Thailand is known for opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins, tropical beaches and ornate temples displaying glistening figures of Buddha.
It is located in the centre of the Southeast Asian Indochinese Peninsula & is composed of 76 provinces.
Officially known as “The Kingdom of Thailand”, although it was formerly known as Siam.
I first visited Thailand in 1993 as a naive 30 year old, wanting to experiece something different
and have been in love with the country & its people ever since, returning regularly for holidays and business.
HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THAILAND:
In the Thai language, Thailand is formally known as “Prathet Thai”, which directly translates to ‘Land of the Free’.
(It is the only country in South East Asia to never have been colonised by any European nation!)
As mentioned, it used to be called Siam, but only for a short period of time.
In fact, on May 11th 1949, Siam was officially renamed the Kingdom of Thailand.
In Thai, it has been called ‘Muang Tai’ – ‘land of the Tai’, with ‘Tai’ being the word for ‘free person’ (as in ‘not a serf’).
Is the capital city & the largest – one-tenth of the entire Thai population (of 69 million) live in Bangkok.
Made up of Pali and Sanskrit root words, Bangkok’s ceremonial name is….
“Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.”
The name means, ‘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.’
The country’s main international airport, Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-varna-boom with a silent‘i’),
handles approximately 45 million passengers a year,
with expansion plans underway that will increase its capacity to 60 million from 2019.
In fact, Bangkok was the most visited place on earth in 2016, with 21.47 million individual stays of at least one night!
THE ROYAL FAMILY….
King Bhumibol Adulyade reigned from 9th June 1946 and at the time of his death on 13th October 2017,
was the world’s longest-reigning head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in all of Thai history.
He reigned over Thailand for 70 years and 126 days and was greatly revered by the Thai people.
Interestingly, he composed Thailand’s national anthem.
The royal family is adored and deeply respected by its citizens and it is strictly against the law to criticise
any member of the monarchy.
The country has the lèse majesté law, which means that any disrespectful acts performed toward the king, queen or royal heirs are punished with imprisonment for treason.
It`s significant to note that Mother’s and Father’s Day in Thailand are actually celebrations for the king and queen,
rather than for one’s own mother and father!
The Thai language has 44 consonants, 32 vowels and most significantly, six tones – which are critical to pronunciation.
For example, the word ‘mai’ means ‘no’, ‘new’,‘burn’, ‘wood’ and ‘silk’ depending on which intonation you give it.
However, ‘hello’’ and ‘goodbye’ are the same….. ‘sawasdee’.
Thailand is a Buddhist country which means feet are unholy and should stay as close to the floor as possible at all times,
and heads are holy and shouldn’t be touched.
Temple visits require conservative, respectful clothing so shoulders and legs must be covered.
Thai Buddhism incorporates elements of Hinduism and local folklore and animism,
which is why there are Buddhist shrines to Hindu gods, ‘magic’ amulets, prayer tattooes and spirit houses around the country.
Traditionally, all Thai young men under the age of 20 – including the princes and kings – became a Buddhist monk for at least a short amount of time.
Whilst never a national requirement, if from a Buddhist family, it was almost always done.
Obtaining monkhood is considered to be a very blessed event and by dedicating a portion of one’s life to Buddhism,
it is believed that the good “karma” will be bestowed upon the man’s family.
However, nowadays, there are far fewer Buddhist men who observe the practice of monkhood.
Read my previous Blog post on Buddhism here … 9 Motivational Lifestyle Quotes from Buddha
A LITTLE ABOUT CATS….
Thailand used to be known as the “Kingdom of Siam” and is where Siamese cats originated from.
Thai people are fascinated by these cats and historically there used to be 23 different types of Siamese cats,
although nowadays there are only six.
It is also considered a gesture of good luck to present a bride with a pair of Siamese cats on her wedding day!
AND MONKEYS TOO….
In the month of November there is the annual Lopburi Monkey Festival & Banquet, featuring traditional dance performances,
It is hosted in front of the Khmer temple known as Pra Prang Sam Yot. in the province of Lopburi, just outside Bangkok.
Here, the locals prepare food and invite 600 friendly monkeys to feast on a buffet.
The monkeys’ menu consists of rice, tropical fruits, salad, grilled sausages and ice-cream.
The locals believe that this monkey food festival will bring them good luck.
THE BEAUTIFUL ORCHID FLOWER….
Not only is the delicate, exquisite orchid Thailand’s national flower, The kingdom has more than 1,500 species of orchids growing wild in forests and jungles.
Thailand is the world’s largest orchid exporter – around 45% of Thailand’s orchids are exported & 55% are sold to locals on the domestic market.
Local markets, shopping centres, temples and religios festivals abound with theses colourful exotic flowers.
LOOK OUT FOR THE LIZARDS….
Thailand is the natural habitat of the biggest living lizard in the world – the monitor lizard, which can grow up to 7 feet.
These creatures can still be seen in the wild in a few areas of Bangkok, particularly in Lumphini Park.
They bite and have extremely long and strong claws.
They eat chicken, snakes, fish, rats and birds primarily, but if provoked, have been known to devour small dogs or cats.
So approach with extreme caution.
AND DON`T FORGET THE ISLANDS….
There are thousands of island in Thailand with just over 20 accessible to the regular traveler,
including the sleepy and far-flung Koh Phayam and Koh Phu (‘Koh’ means ‘island’).
Some are very small – Koh Phayan in the Andaman Sea, for example, is just 5 km wide and 10 km long.
Known as a “hippie” retreat, Koh Phayam is located in the province of Ranong in southern Thailand, which borders the southern tip of Myanmar.
Thailand’s New Year is called “Songkran” & is celebrated like crazy across the country from April 12-15.
Whilst there are deeply solemn aspects to the rituals of the New Year, the most famous one is ‘water play,’
which sees locals, visitors, rich, poor, young and old alike engaged in riotous water fights.
The water fight is the natural evolution of the water blessing,
a Buddhist good-luck ritual that metaphorically washes away the sins of the old year in preparation for the new.
Most villages & towns in Thailand have fruit vendors who sell inexpensive, exotic-looking fresh fruit by the bag or kilogram.
Popular are mango, pineapple,lychee, cantaloupe and melon, rambutan, rose apples, dragonfruit, papaya and mangosteen.
The most infamous is durian.
To some, this fragrant fruit smells offensive (like sulphur), which has seen it banned from public transport, hotels and some restaurants!
While the smell is indeed strong, the flavour is relatively mild and creamy – although it has been described as “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AMULETS….
In Thai culture, amulets have magical powers!
If visiting the country, you’ll see people wearing gold necklaces with pendants containing scrolls or figures of monks.
These are believed to bring protection and good luck to the wearer.
When travelling in a tuk tuk or taxi, look up and you’ll probably see that the roof is covered in protective blessings,
or there’ll be amulets hanging from the rear-view mirror.
Warning: you should never touch one of these amulets or monk statues as they are considered sacred objects.
Thai temple tattoos are also magically blessed.
Called “sak yant”, the “Thai temple tattoo” has gained in popularity with Western travellers and expats.
Tattoo shops abound and using a bamboo needle or normal tattoo machine, you can get your own Sak Yant.
Alternatively, you can head to Wat Bang Phra, which is the main temple where the monks carry out tattooing.
Wat Bang Phra is a Buddhist monastery in Nakhon Chaisi district, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand – about 50 km west of Bangkok.
The monks here use bamboo needles with steel tips dipped in a communal ink pot.
They take requests if you know what to ask for, otherwise they’ll give you a “gao yord” (nine peaks) or a “ha thaew” (five lines), which are two of the basic “starter” temple tattoos.
Thailand has 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
1/ The former Siamese capital, Ayutthaya, which is an essential daytrip from Bangkok.
2/ Sukhothai, which was the capital before Ayutthaya.
3/ Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries on the border of Myanmar.
4/ Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex near Khao Yai – a popular weekend escape from the capital.
5/ The archeological site of Ban Chiang, where a human dwelling has been unearthed that dates back to 1495 BC and is considered the most significant archeological site in South East Asia.
Well, that`s my round-up of fascinating facts about Thailand and I havent even mentioned the exotic nightlife, incredible streetfood or the everyday markets.
You can read my Blog post about Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok here.
I hope you have enjoyed your reading – Paul
Have YOU visited Thaland?
Perhaps you`d like to leave your trip highlights in the Comments section below?