Everyone does the wai in Thailand. You will see it on travel advertisements and as you enter the airport, you are greeted by a wai. Even Thai Mcdonald does the wai. Before you hop on the tourist bandwagon and go around doing the wai during your trip to Thailand, read our tips on how to wai properly in Thailand to do it right.
WHERE DID THE WAI COME FROM?
During ancient times when feudalism was the norm and people carried weapons, wai was a greeting that showed both respect and a sign that you are unarmed and come in peace. Based on historical records, the gesture was first seen in clay seals of the Indus Valley Civilization which existed roughly 4,000 years ago.
The traditional greeting of Thailand, the wai greeting is a bow with hands clasped in front of you. Although it is usually accompanied by sawasdee, the Thai hello, its context in Thai culture goes beyond a greeting. It is also a means of showing respect, apologizing, showing gratitude, or even saying goodbye.
WHEN TO WAI
When you are in Thailand, it seems that everyone gives you the wai, from the airport attendants to the hotel receptionist and the waiters and waitresses of restaurants. The thing is they are meant to do the wai as a sign of respect to you, being someone that they are serving. You can wai back at them to return the gesture of respect, but you are not meant to begin the wai.
So, basically you wai to someone based on their social status. This means that a wai is also given to senior citizens, the king, the monks… and so on. So, you are not meant to be giving the wai to children. If you get confused about when to wai, just wai back when it is offered to you.
You can also wai at inanimate objects like spirit houses, shrines, temples, and Buddha statues. You will notice this when you explore the many Wats of Thailand.
HOW TO WAI
Where to put your hands when you wai is kind of confusing. You usually see the hands on the chest. And, some put it closer to their foreheads or even higher than the head. What is the proper wai meant to be like?
Well, as a rule of thumb, the higher your hands are, the more respect you are giving to the receiver of your wai. So the default wai starts with your palms together in front of your chest, followed by a slight nod that allows the tips of your index fingers to brush your nose. There is no bend in the hips when you wai. Thai men would have a slight bend in the knees while women would have a deeper bend in the knees, however. You can use this relaxed and casual wai to greet friends and people with the same social status as you.
The more formal version of the wai involves lifting your hands such that your thumb brushes your nose and your forefingers touch your forehead. And, the ultimate wai for monarchy and monks, would be a low bow with your thumbs in between your eyebrows and a slight bend in the waist.
GOT MORE TO ADD ABOUT THE WAI?
With the language and culture gap, you might know more than us based on your interactions with the locals. If you have more information to add regarding the wai, feel free to send us what you know by commenting below. Your fellow travellers would appreciate the tip.