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Communicate Like a Native Using Thai Hand Gestures and More

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Have you ever wondered why foreigners make weird faces or perform strange actions? Well, they may be how they communicate non-verbally with each other.

Just as in every language, you should learn about Thai non-verbal communication, such as hand gestures and body language, so that you can completely communicate like a Thai native. Thai hand gestures, Thai hand signs, and Thai body language are part of Thai culture and represent how Thai people think in general. Knowing about nonverbal communication in Thailand will make your trip so much better.

Thai people use body language as nonverbal communication in daily life. อวัจนภาษา (àà-wát-jà-ná-phaa-săa) is “nonverbal communication” in Thai. This article will teach you everything you need to know about nonverbal communication in Thailand, including the meanings of body or hand gestures, good Thai custom and etiquette, and what you should and shouldn’t do.

Below is our list of everything you should know on this topic, categorized for easy understanding. These are the most important gestures to learn when having a trip to Thailand, so we’ll do our best to explain the body language meanings in Thailand for you!

If you’re ready, let’s get started and delve into all the facets of Thailand nonverbal communication. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Thai Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

Table of Contents

  1. Thai Greeting
  2. Thai Gestures Used to Show Your Opinion
  3. Thai Number Hand Gestures
  4. Actions
  5. Rude Gestures / Rude Manners or Etiquette
  6. Conclusion

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1. Thai Greeting

Thai Hand Gestures

Apart from saying สวัสดี (sà-wàt-dii), there are more Thai greetings and gestures Thai people use for greeting as well. These include the following:

1- ไหว้ (wâi)

Meaning: A way of greeting in Thai society, and one of the most common Thailand hand gestures.

How to do: Put your hands together in front of your chest and bend your head toward your forefinger. You can say สวัสดี (sà-wàt-dii) while doing this gesture.

When to use: You can use this gesture when you meet someone or when you say goodbye.

Example situation: Students should ไหว้ (wâi) their teacher after class, before she goes back home.

Additional note: If you greet someone who’s younger, you should wait for another party to ไหว้ (wâi) you first.

How Thai People ไหว้ [Wâi]

2- Nod Your Head Once

Meaning: This is a way to show that you recognize or acknowledge a greeting from another party.

How to do: Nod your head slightly one time.

When to do: Sometimes, when people greet you by ไหว้ (waî) or by saying สวัสดี (sà-wàt-dii), you may not be able to greet them back. So you nod your head once as a sign that you acknowledge that greeting.

Further, in Thailand, you may be greeted by a security guard, staff member at a restaurant, or staff member at a condo. It’s not rude to simply nod your head once as a way to show that you acknowledge their greeting.

Example situation: You drive into a parking lot and a security guard greets you. However, you’re driving and can’t greet them back, so you nod your head as an acknowledgement. Slight eye contact, in Thailand, may also come in handy in a situation like this.

3- Wave Your Hand

Meaning: Waving in Thailand is a hand gesture for goodbye. However, it’s not a formal action so you shouldn’t do this in or after a business meeting.

How to do: Put your hand up near your face and wave your hand a few times. You can say บ๊ายบาย (báai-baai) which means “goodbye” in Thai when doing this hand gesture.

When to do: Use this gesture when you want to say goodbye to someone.

Example situation: After going out on a date, you can do this gesture when you say goodbye before going home.


2. Thai Gestures Used to Show Your Opinion

Once you’ve mastered the above Thai gestures and greetings, you can move on to other Thai gestures. Thai people have a lot of hand gestures and body language signals that show if they like something or don’t like something. Here are some you might see Thai people do often.

1- Thumbs-up

Meaning: Thumbs-up in Thailand means “This is good.”

How to do: Make a fist and stick your thumb up.

When to do: Use this when you want to tell another party that something is good.

Example situation: You tried a food and it’s tasty. Since your mouth is full, you do the thumbs-up sign to show that it’s good.

This is Good

2- Thumbs-down

Meaning: Thumbs-down in Thailand means “This is bad.”

How to do: Similar to doing a thumbs-up gesture, you make a fist and stick your thumb out, but point down instead of up.

When to do: Use this when you want to tell another party that something is bad.

Example situation: Your friend tried on some clothes in the store, but you think it doesn’t look good on her so you do the thumbs-down sign.

This is Bad

3- Okay

Meaning: This hand sign means “This is okay.” It’s another one of the most common Thai hand symbols and is so easy to do.

How to do: Make a circle using your thumb and forefinger while pointing the rest of your fingers up.

When to do: This sign is used to show that you’re okay with the situation or that you’re okay with something.

Example situation: You’re checking whether the room is ready for the company event or not. You think it’s okay, so you use this sign to show other staff members this instead of shouting.

Okay Sign in Thai

4- Nod Your Head a Few Times

Meaning: This Thai body gesture means “yes” or “agree.” This is considered somewhat polite body language in Thailand for showing agreement.

How to do: Nod your head a few times.

When to do: When you want to say “yes” or indicate that you agree with someone or something.

Example situation: Your mother asked if you want her to cook dinner for you or not, so you nod your head a few times as a way to say “yes.”

5- Shake Your Head a Few Times

Meaning: This Thai gesture means “no” or is used to show disappointment.

How to do: Shake your head a few times. If you shake your head quite fast, it means “no.” But if you shake your head slowly, it’s used to show disappointment.

When to do: You can use this gesture when you want to answer “no” to someone, or to show that you feel disappointed with some action by doing this after seeing that action.

Example situation: You saw your child not being careful and accidentally dropping their food and making a mess in the kitchen. You didn’t want to be mad at him as he seemed to know that what he did was wrong. So you show your disappointment by shaking your head slowly a few times.

Additional note: When using this Thai body gesture to show disappointment, some people also sigh at the same time.


3. Thai Number Hand Gestures

The concept of numbers is universal. Apart from Arabic numbers, hand gestures for number are easy to understand as well. In each country, number hand gestures are slightly different. For example, the sign for “3” in some countries can be “8” in other countries.

For this reason, you should know how Thai do number hand gestures. ภาษามือ (phaa-sǎa muue) is “hand gesture” in Thai. Thai people often use number hand gestures when going shopping, making number gestures in Thai culture extremely useful.

1- How to Do

  • 0 — Make a fist.
  • 1 — Make a fist and point your forefinger up.
  • 2 — Make a fist; point your forefinger and middle finger up.
  • 3 — Point your forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger up while folding your thumb over your pinky finger in your palm area.
  • 4 — Point your forefinger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger up while folding your thumb to your palm.
  • 5 — Open one of your hands.
  • 6 — Do the thumbs-up sign (you can do this while opening the other hand to make it clearer).
  • 7 — Make a fist; point your thumb and forefinger out. (Your thumb and forefinger should make an “L” shape.) (You can do this while opening the other hand to make it clearer.)
  • 8 — Open your hand and then fold your ring finger and pinky finger to your palm (you can do this while opening the other hand to make it clearer).
  • 9 — Open your hand then fold your pinky finger to your palm (you can do this while opening the other hand to make it clearer).
  • 10 — Open both of your hands.

Hand Gestures for 1-10 in Thailand


4. Actions

There are some action-oriented gestures that Thai people use. ThaiPod101.com has prepared a list of the most useful ones for you below.

1- Call bus/taxi

Meaning: This gesture means you want a bus or taxi to stop so that you can get on.

How to do: Extend your arm around 45 degrees from your body, and wave your hand a few times while looking at the bus or taxi.

When to do: In Thai, there’s no place for you to call a taxi so if you don’t use an app, you have to do this gesture for a taxi to stop. As for a bus, sometimes the bus may not stop at a bus stop if there’s no passenger getting off, so you have to do this gesture for the bus to stop as well.

Example situation: You want to get home by taxi, so you wait for the taxi in front of your office. Once you see a taxi coming, you do this gesture to make the taxi stop.

2- Make a Promise or Reconcile

Meaning: This hand gesture is used when you promise another person something or if you want to reconcile with another person.

How to do: Make a fist and stick your pinky finger out.

When to do: You use this gesture when making a promise. If the other party acknowledges the promise, he/she will do the same hand gesture and then link his/her pinky finger with yours. Then, you move your hands together up and down a few times.

When doing this to reconcile with another party, you make this hand gesture and stick your hand out to the other party while saying ดีกันนะ (dii gan ná) which is “Let’s reconcile” in Thai. Similar to making a promise, if another party is no longer mad at you, he/she will do the same hand gesture and then link his/her pinky finger with you before moving your hands together up and down a few times.

Example situation: Joy accidentally made her sister’s doll dirty, making her sister mad at her. She wanted to reconcile with her sister, so she did this hand gesture and told her sister ดีกันนะ (dii gan ná).

I Promise

3- Wave Your Hand Quickly

Meaning: Waving your hand in Thai has a meaning other than “Goodbye.” If you wave your hand quickly, it can also mean “don’t have” or “not.”

How to do: Put your hand up near your chest and wave your hand quickly a few times.

When to do: Use this when you want to tell another party that you don’t have something they’ve asked for.

Example situation: A friend asks if you have another eraser or not. Since you don’t have another one, you wave your hand quickly to let them know this.


5. Rude Gestures / Rude Manners or Etiquette

มารยาท (maa-rá-yâat) is “manner” or “etiquette” in Thai. There are many actions that Thai people consider to be bad Thai etiquette, that are perfectly fine to do in other countries. So if you live in Thailand, want to live in Thailand, or know Thai people, you should be aware of these gestures.

1- Foot Gestures

Feet are considered to be ของต่ำ (khǎawng dtàm) which means “things that are dirty” in Thai. Thus, it’s rude to put your feet on a table or desk that you use for work or study. Also, it’s considered bad manners in Thailand to point to things with your foot.

2- Manners at the Dining Table

There are certain things you shouldn’t do during the meal as they’re considered bad etiquette. To be a person with good table etiquette, please avoid doing these things:

  • Making noise by hitting the tableware. For example, when you’re listening to music, you may feel like hitting something to sound out the music’s beat. Don’t use your spoon or fork to hit the plate or bowl to make that beat. Using chopsticks as drumsticks isn’t okay either.
  • Using chopsticks, spoons, or forks to point at people. This is considered rude and you shouldn’t do it. This is definitely considered a rude hand gesture in Thailand.
  • Chewing or slurping loudly. When you eat, try not to make noise when chewing or slurping. It isn’t rude, but Thai people think that people who slurp have poor etiquette.
  • Speaking while eating. Don’t speak when you’re eating or chewing. It doesn’t look good in Thai’s view.

3- How You Stand and Sit

This part may sound a little bit weird. How can standing or sitting relate to manners? Well, these things are important in Thailand. Here are the things you should be aware of:

  • You shouldn’t sit with one knee up. Thai people think it doesn’t look good, especially when women do it.
  • Thai people are concerned with seniority. They believe that people who are older are higher in rank, so you should respect them and act as such. Thus, your position shouldn’t be higher than people who are older than you. For example, you shouldn’t stand while your senior is sitting.
    • In Thai, there’s a phrase called อย่ายืนค้ำหัวผู้ใหญ่ (yàa yuuen khám hŭua phûu yài) which means “standing near senior who is sitting” in Thai.


6. Conclusion

If you’ve reached this part, it means that you’ve learned a lot of Thai gestures, Thai hand signs, and Thailand’s body language. Some of these body language signs may be similar to what people in your country do, but some may not be. Still, if you keep practicing them, you’ll remember to do them while in Thailand. We hope you enjoyed this article on gestures to learn when having a trip to Thailand, and that you learned lots!

Once you’re good at Thai nonverbal communication, don’t forget to practice Thai verbal communication as well. You can visit ThaiPod101.com to learn more interesting Thai lessons. Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet - How to Improve Your Thai Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

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