Thailand is a country filled with stunning landscapes, mouthwatering food, friendly locals and….a slew of surprising customs that confuse even the most experienced travelers and expats who now call this home. Before you set off on your 21-day adventure with us, here are a few things to know leading up to your visit to the Land of Smiles:
1. The national anthem
Every day at 8:00am and 6:00pm the national anthem is played at schools, government buildings and public places, as well as on the television and radio. Everyone is expected to stand quietly for the length of the song before continuing what they were doing. The country is mostly still. Even those walking on the street, getting onto the public trains, or running in the park.
2. Ladyboys are everywhere
Transsexuals, known as ladyboys (men who have become women), or kha-thoey in Thai, are prominent and accepted in mainstream society. Some boys starting to dress in feminine styles from a young age. You will see them tending to shops, in the bars, and throughout the country. This is an accepted part of life, isn’t much of anything to mention anyway, and there is a refreshingly open attitude about this throughout the country.
3. Days are colour-coded
Have you noticed a lot of people are wearing yellow on Mondays? That’s not a coincidence, many people will wear yellow on Mondays as a sign of respect for the King Vajiralongkorn (who was born on a Monday just as his father the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was). You’ll also see more pink clothing on Tuesdays (another royal colour), and light-blue clothing on Fridays marking the Queen’s birthday.
4. Your birthday is just as important as your birthdate
Many Thais will ask each other when their birthday is, meaning the actual day of the week they were born. They do this because they associate different attributes and luck to people born on certain days so this is important information for Thai people!
5. Most males become monks
Traditionally, all males became a monk at some point in their life. Today, though fewer people are following the custom, it’s still very common for men, and even young boys, to enter the monastery for at least a short period of time and considered an important way to make merit for your family.
6. Nicknames are…creatively numerous…
Most Thais have relatively long names and go by shorter nicknames instead. The surprising thing is some of the English words people decide to go by. Nut, Earth, Bank, Titan, and Boat are common male names, along with Ice, Golf, and even Beer, while popular female names include Pink, Milk, New, and Cartoon.
7. Head is sacred, feet are dirty
You need to be careful where you point or put those toes. Pointing or showing the soles of your feet to anyone is a big no-no and sign of major disrespect. Be particularly careful to never have your feet facing Buddha statues or monks. It’s also considered rude to step over things or people, close and open doors or drawers with your feet, and even put some item, like purses, on the floor where feet have been walking.
8. Super superstitious
Lighting incense for spirit houses, keeping flower offerings in cars, wearing protective amulets, wrapping special trees with fabrics, writing elaborate prayers on the inside roof of cars – there are countless superstitions and rituals that many Thais believe and take part in on a daily basis.
9. Why the wai?
The most common, and versatile, gesture in Thai culture is the wai – hands in prayer position. Thais wai each other to say hello, goodbye, thank you and to show to respect for those higher than them. The higher your hand touches to your head, the more respect you are showing. To a student, a teacher may wai to the chest casually. To a monk, for instance, most Thai’s will bring their hand to the top of their forehead to show ultimate respect.
10. Respect at the movie theatre
Just before all movies shown at the cinema, the audience will stand as a tribute video and song for the King plays before bowing and sitting back down to enjoy the show.