When travelling in Asia, be fully aware of the cultural taboos of each country to avoid offending the citizens of the host country. The following are some of the common taboos:
1. Do not touch the head of an adult. Touching people on the head is considered rude. In Thailand, the head is the most sacred part of the body as well as the most spiritual. Do not touch the head especially of someone older than you. Beware of this cultural taboo when you are directing someone to pose at a photo shoot. Always ask the person for permission before you touch his/her head.
2. Do not point your feet towards people or sacred images. The Thais considered the feet as the “dirtiest” part of the body. So at all cost do not point your feet or crossed your legs in the company of Thai people. Be careful when you are exercising or stretching your legs – make sure that you are not pointing your feet at anyone.
3. Take off your shoes. Shoes like feet are considered unclean. In most Asian countries, you must take off your shoes when entering someone’s home or places of worship. It is customary to leave your shoes outside when entering a Malaysian home, temple and mosques.
4. Dress appropriately in places of worship. When visiting a place of worship, it is very important to dress & act appropriately, meaning head, shoulders & knees should be covered.
5. Do not step over people or food. Stepping over people or food is considered rude. So be careful when walking along busy Thai beaches and side walks of Bali which are often littered with religious offerings.
6. Do not point forefinger at things. Use the thumb of the right hand with four fingers folded under instead.
7. Do not eat with the left hand. Always use the right hand for eating and to receive or give something to another person. It is considered discourteous by the Malays to use your left hand to eat, hand over or receive things.
8. Do not point with your chopsticks. In Asian countries there are many different rules when using the chopsticks. Generally it is best not to use the chopsticks to point at things or skewer your food as this is disrespectful. Leaving your chopsticks sticking straight out of a bowl of rice resemble funeral practices and should not be done while eating.
9. No physical contact in public. In Islamic countries, no physical contact between members of the opposite sex is allowed in public. So do not be offended if your offer of a handshake is not reciprocated by a Muslim who is of the opposite sex.
10. No public display of affection. Public behavior is very important in Malaysian culture and in most Islamic countries. Most Muslims including Malaysians refrain from displaying affection such as embracing or kissing in public.
11. Respect Thai royalty. In Thailand royalty are almost religious icons. It is a criminal offence to insult or joke about the King & Queen of Thailand or to damage any images of them. So be extremely careful when in Thailand. Even an innocent act of stamping on a rolling coin carrying the images of the King & Queen is not allowed.
The above are the common taboos that all travellers should know and observe. Rule of thumb is always to ask permission before you act and when in doubt. Do not take a photo of somebody without asking for permission. Most Asians believe you should not take a photo of three people. Remember not to take pictures of anything to do with the military which is considered a breach of national security.