Etiquette & Customs in Southeast Asia

Etiquette & Customs in Southeast Asia

As a traveler, it is your responsibility to do at least some research in attempt to understand the culture you are going to be visiting. There are a number of customs that are important to abide by in order to respect the countries and their local population. Here is some of what you should know about etiquette in Southeast Asia.

1. Cover Yourself in Temples

When entering a temple, be sure to cover your knees and shoulders; this includes at the famous temples of Angkor Wat. Many tourists are unaware that it is disrespectful to have their skin showing throughout a lot of religious sites, so pack appropriate clothing if you plan to temple hop.

Temple in South East Asia: What to wear

2. No Tipping

Tipping on services (like to a waiter or a valet driver) is not customary, and sometimes offensive, in Southeast Asia. When dining or drinking, you don’t need to pay extra for the tip.

3. Respectful Bargaining

Don’t be an offensive bargainer! There is a serious bargain culture all throughout Asia, but all too often tourists say offensive slurs or try to barter for prices far too low (you can expect to pay about half of the initial price someone tells you). Use your judgment, and be polite no matter the bargaining situation.

Flower Market in Myanmar:  Learn Etiquette on to bargain

4. Permission when Taking Portraits

There are certain cultural rules regarding taking photos (especially portraits) that some Southeast Asian countries and populations abide by. When taking a portrait photo, it is always best to ask first.

Selling of bread in Laos

5. Remove your Shoes

Take your shoes off when you go inside, especially in a temple; this is customary in almost every SE Asian country.

Beautiful temple in Thailand

6. The Head as Sacred

Southeast Asia, being a primarily Buddhist sect of the world, views the head of a person to house their soul. Therefore, it is disrespectful to place your hands on someone’s head.

7. The Feet as not-so-sacred

Don’t point your feet towards anyone; in the same way that the head is viewed as sacred, the feet are viewed as the opposite. It’s offensive to point your feet at something or someone, as well as show your bare soles when sitting.

8. Right or Left?

In many SE Asian countries, it is customary to do everything with your right hand; the left hand is often viewed as dirty. Get in the habit of doing so to avoid any awkward encounters.