The “wai” is the official greeting of the Thai people and has been performed for a long time. It shows respect and honor for each other. Depending on the occasion and situation, it can also denote other sentiments, such as appreciation or apology.
The “wai” can be done by placing the palms of the hands together between the chest. All fingers should be close together, and the elbows are kept comfortably near the body. The hands are raised to different levels to show different levels of respect, and use the head and face as placement markers.
The Ministry of Culture has established the following three levels of “wai”:
“Wai” level 1:
The first and highest level is used to “wai” the monks, King, and royal family.
First, you press your palms together near your chest and then lower your head and raise your hands until the thumbs touch between your eyebrows. Let your index fingers touch the top of your forehead and bow at the same time.
“Wai” level 2:
The second level is used to greet your parents, grandparents, teachers, boss, or people that are older than you.
Place your hands together so that your thumbs meet at your nose and tilt your head down slightly until the index fingers touch between your eyebrows.
“Wai” level 3:
The last level is used to greet people that are younger than you, such as students at school.
Put your hands on your chest. Lower your head slightly and raise your hands so that your thumb touches under your chin and your index fingers touch your nose.
To respond to greetings from younger people, the appropriate response is to accept their “wai”. To accept a “wai” from another person, you can just press your palms together near your chest.
It has been noted that the Thai style of greeting using the “wai” may reduce the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus because it avoids direct contact. It helps to keep people safe but still allows everyone to show respect to each other. See How the wai can help protect you from Covid-19.
Thai greetings are flexible and can be adjusted to suit the time and place. There is no need to be afraid of paying respect to the wrong or right way. Simply showing respect for others is the most important thing in Thai society.