How to Wai in Thailand for Foreigners (Bow and Greet)

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If you're planning to visit Thailand and would like to learn how to respect the local culture, you can start to learn how to wai in Thailand for foreigners!

If you have visited Thailand previously, you have probably noticed how the locals welcome you by putting their palms firmly together, placed in front of the chest or under the chin, and with a slight bow – this is called the wai or bowing.

As a foreigner, locals would normally not expect you to know everything, but knowing a little bit how they greet and how they show respect for each other is imperial. It is pretty easy, so here are few tips on how to wai in Thailand for foreigners.

How to Wai in Thailand for Foreigners featured

How to Wai in Thailand for Foreigners (Bow and Greet)

What is Wai?

Wai is a form of greeting in Thailand and also a way to show respect. This type of greeting consist of a slight bow with both palms firmly pressed together in a prayer position. Normally, people would accompany this with a hello or “sawadee (-khrap for gents and -kha for ladies)” in Thai.

How to Wai

Depending on who you talk to, that’s when the placement of your hand would differ. Technically, the higher you place it, the more respect you show.

  • People younger than you – you don’t have to do a wai to people you assume younger than you but if you want to really show respect, a simple nod of the head will do. Placing your praying position hand in front of your chest with a slight bow also works.
  • People older than you – you have to show respect to anyone older than you, and in Thailand, you can offer a chin high wai. Place your hand in a prayer position and touch your chin with the tips of your thumb and bow slightly.
  • To show respect or if you’re grateful – just like giving a wai to older people, you can show a generous amount of respect if you’re thankful by placing your praying hand position on a chin level.
  • People with high standing position (bosses) – if you want to show respect to people with a higher position than you in Thailand, you can place your prayer hand position in front of your face with your thumbs touching the tip of your nose.
  • Monks – you can give a high wai for Monks, just like how you would give a person with a high standing position. However, Monks are not obliged to return your greetings but some do give a wide smile or a slight nod.
  • Royals – to give respect to the King and its Royal members, you have to give the highest wai. Place your praying hand in front of your forehead and bow for men and curtsy for women.

Wai rules for foreigners

  • Restaurants – you’ll notice once you’re in Thailand that restaurant workers would give you a mid wai with a sawadee greeting, and this is because they are welcoming you to their premises. You don’t have to return the greeting and could simply nod your head or, you really want, you could give them a chest level wai.
  • People younger than you – you don’t need to give a wai to people younger than you, but they can give you one, and you do not need to return the greeting or simply nod your head, it is totally fine.
  • Monks – when you see a Monk, and you caught their attention, you can give them a chin level wai, but they are not obligated to return your gesture.

When to wai

Learning how to greet in Thai and knowing when to wai is a way to appreciate a culture different from yours. Now that you’ve learned how to bow with each other, the next thing you should know is when is the best time to do it.

Since wai is a form of greeting in Thailand, there are also others to use these and here are few scenarios you can wai:

  • Greeting
  • Apologizing
  • Thanking another person
  • Being respectful

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