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Last updated : Nov 2009
Phuket Culture Guide
Phuket Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com

Thai people are friendly and charming. They sincerely like tourists, and appreciate others sharing their love of Thailand and all things Thai. They are broadminded, tolerant, and liberal and usually overlook the tourist faux pas. However, most of us would like to avoid embarrassing moments, so please note the following hints on dealing with situations in Thailand.

Since smiling is contagious, you will be smiling more and more.

In Thailand smiling is used in various situations and not only to show pleasure. Thai people will smile when they try to to do something but it fails. It is not meant to be disrespectful as they smile with you, rather than at you. If you are in such a situation, just SMILE.

Smiling is also used to excuse someone for doing something wrong. It is the mechanism for repairing minor breaches of etiquette. Thais can smile their way out of any situation. There is no words spoken, so anything said that may be regretted later is avoided. The smile could be translated as "Sorry -- no comment".

A smile can also be a show of embarrassment. If a Thai has made a mistake, they will feel guilty and will be pleased to make amends even if they are smiling.

Smiling can also show your appreciation. For smaller services a smile will be accepted as a "thank you" or "you are welcome".

Sea Nomads

The Chao Le, the so-called "Sea Gypsies", are sea-faring nomads with a language and culture distinct from that of the mainstream Thai. Their permanent residence of these people is on Koh Sire, about 4 kilometres east of Phuket Town.


The longtail boats are managed by another clearly different ethnic group, the Muslim villagers that dwell on the islands such as Koh Raya Yai. Many originally came up the coast from Malaysia, bringing with them a tradition of small-scale fishing.

These people find other ways to add and improve their incomes. Look for ropes and bamboo scaffolding on cliff faces in the area, especially around Phi Phi Island. These have been left there by local people who brave dizzying heights and caves to collect swiflet nests to supply a lucrative Chinese market for birds' nest soup.


A number of Chinese people were the first group arriving on the island in the early part of this century by the tin-mining industry. It has influenced in everything from town architecture to the many festivals. While the Muslim pioneers from the south, most of them fishing folk, tended to build their own villages along the coast, the Chinese have been residents of the interior of the island.


Indians, Arabs and Europeans are among those who have also left their influences. Portuguese traders and merchants settled here and vestiges of their presence is still to can be seen in many pleasant Sino-Portuguese style buildings, particularly in Phuket Town. Today there is a large community of expats, along with an international school and an English-language radio station.

Some words of advice

 Please treat BUDDHA IMAGES with utmost respect. If taking a souvenir photo, do not lean or climb on the image. Never point your feet in the direction if the Buddha. This is considered extremely rude.

 When ATTRACTING ATTENTION, use your hand and beckon with the palm downwards. This avoids pointing your finger at the body, which is impolite. Neither clap or snap your fingers.

 Restrain from showing overt AFFECTION for your partner in public, i.e. fondling or kissing. This causes embarrassment. (Times may be changing somewhat, especially in Bangkok, but it's best to err on the side of conservatism -- be considerate of your host culture.)

 It's fun to BARGAIN for souvenirs with good humour. Sometimes a smile could be worth a great deal.

 Do not touch another's Hair or Head. If you do so accidentally, it's polite to apologize. The top of the head is inhabited by the khwan (spirit essence) and is considered the most important part of the body. The feet are the least important and the dirtiest.

 Remember to keep your FEET to yourself. Do not rest them on tables and do not step over anybody or their food. Never point your feet at anyone.

 Women should never touch a MONK or the robes he wears. If this happens, he must follow an elaborate purification ritual. A woman should not hand any objects directly to a monk. Instead: give it to a man to hand over to the monk; or set the object down and let the monk pick it up; drop it into his bowl; or place it on a piece a saffron cloth, which the monk keeps for this purpose.

 RELAX. An essential value in Thai culture is remaining calm and keeping a cool heart, or jai yen. Displaying impatience or anger entails a loss of face. Remember, smiles can work wonders!

 Always remove your SHOES before entering the main building of a temple or when visiting a home.