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History, Culture and Language

History, Culture and Language

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 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 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.

Current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, is the world’s longest serving head of state and Thailand’s longest reigning monarch, having ascended the throne in 1946.

 

Thailand Culture

Religion: The vast majority adhere to Buddhism (Theravada form), 5% are Muslim and there are Christian and Hindu minorities.

Social conventions:

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 or to point one's feet at someone. Shoes should be removed before entering someone's home or a temple.

Informal dress is widely acceptable and men are seldom, if ever, expected to wear suits. Beachwear should be confined to the beach and topless sunbathing is frowned upon. Smoking restrictions have been in place since 2002 and it is illegal to smoke in public establishments such as bars, restaurants and markets. Not everyone complies with this ban, but those flouting the law face fines.

 

Language in Thailand

While the official Thai language is widely spoken throughout Thailand, many Thais also speak and understand English, though more so in Bangkok and the major tourist areas.  As visitors to Thailand also include many Europeans and other Asians, Thai people's language skills often also include these other languages to varying degrees.  The Thai language itself is challenging to master, but Thai people are happy to help foreigners learn a few words to help them get around.  However, English is typically the common currency for cross-cultural conversation as Thailand hosts visitors from around the world.

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