The Thai Wai (Why?)

This is as good a place as any to start our journey to Old Siam.

From stone reliefs a 1000 years old to today, the Thai Wai has not changed.

The “wai” (pronounced “why”) is a part of how Thai people greet and say good-bye to each other. If you travel to Thailand, you’ll be “wai-ed” often. And usually you’re expected to wai back.  But not all “wai” are equal.

First, to wai someone, you just put your hands together like in the foto and bow slightly. (bowing is optional.) You can also bring your hands up to your face as you bow (again, this is optional.) You’ll catch on quickly how this traditional greeting is done. When in doubt, just do what everyone else is doing. You’ll do fine.  Thai people will cut you lots of slack on this one.

But as I said, “wai-ing” is not equal.  If you wai a child like you would Royalty, you’d look silly. If you wai an important person like you would a child, you’d be insulting.

The type of wai  you do depends on who’s “wai-ing”  you.  If a child wai’s you, it’s fine to give a cursory wai back. But if  you’re “wai-ing” someone important, you’d give a very formal kind of wai. The Formal Wai: slight bow (the deeper the bow shows more reverence.); raise hands way up to the nose. The Casual Wai: No bow. Raise hands no more than chest.

Whenever you wai someone, they’ll drop what they’re doing and wai back. You should do the same if wai-ed. The exception are monks. You should absolutely give the monk a formal type wai when you meet, but expect the monk to kind of ignore you. Monks definitely won’t wai back.  Another tip – older people should get the formal wai.

First impressions are always the most important-give a sincere wai and make a good first impression.


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