Thai Smiles

In July this year troops from the 13th Infantry Regiment in Udon Thani will make up a large part of the 8oo strong Thai Task Force 980 which will be undertaking a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operation in Sudan. After the UN’s successful deployment of Thai soldiers in East Timor, the unit will be asked to arm themselves with Thailand’s best and most potent weapon. Thai smiles (yim).

UN officials were impressed by the Thai military personnel on duty in East Timor where their friendliness and smiles won them many friends amongst the Timorese people. The soldiers will be paid a minimum of US$1028 (34,000 baht) for their efforts. That should make their smiles even broader.

The Land of Smiles

Thailand is well-known as the Land of Smiles, and any first time visitor to the Kingdom cannot help but quickly see the reasons why. You are greeted with the Thai smile everywhere you go.

The western world does have its smiley people, but facial expressions are the reader of each others emotions and love, joy, hate, anger and sadness are all too evident to see in western society. The Thai smile masks many of those feelings.

Thai blog site Absolutely Bangkok’s excellent post The Thai Smile unravels what’s behind the happy expression Thais so often display.

‘That smile – called “yim” in Thai – is a most captivating tool disarming the most cold-hearted foreigner. Deep down though that famous smile is more of a self-defence than a deeply felt expression of the heart’ – Bangkok Dan

Bangkok Dan’s post goes on to list the many different Thai smiles and what lies behind them. Here’s a sample.

  • yim tak tai: The polite smile, used for strangers
  • yim mai ork: The forced smile
  • yim yair-yair: The smile to apologize and take the heat out of an awkward, embarrassing situation

Here are a few smiles for you to try and work out what’s behind them.

Thai Smiles are so cute.

The Thai smile is a way of saving face, and to smooth over awkward situations. An apologetic smile can soothe over an embarrassing mishap such as spilling a glass of water over someone. In the opposite case, the same expression can ease the discomfort felt by someone after their act of clumsiness.

Thai’s are generally happy, jovial people who give out a feeling of both inner and outer calm. Their smile is evidence to all around that they are cool-headed and in control, even if that’s not true. Confrontation and crisis can be calmed and minimized with the right kind of smile. An argument can be won by merely smiling and acting rationally. A Thai smile is body language wrapped in a white coat of enamel.

The most used smile in Thailand is a welcome smile and followed by the traditional Thai wai. To the average tourist, the wai smile is a natural one but behind it can lie worry and frustration caused by living life on as little as US$150-200 a month.

‘Of all the things you wear, your expression is the most important ‘. Janet Lane. 

Travelling around Thailand is made more pleasurable by the warm smiles that greet you. Smiles that not only make you feel welcome but safe as well. A warm smile can melt the thickest ice, and in Thailand’s markets, shops, restaurants, bars and hotels, the Thai smile is never far away.

The only problem you may face is knowing what type of smile is cast your way.


Photograph Thai Soldiers by wise kwai


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

24 Responses

  1. Talen says:

    The Thai smile is for sure a disarming one. I remember my first trip how I was amazed at all the smiling friendly faces which was a stark contrast coming from a large city in America where few will look you in the eye much less give you a smile.

    There can be a lot of meanings behind a Thai smile but I think the biggest meaning that a traveler should take away from most Thai smiles is that the Thai’s smile is for you and to make you comfortable.

    I remember a conversation not too long ago in Bangkok when a foreigner was pissed off that a Thai smiled at seemingly bad news that the foreigner was talking about. He didn’t understand that the bad news didn’t make the Thai happy but the the smile was to comfort them in a way.

    One thing is for sure there is nothing more beautiful than a Thai smile.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Upside down sign =-.

  2. Catherine says:

    The longer I am here, the more I get to know the different meanings behind Thai smiles.

    Good, better, or indifferent, I’m all for Thai smiles. Because there is no other country that does it quite the same.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai Sex Talk for St Valentine’s Day =-.

  3. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I think the big impression most if not all first time visitors to Thailand must take away with them is the friendliness of the Thai people and their wonderful smiles. For example I find it reassuring if I am alone at a bus station and unsure of my connection that I can get a beaming smile from the kiosk and all the help I need. That would be rare here in the UK. It is only with time and experience in the country that people like us start to understand the truth behind the smiles, sure they are happy people but like anyone else they do have their worries. They just choose not to show them and burden others with their woes.

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine I gave up complaining in Thailand years ago (unless absolutely necessary) because you are only greeted and answered by a big white beaming smile, which defeats me straight away. I think the Thai smile is a marvelous asset for the people to have and as much as I try to reproduce it I never get there for more than a day or so. I must try harder.

  5. Mike says:

    Martyn coming from the Land of No Smiles I love the Thai smile. As I live here longer I am starting to recognise different smiles, I notice it more if I observe other people interacting.

    BTW did you know right click is disabled? Can’t correct my spelling 🙂
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..The Garuda and Vishnu-Buddhist Mythology Photo Image =-.

  6. Siam.Rick says:

    Those are all nice smiles in your photos, Martyn. As far as I can tell. I’m a bit of a newbie in decoding Thai smiles. I only started to detect the differences in my fifth trip, back in early 2008.

    They sure are hard to beat. Once in the west though, those smiles seem to deflate. I was at a real Thai restaurant (rare) with real Thai staff and owner yesterday in Toronto (see, I can’t be away from Thai people for more than a few days . . . 🙂 and there wasn’t much evidence of the famous LOS. Could be the damp, bitter cold! Yeah, that was it. I wasn’t smiling either. (Great food though).

    BTW, can you take a week off from your blog. I can’t keep up! 😉
    .-= Siam.Rick´s last blog ..A story of profoundly brainwashed nation, North Korea =-.

  7. Sophie says:

    The most used smile in Thailand is the welcome smile, normally accompanied with the traditional Thai wai. Most people in Thailand are hospitable like Filipinos. Hope i can go to Thailand for tour. I want to see their traditions and culture.Great post i love it ! God bless 😉

  8. Hoo Don says:

    Mike there’s plenty of no smiles over here at the moment, the first few months of the year are perfect for them. I do envy you on that one.

    I have installed a blog protector plugin on my site but didn’t realize the no right click disabled it in the comments box as well. I have now turned the plugin off and thanks.

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Rick my guess is they’re all nice smiles and I hope the centre photo of the three across is because that’s the young one. I’ve never been to a Thai restaurant in the UK because I’m not over keen (getting better) on Thai food and I reckon it would be a little tame here.

    I may have to take a week off soon because I’m struggling for inspiration at the moment, I really can’t think what to blog about. Hopefully I’ll get a flash of genius soon. Cheers.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Sophie thanks for your comment and if you do make it to Thailand it’ll make your smile even broader.

  11. Adullamite says:

    I wonder why this smiling business caught on?
    Folks in India and the Philippines smile a lot, when my brother married a Filipino it was like standing in a Commonwealth War Cemetery! One place I worked was staffed with such folk and smiles, and teeth, were always on show. Yet in the rich west we glare, are suspicious of smiles, and wonder at anyone smiling.
    How strange we are…..
    .-= Adullamite´s last blog ..Rain =-.

  12. john says:

    The say a apple a day keeps the doctor away but a smile can be infectious and get passed on for the rest of the day I remember writing a small article on smiling a while back
    Hoo don I would like to wish as the guys from udon thani good luck in east Timor
    Iam sure the Thai smile will help to defuse and potential situations
    Well i.ll be back to posting around the internet this week there was a problem with this site and many others where I normally post a box was popping up not allowing me to paste my text seems to be ok know I actually thought it was my pc until I tried a pc in a hotel in Amsterdam this last weekend with the same results any body have the same problem
    .-= john´s last blog ..Flights to and from Udon Thani latest info =-.

  13. Hoo Don says:

    Graham at the rate the immigration officials are allowing people into the country there will be more smiling teeth than grimaces fairly soon. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing although a few harsh winters may hide the teeth forever.

  14. Hoo Don says:

    John I recently put a blog protector on my site and the slightest right touch of the mouse brought up a box on the screen. Maybe that was why. I always look forward to your comments on my site and reading your views on other blogs too. Amsterdam….you do travel about a bit.

  15. john says:

    Ok I get it the reason I was touching the right click of the mouse was I was trying to paste from Microsoft word I normally write my replies in there first when away from my home pc anyways it’s working again know
    Yes Amsterdam this last weekend was a good laugh there where 4 of us a bit of a male bonding weekend two dads and two sons my oldest he’s 17 to say he was chomping at the bit would be a understatement yes we visited all the naughty areas and did a little sightseeing and window shopping a sort of right of passage for us both
    Not being a smoker myself I felt very light headed in these little bars and coffee shops
    But we had a great weekend
    Hoo don thanks for the comments on my blog there also most welcome
    Since I placed the new comments system on there I seem to be getting a lot more interest as its easy to post a comment without registering
    Regards john
    .-= john´s last blog ..Flights to and from Udon Thani latest info =-.

  16. malcolm says:

    Martyn, them smiles can surely get to you , the first time I saw Ciejay , and she smiled at me I was caught hook ,line . and slnker as they say in the deep south in the USA.I don’t know if that was her intention , but it sure melted this ole heart , having seen nothing but frowns for sooooo long I was taken by surprise by her smile, and the rest is history.
    I love the smiles in the LOS and I have learned what each kind means , but no matter what the meaning , I still love them , I’m like Clint Eastwood , It makes my Day. Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog ..THE RAINBOW BRIDGE =-.

  17. Anne says:

    Smiles can help us to cheer up,inspires people, motivate us to gain confidence to face the world.Laughter is the best medicine.Thanks for the information more power to your site! 😉
    .-= Anne´s last blog ..Holiday Cottage in Cornwall =-.

  18. Hoo Don says:

    John you are certainly one good father, not many would take their son to Amsterdam. They would be afraid the boy might report back to his mother. I’m glad you had a good time and thanks as well for your very interesting comments over the past year or so.

  19. Hoo Don says:

    Clint (Malcolm) – You make my day with your replies to my posts. I know what you mean about frowns as I’ve got a near pasted on one myself. I’m sure there is a little bit of your heart still to melt and I know Ciejay will be working on the big thaw each and everyday.

  20. Hoo Don says:

    Anne thanks for popping by again and I hope the post put a smile on your face as big as the ones in the photos. Thanks.

  21. john says:

    the boy loved it over there in Amsterdam. I hope he gets a taste for adventure like is old man and gets out to see a little of the world
    one day hopefully we will do a little in India and Nepal together
    ps keep up the blogging its always a good read and a useful resource for many of us with plenty of fun thrown in
    regards john
    .-= john´s last blog ..Flights to and from Udon Thani latest info =-.

  22. Hoo Don says:

    John I wish my father had pushed me in the eastern direction when I was young instead of insisting I worked for the west’s great employer at the time British Rail. I’d have enjoyed Thailand big time when I was in my twenties.

  23. Lawrence says:

    Nice post, very nice smiles on some very nice looking girls.

    I once met a Russian guy on a bus to Heathrow. He said he enjoyed England because the people smiled so much. That says a lot about Russia, eh?
    .-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Falling short of Paradise =-.

  24. Hoo Don says:

    Lawrence very well put. I used to travel to Thailand via Moscow transit and the smiles were few and far between apart from the barmaids in the airport bar.

    The photos have some lovely smiles and the middle one is Wonderful Wi in full pose. The far right smile in the row of three photos is my mates wife Nuan.

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