In the early days of A Little Adrift I used to have a page on the site completely dedicated to the fun facts and tidbits I discovered in each new country. I called the page “Strangeness” and it hosted the raw, unfiltered and seemingly meaningless quirky facts that rarely make it into my travel stories. I was new to travel and everything around surprised and delighted me. I filled the Australia page with things like: Note to self, brekkie=breakfast and thongs=sandals, not ladies underwear. Incredibly useful stuff there, I know. ;-)
Fun & Interesting Facts About Thailand
Before I travel through any new place I read up on the history. And while far from scholarly, Wikipedia is my go-to source. Thailand’s Wikipedia entry gives a great overview of each facet of Thai history, geography, economy, etc. Also, I actively veer away from stereotypes and gross generalizations about a country, but that being said, take this as a fun and not-authoritative-at-all list. :)
Wait, Before we Get Started, Where is Thailand?
For a quick geography lesson, Thailand is smack dab in the middle of Southeast Asia and bordered by four countries: Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. And because of its location, Thailand’s culture and history are heavily influenced from India and China.
1. You’ll need both a spoon and a fork for that dish!
Thai people eat most dishes with a spoon in their dominant hand and forks easily leverage food onto the spoon. This comes in handy because Thai food is so tasty, and when I’m using a spoon it’s a lot easier to shovel food into my mouth! Of note is the fact that chopsticks are really only used for eating soups, otherwise you can mostly expect your dish served with a spoon and/or fork.
2. For the perfect dessert, just look for ice cream and white bread!
Desserts are of a different ilk here, and one of the more popular desserts is ice cream sandwiched between a piece (or two) of white bread. They don’t traditionally eat bread with meals (that’s what the rice is for), and bread is most often served sweet. Yum! Seriously, don’t knock bread and ice cream ‘til you’ve tried it. It was an odd combination, and I have never craved it again, but I’m glad I sampled it once in my life!
3. When in doubt, they’ll probably just add condensed milk.
Condensed milk is a staple here so it seems, it’s sold on the shelf of every 7-11 and Tesco Lotus and the syrupy sweet flavor compliments both drinks and desserts. Thai food often has a sweet component to it (they sugar their food with table sugar!) and the near obsession here with condensed milk is another facet of that sweet tooth!
4. Known as “The Land of Smiles,” Thailand delivers on the promise.
Thailand’s tourism pushes the image that the country is the “land of smiles” and this is mostly true. Thais generally prefer harmony over open social conflict so it’s rare to get into altercations on the streets and I find the vendors and locals regularly offer up warm smiles and greetings. It’s also worth noting though, that smiling is the default reaction for Thais in a range of situations very different from the West. For example, a smile from a Thai person can show their personal embarrassment, or they smile to relieve your personal embarrassment, smiles come out of fear, remorse, and even tension. It varies – so yes, everyone is smiling, but it not always because they’re happy! :)
5. The wai is necessary and brush up on Thai social protocols.
Many Asian cultures have a different social hierarchy in place and Thailand is no exception. The hierarchy is present within families, friendships, and nearly all social situations. The most pronounced manifestation of this is the wai, a gesture of raised, clasped hands in front of your body. A person’s relationship to you, age, and their “status,” for lack of a better word, defines how low you should bow your head when giving a wai in greeting and thanks.
6. Toy pet accessories are definitely a thing.
Many Thai people cart around the tiny, fluffy, yappy dogs and perch them in purses, and on their motorbikes. Excluding the motorbike phenomenon, it equally baffles to me to see this same trend in the U.S.
7. Bangkok has the longest city name in the world.
The full name written out is: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Try saying that ten times fast!
8. Though Thai is the official language in Thailand but one of many spoken.
Besides hearing Thai in the predominantly Thai areas, you will also find Lao, Chinese, Malay, Khmer, Akha, and Karen. And that’s just to start, there are many other smaller ethnic groups with distinct languages and cultures depending on where in Thailand you travel!
9. The name “Thailand” is a relatively new addition to the country’s long history.
Until this century, Thailand was actually called Siam throughout history; the name changed to Thailand in 1939.
10. Thai people are fiercely proud.
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European power. That was quite a feat since Europeans colonized seemingly everywhere for a good while and there was a lot of French influence in other countries in the region. But Thai people are rightly proud their culture and food remains free of the colonial cultural influences rampant in Laos and Vietnam.
11. The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional monarchy.
Thailand is among the most populated constitutional monarchies in the world and it has a King. The long reigning, late Bhumibol Adulyadej was well-loved and respected throughout Thailand. His son took over in 2016. Note that sarcasm and levity concerning the King is not appreciated or allowed—it’s against the law to say anything bad about the royal family.
12. U.S. politics don’t hold a candle to the complexities of Thai politics.
The Thai political situation is very, very complex and nuanced and there are many people better suited to explaining Thai politics than myself.
13. Pick most any given day and it’s probably a holiday in Thailand.
Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it does feel like it! I always take note of upcoming holidays and ask around before planning anything big just to ensure I don’t get to a temple/park/shop/event and find everything closed! There are major national holidays, and then regional ones, too. There’s seemingly always something festive and fun happening.
14. The country is deeply spiritual and Buddhism is the main religion.
More than 90 percent of the population Buddhist. And let me tell you, you can tell when traveling through because there are wats (temples), Buddha statues, and mini offerings everywhere.
When I looked around me over the past week (eek! It’s been a full week here!!) these are some of the fun facts about Thailand and random things I have found along the way and that have jogged my memories from past travels. It’s far from comprehensive, and my niece has been the one to point out several of the oddities to me now that she’s here (she likes the tiny dogs in particular), but it’s always something new and intriguing here on a daily, if not hourly basis. :)
Traveled in Thailand or dreaming of traveling there? What fascinates you most about the country?