Every year, 15 million tourists visit Thailand and another 10 million visitors arrive in the country on business. During their stay, many are invited to the home of a Thai business associate, friend or acquaintance and, when they are, most are unsure if they should take a gift and, if so, what. If you visit a Thai person’s home, a gift should always be taken but, in Thailand, there are appropriate gifts to take and gifts that are not so appropriate. If you take any of the following gifts though, you’ll be welcomed with open arms as a truly polite foreigner.
Gifts of Food – At the top of any Thai person’s list of gifts they would like to receive from a visitor to their home is always food. Thais love food, more than just about any other nationality on the planet, so giving a gift of something delicious is sure to please.
If buying food as a gift for a Thai, the best items to buy are fresh fruit (imported is even better than Thai fruit), Thai snacks (dried fish and squid is particularly popular), nuts, imported chocolate, specialty ice cream, and Thai traditional desserts (which you’ll find at any Thai outdoor market and in many supermarkets too). Try to buy an item that’s in a nice package or, if not, have it packaged prettily at a gift wrap counter. Thais value the beauty of the package as much as the gift itself, so don’t just hand it over in the paper bag you bought it in.
Gifts of Brand Bird’s Nest Soup – Thais are obsessed with bird’s nest soup. They believe it has certain medicinal properties including strengthening the immune system and improving the skin, so giving a gift of bird’s nest soup when you visit someone’s home is much appreciated. It’s also expensive for the average Thai to buy themselves, so is looked at as a luxury gift.
Luckily, a company called ‘Brand’ makes bird’s nest soup, which is put into a small jar and sold as a health product. You’ll find jars of Brand bird’s nest soup at every supermarket in Thailand, at some 7-11s and even at the corner shop. Most of the time, they’ll be packaged in pretty boxes wrapped with ribbons, or in a gift basket along with other ‘Brand’ health products.
These ‘Brand’ jars of bird’s nest soup are a popular gift, particularly to give to people in their 30s and older. During my years of teaching in Thailand, I must have received 50 jars of the stuff. I didn’t know what to do with it, but the Thais I passed them onto became my new best friends.
‘Brand’ also sells jars of chicken broth, another health product, and they too are a happily received gift by most Thais. Buying bird’s nest soup or chicken broth shows a Thai you care about their health and that’s very much appreciated.
Gifts of Imported Whiskey – Most Thai men love to drink and whiskey is the favorite drink of many of them. If you’re visiting a Thai’s home, and you’re looking for a gift for a man, a bottle of imported whiskey will go down a treat.
Particularly prized are bottles of Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky, which is thought of as the best whiskey in the world by just about every Thai man. A bottle of Red Label or Black Label would be happily accepted and even opened and shared with you. But, if you’re feeling very generous, the highest prized Johnnie Walker whiskeys are, of course, the Gold Label and Blue Label – expensive in Thailand and consequently out of the reach of most Thais pocketbook.
Gifts From Your Home Country – If you’re planning a trip to Thailand in advance, and know you may be visiting a Thai’s home, bringing a gift from your home country would be a lovely thing to do.
Food specific to the area you live in (famous honey’s, sauces, snacks, cookies, cakes, dried fish etc) will be loved by Thais, as they enjoy learning about other countries and, of course, learning about their food.
A silk scarf, a small vase, a coffee table book, drinks’ coasters, a pair of matching coffee mugs or tea cups, anything that’s specific to your home country will be a perfect gift to take to a Thai family’s home.
Gifts of Flowers – Finally, just like any nationality, Thais love to receive flowers and, in Thailand, they are extremely inexpensive. A pretty bouquet, a dozen roses (not red ones, unless it’s a romantic meeting), or a basket of arranged flowers and you’ll have an open invitation to visit for life. Just remember, never give carnations or marigolds as these are flowers only used at funerals.