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Educators Programs in Thailand

Exploring Thailand

Thailand is a traveler’s dream with its picturesque beaches, forested mountains, ancient ruins and ornate temples. The nation is only about twice the size of the U.S. state of Wyoming, but it’s packed with memorable destinations.

The appeal brings millions of visitors to its shores each year, making the capital Bangkok the most visited city in the world in 2021. That same year U.S. News and World Report ranked Thailand as being one of the best countries on the planet for adventure, food, scenery and culture.

This variety gives students many opportunities to experience aspects of life they won’t see elsewhere.

Country Basics

Thailand has a population of about 69 million people and is bordered by Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The country includes about 1,430 islands and was known as Siam until 1939 when the name was changed.

Language

Thai is the official language. It includes 76 characters, though four of them are not in regular use. 44 of the characters are consonants. The language is hard to learn because it has five tones that change the meaning of words. The vocal tones are high, mid, low, rising and falling.

For basic friendly exchanges, students can learn these words and phrases:

  • Hello: Sawadee kap/ka (ka is used if the speaker is a woman; kap if the speaker is a man)
  • How are you?: Sabaidee mai kap/ka?
  • Good: Sabaidee
  • Goodbye: Laa korn
  • Please: Karunaa
  • Thank you: Korp kun kap/ka
  • Excuse me: Kho tod kap/ka
  • What is your name? Kun chu a-rai kap/ka? My name is ___. Phom/Chaan cheu ___.
  • Where are you from? Koon maa jaak tee nai ka/kap? I am from ___. Phom/Chaan maa jaak ___.
  • Do you speak English? Koon pood pasa Ungrit dai mai?
  • I don’t understand. Phom/Chaan mai khao jai.
  • Where is the toilet? Hong nahm you tee ni?
  • How much is it? An-nee ra-ka tao rai kap/ka?

When addressing people, “khun” is often used before a given name as a sign of respect. It’s the Western equivalent of titles like Mr. and Mrs., but khun is used regardless of someone’s marital status or gender.

Aside from Thai, dozens of hill tribe languages and dialects are also spoken throughout the country. In Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, there are many people who speak English. The program staff can help with translations if there are any language barriers.

Why It’s Called the Land of Smiles

Thailand is called the “Land of Smiles” for a reason. Smiles are used as a subtle form of communication throughout the country. There are names for at least a dozen different kinds of smiles in Thai, including the gleeful smile, the teasing one, and the “I disagree with you” smile. Travelers often can’t tell the difference, but overall, the Thai people are very welcoming and will show it with a smile.

Social Norms

There are a few social norms to keep in mind while traveling in Thailand:

  • Clothing – It’s important to respect the conservative culture, particularly when entering temples. Don’t bring low-cut shirts, short shorts or skin tight clothing. Instead pack loose-fitting pants and shorts that cover just above the knees (think basketball length). Also bring t-shirts that cover your shoulders.
  • Removing shoes – Thai people usually remove their shoes when entering homes, temples and even some shops. Therefore, you should pack some crocs, flip flops or other easy-to-remove shoes.
  • Gestures/Body Language – Be careful about gestures or touching people. The head is sacred in Thailand, so do not touch people’s heads. Meanwhile, the feet are considered lowly and dirty, so you shouldn’t put your feet up or move things with your feet. You also should avoid pointing or summoning people with a hand gesture.
  • Greetings – Thai people generally don’t shake hands. Instead, they do a ‘wai.’ This involves putting your hands together in front of you in a prayer pose and lifting them towards your face while lowering your head. The higher your hands, the higher the level of respect. This gesture can also be used to say thank you and goodbye.
  • Forbidden speech – Never say anything negative about the King or the Royal Family. It is highly rude and illegal.
  • National anthem – The country plays its national anthem twice a day, and you should stand still when you hear it.
  • General respect – Overall, it’s crucial to be respectful of Buddhist customs and other cultural norms. Your program leader will be your guide if you have any questions.

Food

Thai people use spoons and forks for most meals. They use the spoon for cutting and scooping and the fork to push food onto the spoon.

Expect lots of delicious rice in Thailand. It’s estimated that there are about 5,000 varieties of rice in the country. Jasmine rice is one of the most common, and it’s the rice that the country primarily exports.

Thais eat almost no frozen food and generally don’t do much home cooking. Eating out is inexpensive and a number of dwellings don’t have a stove or oven.

Weather

It’s warm and humid in Thailand from June-August. Summer in Southeast Asia is the rainy season with many brief and refreshing showers. You can prepare for the weather by considering the average weather conditions:

June July August
High Temperature 93 F 91 F 91 F
Low Temperature 79 F 78 F 78 F
Monthly Rainfall 6.2 inches 7 inches 8.7 inches
Monthly Rainy Days 16 days 18 days 20 days

Currency

The currency is the Thai baht (THB). One baht is worth about three U.S. cents. This makes for tough mental math conversions. Generally one U.S. dollar is about equivalent to 34 Thai bahts, depending on the exchange rate.

Religion

About 93% of the population is Buddhist and five percent are Muslim. One percent are Christians. The remaining members of the population are followers of other religions, such as Hinduism or traditional belief systems like animism, or are nonreligious. Across the country there are about 35,000 temples.

Ethnic Groups

There are about 70 ethnic groups in Thailand. The largest are the Tais, which are people who speak Tai languages including Thai. There also are a large number of people who are Chinese, Malay, Khmer and Karen, along with Burmese refugees from neighboring Myanmar.

Other Fun Facts About Thailand

  • Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized. The country’s name in the Thai language – Prathet Thai – means “land of the free.”
  • Thai people call Bangkok Krung Thep Mahanakhon. However, that’s a shortened version of the city’s full name, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest name for a place. Here is the full name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit
  • Elephants have long been revered in Thailand and have endured as a national symbol. Due to habitat loss, their numbers declined dramatically in the 20th century, so it’s a national priority to preserve the remaining population.
  • Thailand banned logging in all natural forests in 1989.
  • There are more than 1500 orchid species in the nation and more than a 1000 bird species.
  • Most Thais have a nickname that is chosen by the parents at birth based on its meaning.
  • Around 20% of Thais are employed in the tourism industry.

Rustic Pathways in Thailand

The Ultimate Animal Conservation Program: Saving Elephants in Thailand

The Thai Elephant Conservation Project offers students a unique experience to learn about elephant behavior and the lives of local indigenous caretakers. The program addresses the historical challenges faced by elephants in Thailand while providing hands-on lessons in elephant care and biodiversity conservation.

Traveling to Thailand for an Outdoor Adventure

The Southeast Asian Adventurer program is an action-packed experience. It has a little bit of everything – adrenaline-pumping thrills, conservation lessons, cultural activities, and plenty of time outdoors with animals and nature.

Why Teens Who Love Marine Conservation Will Want to Take This Trip

Thailand offers a unique opportunity for conservation enthusiasts! The Marine and Rainforest Conservation program combines beachfront exploration, mountain adventures, and marine ecosystem experiences, giving students a hands-on insight into environmental conservation.

Why Students Picked a Trip that Challenges Them to Pack Virtually Nothing

Would you travel to villages in northern Thailand with nothing but a small backpack and the clothes on your back? Find out what students think about embarking on this ‘Come with Nothing’ adventure!

Thailand Travel: Updates from the Ultimate Service and Adventure Programs

Thailand has always been a perfect country for students looking for adventure, service and cultural immersion. Learn about some of the activities on various summer programs!

Student Stories

A 2008 Thailand Adventure Launches a Life of Travel

Kristen grew up in a rural community where stories about international travel weren’t common. She would change that when she journeyed to Thailand for a trip that was both quite different and yet remarkably similar to the travel programs of today.

Making Lifelong Friends Far from Home

Piper recalls her transformative 16-day journey through Thailand, filled with memorable moments and immersing in the local culture. She formed lasting friendships with fellow travelers and left the country with a broader perspective of the world.

Eat

Quick + Easy Thai Basil Chicken

Krapao Gai, also known as Thai basil chicken, is a popular Thai stir-fry dish among both locals and tourists. The dish is known for its aromatic and savory aroma, thanks to the fragrant Thai holy basil used, which is different from sweet basil commonly found in Western cuisine.

Thai Pumpkin Curry

Thai Pumpkin Curry, also known as Gaeng Fak Thong in Thai, is a delicious and aromatic dish that is a part of Thailand’s rich culinary tradition. Savory, spicy, with a touch of sweetness, this curry is hearty and perfect for dinner.

Thai Som Tam

Som tam, or green papaya salad, is one of the most popularly eaten dishes in Thailand. It’s characterized by the fresh crunch of green papaya, the tanginess of the dressing, and the heat of thai chilies. Perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day!

Watch and Listen

Street Food in Bangkok

Episode 1 on Netflix Street Food: Asia showcases street food in Bangkok, Thailand. Watch a street food chef make tom yum soup and crab omelets.

Top 100 Thai Songs

This Spotify playlist updates yearly and has the best mix of Thai music.

Learn Before You Go

Q&A: Going to Thailand with Rustic Pathways

Our Thailand Country Manager answers the most frequently asked questions about travel to Thailand.

Travel Guide for Beginners

Learn the basics if you’re an individual traveling to Thailand for the first time.