VIDEO: When and How to Wai Properly

“wai” (ไหว้) is an exquisite and unique traditional way Thai people greet and show respect. Thai people also perform the Wai in these situations:

  • Giving Thanks
  • Good Bye
  • Apologizing
  • Praying to the Buddha
  • Paying respect to sacred things i.e. spirit house, image of the King

Anyone who has travelled to Thailand will be familiar with the wai, but the wai can be confusing for non-Thai who are not brought up with it. I have come across these questions many times;

Q: Who do we Wai?

Thai culture is strongly hierarchical. Respect must be given to those of higher social status, and to elders. Therefore, here are the rules:

  • People with lower social status wai first i.e.

– Employee wai the boss

– Student wai teacher

  • Younger people wai older people first. i.e.

– Young kids wai their older family members

  • While listening to a Buddhist sermon, we hold a wai during the entire program

Tips:

1. A wai is not used to greet children

2. We don’t wai anyone who we are paying for service such as waiters, tailors, vendors, shopkeepers or taxi drivers.

Q: How to Wai?

Traditionally, there are three different types of Wais

[1] Wai monks

  1. Your hands pressed together,
  2. Put your thumbs between your eyebrows,
  3. The index fingers touch the forehead,
  4. And presenting a slight bow with your body.

[2] Wai superior / older person

  1.  Your hands pressed together,
  2. Put your thumbs on the tip of your nose,
  3. The index fingers touch between your eyebrows,
  4. And presenting a slight bow with your body.

SONY DSC

[3] Wai person in the same age

  1. Your hands pressed together,
  2. Your thumbs touch the tip of your chin,
  3. The index fingers touch the tip of your nose.

 SONY DSC

Nowadays, Thai people do the wai to superior or older person by putting the hands on the chest level and slightly bow the head. We don’t wai people at your own age anymore!.

 

Q: Do we Wai back when someone Wai us?

– It is not necessary to do the Wai back, especially when we are being wai-ed by anyone who we are paying for service such as hotel staff, waiters etc. We usually just nod, smile and say สวัสดี hello or ขอบคุณ thank you in response.

However, in my opinion it is nice and sweet when someone wai us and we do the wai back i.e. when my little borther’s friend Wai me, I like to response by doing the wai back to them too.

In case you want to do the Wai in return, you can simply just put your hands together at the chest level and say ‘sawatdee ka/krap’ สวัสดีค่ะ. Don’t need to bow.

 

FYI: Monks don’t return the Wai

 

I have noticed many times that foreigners in Thailand did the Wai in the situation that it is not needed. However, I think it was very sweet of them. In case you wonder when and how to do the Wai like a Thai, I hope you find this information useful. : )

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36 Responses to VIDEO: When and How to Wai Properly

  1. Julien 26/11/2015 at 02:15 #

    Hello Mod !

    I have screwy questions for you if you have a moment to reply :

    1/ Does a mother wai her son if he becomes a monk ?
    2/ Does adults must wai the children monks ?
    3/ Does the king and the royal family must wai the monks ?

    Thanks a lot for your response 🙂

    • Mod 26/11/2015 at 18:11 #

      Sawatdee k Julien, thank you for your questions.

      1] Yes, mother will Wai her monk son. 🙂
      2] Some people wai young novices and some don’t (In Thai, novices are known as a “สามเณร samanen” or just “ เณร nen” for short) The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices observe only 10 precepts while monks observe 227 percepts.
      3] Yes they do respect monks and also wai them.

  2. William 20/10/2014 at 11:02 #

    Dear Mod,

    Thank you and Pear for this video. My wife and I watched this together.

    We were in Thailand March/April. We enjoyed Songkran very much. The people of Bangkok, and especially of Ko Kret were so very friendly. They made me drink much whiskey and fed our family so much !!! They left a very warm place in my heart.

    We are going back to Thailand in January 2015 and will spend a few days in Phuket (scuba and beach). 🙂

    We had many opportunity to wai and we really appreciate understanding better how to wai. Our little Granddaughters in Bangkok are 3, 5, & 7yrs old (a one year old Grandson too) and they wai to everyone and many give them sweets, especially the old ladies! 🙂 Now we will wait for them to wai to us first.

    Blessings to you Mod,
    William

  3. Allison 13/07/2014 at 07:35 #

    Thanks for the great informative videos, love your website.

  4. Denise 27/03/2014 at 03:07 #

    Thank you. I wasn’t sure how to Wai my Thai Boxing instructor. Now I do. Awesome lesson. Thank you again, ladies.

  5. Chane 25/01/2014 at 06:28 #

    Can I ask why you do not use the wai to greet children? If a child wai me, I should not wai back?

  6. Yanis C. 25/10/2013 at 19:19 #

    Very usefull information! Although, I have a question. I have heard that sometimes women also slightly kneel while greeting their superiors with wai. I’ve seen the girl students do it to their teachers, but how about the adults?

  7. Milbrath 15/09/2013 at 08:13 #

    Excellent video and information. I wasn’t aware of the exact wai for someone my own age. Now I know. 🙂

  8. kimsoen 16/08/2013 at 15:54 #

    When i have the opportunity, i will go your country to study at there . because i always dream live there , I have ability study . i truly am interested you video so much about action when you teach .

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 17:17 #

      Thank you for your kind comment. I am happy to hear that you found my lessons useful in your Thai learning. In case you are interested to start your Thai language learning with a teacher now, we are happy to help you, just write us at adjima_t@hotmail.com : )

  9. kimsoen 16/08/2013 at 15:48 #

    hi my teacher ! i am happy i get your lesson and it made me to understand about the your culture country. and i am clearly about the this lesson for me to be the youth ; however , i will have chance the get your information

  10. Lasse 15/08/2013 at 16:39 #

    Good you are back with new videos.
    In television they put their hands together, bow their head, and look up again, take a breath and then they say sawatdee ka/krap. Why they not do the wai the same way as you? 🙂

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 14:25 #

      I think in television, it looks nicer to speak to the camera so they say ‘sawatdee’ later : )

  11. JanB 14/08/2013 at 02:19 #

    หวัดดีครับ คุณครูมด
    ขอบคุณที่ทำวีดีโอแบบนี้ครับ คุณพูดภาษาอังกฤษเก่งจังเลย
    โดยเฉพาะวันที่วันแม่ไทย ผมก็อยากรู้ว่าการกราบกับคุณแม่ยังไงครับ แม่เพื่อนเป็นคนไทยและผมสนิทมากเหมือนแม่เลี้ยงครับ แล้วก็อยากรู้ว่าการกราบกับแม่เพื่อนสมควรไม้ครับครูมด

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 14:23 #

      ขอบคุณค่ะ มดดีใจค่ะที่วิดิโอของมดเป็นประโยชน์ 🙂
      ปกติคนไทยจะไหว้แม่และกราบในวันพิเศษ เช่น วันแม่ มดคิดว่าคุณ JanB กราบแม่ของเพื่อนได้ถ้าคุณ JanB เคารพนับถือเขามาก
      วิธีกราบ:
      1. นั่งพับเพียบ
      ​​​2. ก้มตัวลงกราบ นิ้วโป้งแตะหน้าผาก ไม่แบมือ
      3. กราบ 1 ครั้ง

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 14:28 #

      ดูรูปนี่อาจจะช่วยให้เข้าใจวิธีการกาบดีขึ้นนะคะ : http://www.driver-manager.org/images/sawasdee013.jpg

      บางคนอาจจะกราบตัก ไม่กราบพื้นก็ได้ค่ะ

  12. Ajarn Greg 11/08/2013 at 16:56 #

    Hi Kru Mod, long time since I have not interrupted your classes. I think there is also a small “background” between men giving wai to a woman (about same age and same social status). Is it right that men have to wait the woman to wai first?

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 17:08 #

      Sawatdee ka Ajarn Greg, apologies for my late reply. I have never heard of this before. Gender is usually not used to consider regarding the Wai.

  13. Jessica 10/08/2013 at 07:49 #

    Thanks for the pictures! It makes it super clear and easy to follow even if you don’t watch the video. Thanks for your help- very useful 🙂

  14. Bob 10/08/2013 at 06:40 #

    Your lessons, whether they teach something new or help learn to do something better are always enjoyable and well done. Thank you.

  15. Peter Daniel 10/08/2013 at 06:29 #

    thank you for teach me to Wai properli Mod”
    I need to learn Thai as I plan to live in Thailand soon
    regards Peter

    • Mod 16/08/2013 at 14:30 #

      Sawatdee ka kun Peter, thank you for watching and reading our lesson. We are happy to help you learn Thai. Please write us at adjima_t@hotmail.com and we can discuss how we can work best together: )

  16. Bernard 10/08/2013 at 03:26 #

    Mod, thank you so much for your work. Thanks for this video and all other, I spend a great time watching them. I go twice a year in your country and thanks to you I can share a few words with my Thai friends…

    Bernard 🙂

  17. Ron K 10/08/2013 at 03:19 #

    Thanks again for educate me.This is very sweet Thai salute
    Express a lot about Thai people culture and body language
    Thanks Mod! Thanks Thailand!

  18. Steve 10/08/2013 at 03:14 #

    Thank you for your lovely lessons, my fiancé, Katay, loves it when I try new phrases on her.
    She says I’m getting more Thai every day!
    Your lessons are the best!

  19. Wilbur 09/08/2013 at 21:36 #

    Hi Mod,

    Thank you for sharing so much about Thai Language and Culture on the web! It’s so simple to learn from your videos. Greatly appreciate it! 🙂

    • Mod 10/08/2013 at 02:14 #

      Thank you for watching my video and your kind comments. 🙂

  20. cavenel 09/08/2013 at 18:58 #

    thank you ,it’s clear

    • Mod 10/08/2013 at 02:14 #

      Thank you for watching. : )

  21. John Wallace 09/08/2013 at 07:02 #

    Thanks Mod for a great lesson on the way things works in Thailand ,regards to you.

    • Mod 09/08/2013 at 10:37 #

      Sawatdee ka kun John, thank you for reading my post. 🙂

  22. David 09/08/2013 at 04:33 #

    Mod you’re always impeccably dressed.

    • Mod 09/08/2013 at 10:36 #

      Thank you for your kind comment. ขอบคุณค่ะ 🙂

  23. Tom 09/08/2013 at 03:39 #

    I like to Wai back to everyone, even the guys in a restaurant 🙂 Because it’s very polite

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