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Thailand History, Language and Culture
History of Thailand
Thailand’s social history can be traced back to the Neolithic period, but the country we know and love came into effect with the establishment of an alliance between three kingdoms – Lan Na, Sukhothai, and Phayao in the 13th century. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the emergence and growth of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which continued until it fell to the Burmese, initially in 1569, then again in 1760, before finally succumbing in 1767.
Thailand’s current Chakri Dynasty began in 1782 when Phraya Chakri ascended the throne as King Ramathibodi, Rama I. The new dynasty moved the country’s capital city to Bangkok where it remains to this day. King Mongkut, Rama IV, instigated trade and diplomatic relations with European countries in the mid-19th century, as well as educational reforms.
During the reign of King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, Thailand changed from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy following a coup d’état in 1932. The country’s name was officially changed in 1939 from Siam to Prathet Thai, or Thailand, meaning ‘land of the free’, a phrase used to express pride in the fact that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to be colonised by a European state.
The Thai military government sided with the Japanese in WWII and allowed US forces to use Thai territory during the Vietnam War. Democracy developed slowly in Thailand and after a quarter of a century of military rule, civilian government was restored in 1973 following the student riots in Bangkok, but this was to last only three years before the military again took control.
The country continues to move between civilian and military administration – the latest coup in May 2014 resulted in new elections with an end to martial law declared on 1 April 2015, prompting one commentator to note that in the 83 years since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, uniformed or ex-military men have led the nation for 55 years.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX was one of the world’s longest serving head of state and Thailand’s longest reigning monarch, having ascended the throne in 1946. After his death in October 2016, his son Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (known as Vajiralongkorn) has taken to the throne, although he has not yet been crowned formally.
Did you know?
• Thailand colluded with the Japanese in the construction of the infamous Burma-Siam railway, made legend by the film The Bridge on the River Kwai.
• Although the elephant is Thailand’s national symbol, its numbers have dropped from 100,000 in 1850 to around 2,700 domesticated elephants today, and 2,000-3,000 in the wild.
• In Thailand, it is illegal to leave home without wearing underwear.
Religion in Thailand
The vast majority adhere to Buddhism (Theravada form), 5% are Muslim and there are Christian and Hindu minorities.
Social Conventions in Thailand
Western visitors will generally receive a handshake on meeting. A Thai will be greeted with the traditional closed hands and a slight bow of the head - the wai. Buddhist monks are always greeted in this way.
The Thai Royal Family is regarded with an almost religious reverence. Visitors should respect this. It is very bad manners to make public displays of anger, as Thais regard such behaviour as boorish and a loss of 'face'. Public displays of affection between men and women are also frowned upon, and it is considered rude to touch anyone on the head, point one's feet at someone, show the bottom of one’s feet to someone or step over a sitting or sleeping person. It's also impolite to point one's toes towards a Buddha statue. Shoes should be removed before entering someone's home or a temple.
Smoking restrictions have been in place since 2002 and it is illegal to smoke in public establishments such as bars, restaurants, indoor workplaces, public transport and markets. As of February 2018, there is a smoking ban in non-smoking areas such as vehicles, workplaces and public places. Smoking was already banned across 24 beaches including Koh Samui. According to the Public Health ministry, non-smoking areas include, but are not limited to rental buildings, condos, pubs, hotels, karaoke establishments, religious buildings, restaurants, parking areas, spas, clinics, hospitals, schools, swimming pools, areas for Thai massages, fitness parks and ‘other places’. If caught smoking, the fine will be 5,000 baht. Travellers should keep an eye out for “no smoking” signs to avoid any mistakes.
Language in Thailand
Thai is the official language. English is widely spoken, especially in establishments catering for tourists.