Thai people shy by nature, are very sensitive and extremely polite, their behavior is tightly controlled by etiquette, much of it based on their Buddhist religion, a non confrontational society in which public dispute or criticism is avoided at all costs, to show anger or impatience or to raise your voice in public is s sign of weakness and lack of mental control, its also counter productive, the Thai who will smile, embarrassed by your outburst of anger or frustration is far less likely to be helpful than if you had kept control of your emotions.
The basis of Thai customs and traditions lies in the family, whose structure is of bilateral descent, like in other Asian Countries where the young are taught to pay respect and to follow the admonitions of parents, in Thai society, girls are very closely associated with their families, and respecting elders and Buddhist monks is considered as an highly admirable quality.
The Thai Royal Family are deeply revered and respected in the Kingdom of Thailand visitors to Thailand should show respect for the King and his family, criticism of the monarchy is not acceptable to the Thai people, there are many customs related to the reverence reserved for the Thai monarchy, even handling money, bearing the Kings likeness, must be done with due diligence stepping on a coin or handling notes with the face down is considered rude.
Buddhism is the prevailing religion of Thailand, about 95 percent of all Thais are Buddhist, the country has approximately 25,000 Buddhist temples (Known as a Wat) nearly all Buddhist men and ladies in Thailand enter a Wat for at least a few days or months during their lifetime.
Buddhism was first brought to Thailand in the third century B.C. Thai people widely accepted Buddhism and it’s teachings and gradually the religion gained permanent ground in the country, during the reign of the King Li Thai of Sukhothai, the Buddhist literature, the (Tribhumikatha) came into existence, from then on Buddhism has played a major role in all activities in Thailand and in the lives of Thai people, all Buddhist holy days are declared public holidays by the Thai government, so that people can spend more time in performing religious and spiritual activities.
There are two sets of Buddhist monks in Thailand, the orange robed monks called the Mahanikai who can eat just one meal a day before noon, and the red-brown robed monks called the Thammayut, who eat food only when someone offers them as a merit, they hold a special status in Thai society, they cant touch money and are prohibited from association of any kind with women, to the extent, women are not even allowed to hand a monk an offering, they must place it at his feet or hand it to a man to give to them.
The head is the most sacred part of the body, thus it is not considered acceptable to touch a Thai on the head, the feet are the least sacred, so when sitting they should not point at anyone most Thais sit on the floor with their feet tucked under their bodies behind them, to point particularly with ones foot, is extremely insulting, its also customary to take off your shoes before entering a house or temple, and to avoid standing on the threshold, also the left hand is considered unclean and should not be used to eat, receive gifts, or shake hands.
Thailands traditional form of greeting is the Wai, a prayer like gesture, accompanied by the bow of the head, social status is indicated by the height of the hands and the depth of the bow which are determined by the perceived status of the people involved in the greeting, you should not Wai the hotel staff, taxi drivers, waitresses or children, the Wai is a sign of respect.
Thailand is not called the Land of Smiles without good reason, the Thai smile can say and mean many things, Thais smile when they are happy, amused, embarrassed, uncertain, wrong, annoyed or furious, westerners are not generally able to interpret the type of smile they are receiving so be aware that it may not mean what you think it means, smile when haggling for a price or when you have a problem that needs fixing, a simple smile can get you further than you can imagine.
Though many of the customs may seem strange to a foreigner it’s always worth remembering that you are in someone elses country, you will notice though that the Thai people will often be overly polite with strangers, and always forthcoming with please and thank you, common courtesy should be used in any society although you may not get it right every time, an effort to understand and respect the Thai local culture and it’s customs will certainly be appreciated.