Bangkok is Thailand's vibrant
capital city and is where you'll
find the past, present and future
living in harmony. Known as the
~Venice of the East~ it is a
national treasure trove with its
Buddhist temples, palaces, floating
markets, gleaming skyscrapers and
legendary shopping and nightlife.
Northern Thailand offers the visitor secluded jungle, exotic rivers, mysterious hill tribes and unusual temples. The North is the birthplace of the earliest Thai civilization and has many sites of cultural and archaeological interest.
The city of Chiang Mai makes an excellent base for visiting ethnic tribes, soft adventure and shopping. Further north, Chiang Rai offers rafting, trekking and tours of tribal villages.
Thailand - Arts
Thai visual art was traditionally primarily Buddhist. Thai Buddha images from different periods have a number of distinctive styles. Contemporary Thai art often combines traditional Thai elements with modern techniques. Literature in Thailand is heavily influenced by Indian culture. The most notable works of Thai literature are a version of the Ramayana called the Ramakien, written in part by Kings Rama I and Rama II, and the poetry of Sunthorn Phu.
There is no
spoken drama in
being filled by
Thai dance. This
is divided into
lakhon and likay-
khon being the
and likay the
Nang drama, a
form of shadow
play, is found
in the south.
The music of Thailand includes classical and folk music traditions as well as string or pop music.
Thailand - Religion
Thailand is primarily a Theravada Buddhist country, with minorities of Muslims, Christians, Mahayana Buddhists, and other religions. Thai Theravada Buddhism is divided into two main orders, the Thammayut Nikaya and the Maha Nikaya. All Thai Buddhists are under the legal authority of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, currently Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera. A recent reformist group, Santi Asoke, is legally forbidden to describe itself as Buddhist.
Prior to the rise of Theravada Buddhism, both Indian Brahmanic religion and Mahayana Buddhism was present in Thailand. Influences from both these traditions can still be seen in the present day. Brahmanist shrines play an important role in Thai folk religion, and the Mahayana Buddhist influence is reflected in the presence of figures like Lokesvara, a form of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara sometimes incorporated into Thai iconography.
Thailand - Cuisine
Thai cuisine is famous for the blending of four fundamental tastes:
sweet (sugar, fruits, sweet peppers), spicy hot (chilies), sour (vinegar, lime juice, tamarind), salty (soy sauce, fish sauce). Most of the dishes in Thai cuisine try to combine most, if not all, of these tastes. It is accomplished by using a host of herbs, spices and fruit, including: chili, cumin, garlic, ginger, basil, sweet basil, lime, lemongrass, coriander, pepper, turmeric and shallots.
Thailand - Customs
One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the wai, which is similar to the Indian namaste gesture. Showing greeting, farewell, or acknowledgment, it comes in several forms reflecting the relative status of those involved, but generally it involves a prayer-like gesture with the hands and a bow of the head.
Physical demonstrations of affection in public are common between friends, but less so between lovers. It is thus common to see friends walking together holding hands, but couples rarely do so except in westernized areas.
A notable social norm holds that touching someone on the head may be considered rude. It is also considered rude to place one's feet at a level above someone else's head, especially if that person is of higher social standing. This is because the Thai people consider the foot to be the dirtiest and lowest part of the body, and the head the most respected and highest part of the body. This also influences how Thais sit when on the ground -- their feet always pointing away from others, tucked to the side or behind them. Pointing at or touching something with the feet is also considered rude.
It is also considered extremely rude to step on a Thai coin, because the king's head appears on the coin. When sitting in a temple, one is expected to point one's feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arranged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons -- such as placing the shrine on the same wall as the head of a bed, if a house is too small to remove the shrine from the bedroom entirely.
It is also customary to remove one's footwear before entering a home or a temple, and not to step on the threshold.
There are a number of Thai customs relating to the special status of monks in Thai society. Because of their religious discipline, Thai monks are forbidden physical contact with women. Women are therefore expected to make way for passing monks to ensure that accidental contact does not occur. A variety of methods are employed to ensure that no incidental contact (or the appearance of such contact) between women and monks occurs. Women making offerings to monks place their donation at the feet of the monk, or on a cloth laid on the ground or a table. Powders or ungents intended to carry a blessing are applied to Thai women by monks using the end of a candle or stick. Lay people are expected to sit or stand with their heads at a lower level than that of a monk. Within a temple, monks may sit on a raised platform during ceremonies to make this easier to achieve.
Thailand is home to several different ethnic groups, but about 80 percent of the population belong to a group that speaks one of the Tai languages. The largest of these groups are the Thai (Siamese) and the Lao. The Thai are found throughout the nation, while the Lao are concentrated in the northeast.