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Thai Massage And Touching Taboos In Thailand

touching habits

Different touching habits around the world

Touching and greeting habits differ widely around the world. In some countries people greet each other by shaking hands, in others they kiss each other on the cheek (one, two, or three times, depending on the country).

Elsewhere people hug each other, or in others they put their hands together in front of their chest (Thailand), and in others they rub noses (Eskimos). This can lead to surprising encounters.

Once I was traveling in Mexico, and I met a woman from Spain. Like me, she was backpacking around the country. We spent a few days hiking and sightseeing together. Then we both continued on our separate ways.

woman kissing man on the cheek

When we said our good byes, she kissed me on the cheeks, and I hugged her. Both of us were a little surprised and uncomfortable.

In those days I did not know that kissing on the cheeks is a normal way of greeting in several European countries.

And she did not know that hugging is quite a normal exchange among friends in the US.

However in the US we do not kiss on the cheeks when we greet someone, and in Spain people apparently don’t hug casual friends. So I was a little surprised by her kiss and she was surprised by my hug – and we both felt a little uncomfortable.

Touching habits in Thailand

couple kissing

Later I moved to Thailand, and again I had to learn different touching habits. In Thailand, touching is an interesting subject.

Girls often walk around hand in hand, and men sometimes put their arm around the shoulder of an another man in a casual way. In social gatherings Thais often have body contact, but only in a casual way.

In North America it would be considered quite strange to see two women walking around holding hands, or a man with an arm around the shoulder of another. In social settings we generally avoid body contact.

Two kinds of touches are considered acceptable in the US:  hand shakes, and sometimes a hug.

Hugs can be a quick little slap on the back, or it could be really heartfelt among friends, or it might be in a situation where we console someone who is sad or grieving.

In Thailand, hugging or kissing in public is a no-no

No hugging in Thailand

But in Thailand the casual touching does not include hugs. Actually hugging is not done here and is considered very inappropriate. Thais don’t hug each other at all and foreigners who hug in public draw disapproving looks.

Men and women do not hold hands in public, and kissing in public is seen as strange or even offensive.

The casual touch is okay,  even more so than in the US,  but any meaningful, heartfelt way of touching is not okay. Also touching someone’s head is seen as very inappropriate.

Thai greeting

Until western habits gained a foothold in Thailand, kissing amongst lovers did not exist either. Instead Thais smelled each other’s cheeks.

Western-style handshakes are not appropriate either. Instead, Thais put the palms of their hands together and bow slightly, depending on their social status. This is called a ‘wai’.

Massage to the rescue to enjoy the human touch in Thailand

Thai Massage twist stretch

One way of touching is quite common in Thailand, and that is Thai Massage. In the professional massage setting touch is enjoyed and appreciated.

It is also quite common to see women give each other a little neck and shoulder massage during the work day. Men, however, don’t normally do that.

In Thai Massage, social taboos are suspended

It is interesting to note that Thai Massage is a rather touch-intensive system of bodywork. There is quite a lot of body contact between the client and the therapist.

Actually, the fact is that in Thai Massage there is a lot more physical contact than in western massage styles. However in the setting of a Thai Massage session all those social restrictions and taboos are temporarily suspended.

Not all touching in massage is of the professional variety

You need to be aware that in Thailand, like in most Asian countries as well, massage is sometimes offered to male clients with a ‘happy end’ as its conclusion. So you cannot automatically assume that all massage in Thailand is strictly professional.

But it is easy to find shops where you can get a clean, legitimate, and enjoyable massage. Here touching with lots of physical contact is totally accepted without anyone feeling uneasy about it.

But the very second the massage is over, don’t even think of hugging or touching the therapist in any way! This would be considered very inappropriate.

Touching habits in Thailand are slowly changing

Keep in mind that touching habits in Thailand are quite different from our western ways. However nowadays there are some Thais who have spent a lot of time in the western world. They are much more comfortable with hand shakes or even a hug.

Also the young generation is gradually relaxing those taboos. You can sometimes see young couples in the big cities holding hands. But to be on the safe side, in general the best advice is to avoid touching Thais in any way.

If you want to be touched in Thailand, you can sidestep those taboos by treating yourself to a Thai Massage or oil massage which is available everywhere for just a few dollars per hour. This is one of the great luxuries of living in Thailand.

A good Thai Massage feels great, is very therapeutic, and you won’t have to worry about any cultural taboos and restrictions.

To learn more about Thai Massage, you can get an excellent introduction here:


The author, Shama Kern

The author, Shama Kern, has been living in Thailand for two decades and has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 20 years. He is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy and the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses.

2 thoughts on “Thai Massage And Touching Taboos In Thailand”

  1. My Thai wife at 17 was forced to marry. For the 25 years that she was with him she- hated him did like him, never loved him but had sex with him & had 3 children with him. She said because the village people told her that was her duty because they were married & she being young was sometimes horny. At least she could give her children love & receove love back from them. They acted as friends & remained together until the children were old enough to leave home then she filed for divorcem
    In her 55 years she had not loved a man, knew nothing nor neediing the hugging, kissing or giving affection of a man.

    • Arranged marriages are quite common in many parts of the world. This was also the case in Thailand. However it is gradually becoming less common as the young people assert their independence more than previously. But it still exists.

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