Thai culture has evolved from Buddhist philosophy and a strong social hierarchy. Mutual respect, kindness and politeness are major elements of Thai culture. A person’s status is a function of a number of factors, including income, occupation and education, age, social connections, and family. The Thai royal family and monks have the highest status.

As a foreigner, with above average income, and perhaps older, you will have a high status. This has many benefits, but be warned if you have dinner with your girl friend and her family. Don’t expect others to share the bill with you. You will be expected to pay the whole bill. So enjoy the evening!

<strong>The Wai</strong>

<img class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-404″ title=”wai” src=”×200.jpg” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”200″ />The wai is the main form of greeting in Thailand. Among Thais, there are strict rules of hierarchy that dictate how and when the wai should be given. Generally, lower status people wai higher status people first. The higher a person’s hands go, the more respectful they are. You should not lower your head below someone of lower status.

As a foreign visitor, you are not expected to know how to wai, but if you understand the rules, you will make a good impression. You can wai first to a higher status person. But you should not wai first to a lower status person.

If a lower status person, like a young girl or a child, gives you a wai, you can wai in response. Make sure you do not raise your hands as high and or bow as low. Your Thai friends may think you’re foolish if you do. Thais generally do not return a wai from a service person or a child. They will normally smile or lower their head a little.

<strong>Moral Freedom</strong>

The key to understanding Thai culture in general and the bar girl enigma in particular, is to understand the influence of Buddhism on Thai people. Thais pride themselves in their belief in moral freedom. This places the responsibility on each individual to establish a set of moral values. Each person decides for himself or herself what it means to lead a good and virtuous life. Thais are tolerant people. They are not quick to judge the behaviour of others. While bar girls have different reasons for working in the sex industry, whether to help support their families or improve their own standard of living, their reasons are considered personal.

Most bar girls have a strong belief in Buddhism. Watch as they stop and wai at the spirit house before entering the bar. They each have their own set of beliefs and moral values, that reflect those of their family and the environment they were raised in. Thais judge people based on their behaviour towards others, such as calmness, honesty, sincerity, generosity and respect for others. In Thai society, it is possible to be considered a person of high moral value, even if employed in the sex industry. This may be difficult for many foreigners to understand and accept.

<strong>Kindness and Generosity</strong>

Thais are intrinsically kind. They will go out of their way to ensure you are safe and happy. Generosity is highly regarded in Thailand. If you want to impress your Thai girl you need to be ‘nam jai’. That means “water heart” or to act in a kind and generous manner. Thai people place a lot of value on ‘nam jai’. By being generous and considerate, and especially if you offer something without expecting anything in return, you are expressing ‘nam jai.’

<strong>Politeness and Social Harmony </strong>

Thais rate politeness very highly. Politeness takes many forms in Thailand including the wai greeting, avoiding controversial subjects, or expressing opinions that might cause discomfort, and being gracious, and speaking with a smile even when you are trying to resolve a problem. It also means taking care of your appearance, making an effort to be dress appropriately for the occasion.


Modesty is the guideline for dress code and behaviour in general in Thai society. Thais are very conservative in their public behaviour. Dress codes are quite strict. Thais believe in dressing appropriately for the occasion. While Thai girls may dress in a provocative dress fashion in Pattaya and other tourist destinations, it is not typical of acceptable behaviour in Thai society.

There are penalties for ignoring these guidelines, as actress Chotiros Suriyawong discovered when she appeared at Thailand’s version of the Oscars, wearing a dress that, by western standards, was interesting rather that shocking. Her appearance caused quite a stir, and she received a penalty from her university for the controversy she created. She was required to read to the blind for 2 weeks.

<strong>Stay Calm</strong>

Thais believe that behaviour originates in the heart. The term ‘jai yen’ means “cool heart” meaning stay calm and don’t show anger. Thais make every effort to stay calm, even in the most challenging situations. Being ‘jai yen’ is highly prized in Thailand and will gain you respect. If you lose your cool, you will lose the respect of everyone including your girl friend.


Thai culture encourages people to think for themselves, and to establish their own set of moral values, that they can live by. A Thai person judges his honesty in terms of his own values, not an externally imposed set of values. This differs from many other cultures where individuals are expected to adhere to established religious or cultural codes of behaviour, that they may not accept or believe in.

<strong>Humour in every Situation</strong>

Thais try to see the humourous side of every situation. They love to laugh. Laughter helps relieve stress and maintain good relationships with everyone they have contact with.

<strong>Respect for Elders</strong>

Thais respect the older members of their community. They appreciate the experience and wisdom of older people and will often seek advice from them. Thais feel a great responsibility towards senior family members and traditionally will take care of parents and grandparents.

<strong>Respect for the Head</strong>

In Thai culture the head is the most sacred part of the body. Thais avoid touching somebody’s head without good reason. The feet are regarded as the lowest part of the body and are seen as unclean. Shoes should be removed when entering a private Thai home as a sign of respect. You should never point your feet at someone or an object as this is considered disrespectful.