Surviving Singapore part four How to speak Singaporean, Lah

SONY DSCThe official language of Singapore is English but several other languages can be overheard Malay, Mandarin, Tamil among others. Hidden within the English is a colloquial version known as Singlish, a slang ridden melting pot of languages that mirrors the food of Singapore – a lot of Malay, some Chinese dialects and some Tamil (from India) just to spice things up. The Singaporean government constantly wages the grammar war with its “Speak Good English” campaign but it remains ingrained into the local culture. To the untrained ear it often sounds like bad English but it pays a nod of respect to the multi-cultural lifestyle of Singapore.


A Singapore sign written in the four predominant languages

Lah is often the first thing perceived by visitors as it is commonly used to end sentences, as “eh” is to Canadians. Although lah is most common ah, leh, meh, and ma are often used with meh and ma at the end of questions. An example would be ‘Not good one lah’ This is not good. or ‘Can like that meh?’ “Can you do it like this?” Those two examples used mostly English words but in a different language format. Can is a common word and may even be a whole sentence. For instance If I wanted to know if you could do something the entire sentence could be “Can anot?” to which the response could be “can” or a slightly more formal ‘Can mah see!’ “it can be done!”  Other options are can hor? Can it be done correctly. Can is quite versatile to emphasis you could even throw in a ‘can-can’…lah.


In part one of Surviving Singapore we discussed ‘chopping” or reserving seats.  Chop in a Singlish sentence could be ‘Chop already’ “The seats have already been reserved” or ‘Got chop seat meh?’  “Have you reserved seats yet?”

Got is also a common word as in ‘got question?’ “Do you have a question?” or ‘Got cold Tiger?’ “Do you have any cold Tiger (local beer)?”

Ang moh literally means red hair but is used to describe any caucasian.

Auntie refers to any middle aged or elderly woman or a young woman that dresses like one. Uncle is the male equivalent to Auntie. Auntie and uncle are usually signs of respect but could be offensive to someone not mentally prepared to being considered middle-aged.

Kiasu means a fear of losing, it is also interchangeable with being rude. I am a fast walker and most Singaporeans tend to amble, but in their defense, the island is only so big, walk too fast and you run out of island. My normal non-rushed pace would have me slaloming between shuffling locals. My speed was seldom challenged with the exception of two situations, when getting on a MRT (subway train) and elevators. I have often wondered if it was a extension of national pride to be the first one in a train or elevator. Seemingly kind and gentle ‘Aunties’ turn into hockey players, hip-checking  other commuters out of their way to be first on the train or elevator. It made no difference the number of people wanting to disembark.  Once inside they return to their mild mannered selves, seemingly oblivious to the trail of carnage.  This is the most common use of kiasu found on the island both the fear of losing the race and rudeness.

When ordering coffee or kopi remember the kopitams or coffee shops don’t necessarily sell coffee here are some words for ordering coffee or kopi in a kopitam that does in fact sell coffee.

Kopi is coffee with condensed milk

Kopi O is coffee with sugar

Kopi C is coffee with evaporated milk (think of Carnation brand evaporated milk)

Kopi Kosong is black with no sugar or cream

Add Peng to the end and you will get your coffee iced as in Kopi C Peng coffee with evaporated milk over ice.

DSC05676I will leave you with my favorite Singapore-ism – Merlion. The Merlion, a mermaid/fish/lion combination is the guardian of Singapore, “The Lion City.” Legend has it that a Malay king first sailed to the island and saw a lion, he dubbed the island Singapore. In the 70’s a marketing company invented the mythical Merlion and a statue was erected in it’s honor. Now a common icon of the island nation, the merlion has taken on a less glamorous meaning, it is now slang for being drunk to the point of puking. It certainly does not take a lot of imagination to interchange the water fountain merlion with projectile vomiting. Think about that as you are posing with the statue.


GW Nunn Adventures owner in front of the Merlion in Singapore

Speak Singlish, can anot meh? Can also lah. Learning Singlish is not a necessity for traveling to Singapore. There are far more words than the brief list I have provided but these few will help you in your travels lah.

Ready to try your hand (or tongue) at Singlish? Why not contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures to start planning your next adventure.

Safe travels,


This is part four of a four part series Surviving Singapore, read the others here:

Part one Dining etiquette

Part two What to eat in Singapore

Part three What to do other than eat in Singapore

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Surviving Singapore Part Three: What to do other than eat in Singapore


Singapore signs proving that Singapore is a “fine” city

Singapore is notoriously safe but a small bit of common sense will go a long way. In most sections of the country, if you can’t  sleep at 3 am you can take a walk-about with out being significantly concerned with your safety. Yes there a lot of rules so be on your best big boy or girl behavior, you are representative of where you come from. Don’t litter! Singapore is clean and it’s their claim to fame, don’t mess it up for them literally or figuratively. Oh yeah, and that sign about the death penalty for drugs – they take that VERY seriously.





Proving that I am tall enough to ride the MRT even sitting down.

Getting around Singapore is easy. The MRT, Singapore’s subway,  is clean safe and efficient. Cards to gain access can be purchased from vending machines in the approach to the train stations or at the manned kiosks and a hint – don’t put them away where you will have to dig for them, you swipe in and out of the train platforms which is how the fare is calculated. Taxi’s are cheap, clean, easy and take credit cards, cab drivers speak English but may have trouble understanding your accent so speak clearly. Taxi drivers love to talk politics. Once again Singapore is a one-party democracy where speaking disparagingly of the government is illegal but that seldom slows them down unless a Singapore national is with you. Like all Singaporeans they love talking food with most cab drivers you can jump in and ask to be taken to the best place for chili crab and you will get an earful about the history of chili crab.


This is one way to get around the island

Singapore has lots of areas to explore on foot from the green spaces of Griffith Park, once a British military stronghold, to canopy trails, Fort Canning in the middle of the city with it’s old cemetery and spice gardens, and over to include the geographically well-named East Coast Park (where waterside restaurants serve some of the best chili crab). It is an island but don’t expect sweeping views of the ocean or even extensive beaches. This is an island in the middle of busy shipping lanes. East Coast Park has water sports but the popular swimming beaches are over on Sentosa Island, at the southern tip of the island.  Universal Studios Singapore is located here as well, but did you really travel this far to go to a theme park?


Colorful street vendors of Little India

For the urban tourist, the rich colors and smells of Little India is a great introduction to the Hindu culture. Shopping and eating are the highlights of Little India, but it should be avoided on Sundays as the migrant worker population usually has this day off and will flood the streets. It is not particularly dangerous but the stares of thousands of young men far from home can make a single woman feel uncomfortable.


Singapore’s Chinatown decorated for Chinese New Year


Chinatown should be seen but is a bit over-rated and the food is not as good as most of the rest of the island, but there are some fun restaurant supply stores and tea-pot shops worth having a wander in.



White tiger at the Singapore Zoo

Billed as the World’s Best Rainforest Zoo, the Singapore Zoo is a new world zoo, where the enclosures are more natural and take on the feeling of a game preserve with a free-ranging orang utan habitat (who, by the way are available for breakfast by making reservations).  A popular attraction is the night safari. As most creatures are not as active during the day, the night safari gives a unique view of the nocturnal animals and day animals in their last activity before turning in for the relative cool of the night. The Botanical Gardens is quite impressive if you have an interest in plants and tropical landscapes, the lush gardens are home to an array of orchids  for which Singapore is famous.


Faces of Buddha outside the Asian Civilizations Museum Singapore

The Asian Civilizations Museum is a quick crash course in the history and cultures of southeast Asia, only lightly covered at best in western schools and is a nice air conditioned break from the equatorial sun. Expelled in 1965 from it’s two year association with Malaysia, Singapore has a tumultuous history of establishment, abandonment for nearly two centuries, and emergence from obscurity with the establishment of a trade headquarters for the British East India Company in 1819.

While Singapore may have only about 200 years of modern settlement, it’s roots are in ancient cultures. Housed in a restored British colonial period building on the Singapore River, the museum truly captures a big picture understanding of pan-Asian culture and the varied ethnic origins that contributed to Singapore’s diverse population.


Up for some touristy night life? Then Clarke Quay is the place to go.


The Jurong Bird Park displays a wide variety of colorful birds


One of many malls in Singapore

Want to learn more about Singapore? Contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures to get started

Surviving Singapore part one Singapore etiquette

Surviving Singapore part two what to eat

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Surviving Singapore: what to eat in Singapore

Chicken_RiceWhat to eat in Singapore. The national dish is chicken rice, a simple dish elevated to the level of perfection. Poached chicken cooked with ginger and scallions over rice cooked in the remaining stock. Ridiculously easy and yet we’ve yet to find as tasty an offering here in the U.S. that even comes close to the $3.99 lunch special sold in the MRT (on a subway platform!)

chili crabChili crab is a must-try, this above all else is what we miss the most from Singapore.   Sri Lankan crabs are stir-fried in a thick, sweet and savory tomato and chili based sauce. Despite the name they are mildly spicy (not spicy at all by SE Asian standards). Eat with your fingers this dish is well worth the mess and mop up the mouth-watering gravy with Chinese mantou (buns). Not a first date dish!




Malaysian comfort-food is readily available in the form of laksa, a rich and creamy noodle dish that is a combination of Malay and Chinese styles of cooking. This dish is often the source of great debate among Singaporeans with several variations available, seafood being the more popular. The long simmering times of the spicy coconut broth brings out the flavor and often the heat so be aware of the amount of spice, disguised by the initial sweet-smoothness of the coconut it can take you by surprise.

Singapore Satay

Singapore Satay in a hawker center in the business district of Singapore

Satay grilled meat on a stick, what else is there to say? While there is an abundance of complicated tastes and combinations of spices on this little island, the simplest dishes are often the ones you remember most and can duplicate least in your own kitchen. Chicken and prawn satay hot off the grill and a cold Tiger beer on a sultry Singapore night…ahhh…..and oh yes,  be sure to get lots of the delicious peanut sauce for dipping.





Fish Head Curry


Fish head, fish head, roly-poly fishhead…curry. The song does a disservice to the yumminess that is some of the most delicious meat in the fish – and it is an honor to be offered the eyes so don’t flinch.  They really don’t taste like much, so be a good guest and wash them down with some Tiger beer.



Bak Kut Teh and don’t forget the crullers for dipping

Bak ku teh translated as pork rib tea is a delicious soup that is often consumed for breakfast and don’t forget the Chinese crullers for dunking.




Crab be hoon should be on your list as well – another popular seafood noodle dish made famous in a delicious bit of food porn footage on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.




Prawn Satay in Singapore

Where to eat in Singapore? It is difficult to be removed from Singapore and stay current with which shop has the best (insert any Singaporean dish) not to mention the onslaught of back lash from the foodie corner of the Internet. So how do you find the best of each dish? It’s simple, ask a Singaporean! The fastest way to make friends in Singapore is ask them about food, but be aware Singaporeans are quite passionate about food. In a one-party democracy, there is no sense in talking politics, so they replace it with talk about food. Another tip is see where the lines are the longest, chances are if the locals are willing to wait in line there is a good reason.

santa in india

The author outside Khansama’s restaurant

Little India is the the place to eat Indian food and our personal favorite is Khansamas on Serangoon @ Norris Rd. Don’t let the touts discourage you, we are normally put off by people shoving menus in the face of tourists, but this place was well worth stopping for and we became regulars. Khansama’s was among the last places we ate before we moved back to the US. The only down side was that we almost always ordered too much food, but we were treated like family except we were never asked to help clear the table. The Arab Quarter had excellent options for Middle Eastern food but be aware if you want a beer with dinner this is not the place to go. Chinatown, in our opinion, was not the place to dine, though there was a great little brick oven pizza place nearby.

FR-VivoOne of the best and least intimidating places to break out of your food comfort zone is a Food Republic. It is a large bustling themed food court but it offers a wide variety of options in an air-conditioned space, a great reprieve for a sun baked country just 80 miles north of the equator. It offers you the time to walk around and observe and yes, even figure out what you are ordering. And if you don’t like it, it wont set you back but a couple dollars. Food Republic is a chain and has several locations including one above the shopping-crazy street Orchard Road and on the top floor in Vivo City Mall on the southern tip of the island.

Ok, now wipe the drool off of your computer and contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures to start planning your gastronomic adventures in Singapore and beyond.

Safe travels and bon appetit!


Part one of this article Surviving Singapore A Cultural Guide Part 1 Dining Etiquette

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Surviving Singapore A Cultural Guide. Part 1 Dining Etiquette

We can thank – or blame – the extensive British colonial reach for making exotic islands, like Hong Kong and Singapore, user-friendly. Hong Kong has retained a bit of it’s gaudy, naughty glamour with an edgier persona than the fastidious Singapore, but safe and easy and extremely approachable, Singapore is an excellent entrée to Asia, jokingly called Asia-light for it’s ease to newcomers, there are a few tips to enjoy an authentic Singapore experience.  Since Singapore is food crazy we will start with a few dining tips. While there are many options for fine dinning the best experiences can be found at coffee shops, hawker stands and food courts and that is the English-language ‘wheels fall off the bus’. Street food can be found at coffee shops, Kopitiams, which seldom actually sell coffee. Singaporeans refer to stand-alone or loosely organized groups of food stands as coffee shops. Typically each coffee shop specializes in one to three food items. Most owners have specialized in that one dish and have avoided the distractions of an extensive menu allowing them to bring that dish to perfection. Organize several coffee shops under one roof and you have a hawker stand. The name hawker stand harkens back to the day when the owners of the individual stands would yell out what they sold or “hawk” their wares. Hawker stands are a great way to experience a wide variety of foods and drinks, some have a theme such as the hawker center down by the cruise ship port, that is a Halal hawker stand (a strict Muslim code of food rules similar to kosher) or the one in the business district that is mostly satay. Finally, if you put a hawker center in an air-conditioned building you have a food court like a much tastier version of a western mall food court.


Singapore Coffee Shop or Kopitiam

Singapore Hawker Stand

Singapore Hawker Stand

Etiquette for eating at Singapore coffee shops, hawker stands and food courts. Remember those small packs of tissues your grandmother carried in her purse next to the star mints? Well they serve an important purpose in Singapore, since the tables are open-seating they serve as a way to save seats so if you see a section of tables that has those little packs of tissue those seats are reserved, so don’t mistakenly assume they are complementary. In Singlish (a hybrid of english, malay, Hokkien, and slang) it is called ‘chopping’ which translates to reserved. Additionally, most of these styles of eating establishments do not offer napkins, so bring your own (hence, the little tissue packs!) and although most bathrooms are clean and well-stocked, in some neighborhoods they may not be, enough said. If there is a halal section there will be special bins to place your plates and utensils separately from other non-halal service, if you have to bus your table it is best to observe the locals and do as they do, but normally someone will bus the table for you.


These seats are chopped or reserved

What to eat with in Singapore. What to eat with can be as different as the multitude of food options. Chop sticks and the spoon that looks like your mother’s stove-top spoon rest are the most common utensils and should be self-explanatory, scoop and slurp,  just remember to not stick you chop sticks in your food leaving them standing up this is considered a sign of death and highly disrespectful throughout out southeast Asia. Some Indian restaurants will serve your food on a banana leaf without any utensils and may or may not have eating utensils available.  If you wish to go traditional eat with your hand – note, your right hand  – do not eat with your left hand as this is highly offensive and disgusting as the left hand is reserved for less sanitary tasks. Roll rice into balls and use them to soak up the wetter parts of the meal or sop it up with naan (flat bread). Spoons and forks are becoming more common but used slightly differently, the fork is used to cut and scoop the food on to the spoon and food is consumed from the spoon not the fork.

Want to plan your trip to Singapore? Contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventure to get started today.

Safe Travels,


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Travel Photo of the Week 20Dec12 Spice Souk, Abu Dhabi

Travel, adventure, and food are three of my favorite things, and one of those has historically brought them all together…spice. The development of the spice trade led to extensive travel, adventure and exploration. Advancements in navigation, ship and sail technology, sailing routes around the Cape of Good Hope, even the discovery of the Americas all came about as a result of mankind’s hunger for spice or more exactly, the wealth that followed in its acquisition and sale. Famous explorers Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Christopher Columbus were all searching for faster trade routes to India and other spice producing areas when they made the discoveries for which they are now famous.


A spice souk (market) in the United Arab Emirates

Earlier uses of spice revolved around preservation of food and medicinal purposes. Most spices contain flavonoids aiding in the absorption of nutrients, and have high levels of antioxidants. The increased levels of antioxidants work as a natural preservative, while early physicians made use of their antimicrobial properties.  The wealthy Europeans desire to “spice” up their food led to pepper, clove, cinnamon and nutmeg becoming such a valuable commodity, they were often used in place of money.


Garam masala factory in Little India, Singapore

Spice trade is also responsible for the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Spice traders not only carried spice,  they carried new ideas and knowledge, ideas and information that brought about the dawn of the Renaissance, bringing Europe out of the dark ages. Spice caused the maps to be redrawn, created conflicts, and established empires.


Garam masala (hot mixture) a blend of typical Indian spices

‘Every country I would go to, even if it was just on a modeling job, I would go to their markets. If I went to Morocco for ‘Elle’ magazine, I would be in the spice markets during my off time and just come back with a suitcase full of stuff that I really wanted to try.’ Padma Lakshmi, host of Emmy-winning Top Chef

‘Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.’ Erma Bombeck

Safe travels,


Additional posts from the United Arab Emirates;

Meeting a camel

Tips for touring a Mosque

The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

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The Living Goddess Kumari of Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu’s Durbur Square, the traditional heart of the old town, offers a dizzying number of gods, goddess and deities on display. Intermingled between the Buddhism and Hinduism symbolism is one of the most fascinating, and somewhat mysterious aspects of Hindu worship,  a living goddess know as the Kumari. A young prepubescent girl is elevated to the level of the living incarnation of the Hindu goddess, Teleju the Nepalese word for Durga, the multi arm slayer of demons. Kumari is from the Sanskrit word kaumarya meaning virgin.

The selection of the Kumari is an elaborate ordeal, a young girl between the ages of 2 and 4 is chosen from the Buddhist Newar Shakya caste (Siddhartha who later became Buddha was from this caste of silver and goldsmiths). The child must be free of diseases and have never had an injury that led to bleeding. After passing these two initial tests they move to the “thirty two perfections” portion of the selection process. Color of the eyes, shape of the teeth, and her horoscope which was originally coordinated with the kings horoscope to insure harmony. As a living goddess, the Kumari is higher than the king. Neck like a conch shell, eyelashes like a cow, and a voice that is clear and soft like a duck are among the other beauty traits in the selection process.

Kumar Ghar or house of the Kumari

After the beauty selection the child is ushered into a dark room filled with decapitated buffalo and goat heads from a recent sacrifice ritual. Dancers with evil looking masks dance around the child while terrifying noises are being made. If the child is the incarnation of Durga, the demon slayer, she will not display fear. After proving her bravery she is shown a selection of clothing and items from the previous Kumari and she must select the ones from her predecessor in a process similar to the selection of the Dali Lama.

Kumari image from WIKI

A sacred rite is performed at the temple after which she walks across a white cloth to the Kumari Ghar to assume her throne. This is the last time she will walk, until she loses her goddess status, she will be carried everywhere since the Kumari’s feet and body are now considered sacred. From then on she will always be dressed in red and have an agni chakchuu or “fire eye” painted on her forehead.

Wood carving of the Hindu Goddess Durga in Durbar Square Kathmandu, Nepal

stark contrast to her previous life, she has extensive ceremonial duties to preform. She receives her devotees in her chambers upon a gilded lion throne. Upon arrival she offers her feet to touch or kiss. Her every move is interpreted as a prediction rubbing her eyes or crying is viewed as impending death while laughter could mean serious illness, if she picks at the offerings it means financial loss. Remaining silent is the sign that all will be well. Even the former kings of Nepal would make an annual pilgrimage for her blessing and bow before her

Foreigners are usually not permitted an audience with the Kumari, but occasionally she makes brief appearances at a window of the Kumari Chowk or courtyard, much to the delight of locals and tourist alike as it is a sign of good fortune.

Kumar Ghar in Kathmandu, Nepal. The gilded window that the Kumari will occasionally pass to spread fortune on the faithful

The position of Kumari lasts until her first menstrual cycle or if she is injured in a manner that causes blood loss, at that time, a search for a new Kumari begins. She is the most powerful of ten Kumaris in Nepal. In India, Kumaris are selected in the same manner but usually only remain a Kumari for certain holy days. At the end of their reign they are returned to their family to resume a normal life. Kumari is the most powerful Hindu deity in Nepal, but more and more controversial in regards to children’s rights given the bizarre and isolated childhood these living goddesses live in the name of tradition.

Contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventure to get started on your journey to experience the wonder that is Nepal.

Safe travels,


Other Nepal blog posts;

Hindu funeral pyre in Pashupatinath Temple Kathmandu 

Metting a Sadhu or Hindu holy man in Kathmandu

Spinning prayer wheels in Nepal

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Rangda the Witch, Travel Photo of the Week, 12Sept12 Bali, Indonesia

Leyaks, pronounced le-aks (the y is silent) are the evil spirits of Bali and Rangda is their queen. Her likeness is the epitome of evil and is often depicted eating children. A terrifying sight, an old bare breasted woman armed with long sharp claws and curving fangs, her long tongue extends to her knees and is tipped with flames. She is adorned with the entrails of her victims as jewelry. In the classic battles of good versus evil in Bali, she is evil and her noble foe is the mythical lion Barong. Although Rangda is evil and feared, the Balinese people honor her power and erect statues in an attempt to not bring forth her wrath. Bali’s religion is a unique version of Hinduism and similarities can be drawn between Rangda and Kali. Kali, the Hindu mother goddess, is an often frightful looking goddess of time and change. She is most notable for being intoxicated from the blood of her foes.

Rangda the Witch with a small child in the Monkey Forest Bali, Indonesia

Although there are several stories of the origins of Rangda, this is the most popular Balinese version. Tjalon Arang, an 11th century witch,  felt that her beautiful daughter, Ratna was snubbed by a handsome prince named Daha. The prince was in great fear of the evil witch and refused the hand of her daughter. Rangda (the witch in her monstrous shape) flew into a rage and vowed to destroy the happy and prosperous Daha. She gathered up her minions and danced in the cemetery to honor Begawati, the deity of black magic. The evil witch and the deity struck a deal. Soon the villagers loyal to Prince Daha began to fall ill in great numbers. After discovering the witch’s evil plan, the prince sent his bravest solders to sneak into the bed chambers of the witch and kill her in her sleep. When they stabbed her in the heart it only angered the evil witch, who set the attackers ablaze with fire shot from her eyes. She then went into the cemetery dug up the recent corpses, consumed them and wore their entrails as necklaces.

A fearsome looking Rangda statue in Ubud Bali Indonesia

The desperate prince sent for a high level holy man, the only living being who could vanquish the witch. The holy man sent his assistant to ask for the witch’s daughter’s hand in marriage. During the honeymoon it was discovered that the source of the witch’s power came from a little magic book. With a hastily made copy of the book the holy man  was able to restore life to the corpses that had not decayed or were eaten by the witch. The holy man and Rangda had an epic battle where the holy man killed her in her monstrous form. He then absolved her of her crimes, allowed her to atone for them, revived her in her human form, then killed her again.


Classic image of a Rangda dance in Bali

The stories of Rangda, Barong, and other mythical Balinese creatures is played out nightly across the island of Bali in song and dance. Whether you want a relaxing beach, an aromatic rejuvenating spa, a cultural experience or any combination, Bali is a true tropical paradise backdrop – exotic in fragrance and culture.

Check out our Bali Photo Gallery then give us a call  to get started on your exciting Bali escape. (click here for contact info)

Safe travels,


To read more about Rangda’s more endearing foe Barong click here

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The how’s and wai’s of etiquette in Thailand

Thai etiquette everyone should know when traveling in Thailand

A road side image of the King of Thailand, decorated for his birthday

Thailand’s King and Queen are the closest things to deities on earth, and are treated with great respect and reverence. So while political discourse is an American hobby, you should never criticize or speak negatively of the monarchy in Thailand. Movies and sporting events are started by playing the royal anthem and  everyone is expected to stand. Defacing images of the monarchy is against the law, this gets complicated when you consider their image is everywhere, awkward situations have come about from dropped or ripped money which sports the royal image. The king’s birthday, December 5th, is a national holiday.


Which wai or the art of the Thai greeting

Owner of GW Nunn Adventures, Greg practices his wai with Ronald

The wai is a customary greeting and consists of joining the palms together as if in prayer with the fingers pointed skyward. You should lightly touch your fingers somewhere between the chest and forehead. It is considered both a greeting and a sign of respect; the amount of respect and courtesy is based on the height of the hands and the lowering of the head to meet the thumbs. The wai is observed when entering a house along with the salutation sawasdee pronounced sà wàt dee. Men follow it up with Krup as in Sawasdee Krup while females would say Sawasdee Ka.  Although it is commonly used as “hello” it is considered a derivative of the Sanskrit word svasti which means “well being”. When leaving, you should ask permission to leave, and repeat the wai.  The social graces associated with the wai are quite complex and based on society, age, stature and other factors. As a visitor you will not be expected to understand all of the subtle nuances, but being humble and smiling will get you through most faux pas.

Thai temple etiquette

This young Thai child has the wai down, but missed the memo about appropriate dress

Temples are a place of worship, please be respectful. Keep your voice low and mind your language. Remove your shoes and do not step on the threshold, this applies to all Thai buildings. The threshold is believed to contain the spirit of the building. Enter left foot first and exit right foot first. Thailand is known for its beaches but leave the beach attire at the beach and cover up appropriately in holy places. Short sleeves are acceptable but avoid tank tops, shorts that go at least to the knees are acceptable. If you would not wear it in a church in the Midwest don’t wear it there. Take care to not cross in front of anyone praying especially nuns and monks. Additionally, monks are forbidden from touching women, so if a female is presenting alms it is best to pass it to a male to make the offering. It is also considered appropriate for women to move or avoid the direct path of a moving monk. If given the opportunity to tour the Royal Palace the same rules of etiquette apply, but there is a strict long pants only policy in effect, this will be the same for temples further off the tourist path.

Heads and feet

Although this is from Bali, it shows proper “feet etiquette” for temples

The head is the most holy part of the body in Buddhist culture. Avoid touching anyone’s head, the playful tousling of hair common in the US is a huge offense. If the head is the most holy, then the part farthest from the head must be the least holy. After all it is the feet that hold us down in this world of suffering. Never use your feet to point or as additional hands,  for example to close a door. Avoid pointing your feet at statues of Buddha, the Monarch, or any Thai person, the “mermaid sit” is the local way to avoid this. If feet are bad, shoes are worse, be careful when carrying shoes that you do not touch anyone with them. Stepping over someone is also considered poor form. This is also why putting money (with the king’s image) in your shoe is frowned upon. Monks are often seen sweeping temples this is more about clearing insects than dirt, killing life is frowned upon and a horrible death is through the feet i.e. getting steped on.

Saving face

The people of Thailand are warm, welcoming and known for their seemingly never- ending smiles and are eager to help, this is part of sociological concept often referred to as “face or saving face.”  Thai people will avoid confrontation so do your part to help them.  The concept of personal social value is complex and relies on an unspoken cooperation between individuals to behave respectfully, sometimes regardless of who is in the right or wrong.  If a disagreement should happen, allow for a graceful exit that avoids humiliation. Expressing anger, impatience or raising your voice is a sign of weakness and lack of mental control and will often be met with uncomfortable laughter. To save “face” Thai people will answer questions that they do not know the answers to, like directions. It is more important that they please you by answering, than saying that they do not know.

Eating etiquette in Thailand

Noodle dishes are served with chopsticks and if you have not mastered the art of eating with chop sticks it is high time you learned!  Just remember -  never leave chop sticks sticking up in your food as it is a sign of death. Forks and spoons are common for other dishes but are used differently than in the West. The spoon should be in your right hand and the fork in your left use the fork to “rake” your food onto the spoon. Sticky rice, popular in the northern regions of Thailand, is often eaten with the hands, but avoid licking your fingers. Meals in private homes are often eaten “family” style. It is acceptable to begin eating as soon as you are served, unlike in the West where you typically wait until everyone is served. Leave a little food on your plate to let your host know that you have had your fill and are not going hungry, however rice is sacred and should not be wasted. Before digging into a second helping wait until your host asks, do not deny them the privilege of offering their bounty, but do not take the last bite from the serving bowl.

Farang, me?

Remember you are a farang the Thai slang for foreigner. You will make mistakes, so simply wai and you will be forgiven as long as you are well intentioned. The old saying “When in Rome…” is usually associated with debauchery, but it can mean being conscious of other cultures and customs. By practicing Thai etiquette you will be more welcomed, have a better understanding of the people of Thailand and maybe even learn the secret of why the Thai people are always smiling.

It has always been our experience that if you make an attempt to understand the culture and learn a few words you can go a long way in a foreign country. Imagine you are in your home town and a gentleman clearly from another country extends his hand for a handshake, says hello with an accent and points to a hotel brochure and says please. You would most likely direct him to his hotel, if not go out of your way to help him. Now imagine the same scenario with him yelling in Mandarin and waving the brochure at you, most likely you will side step him, wouldn’t you? Think about the fact that you are a guest and behave as such since “you’re not  in Kansas anymore.”

A few words and phrases to help you along the way,

Hello sà wàt dee

Yes Châi

No Mâi châi

Please Kŏr

Thank You Kŏrp kun

Safe travels,


Would you like more information about Thailand? Contact the Travel Consultants at GW Nunn Adventures and let them custom craft an itinerary into the Kingdom of Thailand?

Want more information about Thailand check out these other Thailand Blogs;

The “Elephant Shrine” in Phuket, Thailand 

The long tail boats of Ko Phi Phi Island Thailand

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Travel Photo of the Week 23Aug12 Phuket Thailand

The Elephant Shrine in Phuket Thailand

This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us to picturesque Phromthep Cape in the southern most point of Phuket, Thailand to see the “Elephant Shrine.” As Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, this shrine is often mistaken as Buddhist, but in reality it is a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Brahman. Brahman, the creation God of Hindu religion is considered to be the creator of the universe and predates Buddhism. The name Phromthep comes from the Thai word Phrom meaning Brahman and Thep meaning God.

Elephant offerings left at the Elephant Shrine Phuket Thailand

Elephants played an important role in the prosperity of Thailand and are considered symbols of both strength and wisdom. The shrine is adorned with hundreds of elephant figures. The elephant figures are offered when requesting a wish or as a thanks when a wish has been granted.

Elephant offerings left as thanks for fulfilled wishes.

Although this area is a popular place to watch the sunset in the Andaman Sea for locals and tourist alike, it is still a sacred place. If given the opportunity to see this shrine remember, entrance is free but donations are welcome. Yes, Phuket is a beach community but this is a sacred place, no beach wear! Wear a cover up. If you enter the inner circle remove your shoes first. Do not step on the “thresh-hold” and enter left foot first and right foot first to exit. Show respect with both your language and volume and be respectful.

Sunset in the Andaman Sea in Phromthep Cape, Phuket, Thailand

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Safe travels,


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Travel Photo of the Week 7AUG12 Guardian Lions in Singapore

Male Guardian Lion outside of Singapore's Tan Si Chong Su Temple

This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us to Singapore’s Tan Si Chong Su Temple to see the guardian lions. Guardian lions or as they are known by their Chinese name shíshī meaning stone lion, are a common architectural feature of Chinese Buddhist Temples, political buildings as well as wealthy Chinese homes. Historically, Asiatic lions native territory is India, the middle east and into Tibet.  Most of China has never seen a live specimen (their current range is limited to a small pocket of India). Chinese artists used local dogs, most likely Tibetan mastiffs, as models and added a mane to them. This is probably the origin of the western term Foo Dog and why most of them look more dogs like than lions.

Typically, guardian lions are displayed in pairs, one male and one female. The statutes are rich with symbolism. Male lions have their right paw on a globe while the female holds down a lion cub with her left paw, a symbol of the circle of life. The female represents yin and is the guardian of the interior while the male represents yang and is the guardian of the structure. The male’s mouth is open while the female’s mouth is closed it is believed that the open mouth is making the “o” sound while the female’s closed mouth is the “m” sound creating the sacred “om” sound typically associated with meditation. More information about the sacred “om” sound can be found by clicking here

Female guardian lion 'note the lion cub under her paw' in Singapore

Lions are powerful symbols throughout India and southeast Asia with variations of the guardian lions found in the ancient temple complexes of Angkor Wat, modern businesses, “lion dances” to celebrate the new year, and even mixed with fish to create the mythical Merlion of Singapore.

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Safe Travels,


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