Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
2. Going local
One thing that leaps out at most westerners visiting many parts of Asia – including Thailand – is the custom of not wearing shoes into the home. Indeed, the practice often extends to businesses, as well.
A couple of days before our scuba diving experience (Section 6), the dive shop required us to gain the approval of a physician since we were on prescription medications. The porch outside his office was almost covered with assorted pairs of shoes.
For some reason, I found that funny outside a doctor’s office.
The photo above was taken at the mountaintop temple of Tiger Cave Temple (Section 11). It was all outside, of course, but shoes were to be removed before entering the holy area.
Another custom a visitor will notice is the wai.
This traditional greeting, possibly rooted in the country’s Buddhist heritage, is a slight bow with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. (Think of the popular Indian “namaste.”) The higher the hands are held to the face and the lower the bow, the more respect is intended the recipient.
I find it to be such a peaceful gesture and we encountered it often.
Speaking of peaceful, I had read prior to our trip that being confrontational is very negative in the Thai culture. It’s not cool to lose one’s temper or show strong negative emotions.
I found this to be true. Yes, they are probably on their best behavior if there’s a potential customer in the store, but I’m quite adept at watching people and their conduct, and I never detected heightened negativity.
This will be mentioned again when we get to Transportation in Section 5.
Residents tended to dress rather conservatively. Of course, the Muslim women wore their traditional attire, but the others were usually well dressed.
It’s our practice in public to wear full pants most of the time anyway, and we certainly did that when we went walking around town, even though it was often quite warm.
That being said, there were plenty of tourists dressed in swimwear (which is totally expected on the beach, by the way) or little more while they were in town and the locals accepted it.
I’m not sure this would fall under customs, but we learned that meals are generally eaten with a fork and a spoon. The only time I got a knife was when I ordered a steak our last night there. No, chopsticks are not normally used.
Watching people use the utensils, they operated them much like a fork and knife to pull apart the chicken or whatever.
We quickly figured out, when eating at a sit-down eatery, to take our own fork and spoon from a closed box sitting on the edge of the table.
Usually, there were also paper napkins provided, but they more closely resembled facial tissue except smaller and less sturdy.
Something else I noticed that reinforced what I had been told was how a person would signal someone to come to him.
We hold up an index finger and curl it toward us in a come here motion. That’s considered rude in Thailand, I was told, because that was how one would call a dog.
I several times saw one person motion another to come forward by holding out a hand, palm down, motioning with the fingers.
All in all, we felt comfortable here, whether walking around town, visiting sites, shopping or eating in restaurants.