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How to Wai

Updated on April 8, 2011

How To Wai

The 'Wai' is the traditional way of greeting in Thailand and replaces the European handshake. All visitors to Thailand will quickly become familiar with the Wai as it will be the usual way they will be greeted when visiting a hotel or up market restaurant. The Wai is important as not only polite but it also shows respect and both of these are are highly regarded in all stratas of Thai society. The Wai is also a way of showing thanks, of saying sorry and also saying goodbye. The rules of Wai are very slightly different for men and women but not of enough significance for a tourist in Thailand.

Some visitors will quickly pick up on the Wai and will Wai in return. Simple as it may seem it is very easy to get the Wai wrong because there are established protocols on when and where. There are rules regarding who you should Wai too and the positioning and placement of the hands is important as well.

At its most basic the two palms of the hands and fingers held together are placed in front of your body accompanied by a slight bow. Easy enough. If Ronald McDonald can do it then so can you.

Ronald McDonald can Wai

Probably the most famous Wai in Thailand
Probably the most famous Wai in Thailand

Who not to Wai To

Generally speaking you would not Wai to your close friends who you see on a regular basis. You would however Wai them if you had not seen them for some time. Perhaps after a holiday apart.

You would not be expected to Wai servants, waiters, shopkeepers, taxi drivers or bar girls even if they Wai you. An acknowledgement with a smile is enough. To Wai them first may actually cause them some amusement as it really is not done but you would be forgiven the 'faux pas' because you are a falang.

Wai

Who to Wai

Generally speaking you would always Wai someone who was superior to yourself and try and Wai them first. As a foreigner where society has more or less ruled out a 'superior' class it may be a little difficult to decide. Work along the lines then of always Wai-ing those European middle class professions like the doctor, accountant, bank manager and similar and you will not go far wrong.

You would also Wai a person older than yourself. Most polite children you will find will Wai you automatically.

Shy Wai

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elijah/327670601/sizes/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elijah/327670601/sizes/

To Wai an Equal

To Wai somebody of equal social standing to yourself or somebody you have not previously met then it is best to use the all purpose Wai. This is the best one to go for if you are unsure.

Hands together in the prayer position held in towards the body and fingers at neck level accompanied by a slight bow.

To Wai a Superior

To Wai a superior the tips of your fingers would be at the tip of your nose and your head would be bowed.

Temple Wai

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanuman/1438935185/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hanuman/1438935185/

The ultimate Wai

The ultimate Wai is reserved for Royalty, Monks, Shrines, Temples and Spirit Houses. Here your hands are raised so the base of your thumbs touch your forehead. At the same time your head is lowered and you bow from the waist.

Little Shop of Wai's

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robbibaba/19889939/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robbibaba/19889939/

When in Doubt Always Wai

Regardless of where you are in the world it is always best to be polite. If in doubt of when to Wai in Thailand just go ahead and do it. You may break a rule or two but no-one is going to think any the less of you.

Don't overdo it though. The Thai people are very superstitious and as can be expected the Wai has a few of these too.

Child Waiying

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12392252@N03/2392191492/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12392252@N03/2392191492/

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  • Peter Dickinson profile image
    Author

    Peter Dickinson 5 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank you livingabroad.

  • livingabroad profile image

    livingabroad 5 years ago from Wales, UK

    Interesting hub Peter! I have also wrote about the wai and have provided a link here so readers can explore experiences and perspectives from other people who live in Thailand. Krap, sawas dee krap!

  • TravelinAsia profile image

    TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

    Problem is, most tourists will overdo it, or Wai at the wrong time. I used to be one of those. I gave up on that a long time ago, when I realized how foolish I looked.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image
    Author

    Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

    TravelinAsia - In a way I agree with you. Some people do look very foolish. I still believe though that a little Wai never hurt anybody. As I say, don't overdo it.

  • TravelinAsia profile image

    TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

    In my opinion, tourists should not Wai. It is complicated to know how and when to Wai, and it is likely that you will not get it correct. I think Thai people respect the fact that westerners have a different culture, and will repect you more if you be yourself than they will if you try too hard. When I see tourists Wai to everyone all the time, I think they look very foolish.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image
    Author

    Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

    Hello, hello, - Useful for the visitor to know. Thank you for reading.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    That was an interesting hub. Thank you, Peter.