Thailand: Culture and Traditions
There are plenty of reasons why Thailand remains one of those destinations at the top of the bucket list. Ranging from cotton-white beaches on the southern isles to wild mountains in the north, bamboo-built beach bars on the Andaman to rugged canyons on the edge of Myanmar, the nation has plenty of awesome spots up its sleeve.
But it's not just about the where – it's also about the character of the place as a whole. And boy does Thailand have oodles of that! You'll find sizzling pad Thai sellers with smiles on their faces (it's called the Land of Smiles, after all). You'll get chanting monks dressed in resplendent orange. You'll unravel deep histories of Ayutthaya kings, and see golden temples piercing the sky. The result is a place that enchants as well as wows; a land that enthralls and can rarely be forgotten in a jiffy.
Here are just some of the great things you're sure to notice about Thailand culture as you travel the eastern land with LBW this year…
The hilltribes are simply fascinating
Head north, to where the hills erupt around the cool and quirky temple-topped city of Chiang Mai and the Burmese border, and you'll find some of Thailand's most traditional folk: the Karen hilltribes. These guys have been residing in the jungle-dressed peaks of the Shan ranges for centuries, and historically originated from deep in Myanmar. Today, they are an integral part of northern Thai culture, and oodles of visitors make the trek deep into the elephant-stalked woods there to see their interesting way of life. One of the most eye-opening experiences has to be the long-necked Karen people, who fit brass rings to their bodies to make their necks grow longer.
Festivals go off with a bang
From New Year water-throwing celebrations (one to watch out for if you've opted to travel Thailand during the festive season) to flamboyant processions of flower-clad floats, festivals here are a big business. Drawing in thousands of people, both locals and travellers alike, the shindigs range from weird and wonderful buffet parties for the resident monkeys of Lop Buri to colossal blowouts for Chinese New Year complete with dragon boats and five-spice stir fries. One of the most often talked about has to be the Rocket Festival of northern Thailand though, which is the ancestral celebration of the Isan folk; and a chance to see some great pyrotechnics to boot!
There's deep respect for monks
With more than 90% of the country a part of the Buddhist faith, it's hardly a surprise that those of the religious order are treated with the utmost respect in Thailand. Whether it's making way on the pavements, avoiding physical contact in public spaces, or giving up the best seats on the buses, locals treat their robed compadres with great honour. In fact, monks are unquestionably considered sacred folk, and travellers should be sure to try and adhere to this nuance of Thailand culture in the same way. What's more, your behaviour in a temple or shrine – even if it's a ruined one (and there are loads of them!) – should reflect your respect for the local religion: be quiet; make offerings when necessary; always allow local worshippers pride of place.
The food really is as good they say
Alright, so you might have had your fair share of Thai food back in your home town, but there's really nothing that can prepare you for the whirlwind of chili and lemongrass and ginger and shrimp paste that spills out of the street stalls and night markets in the Land of Smiles. Fresh and fragrant and packed with flavour, cooking is one of the central pillars of Thailand culture. You could embrace the medley of oriental treats with a lesson on how to forge the perfect masaman curry, or simply taste your way through all the stir-fries and papaya salads, sticky rice and sizzling pork in basil, at spots like Khaosan Road in Bangkok!
Muay Thai is big (aka huge)
You can think of Muay Thai like the Premier League of the Land of Smiles. Boxing rings and training centres are everywhere, from the inner-city street corners of Bangkok to the rustic towns of the central plains. You'll almost certainly be invited or see adverts for a bout, and the palpable enthusiasm for the sport is hard to miss. It's easy to see why Muay Thai is such an integral part of Thailand culture too, especially with some legends telling tales of captured soldiers from the Ayutthaya Kingdom fighting their way to freedom over their Burmese enemies, or famous stories of Thai boxers beating everyone from Kung Fu to Karate masters in the 20th century.
The people are super-duper friendly
Of course, there's such a thing as a grumpy Thai. Only, you're probably not going to meet one. Why? Well because they are few and far between, and are outnumbered by the bucket load by locals who love to smile and chat. Even today, with thousands of visitors drifting through the towns of the Land of Smiles, folk here are really eager to talk and get to know about your homeland and life. So, don't be surprised if you're stopped for a group photo in the middle of that sightseeing tour, and don’t think it strange if the barman wants to natter away a while before they let you lose with that Chang.
Removing the shoes
This is one that westerners in the Land of Smiles can often struggle with, but also a central pillar of Thailand culture that simply can't be ignored if you want to travel this beautiful country. We're talking about the curious tradition of removing your pads before entering a building. It's especially important if you're going to someone's private home, but many people will also do it in bars and restaurants. It's a practice that actually makes plenty of sense, and you'll see what we mean once you're done trudging through the dusty streets of those Thai towns! Just slip your shoes off by the entrance and pick them up on exit – keeps everything spick, span and looking clean.
Can you think of any more curious traditions or nuances of Thailand culture that you think LBW's travellers are bound to notice on their adventure through the Land of Smiles? We'd love to hear about them in the comments below! Or, if you think it's time you booked your own Thailand tours, be sure to head over to our Thailand itinerary page…