Understanding barefoot culture in Thailand

05 January 2016
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Understanding barefoot culture in Thailand

Barefoot walkingEvery culture has its traditions and customs. Thailand, of course, is no exception. The country has a number of very specific behavior patterns.  The traditions about appropriate footwear are quite fascinating.  If you are scheduled to travel to Asia, here's a valuable tip: take good care of your feet now. Why? They will be on show for the whole time you're there. 

First things first: spirituality is very important to the people of Thailand. One’s head is considered the most important part of the body, because it is their connection to the divine. Because of this, no one’s head should be touched. A person’s feet, on the other hand, are a less noble part of their body because they are considered unclean.  For this reason, one should never point one’s feet toward any Buddha statues, which are scattered throughout the country, nor toward a monk.

In many places it is considered offensive not to remove your shoes. This is taken so seriously that many Thai tourist sites have areas reserved for the shoes of your visitors.

monks bare feet thailand

There are some basic things you need to know for your travels. To begin with, never enter a temple if not barefoot. If there are no shelves available for you to store your shoes, make sure to leave them on the floor near the door.  In Thailand, a popular belief is held that spirits protect the places they live and disturbing these entities would bring bad luck.  For this reason, you should not step on or sit on the entrance of the gate to the household while wearing shoes.  Whether you believe in such things or not, always be respectful to the views of others, particularly when you are a guest in their country.

This custom is also held in schools where shoes are left outside of the classroom on racks adorning the walls. Small shops also follow this tradition.  Homes in Thailand are generally kept very clean and have polished floors.  Leaving your shoes outside helps keep them clean as you will not be tracking any dirt from your shoes into someone’s house.

Take off your shoes sign thailand

It is also important to know that traditionally, Thai families sit on the floor during meals, both in their homes and in restaurants, particularly in the northern areas of the country.  When you’re sitting on the floor to eat, your food is generally served in small trays.  The important rule to remember in this situation is that you should never have your feet pointed toward the food and, of course, be careful not to invade anyone’s space.

These traditions may seem complex and sometimes confusing, but don’t worry. If in doubt, always look for a pile of shoes, and if you see one then you’ll know you should remove yours.  It is recommended that you wear sandals or flip-flops, as you will often be taking your shoes off and it’s just easier to wear something that can be easily removed and put back on.  Another great tip is to carry baby wipes with you at all times so you can quickly remove any dirt from the soles of your feet. 

Now you’re ready to begin your trip and enjoy all the wonderful sights Thailand has to offer!

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