The Art Of The Wai

Thai Culture Information

Do learn how to wai. For Thais, the wai is everything. It's a beautiful way to greet people, to say thank you or goodbye.

Most Thais expect and accept handshakes from Westerners, but you will probably feel more at home in Thailand if you do things the Thai way and learn to wai. 

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How To Wai

To wai, place the palms of your hands together and hold them close to and in front of your chest. Then slowly lower your head (how much you lower it will depend on whom you are waiing).

There is a saying that making a wai is like making the shape of a lotus bud. The lotus is the most important symbol for Buddhists.

To keep it simple, here are the three basic wais

1. This wai is used by an older or superior people in response to the wai of someone younger or of lower status. It is also used by people of the same age or social status when they wai each other.

2. This wai is used towards an older or superior person. For example, a student will wai this way to a teacher, or a child to his or her grandmother.

3. The last type of wai is used for showing respect to a monk or a Buddha image, whether you are standing or sitting. You may also see Thais waiing monks by half-lying down, placing the hands on the floor in a wai, then lowering their head to their hands.

When To Wai

When it comes to waiing there is no such thing as too much; the more the better. Thais use the wai as a polite gesture to say hi, goodbye, thank you or simply to show respect and gratitude towards people and things.

You will, for example, see people waiing images of His Majesty the King or when they pass a spirit house.

The Art Of Affection

Don't touch, hug or kiss Thais when you meet them. Thai people are not familiar with this kind of body language. It may be, as some have observed, that we Asians are shy. In general, any physical contact (apart, these days, from a handshake) is considered inappropriate.

Although you may do it out of respect and with all good intentions, it will make them feel uncomfortable, especially if it is done in public.

Most Thais are not used to this type of gesture and have no idea how to react to it. It may leave everyone, including you, feeling awkward. 

Q&A

Eric: Don't Thais ever kiss and hug?

Phuket.com: Of course they do; lovers, couples, husbands and wives all kiss and hug, but they do it in private. Generally, in Asia, it's seen as inappropriate in public, and even among family members, to demonstrate your affection toward one another physically.

It's not a question of right and wrong, but of what is appropriate and what is not.

Eric: But I've seen people hugging and kissing in a very natural, everyday way on Thai TV and in magazines.

Phuket.com: Don't put too much store by what you see on TV or in movies. After all, they are fantasy - they are not real life.

Yes, among the younger generation, you'll find some who adopt some Western or "modern" ways and may hug and kiss among friends at a mall or at the movies.

But as soon as they arrive home, they leave all that behaviour at the door.

By Rungtip Hongjakpet Izmen

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