Since Graham and I decided to up and move to Thailand, I figure everyone is eager to know a few basic facts and some unique customs and etiquettes about this new country of ours. Maybe not, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I like to learn, so I shall summarize some basic and fun findings here. I’m sure some nieces and nephews of mine will enjoy reading about it! 🙂
1. Thailand is bordered by Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. These countries, along with Vietnam, make up Mainland Southeast Asia, also known as Indochina. Some people say Thailand is shaped like an elephant’s head…
2. Thailand has nearly 67 million people, of which about 14 million living in and around Bangkok, the capital city.
3. Bangkok is the same latitude as Cusco, Peru (13° N).
4. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by Europe. In the Thai language, Thailand’s name is “Prathet Thai”, which means “Land of the Free.”
5. There are over 1,400 islands in Thailand. The most famous is Kho Phi Phi, thanks to the movie The Beach.
6. Thai is the national language, and consists of 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and five tones (!). Written Thai looks like this: ราชอาณาจักรไทย (Kingdom of Thailand). Strangely, there are no spaces between words in the same sentence.
7. Buddhism is the main religion here, practiced by 95% of the population. There are over 31,200 temples in this country.
8. We were told that only about 0.5% of the population here are Christians. That means lots of people have yet to hear about Jesus!
9. The elephant (Thai word: chang, ช้าง) is the national animal and is very well respected. There’s even a building in Bangkok that’s shaped like an elephant, which has its own Wikipedia page!
10. Thailand has a monarchy – King Rama IX is currently in power and has been since 1946. The monarch is held in high regard by the Thai people, often to the point of worship.
11. Bangkok’s Thai name is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, but it’s ceremonial name is Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. It’s listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the longest place name. In English, it translates to: “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.”
12. The Thai flag is raised every morning and lowered every evening (at least in Bangkok that I know of). The national anthem is played during the flag ceremony and everyone stops what they’re doing to listen. I didn’t know this the first time I saw it… Everyone was frozen, and I thought I was in a movie!
13. The Thai “wai” (palms pressed together over heart in a prayer-like position, with a slight bow of the head) is used for greeting, thanking someone, saying goodbye, etc.
14. Thai people can change their last names whenever they’d like. If a Thai is having bad luck, they often blame it on their name and change it in hopes it will bring them better luck.
15. Thailand is the world’s largest producer of rubber.
16. Siamese cats are native to Thailand.
17. One-tenth of all animal species on Earth live in Thailand.
A few customs and proper etiquette that Westerners may find strange
1. It is offensive to touch spirit houses or altars. Spirit houses can be found on most every property. The Thai people worship spirits and try to keep them happy, so they build “spirit houses” to entice the spirits to live in their own shelter and not in the house or shop. The houses also ward off any bad spirits that used to live in the house.
2. It is illegal to step on currency here, as it has the King’s face on it.
3. If you insult the King, you can go to jail.
4. Meals are eaten with a spoon (held in the right hand) and a fork (held in the left, used to
shovel guide food onto the spoon).
5. Shoes are never worn in a house. Always take your shoes off outside, before entering a home.
6. When going through a doorway, step over the threshold, not on it. Thai people believe a spirit resides in the threshold.
7. The head is the most sacred part of the body. No one must ever touch another person, even a child, on the head.
8. Feet are considered lowly and dirty, so there are “rules” associated with them:
- Don’t step over people’s legs
- Don’t sit cross-legged and expose the bottoms of your shoes
- Don’t sit with your feet pointing to a statue in a temple or at some other person
- Don’t touch anyone with your feet. If you do, apologize immediately.
9. Holding hands and kissing is generally not acceptable in public 🙁
10. It’s illegal to leave the house with no underwear on. I wonder what prompts the police to check!
Sources: randomhistory.com, Wikipedia, travelfish.org, travelingwiththejones.com, ediplomat.com, truenomads.com, matadornetwork.com, Telegraph Travel, Kriswold in-flight entertainment (Singapore Airlines)