information for global expats

Arts and Culture for Expats in Thailand

Submitted: August 2014


There is no doubt that Thai culture is different from Western varieties. For a Thai, life is lived as a constant resident of a universal Big Brother house. Everything they say or do is monitored and judged, and all of their actions will in have karmic consequences both in this life and in future lives. Thais constantly strive in their daily lives to “make merit” to help move them up a step on the karmic wheel, and ensure that their next life contains less suffering than the current one. This daily battle means that they are constantly monitoring their behaviour to enable the best karmic outcome possible. For an expat, understanding this concept is a key to understanding the Thai mind. It explains why the Thais are invariably polite and rarely display anger or any other negative emotion. Thais are also very aware of body language, and will generally always try to avoid aggressive gestures of any sort.

The wei is a small bow made with the palms of the hands together at chest level as a gesture of respect. Learning to return a wei correctly is a key step as an expat. The deeper the bow and the closer the fingers are to the nose the more respect you are showing. Use it like you mean it.

Maintaining a calm exterior is also important, even in the most extreme of circumstances. You will find that things go wrong in Thailand all the time, mistakes are made by waiters, booking agents and many other people you have to deal with. Displaying irritation or anger at these everyday occurrences will do you no good whatsoever; in fact it will probably decrease your chances of a successful outcome. You will get a more positive response if you swallow your emotions, smile and then engage them calmly in attempting to remedy the problem. The phrase mai pen rai can be used to show that you are over it and moving on.

Feet are considered dirty in Thailand. Shoes are generally removed before entering houses, and it is considered rude to point your feet at anyone. Be careful if you cross your legs as pointing the sole of the foot in someone’s direction will be looked at as an insult. The head is considered sacred and you should never touch the head of someone you do not know extremely well. The king of Thailand is treated with the utmost reverence. His image is considered likewise; if you drop a 500 baht note on the pavement, think twice before you step on it to stop it from blowing away.


Museums and Art Galleries

Thailand has a long and rich cultural and artistic heritage and has many museums such as the National Museum and the Vimanmek Royal Palace in Bangkok which contain many artefacts collected from the millennia of Siamese history.  There is a useful list of museums throughout Thailand here, with links to some of the museum websites.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Bangkok is one of the most popular art galleries in Thailand. The museum has a permanent collection, but also runs exhibitions of world-renowned artists as well, so it is well worth checking from time to time to see the current exhibition.

If you have a day to spare in Bangkok and feel like visiting some of the more unusual museums, these three should be considered:

  • The Suan Pakkad Palace Museum is a group of eight traditional Thai wooden houses, set in a tropical garden. Each house contains an eclectic mix of furniture, objects and art, most of which belonged to the original occupiers and other members of the royal family.
  • The Corrections Museum at Thanon Maha Chai is housed in a former maximum security prison and showcases execution and torture methods previously used in Thailand. It contains the sort of things that were last seen in England 500 years ago. It is a quirky little museum which demonstrates how far things have moved on in Thailand in the last century.
  • The Museum of Counterfeit Goods contains over 4,000 counterfeit goods, mostly seized during raids on illegal operations. It is only open to the public on Mondays a Thursdays, and tickets must be booked in advance.




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