Thailand covers a land area of 513,115 sq km (198,000 sq miles), with a coastline of approximately 3,200 km (2,000 miles) along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
The official population is now just over 65 million, with an annual growth rate of .85%, one of the lowest in the south-eastern region, with Bangkok having a population of 10 million. Approximately 75% of the country is ethnic Thai, 14% are Chinese, and the remaining 11% are mostly Indian, Malay, Karen, Khmer or Mon. The literacy rate is high at about 94%, and the average life expectancy is 66 for men and 72 for women.
National Flag / Symbol
The Thai flag, originally red with a white elephant, was changed to a horizontally striped red, white and blue flag in 1917. The colours represent the three pillars of the Thai nation. Red signified the life-blood of the Thai people, white symbolizes the purity of Buddhism, the national religion, and the dominant blue stripe represents the monarchy.
The Thai national symbol is the Garuda, a mythical half-bird/half human figure (steed of the Hindu god Vishnu). This figure adorns King Bhumibol’s scepter and royal standard. Many ministries and departments have incorporated the Garuda into their insignias. The Garuda is also a sign of “Royal Appointment” and is only granted at the discretion of the King to companies who have displayed superior economic and charitable services to Thailand. This award is rarely bestowed and thus is considered a great honour.
Thai currency is the Baht (THB). One Baht is divided into 100 Satang. The paper denominations are B1000 (brown with green), B500 (purple), B100 (red), B50 (blue) and B20 (green). There is a B10 coin of white metal with a bronze centre, a metal B5 and B1, and a bronze 50 and 25 Satang.
The written Thai language reads horizontally from left to right, as in English. It consists of 44 consonants and 32 vowels that combine to formulate syllabic sounds. The sounds are combined with five different tone levels: high, low, common, rising and falling tones. This is the most challenging part of the Thai language as it is quite difficult to master the subtle differences to produce the correct tone. The spoken grammar is very simple. There are no Thai suffixes, genders, articles or plurals. Tenses are indicated by auxiliaries. When speaking with friends, most pronouns are simply dropped.
Learning to speak a little Thai is a fun challenge. Thai people appreciate it and reward you with a wide smile when a foreigner tries to say something in their language. It is also very helpful if you plan to travel within Thailand. If you learn with a Thai teacher, you will be able to ask all those questions about the Thais and their customs. A pocket size Thai translation book can help you get started.
Category: The Monarchy & Thai Religion
It is obvious that the monarchy is still a strong unifying force for the nation. Although the King’s power is regulated by the constitution, he is the Head of State and greatly loved and respected by his people. Everywhere in Thailand, in shops, homes, petrol stations and restaurants, you will see pictures of the King and other members of the Royal Family.
THE ROYAL FAMILY
Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was born on December 5, 1927, in Massachusetts, USA, where his father was studying medicine at Harvard University. He succeeded his elder brother as King on June 8, 1946. On April 28, 1950, King Bhumibol was married to Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiya-kara, a great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn. The following week, on May 5, 1950, they were crowned King and Queen in a dazzling ceremony at the Grand Palace. He is much revered by the Thai nation and is currently the world’s longest reigning monarch.
The King and Queen have four children; Princess Ubol Ratana, born April 5, 1951; Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn born July 28, 1952; Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn born April 2, 1955 and Princess Chulabhorn born July 4, 1957.
Rama IX is very much a working monarch, and his dedication to his people is most impressive. He is a gifted photographer, painter, jazz saxophonist, composer and yachting enthusiast.
Queen Sirikit and the Royal children are also very active in public services and constantly in the news. You will hear and read about their involvement in conservation and the protection of the environment. They give aid from the Royal purse to disaster victims, and they initiate many projects all over the country.
There are several Queen’s Projects in the Pattaya area. At Phu Luang, on Route 3376, you can buy handicrafts, quilts, fruit and vegetables. These are produced in the north of Thailand at crop substitution centres, set up to provide alternatives to opium poppy farming. There is also a Career Apprenticeship Centre about 12km north of Pattaya on Sukhumvit Road.
Wat Yansangwararam, a major wat under Royal patronage, is regarded as the Wat of the Reign. You will find it in the hills about 15 km south of Pattaya, off Highway 3 (see Leisure Activities).
The Thai people deeply honour and respect their royalty. Do not criticize the Royal Family or show a lack of respect for their monarch. It is illegal to insult royalty and an arrestable offence.
Over 92% of the Thai population are practicing Theravada Buddhists. The teachings of Buddha are compatible with most other religions. Buddhism is the very heart of Thai culture; it gives life to all the traditions, social systems, art and literature of the nation.
On a hill overlooking Pattaya bay, you will see a huge golden statue of the Buddha, set up as a reminder of his teachings. You will pass shrines with four-faced Brahma statues, trees with coloured ribbons and fortune tellers and vendors of good luck charms. These practices are vestiges of Brahmanism, the early form of Hinduism, and Animism, a folk religion with belief in spirits. These elements have been absorbed in varying degrees into Buddhism in Thailand.
The Buddhist belief in earthly impermanence has made the Thais a fun (sanuk) loving people who appear to be unruffled by any event. They tend to rise above the problems of life with a emai pen raif or enever mindf attitude. They accept frustrating situations with the greatest of ease and never seem to be in too much of a hurry for anything. They also avoid extremes, and this is especially true when it comes to showing emotion. The strong Western influence has made the Thais in Pattaya much more tolerant of foreign ways. In most instances, they assume that if we are doing something inappropriate it is simply because we do not know any better. The Thais in Pattaya are more relaxed than their country cousins. Nevertheless, if a foreigner makes the effort to respect Thai customs, the Thais will appreciate you the more for it. Be aware of what you are wearing, your general manner and avoid very affectionate gestures with others in public. Here are some courtesy tips:
- Never be disrespectful to the Monarchy or Royal Family in any way at any time.
Show proper respect for Buddha statues by not touching them, climbing on them for photos or pointing your feet in their direction when seated.
Act with decorum in a temple and dress appropriately. A woman should give space to a monk, so as to make sure there is no body contact. See above, under Wats.
Do not touch anyonefs head. Inferiors will generally try to keep their heads lower than those of higher status even crouching down if necessary.
Do not ever use your foot to point at somebody or something, nor put your feet on a table. The foot is considered the lowest part of the body, both literally and figuratively, and it is very insulting.
Remove your shoes before entering a house. Some shops also require leaving shoes at the door.
Elders are given higher status than juniors; do not be offended if they ask you how old you are or even how much you earn. It is just showing interest and not considered impolite. Evasive answers are acceptable.
Thais will ask gpai naih (where are you going) when they see you leave. It is a sort of salutation probably derived from ancient times when it was a great event to see a traveller come through a remote village. You may give a truthful answer or just say gpai tiawh (I am going out).
The Thai greeting wai is also used as a gesture of thanks and should first be given by a younger or lower-ranking person. The hands are placed palms together as in prayer, and the head makes a bow. The deeper the bow and higher the hands, the greater the respect shown. A wai should always be returned, although a smile and a nod will do, if you are a foreigner. The word of greeting or farewell is ’sawatdee-ka’ for a woman and ’sawatdee-krab’ for a man. Many educated Thais will thrust out a hand to a Westerner to give a firm handshake. It may happen that somebody calls out “you!” to get your attention, this is the translation of the polite Thai khun and not meant to be rude.
The Thai smile is world famous and is one of the best things about life here. Sadly there are some shop assistants in Pattaya, who have been jaded by rude foreigners and will simply gaze at you with a blank look. Do not be put off – keep smiling! Do it the Thai way for a friendly and positive start.
Not all smiles are happy ones as the Thais also smile or giggle when under emotional stress, or when they are upset. A smile can also be used as an apology. Despite his rueful grin, that baht bus driver can be truly sorry he backed into your car. Resist the temptation to punch him and return the smile while waiting for the police to arrive.
Loss of Face
It is very bad manners to lose your temper or raise your voice, and no Thai will respect you for it. You gain nothing by becoming more assertive and getting angry. In fact, you will find that it is counter-productive. You will be considered to have lost face, and most Thais will stop interacting with you by either ignoring you or walking away. For a Thai it is an awful disgrace. Try to avoid head-on confrontations. In any dispute make sure there is a compromise solution available, a bridge for your opponent to retreat across without losing face. You will get better results this way and avoid humiliating a Thai, which in an extreme case could lead to vindictiveness.
If a problem arises with a Thai employee, try to solve it the Thai way by asking his friend to mention the problem to the employee. The person in question will not have to lose face and can rectify the situation without confrontation. If a face-to-face confrontation is needed, stay calm and explain the problem in a polite and productive manner.