Thai Etiquette Guide
Published: April 2009
By Jaime Gross
These days, cultural faux pas in Thailand may be met with more than angry looks from the locals. A spate of recent "abuses" of the Buddha's image by foreigners—including its appearance on a line of Victoria's Secret swimwear—has resulted in mounting tensions between the country's 59 million Buddhists and its visitors. In response, the Thai government has threatened to blacklist any "repeat offenders" from entering the country, in the name of cultural preservation. "When people use the Buddha—our most sacred image—for their own commercial advancement, or when tourists visit temples and climb all over the statues and take pictures, we find that offensive," says Kla Somtrakool, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Culture, who attributes such actions to visitors' lack of information rather than ill intentions.
In September, Somtrakool proposed a solution: a 40-page guide that will detail the country's expectations for tourist behavior. At press time, it was still being drafted and approved, but Somtrakool says it will include stringent rules such as "Never tap a Buddhist's head" and "Never point with your foot." Look for the guide to debut in local hotels, foreign consulates, and on-line (www.m-culture.go.th) by late December. As for whether it will scare off visitors to the self-proclaimed land of smiles, Krerkpan Roekchamnong, director of the news division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demurs: "Knowing these cultural rules will help people enjoy their stay."