20 Things to Know About Thai Culture

Published: 22nd June 2008Author: Sonal Panse

It is immensely useful to know about the culture of any country that you are planning to visit. Having the right information about the ways of the local people can prevent misunderstandings and will also enrich your whole travel experience.

Thailand, which is a very popular holiday destination, has a culture influenced by its historical trade links and conflicts with the Indian subcontinent, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Japan and China.

Here's a brief list of things to know -

1. The Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Royal Family hold a deservedly high and revered position in the country. You will do well to respect this popular public sentiment. You can get into serious trouble for poking fun or disparaging them.

2. Show respect to Buddhist monks. They also command a great deal of respect in Thai society. Women should step aside to make way for passing monks and avoid any accidental contact.

3. Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, is the main and government supported religion of Thailand. Other religions followed are Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

4. The Thai language is derived from Khmer, Sanskrit, Pali, Malay and Chinese. English is widely spoken nowadays, but it'll be great if you make an effort to learn a few simple phrases. Like 'Sawadee khrap/ka' for 'hello/goodbye'; 'Sabaai dee mai khrap/ka' for 'how are you?'; and 'Sabaai dee khrap/ka' for 'I'm fine, thank you'.

5. One Thai custom you'll encounter frequently is the Wai. This is similar to the Indian Namaste gesture. You put your palms together at chest level and bow your head. The Wai is used in greeting, in farewell or in acknowledgment.

6. Thai people place a great emphasis on family life and respecting parents, elders and seniors. Seniority, by the way, is determined more by social standing and work denomination than by age, and brings with it certain obligations like paying for the whole group when dining out.

7. Many Thai people have nicknames in addition to their formal Chinese/Sanskrit-derived and often long, complicated given names. The nickname may be a shortening of the given name or can be the word for a color, fruit, flower, animal, etc.

8. Displays of public affection between friends are not uncommon; such displays between lovers are usually less common and less appreciated, but globalization is changing all that, especially in the case of the young generation growing up on American soaps and the Internet.

9. Thais dislike conflicts and loud, angry public arguments. You are likely to be more respected if you stay calm, don't point left and right, don't wave your arms about like wind-mills and avoid all excessive behavior.

10. Traditional Buddhist marriages are divided into a Buddhist ceremony and a non-Buddhist ceremony. The groom is required to give dowry, known as Sin Sodt, to the bride's family.

11. Thai funerals usually last for a week, during which many prayers are recited and crying is not encouraged.

12. Dress modestly in clothes that cover your shoulders and upper legs. Especially when visiting temples.

13. Remove shoes when entering someone's house or a temple. Try not to step on the threshold when entering or departing.

14. It is considered rude to touch anyone on the head or to touch them with your feet. It is also considered offensive to sit with your feet pointing at someone.

15. Early Thai literature was influenced by Indian Literature. The Indian epic Ramayana was written into a Thai version by the Thai Kings Rama I and Rama II.

16. There are three categories of Thai dance - Khon, Lakhon and Likay. The Khon dance is the one you see on many tourist brochures, with elaborate dance moves and dancers wearing masks, gilded head-dresses and jeweled costumes. Music and dialogs are performed in the background by off-stage performers. Khon was originally a dance for the Royal Courts. The Likay dance, which is considered unsophisticated in comparison, was performed in public for the common folks and has satirical, political and comedic overtones.

17. Thailand is famous for its shadow puppet plays, Nang Yai and Nang Thalung. These plays are mainly performed in the southern part of the country, and are accompanied by music and comedic dialogs.

18. Traditional Thai music is a blending of different cultural influences, mainly Indian, Khmer and Chinese.

19. Thai cuisine, which is world famous for its blend of sweet, spicy hot, sour and salty tastes, is mainly eaten with a fork and a spoon; chopsticks are used only for certain foods. When dining with friends or in a restaurant, use your right hand to pass things and leave a little food on your plate when you finish eating. This shows you have good manners and have had enough to eat.

20. Two important Thai holidays are the Thai New Year is called Songkran, which is celebrated on 13-15 April, and Loy Krathong, which is celebrated on the full-moon day of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, which usually falls in mid-November.

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