anyone on the head – for example, ruffling the hair of children.
But keep in mind, the Thai people are accustomed to visitors to their country, and are tolerant of our cultural differences. Small mistakes made during friendly conversation will not cause offence and the interaction will generally end with a smile.
The Thai are a very welcoming people. Don't hesitate to start a conversation with them! Although there are many people on Koh Lanta who do not speak English, they will nonetheless be delighted to speak with you by other means: gestures and smiles work well, and knowing a few words in Thai will go a long way (consult our Thai lexicon!)!! You would have to be extremely unlucky to meet someone in a bad mood; the residents of Koh Lanta are generally very patient and thoughtful, and always eager to help you. The smile is a big part of their lifestyle. The Thai are always very happy (either that or they hide their depression very well). Their broad smiles and good humour don’t often slip, even while labouring under a crushing heat. It’s infectious - their children rarely cry, and even you, the tourist, will not be immune!
Here are a few "rules" to keep in mind
• If you are invited into someone’s home, remove your shoes before entering.
• Never prop your feet up on the table, it is considered highly disrespectful. Make sure your feet are not pointed towards someone else as this would cause offence as well.
• The Thai consider the head the most noble part of the body, therefore avoid touching or tapping anyone else on the head – even as a friendly gesture. This applies to touching children on the head, too!
• It is counter-productive to lose patience, show exasperation, or get angry when faced with a misunderstanding or conflict. According to the Thai, "Jai yen", or "cool heart", will solve all problems.
• As Southern Thailand is quite Muslim, show respect by never sunbathing topless or strolling the streets shirtless.
• Never criticize or insult the Royal family or Buddha – these offences carry serious consequences.
• Never raise your voice to anyone and maintain that smile!!
• Remove your shoes before entering a temple. If you wish to kneel before Buddha, make sure your feet are tucked behind you as they are considered impure.
• Never point at someone else using either your finger or your foot – instead, motion using your head.