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What are some of the customs and cultural differences in Thailand? 

By Sarah Dean


It’s important as we walk across this Earth that we realise and pay respects to the differences we may encounter. Being aware that by crossing waters and stepping into new and exciting places that this comes with some responsibility.  

The more you travel you’ll see that customs and cultures change depending on the locality of the country. You’ll find that many of our volunteer trips run in the Indo-Pacific region, more specifically in South and Southeast Asia. The countries within this region expose you to sights and experiences unlike what we have here in Australia 



When traveling overseas, it can be easy to overlook cultural norms that may be very different to your own. So, before you take off on your adventure it is important to learn the respectful behaviours/mannerisms expected in that country and be culturally sensitive 

Being culturally sensitive will not only help you gain respect, but it will help give you a greater insight into the values and beliefs of the country you’re in and you’ll have a more meaningful experience.


What is culture? Where does it come from?

Culture is a central concept and is infused into many, if not all, aspects of our life. It is an umbrella term that encompasses values, beliefs, morals, customs, attitudes, behaviours, amongst various other things which transpire from our history and different experiences. To some, culture makes up one's identity and is a way of life 




Thailand is known for its booming tourism industry but the country gains majority of its travellers for the people and the culture. The Thai community are very respectful, so the first thing you should know is how to greet someone. Even if it is a stranger you would use a gesture known as “wai,” which involves your two hands to come into a pray like pose to your nose and bow your head. This gesture may also be used as a thank you or used in temples to pray.  


To accompany this action, you can say:  

Hello (female): Sà wàtdii ká (sa-waa-dii-ka)  

Hello (Male):  Sà wàtdii kráp (sa-waa-dii-krap 

Thank you (female): khàawp khun ká (Kob-kun-ka) 

Thank you (male): khàawp khun kráp (Kob-kun-krap) 

If you would like to hear the pronunciation, click here


In Thai you use polite particles at the end of a statement or question. For a female speaker it’s “and for a male it’skráp.”  


It’s important to note here that Thailand is known for the ‘land of the smiles.’ They do not show their affection by hugging or hand-shaking. In fact, these acts are considered not proper and dirty, so it’s best to stick with the “wai.” Using the tradition gesture will be very much appreciated and being a tourist, you will be respected.  



Living in a country where we express ourselves with what we wear, it is very important to understand that in Thailand it is appreciated if you dress appropriately. This doesn’t mean go and buy traditional Thai clothing, although they are very beautiful, but to consider covering your knees and shoulders. When you volunteer with us, you will not be in the big cities. You will find yourself in small communities and by dressing appropriately it shows you respect the people and their culture. This is essential when sightseeing.  

Thailand offers some absolutely breathtaking temples and you never know when you might stumble upon one. Before you enter a temple, you should take off your shoes, this a sign of respect. You need to keep in mind that the statues and images inside, particularly of the Buddha, are sacred. It is acceptable for a tourist to take photos of the monuments but to do it in a culturally sensitive way; no climbing or giving offensive gestures.  

The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism and the religion practiced here is rather unique to other Buddhist nations. Buddhism prohibits an attachment to any material objects. Yet despite this, Thai people wear amulets and hold talismans. Emerging from pre-Buddhism beliefs, there is a strong belief in spirits and ghosts in Thailand and you’ll find shrines for spirits in different places.  

While Thailand is known for the ‘land of smiles’ it is also known for the ‘land of superstition.’ Connected to their ideas of spirts and ghosts, Thai people are known to consult on an auspicious date prior to a wedding or other events 

While there is a lot to consider before arriving at your destination, here at Challenges Abroad we make it our first priority to ensure the safety of our volunteers. You can trust that we will afford you any essential information before travelling with us. If you’re looking for a cultural experience like no other, join us in Thailand and check out our programs today!