Spending the night in a Thai home
Known for their hospitality, Thai people are willing to offer all the best to guests. However, to receive warm welcome, a guest should behave in a proper manner following customs and rules which have been strictly observed for ages.



As the second largest ethnic minority group in Vietnam with a population of over 1.3 million, Thai people live in valleys in the northern mountainous provinces of Son La, Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, Yen Bai and Hoa Binh. Wet rice growers, this ethnic minority group possesses an original culture which is reflected in their houses. Known for their hospitality, Thai people are willing to offer all the best to guests. However, to receive a warm welcome, a guest should behave in a proper manner following customs and rules which have been strictly observed for ages.

Thai ethnic minority group is composed of black Thai and white Thai. The two groups’ house styles are somewhat different. A house of white Thai has tortoise shell-like gables while that of black Thai has flat ones. A white Thai house has an airy and decent corridor with wooden handrails while that of black Thai does not. Thai people’s houses are made of precious wood and strongly structured, embodying their prosperous and stable life in mountainous valleys.

Before entering a house of Thai people, black and white alike, visitors should pay attention to a couple of rules.

First of all, if you see a bamboo wattle on which thorny leaves are hung up or a wild pineapple plant lying across the gate or two stairways of a house, please do not come in because it is Ta leo - the sign that the family has a taboo for presence of strangers. The family’s Ta leo can be a newborn baby, a sick member or a special event that must be kept away from strangers for fear of ghosts, which are believed by Thai people to be afraid of thorny leaves.

Even when there is no sign of a taboo, a guest is still not supposed to step on the stairs even if the door is open, but wait for the host to go down first. A Thai house has two stairways. The main stairway, which is usually wide, nice-looking and positioned fronting the village road, is for men and guests. The sub-stairway, adjacent to the kitchen and often smaller, is for women of the family. Therefore, a guest, even a woman, is not supposed not use this stairway. Only a close female friend of the family can use it.

In the past, Thai people did not wear shoes. In front of every house was a wooden bucket of water for people to wash their feet before stepping on flat stones leading to the stairway. Now, however, shoes must be left down the stairway. Guests are supposed to obey this rule and can only ask for the host’s permission to bring their shoes upstairs at nighttime.

While in the house, a guest may bring in his or her personal belongings, but it is suggested to temporarily leave them outside the house and ask the host where to put them. Once bringing them in, the guest is recommended not to hang up a handbag or hat on pillars or walls even if something has been hung up there because this might not be the place for guests’ stuff.

Thai houses are large, at least 10-12m long and 7-8m wide. A house is usually divided into two sides: the outer side from the middle of the house toward the main stairway, called Quan, is for men. The inner side toward the kitchen, called Chan, is for women. A house is also divided into two parts along its length: the higher part in the direction of the main window where the ancestor altar is placed or the direction toward a field or water source. This part is for elderly people and holders of high social positions in the community. The lower part (toward the stairways) is for young people and those with lower social positions. While in his/her seat, a guest is supposed to offer this seat to a newcomer who is older. The same rule applies to a reception meal.

When receiving guests, the host (usually a man) often sits on a place closest to the main window, i.e., nearest the altar. The host’s seat is usually a chair or cloth cushion on which a guest is not supposed to sit even if he/she is an elderly or a high social position holder. In short, guests must sit in a proper direction and on a proper side according to their gender, age and status in the relation with the host and other people.

In addition to these seat rules, a guest is advised to sit properly. He/she is suggested to sit neatly on the mat which is often the newest and best in the house. Men are recommended to sit in the way a monk sits for meditation while women are advised to sit with their knees close and legs pointed to the rear in the same direction. Thai people dislike women guests who stretch their legs. The host will be pleased with a female guest who sits not opposite to him or a food tray while having meal, a sign that she deeply understands Thai customs. These sitting rules are also required for people when having meal.

While in a Thai house, a guest, even a close one, should move around the house properly, especially men, who are not supposed to enter areas exclusively for women or pry into rooms separated with bamboo curtains or screens which are for couples. Guests, women in particular, are advised to stay away from the altar area nor touch or put anything on the altar. It is also not allowed for a guest to sit with his/her back toward the altar. In stead, the guest should sit facing that direction. Women guests are not supposed to sit in front of the kitchen door - the place for old people or the host; or sit close to the window, in the middle of the entrance door, on the stairway’s top landing or where the altar is placed. When lying, guests should lie with heads toward the altar (or the main window) and absolutely should not lie with legs toward the altar. Female guests are not supposed to brush their hair on the top landing of the stairways. Combings should be rolled into balls and placed at the hedge or underneath the floor and must not be left on the floor or the stairs. In winter, if a woman guest needs to warm herself, she is advised not to sit directly in front of the fire but a little slanted to show the thoughtfulness of a woman. Men guests are recommended to sit away from women and young girls, especially the wife and daughters of the host.

Guests should not change clothes in Quan. A guest is advised to air washing in a place far from the house. If it rains, the guest may air them underneath the floor, under the kitchen and the lower part of the house rather than beneath the main window. It is recommended to ask the host before hanging the washing.

It is very comfortable for visitors to stay overnight at a Thai house because the host often offers clean blankets and cushions exclusively for guests. You will enjoy a nice sleep in the peaceful mountain atmosphere even though the temperature outside may be very low during winter. Yet, guests are advised to prepare flash lights in anticipation of being awake at night to be able to move in a proper direction to avoid misunderstanding, especially in families having women and girls. While having no choice but staying in a house of a widow or a woman whose husband is away, a male guest should keep a proper distance from the hostess literally and figuratively to avoid rumors because Thai people strongly criticize flirting of grasswidows (VLLF).-

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