People, Society & Customs
The people of Thailand are renowned for their warm hospitality and sense of fun which is why Thailand is known as ‘the Land of Smiles’.
The ethnic Thais were thought to have migrated from the area of southern China although there is evidence that a Thai civilisation lived in parts of Thailand before the main migrations and had formed a sophisticated society . Migrations from the Khmer to the east and Mon to the west have contributed over the centuries to the ethnic mix.
The population of Thailand is 65 million of which 75 per cent are ethnic Thai, 14 per cent Chinese with ethnic minorities making up 11 per cent. The minorities consist of ethnic Malays, Mons, Khmers and members of the hill tribes of which the Karen, Shan, Lahu and Lisu make up significant numbers.
The Thai population further divides into regional sub divisions of which central Thais are the dominant group among north, north eastern and southern Thais who all have their own mutually intelligible regional dialects.
One of the cornerstones of Thai life is Theravada Buddhism with over 94 per cent of Thais being practicing Buddhists. Stunning and well endowed Buddhist temples are found throughout Thailand and a large percentage of young men become novice monks even if for a short time. Almost 4 per cent of the people follow the Muslim faith and a small percentage is Christian. Another feature of Thai life is animistic spirit worship which happily co exists with most people's Buddhist beliefs. This practice can be widely seen throughout Thailand as evidenced by spirit houses which are located in the majority of homes and businesses.
Other major features of Thai cultural life are Muay Thai (kick boxing), native dance and Thai cuisine, which has become enormously popular across the globe.
The traditional Thai greeting is known as the Wai and involves the bringing together of the hands in a prayer like gesture and a bow of the head. The Wai is used in greeting, farewell and acknowledgement and the extent of the bow can be used to determine relative status.
Respect and politeness form an important part of Thai culture and you should avoid losing your temper and extreme gestures in public. It is considered rude to touch someone’s head (the highest part of the body or to touch or point at someone with your feet (the lowest part of the body). It is also customary to remove your shoes when entering a temple, home and sometimes other buildings. His Majesty the King is highly revered in Thailand and should always be accorded respect.
Despite these rules another feature of Thai people is their tolerance and understanding and they are quick to forgive unintended slips with their customs and practices. As long as you are respectful and well meaning you will find the Thais extremely hospitable and generous of spirit.