11 Fun Facts About Thailand
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11 Fun Facts About Thailand

Thailand is a popular travel destination in Southeast Asia for many reasons. Broadly, Thailand’s popularity stems from factors like its verdant mountain ranges in Northern Thailand, its famed Siamese cats, stunning beaches in the south, Buddhist monks all around, royal palaces, and over 100 national parks which forge the country’s natural beauty. The best places to visit include the Grand Palace, Khao Yai National Park, and Wat Rong Khun, also called the White Temple.

Before you visit this Southeast Asian country in person, check out these 11 fun facts about Thailand, the home of Siamese cats, pad thai, and muay thai.

Rustic Pathways student Olivia Venneman visits Mahathat Temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Rustic Pathways student Olivia Venneman enjoys the rain outside Mahathat Temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Here are 11 fun facts about Thailand:

  1. Thailand is Called the Land of Smiles
  2. Elephants Play an Important Role in Thailand’s Economy and Culture
  3. Bangkok is a City with Unique Characteristics
  4. Buddhism Plays a Major Role in Thailand
  5. Thailand is the Only Southeast Asian Country that was Never Colonized
  6. Muay Thai is a Cultural Treasure
  7. Social Graces are Important in Thailand
  8. Thailand has Some Unusual Celebrations
  9. You Can Easily Test your Taste Buds with Thai Cuisine
  10. Bangkok’s Airport is Said to be Haunted
  11. Astrology, Folklore and Spiritual Beliefs are Widespread in Thailand

1. Thailand is Called the Land of Smiles

It’s common for Thai people to greet everyone they meet with a large smile. Cheery facial expressions are a large part of Thai culture.

Smiles are used as a subtle form of communication in Thailand. 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.

Fun facts about Thailand picture

Copyright: © 2013 Rustic Pathways

2. Elephants Play an Important Role in Thailand’s Economy and Culture

Elephants are revered in Thailand and are considered the country’s national animal. Elephant images are incorporated in many art works and were featured on the Thai flag until 1917. White elephants in particular are significant in the country, since they are associated with royalty and symbolize strength and power.

A Rustic Pathways student enjoys enrichment activities with an Asian elephant in Thailand.

A Rustic Pathways student enjoys enrichment activities with an Asian elephant in Thailand. Copyright: © 2017 Rustic Pathways

The elephant population was large in Thailand in the early 20th century. It’s estimated there were about 400,000 elephants in the nation. Then the human population boomed and the logging industry exploded, leading to tremendous habitat loss.

Elephants were used as tractors to pull the logs, effectively destroying their own environment. That deforestation took a major toll, leading to mudslides and causing the elephant population to dwindle to less than 7,000.

In 1989 the government responded by putting a moratorium on logging. Conservation centers were created to support the elephants that had been negatively affected by the logging industry.

Today, nonprofits like the Rustic Pathways Foundation provide support to these conservation centers. And student travelers can help with caretaking duties during specialized travel programs.

3. Bangkok is a City with Unique Characteristics

Bangkok in Central Thailand has some unique traits. For one, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest place name.

Thai people call Bangkok Krung Thep Mahanakhon. However, that’s a shortened version of the city’s full name, which is: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

The name, composed of root words in Pali and Sanskrit, means:

“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.”

The capital also has topped tourism lists. Bangkok was the most visited city in the world in 2021.

Part of its charm is that the city has a series of canals called khlongs. Its 1682 canals gave the city the title “Venice of the East.” Bangkok was built on swampland, so a number of the canals serve as drainage conduits. Also, many buildings in the region were constructed on stilts because of the water.

boat in Bangkok

Traditionally the khlongs were used for transportation and floating markets. Unlike Venice, today many of Bangkok’s canals have been filled in, but some larger khlongs remain. You can ride a long-tail boat through its waters. Along the way, you can view some of the impressive temples and other architecture in this great city.

4. Buddhism Plays a Major Role in Thailand

Overall, it’s estimated that there are about 35,000 Buddhist temples and over 200,000 thousand Buddhist monks in the country. About 93% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist. Because of its prevalence, Buddhism plays an influential role in the culture.

You can see the part religion plays in the country’s symbols. On the nation’s flag, the white represents religion, particularly Buddhism. The red symbolizes the land and people and the blue for the constitutional monarchy. The flag prompted the unofficial country motto “nation-religion-king.”

The flag was adopted by royal decree on September 28, 1917, replacing the former flag with an elephant. The flag is celebrated every year on September 28th.

In addition to the flag, the religious influence is evident in the country’s artwork. There are prominent Buddha statues across Thailand.

The largest Buddha statue in the country is the “Great Buddha of Thailand” located in Ang Thong Province north of Bangkok. The gold-painted statue is more than 300 feet tall and took 18 years to build. The impressive structure was completed in 2008, making it one of the newer pieces of artworks in the country.

An older well-known statue is in the heart of Bangkok. The famous reclining Buddha can be viewed in the Wat Pho Temple. It was crafted in 1832 and is 150 feet long. This statue is covered with gold leaf. Throughout the country many other large and impressive Buddha statues are also gold, but several are white.

Aside from the artwork, Buddhism is engrained in the cultural norms. To be respectful, you should never touch anyone on the head since the head is considered sacred. You should also remove your shoes before entering a temple and generally be respectful of local religious ceremonies and practices.

5. Thailand is the Only Southeast Asian Country That was Never Colonized

One reason why Thailand’s culture has remained intact is because it’s the only country in Southeast Asia that’s never been colonized. The country’s name in the Thai language – Prathet Thai – means “land of the free.”

The Thai people are proud of their history, and it’s noted in the country’s national anthem. One reason the country was not colonized unlike other Southeast Asian countries is that the French and British wanted neutral territory between their colonies. But there was more to it than that.

King Chulalongkorn centralized power in Bangkok in the late 1800s and created a standing army. The Thai language was also made the official language. These nation-building measures paid off since European powers seemed to recognize Siam, the former name for Thailand, as a legitimate state.

6. Muay Thai is a Cultural Treasure

The ancient martial art of Muay Thai, also referred to as Thai boxing, has helped shape the image of Thai warriors. Thailand’s national sport instills discipline and practical self-protection skills and is steeped in the history and culture.

Muay Thai is called the “art of the eight limbs.” The reference refers to the hands, feet, knees and elbows. The martial art is traced back to the Sukhothai dynasty around the 13th century. Soldiers were taught the practices so they could defend the country in cases of unarmed combat.

The practice spread across the country, so that men, women and children learned its techniques. Muay Thai focuses on a commitment of mind, body and soul with a focus on respect and honor.

Rustic Pathways students learn Muay Thai during their student travel program.

Rustic Pathways students learn Muay Thai during their student travel program.

In the 1930s, Muay Thai spread as a sport and rules were created. Safety gear like boxing gloves were also added as Muay Thai competitions grew. Today travelers to Thailand can take Muay Thai lessons. The country also celebrates Muay Thai Day every year on March 17th.

7. Social Graces are Important in Thailand

Thailand is a conservative culture with a number of social expectations. They include:

  • Making conservative clothing choices – It’s important to respect the conservative Thai culture, particularly when entering temples. Visitors are advised to avoid low-cut shirts, short shorts and skin tight clothing and to cover your shoulders when appropriate.
  • Removing shoes – Thai people usually remove their shoes when entering homes, temples and even some shops.
  • Avoiding certain gestures – You have to be careful touching people in Thailand. The head is sacred in Thailand, so don’t touch people’s heads. On the flip side, feet are considered lowly and dirty, so don’t put your feet up or move things with your feet. You also should avoid pointing or summoning people with hand gestures.
  • Practicing proper greetings – Thai people generally do a ‘wai’ when they greet people. 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.
  • Minding your speech – It’s rude and illegal to say anything negative about the King or the Royal Family.
  • Pausing for the national anthem – The country plays its national anthem twice a day, and you should stand still when you hear it.

8. Thailand has some unusual celebrations

The Thai people know how to have fun and have created some unusual, but amazing, celebrations. Here are a just three of these unique events:

Songkran Festival

This celebration marks the Thai New Year, beginning on April 13. The festival extends across three days, and is celebrated in April since Thailand follows the Theravada Buddhist calendar. The festival includes common activities like visiting families, but it also is known for nationwide water fights.

The festival’s first day traditionally involves a water pouring ceremony. Scented water is poured on Buddha images to represent purification. During the festival, young people often also pour scented water on the hands and feet of their elders.

These ceremonies sparked an idea that has taken off. Huge water fights with water guns and buckets unfold outside of the temples nationwide. Since the festival occurs at the beginning of the country’s rainy season, it’s quite hot, so the water is refreshing. These water fights are joyous celebrations prompting street parties and lots of laughs.

Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival

This festival is held on the last Sunday in November in Lopburi province. It’s also called the Monkey Buffet Festival. As the name implies, local Thai people lay out two tons of food for the monkeys, including bananas, eggs, and sweet treats. The event also includes various live performances. Monkeys freely live outside temples in a number of places in Thailand and are considered sacred animals. This event celebrates the role they play in the culture.

Surin Elephant Round-Up:

This festival is also held in November in Surin Province. The two-day event showcases the skills of these sacred animals. Events include soccer games and tug of war with Thai Army personnel. Elephants may also be seen painting pictures and using their trunks for various tricks like twirling hula hoops.

9. You Can Easily Test Your Taste Buds with Thai Cuisine

Thailand is often listed among the top ten best countries for food. The nation has 5,000 varieties of rice alone, with jasmine rice being among the most popular. Rustic Pathways students say some of the best fruits, drinks, and Thai dishes they’ve eaten in the nation include:

  • Mangoes
  • Fresh Star Fruit Juice
  • Fresh Coconut Milk
  • Pad Thai – Stir fried rice noodles with chicken or tofu, peanuts, eggs and vegetables
  • Pad See Ew – Stir fry noodles fried with soy sauce and often mixed with meat, eggs or tofu

pad thai

Thai cuisine is also known for foods that may be uncommon choices for people from other countries. Thai food includes various insects, including fried crickets. Rustic Pathways traveler Abigail Evangelista says they “almost taste like salted chips.”

Large durian cut in half on a table with the yellow fruit flesh still inside. If you’re not brave enough to try an insect, another option in Thailand is durian – except this is a controversial choice. This melon-sized fruit is available throughout Southeast Asia and Thailand has 234 varieties of the fruit.

It’s controversial because of its odor. Some people describe the fruit as smelling like sewage or rotting food while others find its smell as being more pleasant. Regardless, the smell is so strong it’s banned in some public places.

Disagreements are also large on the taste. It seems people either love or hate durian. Some people describe it as tasting like custard or caramel mixed with cheese, almonds, and garlic. Others say it tastes as bad as it smells. You won’t know which side you fall on until you try it! One caveat is that durian is expensive. Some larger durian fruits cost hundreds of dollars.

10. Bangkok’s Airport is Said to be Haunted

Thailand has a number of places that are considered haunted, including the airport many people use to enter the country. The airport was constructed on swampland and a former graveyard. Some locals believe the snakes killed during the construction put a curse on the airport and that the graveyard’s caretaker haunts the airport and its workers.

During its opening, 99 monks were invited to perform spiritual cleansing rituals for nine weeks and shrines were built around the airport.

Despite that, some airport workers still claim they see ghosts. One of the pillars in the customs area is also said to be haunted by a female worker who died during the airport’s construction.

The good news is some people claim they have also won the lottery with the help of the airport’s spirits. That seems worth dealing with a few evil spirits.

11. Astrology, Folklore and Spiritual Beliefs are Widespread in Thailand

Across the country, astrology and various spiritual beliefs play a large role in Thai life. Many Thai people consult fortune tellers who use astrology, palm readings and tarot cards for guidance. Thai people also give a lot of significance to colors and numbers.

Such practices are so ingrained in the culture that there are royal astrologers. A horoscope reading was part of the coronation ceremony for King Maha Vajiralongkorn in 2019. And at Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the king’s horoscope was engraved on a golden plate.

The Buddhist belief in karma is incorporated in how fortune telling is perceived. Karma suggests that the universe will respond to good or bad deeds accordingly. Because of this, a fortune teller will give ideas on how people can change their predicted future based on their actions.

Many Thai people also believe in spirits. You may see miniature spirit houses in homes and businesses. They are meant to offer shelter for guardian spirits who can bring blessings if they are treated well.

In folklore, spirits called “phi” also are recognized. They’re said to inhabit parts of nature, such as trees and mountains. For waterways, some Thai people believe a creature called Naga lives in bodies of water and is a protective force. Throughout the country, you may see Thai people provide offerings to spirits to appease them or thank them.

Two statues that look like mythical dogs are at the bottom of a staircase leading up into a temple in the mountains in Thailand.

If you want to learn more interesting facts about Thailand, join us on a student travel program. You can visit the Rustic Pathways Thailand page for more details or contact one of our travel advisors.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.