Thailand has a population of over 65 million. It is home to a rich diversity of people, languages, cultures, and landscapes.
Thailand’s rapid growth in recent years has made it a major economic engine in Southeast Asia. Thailand is often portrayed as a traditional kingdom, but is also a country bursting with modernity.
Thailand truly is a unique blend of traditional and modern lifestyles that is something you must experience yourself to fully appreciate.
During the 1400s, the capital moved from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai, in central Thailand, and then to Ayutthaya during the 1500s. During this time Thailand was known as Siam.
Ayutthaya was a major kingdom in the region and its influence spanned across Laos and Cambodia and south to Malaysia.
In 1765 The Burmese attacked Ayutthaya and ransacked the city. The Thais retook the capital a decade later but they did not attempt to restore it to its previous glory.
Instead, they moved the capital to the Bangkok region, which is now currently the home of the Thai monarchy and the capital of Thailand.
The country was known as Siam and was ruled by a monarch until 1932, when King Rama VII instituted a constitutional monarchy. In 1939, Siam was officially renamed Thailand.
Thailand enjoyed a sustained period of democracy from 1992 until 2006.
Since 2006 the country has seesawed between democracy and largely benign, military rule.
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand and is the dominant influence on Thai culture.
The concept of “wai,” a way to say hello and goodbye without using words, is used throughout society as an overall method of paying respect.
The physical action of bowing one’s head to meet the thumbs of two pressed palms, the wai is the most significant social practice and its show of respect and in some cases, deference says a lot about Thai values and customs.
There are several contexts in which the wai is used in daily life.
The two major ways are as a greeting with friends and acquaintances, and as a show of respect to people older or of higher status.
The wai is used throughout daily life to show respect to people and objects. When in the presence of a superior, such as a boss or elder, an individual will initiate the wai to show deference.
The wai is not reserved just for people. You will find many Thais wai at statues of Buddha, at temples, and important places of worship. In addition, many Thais wai to express thanks and gratitude.
Westerners are greeted with a traditional handshake, and should be addressed using “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss” followed by their last name.
Thais commonly address each other by using the word “Khun” (similar to Mr. or Mrs.) followed by the person’s first name.
A last or family name is not normally used unless it is for a formal occasion.
Thais tend to be very reserved, but have a good sense of humor. They attach great importance to laughter and smiling.
In fact, smiling is a symbol for the Thai way of life, which tends to be more relaxed and carefree. Smiling is even common in embarrassing and high conflict situations.
The Buddhist principle teaches one to follow a middle path, avoiding anything extreme and emphasizes personal well-being above material items or career achievement.
Foreign nationals visiting a Buddhist temple or a sacred place should behave in an appropriate manner, as Thai people may consider some actions as sacrilege.
As always, the best course of action is to follow the example set by the Thais.
Since there are so many different ethnic groups in Thailand, not everyone speaks the same language.
The official language of the country is Thai.
The use of English will be predominantly restricted to your workplace. Although it is necessary for all students wishing to attend university to pass an entrance examination in English, this does not mean that the person will be fluent in English.
Thais tend to be at the beginner level of English and their reading and writing skills tend to be more advanced than their speaking skills. Thais are generally shy about speaking English.
Living in the Kingdom
It is against the law to make fun or refer to the Royal Family in less than a favorable light. It is smart to avoid discussions about politics, drugs, health related issues, religion, and the Monarchy.
If Thai people invite you to their home, and to an extent even their place of business, be sure to take off your shoes before entering.
When sitting on the floor, sit cross-legged, or tuck your legs beside you; do not stretch them out in front of you, as pointing your feet in someone else’s direction is considered rude.
Whilst it is not obligatory to bring a gift when visiting a Thai person, consider bringing gifts like flowers, books or fruit baskets.
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