A Little Insight…Thailand’s Crazy Quirks and Fun Facts

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” (why I ever thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know) and it had some of the raw, unfiltered and seemingly meaningless quirky facts that rarely make it into my travel stories. I was new to travel and everything around me was a surprise so I filled the Australia page with things like: Note to self, brekkie=breakfast and thongs=sandals not ladies underwear. Incredibly useful, I know  ;-)

Well, good news, I’m reviving that series! Yipee! I plan on occasionally sharing a compendium of weird and fun facts and observations for each country I visit (or have visited)…and since I’m a geek at heart you can bet on some of the local history I’ve found intriguing (sort of like the Twenty Questions post on Jordan earlier this year).

So, enough with the blathering on my end, and on with the Thailand style fun facts!

Quirky, Fun, Intriguing, & Just Plain Interesting Thailand Facts and Observations

Map of Southeast Asia

The countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand is in yellow, surrounding by the nearby cultures, languages, and influences...I live in Chiang Mai, that dot in the north!

Before I travel through any new place I like to read up on the history…though far from scholarly, Wikipedia is my go-to source, and Thailand’s Wikipedia entry gives a really 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.

A Spoon and a Fork Please!
Thais 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.

It Goes Together Like Ice Cream and 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…I found it odd, have never craved it again, but am glad I sampled it once!

When in Doubt, 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!

Thailand Land of Smiles

A sweet smile from Jenny as she holds the village's youngest resident; Akha Ama coffee village near Chiang Rai.

The Land of Smiles Delivers
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! :)

Buddha Chiang Mai, Thailand

A large golden Buddha statue at Wat Prah Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Wai, and Thai Social Protocol
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…depending on the person, age, and “status” for lack of a better word defines how low you bow your head in greeting and thanks.

The Quick and Random:

  • Many Thais cart around the tiny, fluffy, yappy dogs and perch them in purses and on their motorbikes. Excluding the motorbike phenomenon, it’s actually equally baffling to me as this same trend in the US.
  • Bangkok has the longest city name in the world; written out it’s actually: 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!
  • Though Thai is the official language in Thailand, you will also find: Lao, Chinese, Malay, Khmer, Akha and Karen…among many others depending on where in Thailand you’re traveling!
  • Until this century, Thailand was actually called Siam throughout history; the name changed to Thailand in 1939.
  • Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European power…quite a feat since Europeans colonized seemingly everywhere for a good while.
  • The Kingdom of Thailand is a constitutional monarchy (one of the most populated in the world) and has a King; he is well-loved and respected throughout Thailand (and sarcasm and levity concerning the King is not so much appreciated, it’s against the law to say anything bad about him)…
  • The Thai political situation is very, very complex and nuanced and there are many people better suited to explaining Thai politics than myself.
  • It’s always some sort of holiday here. 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!
  • The country is deeply spiritual and Buddhism is the main religion, with 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.
Alms Monks in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Monks line up during an alms-giving in Chiang Mai during Songkran, Thai New Year.

When I looked around me over the past week (eek! It’s been a full week here!!) these are some of the fun and random things I have found along the way and that have jogged my memories from past travels. It’s far from comprehensive, and Ana 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 Thailand?

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35 Responses to A Little Insight…Thailand’s Crazy Quirks and Fun Facts

  1. Coltonreed25 January 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    i love thailand ps i hate it

  2. Diamond January 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    This page is tight real shit , Yall should really look at it , Im looking at it for a paper we doin in class. This Diamond.!!

  3. PWT Health Tips December 1, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Excellent post..nice pics

  4. PWT Sports Racing News December 1, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Great post, In this article some interesting facts

  5. PWT Harbal Products December 1, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    Wow great post and beautiful pics

  6. Jennie Gordons November 16, 2011 at 4:24 am #

    Hey, great pictures! And the quick facts about Thailand, I never knew all those things, now I want to go there even more!

  7. Anonymous November 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    That is awesome! Thanks Laura, my friend Jodi writes for the Hipmunk and snuck a picture of me up over there :)

  8. Ayngelina November 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    The quirkiest thing I remember was people wearing a certain colour shirt to show their support for something. Although when I was there is was much calmer with pinks and yellows.

    • Anonymous November 13, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

      Ah yes, too true, it’s such a visual divide between the various political groups, particularly when their in one place! Thanks Ayngelina, hope you are doing well :)

  9. Lauren November 12, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    I read your blog regularly, and I just stumbled upon a picture of you at the hipmunk blog.  Cool!  http://blog.hipmunk.com/page/2

  10. Ashley G November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    These funny little quirks about places are what make me want to travel!  This post go me really excited for my upcoming trip through Asia, as have many of your posts I’ve read in preparation these last few months.  I’m working on a blog of my own and A Little Adrift has been a great inspiration.  Thanks!

    • Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

      Thanks Ashley! :) So glad you’ve found the site a helpful and good luck launching and filling your own site — having a travel blog is such a great way to share the fun things you find on the road :)

  11. Robert Fitzsimmons November 8, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I’m a big Thailand fan and miss it, there is certainly a lot more to the place than this post could ever cover, but it’s a good scratch of the surface :-)

    • Anonymous November 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

      Very true, I could never even remotely get them all, but I had to capture a few of them somewhere!  :)

  12. Kurt W November 5, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    Great post, some interesting facts. The official name of Bangkok is definitely unique.

    • Anonymous November 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

      Thanks Kurt, I kinda love collecting the random tidbits of information as I’m traveling, it’s fun to note the differences sometimes :)

  13. Christine November 5, 2011 at 6:04 am #

    I loved learning all of these quirky facts about Thailand! Had no idea Bangkok had such a huge name. Great post, Shannon :)

    • Anonymous November 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      Thank you Christine, I love collecting the odd and random facts and observations about a new place, cheers!  :)

    • Tyler Woychyshyn November 10, 2011 at 12:28 am #

      Good call. I have trouble pronouncing the airport, Suba-what?. Glad they switched to Bangkok for the farangs!

      • Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 3:05 am #

        Hah, yes, I can never get the airport right either, and I think they prefer that I don’t even try since I only butcher it! Bangkok was a good compromise for the tourists :)

  14. Mihaela November 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    wow, ice cream sandwiched in a piece of bread, was that tasty? it sounds strange combination to me..

    • Anonymous November 5, 2011 at 3:35 am #

      Bizarre tasty – yes it was tasty, but kinda that weird disassociation between my brain, which knew it was eating bread, and my taste buds…worth trying! :)

  15. Andi Perullo November 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    This was so interesting!  And that last pic is AWESOME!!!

  16. Ross November 3, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    hmmm bread & ice cream…. this could potentially be a new way of life for me!

  17. Nomadic Samuel November 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    I often lamented the overuse of condensed milk while in Thailand but after reading this I suddenly have a craving :P

  18. LivingIF November 2, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    We were in Thailand about six months ago now and it was fun to read your post about all these fun facts I was never aware of before. For example, never knew Bangkok was so long winded. Another quirk I remember taking note of was how superstitious Thai’s can be, especially when it came to their fortunes and prayer sticks.

    • Anonymous November 5, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

      Very true! There are a lot of superstitions and rituals to follow to keep everything in order here it seems, keeps it interesting though, that’s for sure  :)

  19. Anonymous November 2, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Nice post. It is like get together with Thai culture and to know about Thai people. Like the pictures especially the photograph of Buddha.

    • Anonymous November 2, 2011 at 6:47 am #

      Thank you! It’s an entirely different experience now that I’ve lived here some time and slowed down to look at the cultural aspects.

  20. Jason November 2, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    What a fun post! Don’t forget about the Thai doughnuts (Sala Pao and Pa Tong Ko) available at the street stalls. :)

    • Anonymous November 2, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      Oh man, how could I leave out the doughnuts! I am a bit addicted to them and the hot, sweet soy milk – yum!! Now I crave some right now! :)

  21. Indian Travel Company November 2, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    it’s true that Thailand’s tourism pushes the image that the country is the “land of smiles”.Thanks a lot for the post. Im a massive fan of the blog.
    Motion Trip is a dynamic Indian travel company which takes immense pride in show-casing places in a different way. At Motion Trip, we show you the bright, exotic, adventurous and the fun side of all the countries through our wide range of personalized tours.

  22. Hariram November 2, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    Is the Wai similar to the Indian Namaste?

    • Anonymous November 2, 2011 at 6:45 am #

      There are definitely similarities, but I feel like the Namaste is a bit more casual than the wai, which has social implications depending on how low you bow your head and touch your hands to your head…though I could be wrong, I have always thought the Namaste was more of an open greeting for everyone? :)

      • Hariram November 2, 2011 at 7:10 am #

        I think that would be true of the big cities in India where a handshake is fast becoming the norm. A Namaste here could even feel out of place!

        In the rural scene, a Namaste or Namaskar is still in practice. I don’t think the duration matters but the bowing is definitely attached to status/age. It can be one-to-one or one-to-many.

        As you mentioned, “..Thailand’s culture and history are heavily influenced from India and China…” :)

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