Under tutelage, invaded or ruled by force, the country has never lost its famous smile and it is perhaps thanks to him that it has been able to integrate the different ethnic groups that compose it within a imperfect national whole but in perpetual evolution. Thus, Thai culture is constantly adapting and makes it an open, rich and colorful country where possibilities are often more numerous than elsewhere.
Symbols of Thai culture
Thai culture is imbued with respect which is evident in all daily actions. Discover some aspects of the tradition and cultural life in Thailand.
Knowing how to live, “smile and respect”
Smiles are very common on the faces of Thais. It stands for politeness, respect, hospitality, and thanks. When you walk into a Thai, you have to take off your shoes. It is strictly forbidden to put your feet on the table when you are seated, nor should your feet point towards anyone. The head is considered the most noble part of the body and therefore should not be touched, even in a friendly gesture. Finally, it is frowned upon to lose patience in a conflict with a person.
95% of Thais are Buddhists, so there are many temples in Thailand. It is mandatory to take off your shoes and not to wear clothes that are too bare (shorts, swimsuits, etc.) during a visit. Buddhist monks occupy the most important position in Thai society. The vow of chastity they took forbids them all contact with a woman. If you are a woman and you meet a monk, keep your distance and bow slightly while smiling. Temple festivals are held during the cool period (November to early March) in order to raise funds to maintain them. These festivities create a carnival atmosphere where gastronomy takes pride of place. Finally, know that all the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, dance and music) are deeply imbued with Buddhism. The artist’s goal is above all to express his veneration and obtain merits (rewards obtained through acts of charity and counted during a future reincarnation). The temples are decorated with paintings and bas-reliefs depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha. The statues in his image are very numerous.
The royal family is highly respected by the Thai people. The presence of photos of the king and queen in homes is common. Namely: in the cinema, the portrait of the king appears on the screen before the film at the same time as the national anthem sounds; It is customary for the whole room to stand up as a sign of respect.
Meditation is an integral part of Thai culture. In a broader sense, it is also part of Asian customs. It allows in particular to increase the ability to concentrate and is done during a period of retirement, away from the tumult outside. Participants generally have to adhere to a strict lifestyle, but necessary for the success of this period.
Extremely popular in Thailand, boxing is broadcast frequently in Thailand, at the same frequency as football matches here. Take advantage of your stay to attend a show of wrestlers. An experience to live because the sportsmen fight to the sound of percussions and various musical instruments.
Thais take great pride in their craftsmanship and rightly so. Don’t hesitate to buy items made from silk weaving, cotton, silverware, pottery. Also discover many items in bronze, pewter and wood. Finally, you will find many jewels (sapphires, rubies, opals, jades, topazes…) in Thailand.
Geography: A country of many colors in Southeast Asia
Located in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand borders on four distinct countries: Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. This particular geographical location has made it a meeting place for cultures and lifestyles, which has produced all the ethnic diversity that characterizes it. Its area of 513,120 square km is home to more than 69 million inhabitants, divided into very heterogeneous human groups. The outline of the country forms a sort of elephant’s head that stretches from the mountainous regions in the North, to the fertile plains of the South and its paradise islands. Thanks to this climatic and topographical diversity, Thailand has an abundant biodiversity with more than 27,000 species of plants, including a thousand orchids and more than 600 species of fish. Thai food culture has taken advantage of this incredible reservoir of flavor resources and is often referred to as one of the most creative in the world.
In the North, an important and protective relief
Thailand is a country contrasted by an important relief which has shaped regions with very varied cultures. In the north, mountains and forests have always protected the local populations from the invasion of bellicose peoples. Around Chiang Mai, multiple ethnic minorities continue to live according to their traditions, although the sirens of progress are growing a little more urgent every day. It is in these massifs that most of the major rivers that will irrigate the central plains originate, to the delight of Thai rice farmers. In this region, there are also the last remaining teak farms despite intense deforestation, visible since the 1960s.
The Isan region in the northeast is enjoying relative disinterest on the part of tourists and operators. Its arid climate and highlands protect it from greed, even though more and more travelers are venturing into these lands where the dry season lasts longer than anywhere else in Thailand. Here, silk or medicinal herbs are cultivated to thrive. To the west, the border with Myanmar is again dotted with high forest mountains, limiting trade and access to the territory. Thus protected from the expansion intentions of its neighbors, Thailand was able to concentrate its development in the South and its fertile plains.
From North to South, Thailand has long been a necessary passage to reach Singapore and Malaysia by land, until air assets opened up the Malay Peninsula. Although bordered by the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, the country has mainly developed thanks to its land orientation. The central plain hosts the estuaries of Chao Praya and multiple rivers, making it an ideal place for the development of rice cultivation. This characteristic has allowed Thailand to become the “Southeast Asian Rice Bowl” promoting trade with its neighbors and stimulating economic activity.
Favored by its tropical climate and the monsoon, the country has become the region’s leading exporter of rice, a feature that forged the power of the ancient Kingdom of Siam. On the Kra Isthmus, a thin strip of land that continues its route from the central plains, there were important fishing ports that marked out this highly strategic route. Today, the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui are representative of the turn cleverly negotiated by Thailand, which has taken advantage of its postcard geography to attract tourists from all over the world to its paradise beaches.
History: From the first men to modernity
Thailand claims to be the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized. Despite multiple attacks and a central position that could have served it well, the region has protected itself thanks to the many natural ramparts formed by forest mountain ranges to the north and the large estuaries of large rivers to the south.
From the prehistory to the first Thais
Thai culture and its origins date back 700,000 years. Remains of Homo Erectus have been found which suggest that the area was already considered fertile for hunter-gatherer communities. Thus, little by little, their societies were organized around the cultivation of rice and thanks to the use of bronze objects. From the third century, Chinese writings allow us to follow the evolution of the region and the diversity of peoples who took control of towns and arable land. It is believed that behind the name “Fou-Nan”, given by the Chinese, was hiding a Khmer people who very quickly lost their hegemony in favor of the “Mon”, who came from India. The texts of the sages of the Middle Empire recount important feats of arms by the city-states that dotted the Kra Isthmus. These powerful corporations controlled access to the Malay Peninsula and were only dislodged by the gradual but unstoppable Khmer takeover of all of Southeast Asia. It was at this time, around the 9th century that the first Thais, from southern China, began to settle.
The time of kingdoms
During the 11th and 12th centuries, the Thai element became predominant in the Khmer kingdom and in 1238, the Sukothai clan obtained political independence and crowned its first king. The advent of Rama Khamheng is widely regarded as the founding act of the nation of Thailand. At the same time, other kingdoms are developing, notably that of Lan Na in the North, ruled by King Mengrai who will found the city of Chiang Mai or that of Phayao ruled by King Ngam Muang. Less than a century later, Sukothai was losing its prevalence, but the period allowed the foundation of Thai identity to be laid with the development of Buddhism, a specific art and writing.
From 1350, the kingdom of Ayutthaya imposed itself in the region. For more than four centuries, 74 monarchs succeed one another and spread Theravada Buddhism as well as the Dharmashastra, a set of Hindu and Thai codes. After the Burmese invasion in 1765 and the destruction of the capital as well as most of its temples and religious buildings, General Taskin made history by driving out the Burmese armies and moved the capital to Thonburi on the banks of the Chao Praya. . He was then proclaimed king and then quickly ousted by General Chakri who founded the Rama dynasty and chose Bangkok as his capital. Since then, the Rama have succeeded each other in power, each having made their contribution to the development of Thai culture.
The constitutional monarchy replaced the absolute monarchy in 1932 during a coup. Coerced by the power of the military, the Rama dynasty loses all its powers and must ally with the military to rule the country. In 2006, the army chief staged a new coup and seized full power. It is confirmed by the country’s first referendum vote, in which Thais vote 58% in favor of the new constitution. In 2007, new elections marked the return to democratic order. In 2011, and for the first time, a woman was given the post of Prime Minister. Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of a former leader of the country, sees the country seized with social convulsions and numerous demonstrations break out. She was finally removed from office in 2014. The military junta, led by Prayut Chan-O-Cha then regained power and imposed martial law on the country in an attempt to calm the unrest caused by the Red Shirts, while condemning the clan Yingluck for his probable corruption. Alone in the storm, King Rama IX was, until 2016, the last stable political landmark in Thailand and offered a semblance of unity to a country where smiles are now in the streets.
Famous People of Thailand
Thai culture is like its country, teeming, creative and exploratory. Among the most popular of its artists is the poet Sunthorn Phu. Celebrated annually on June 26, this 17th century artist was the favorite of Kings Rama II and Rama III. Both lyrical and moralistic, this troublemaker of the royal courts is equally appreciated by the popular masses, of whom he was an educator, but also a vector of entertainment and who continues to delight Thais today.
Very interested in social issues, the Thais have always been involved in the political life of their country. Despite the disappointments due to the brutality of the military or to broken promises, some political figures continue to retain a real popular aura. This is the case with Khun Purachai. Born in 1950, this former Minister of the Interior took it into his head to enforce existing laws, in particular those concerning nightclubs. Control of minors, compulsory closures at 2 a.m. or even urine checks on visitors to nightclubs, he was forced to backtrack because of the power of the night lobbies. But he retains all the tenderness of the Thai people, especially for his integrity. Among the figures of the Chakri dynasty, King Rama IX occupies a special place. Died in 2016, his reign will have lasted more than 70 years. Adored as an exceptional sovereign, he participated in improving the lot of the worst off, denounced the rampant corruption in the country and integrated the northern ethnic groups into the destiny of the entire Thai nation. Having lived through all the turpitudes of the twentieth century, he is also appreciated for his ability to reconcile the various parties involved in the multiple coups that marked his reign. Despite some controversies, linked in particular to his immense fortune or to the cult of his personality promoted by the media, he nonetheless remains one of the tutelary figures of the country and the popular scale of his funeral testifies to all the affection. that his subjects bore him and his importance in Thai culture.
Now that you know more about Thai culture, fly to Bangkok. The capital will charm you with its floating markets and its many temples. Unless you are heading south, to the island of Phuket and its heavenly beaches!