Thailand: Overview of History, Culture, and Social Etiquette

Heard of Bangkok? How about Phuket? Ever tasted Thai food? Well, now let me introduce you to the history, culture, and social etiquette of Thailand that you should be aware of.

History of Thailand

Thailand history

The Early Period

Dravavati culture, practiced by ethnic Mon people, was supposedly dominant during the era between the 7th to 10th centuries AD. Later on, the Mon Lavo Kingdom reigned supreme between the 10th to 14th centuries AD. However, the nearby Khmer empire kept influencing the Thai nation Cambodia was known as Khmer back then. Sukhothai, a predominantly Thai-language-speaking nation, continued to stretch its borders across much of the land now known as Thailand.

It was overtaken by another major Thai kingdom called Ayutthaya, which was located around the southern province. While the expensive strategies led to the empire expanding beyond borders taking control of the nearby provinces and becoming a major power eventually. It expanded enough to soon be known as one of the most powerful nations in Southeast Asia.

The Middle Ara:

Things to do in Thailand; visit Ayutthaya Park

Ayutthaya and Sukhothai were bonded in intimate association by King Ramesuan in 1448.
Popularly known as the greatest King of Ayutthaya among the local denizens, it occurred between 1590 and 1605. He is famously known for ending the Burmese dictatorship as well as dominating a few sections of southern Burma and Cambodia for some time.

A tragic end to the Kingdom of Ayutthaya occurs with the invasion of Burmese military forces into the capital. From 1768 to 1772, the Thonburi Kingdom rose again under the lead of ‘Taskin the Great’. It turns out to be a short reign, as General Chao Phraya Chakri and his battalion of rebels overthrow the crown.

Modern Thailand: Rise of the Chakri dynasty

Chakri dynasty Thailand
©The Siamese Collection

One of the most important events in the history of Thailand occurred in 1782, as the Chakri dominion was founded by King Rama I. The important fact being, the Chakri dynasty rules to this day. At that time, the nation was named Siam, and Bangkok was established as the capital of the country. King Mongkut aka Rama IV, wholeheartedly (1851-1868) accepted an innovative western approach to things.

He was the monarch that was responsible for the modernization of the Thai nation. Railway network advancement happened during the rule of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910). He took further steps to modernize the nation by employing western advisers. During World War I, Siam sided with Great Britain as an ally in 1917. Parliamentary governments, as well as the Constitutional monarchy, were introduced in Siam after the bloodless rebellion against the dictatorship of King Prajadhipok in 1932.

“Thailand” replaced the name “Siam” of the Thai nation officially in 1939. The term Thailand also means “land of the free”. The beginning of WWII saw a reversal of the foreign policy of Thailand during 1941. The nation underwent secretive negotiations with Japanese forces and allowed the use of its land to invade Singapore, Burma, and the British-ruled Malay Peninsula region.

While the Thai government announced war against the US as well as Britain, the representative ambassador of the nation in Washington, refused to declare so to the US. The end of the world war brought about an unstable period of time for the nation. The newly returned exiled king perishes suddenly in a shooting. An upheaval led by Phibun Songkhram, one of the major pro-Japanese military chiefs, occurred. Thai battalions fought against Vietnam in the South Vietnam region, while allowing the US to use their land for constructing bases to fight against Vietnam.

Civilian Rule

Thailand government
©human rights watch

For however brief a period of time, civilians did rule the nation for a while. In 1973, uprisings around the country led by student leaders took place, leading to the overturning of the military leadership. However, the government hence created a major problem of a stable foundation. Too soon, the military took charge once more in 1976. 1991 came with another coup, leading to Anand Panyarachun, a civilian, becoming the prime minister of the country for a brief period. After a few repeated government collapses, Chavalit Yongachaiyudh becomes the leader in 1996.

The era of financial & humanitarian crisis

Asia faced an era of a financial downturn during 1997, negatively affecting the Thai economy as well. This period is known as the “Asian financial crisis”. The newly appointed PM, Chuan Leekpai, set a new precedent by involving the opposition party to try and overcome the financial crisis. In 2004, around 100 people died in a sequence of suspicious assaults in the region dominated by the Muslim population, leading to unrest among the locals. A huge wave of tsunami killed thousands of residents of the southwest coast and Phuket resort area.

Recent times

A marital coup happens again. After a series of unstable government leadership, the military took over the national command in 2014.
A new law is legislated, approved by the voters, which provides the army with a continuous influence over the governance of the nation. In 2016, the longest-ruling monarch in the entire world, who ruled for over 70 years, Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away, aged 88. This leads to the crown prince Vajiralongkorn becoming the new king.
A new building is formulated, signed by King Vajiralongkorn, which makes way for democracy to be reinstated in Thailand.

Thailand Culture:

Things to do in Thailand; cultural tour to Thailand
©nemo guides

Buddhism is the main religion that is practiced by more than 90% of the Thai population. Some of the minority, barely around 5%, practice Islam as their religion, while only 1.2% of Christians can be found in the Thai population. The rest of the percentage accounts for basically other religions, as well as the population who are non-religious in the nation.
Let me take you on a short tour of the Primary Festivities of Thai People.

Primary Festivities of Thailand

There are around 16 public Holidays in each calendar year in Thailand. While a few of the festivities may remain the same, even leading to two festivals happening on the same day. Others are more based on the lunar calendar, which leads to the dates changing sometimes.
Some of the primary celebrations enjoyed by Thai people are:

The New Year: (Dec 31st – Jan 1st )

Things to do in Thailand- stay for new years

While it may come into your mind that everyone celebrates New Year, what is so special about Thai citizens celebrating it too?

The fact is, the New Year celebrated in Thailand starts with prayers and gifts offered at their nearby Buddhist temples.

Magha Puja: (3rd lunar month)

Things to do in Thailand- enjoy magha puja

One of the major Buddhist celebrations, Magha Puga or Magha puja, is popular among all the Buddhist communities around the globe. This occasion is celebrated by recalling the notable event of Buddha’s teaching to the first thousand disciples, who became known as the “enlightened ones”. While Buddhists usually strive to do good while avoiding sin and keeping their minds pure, on this day they are more particular about it.

Songkran: (April 13th- April 15th)

Things to do in Thailand

One of the most important holidays for Thai people, it is enjoyed throughout the nation with great enthusiasm. From family events to foods and drinks, even religious ceremonies are part of this holiday. There are parades too! Also, do you love water fights? The event is not just about rituals and ceremonies, but kids and adults alike show great enthusiasm in playing around and attacking each other with water for the period of three-day festivity. If you are lucky enough to travel to Thailand during this grand celebration, then I would advise you to try to enjoy this holiday.

It will definitely be a fun time spent there as this is one of the best things to do in Thailand.

Vishakha Puja: (June 4th)

Things to do in thailand: Vishakha Puja
©Easy day Thailand tours

One of the most famed Buddhist celebrations. Sometimes even referred to as the holiest Buddhist ceremony, Vishakha Puja is about the concept of enlightenment and nirvana. Buddhist populations across Thailand (which means almost all of the population) attend ceremonies held in Buddhist temples.

Chulalongkorn Day: (Oct 23rd)

Thailand festivities
©car rental Thailand

This holiday is a special one, mainly for patriotic reasons. King Chulalongkorn is revered across the nation for his crucial role in keeping the British colonialization attempts at bay while standing at the frontier of modernization of Thailand at the same time. He passed away on October 23rd, 1910, and this holiday is celebrated in his honor.

Constitution Day: (Dec 10th )

In 1932, the absolute monarchy in the nation ended while giving way to the Thai Constitutional Monarchy. This day is celebrated as an appreciation of the monarchy for the right to sovereign ruling granted to the citizens.

Thailand Food Culture:

Thai food culture

Thai food culture is one of the most famous on the globe. Whether or not you’ve had any as of yet, you must have heard praises of it from some of your friends.

Thai food comprises a unique blend of spicy, bitter, salty, sour, and sweet flavors. Rice is definitely important.

You can’t expect a Thai recipe without it being paired with rice.
Some of the popular Thai food are; Pad Thai, Thai Green Curry, and Tom Yum Soup.

Thailand Etiquettes: How to Wai

The Wai greeting

How to greet Thai people when you meet?

The first thing to know is the traditional greeting customs in Thailand. “Wai” is a greeting offered by someone of lesser status to those of higher status in Thailand. It also helps you appear humble. So you really should try doing that. Raise both your hands, join the palms with fingertips towards the sky, like the Indian “Namaste” gesture, the hands should be in light contact with the area around the forehead to the chest. The height of the hands and the level to which you bow your head during the greeting demonstrate the level of respect you hold for the other and this can be quite crucial basically to know about the “wai” greeting.

You don’t actually have to get up to perform this greeting, you could be sitting or walking even while doing so. If you are the younger one, you are the one that needs to greet the other first.

How to communicate with Thai people?

The country of smiles, Thailand
©compassion explorer

While in a new country, you must be able to communicate well with locals, no matter the language barrier.

Confused? Let me explain.

While the language barrier can be crossed by the method of simple Google translation, the way of talking, the gestures, the manners, your etiquette can still be a cause of offense towards locals if not done right. These are the things that you should know to understand the customs and communicate better with Thai people: It’s not uncommon for close friends to show physical affection by holding hands, even among same-sex people. It does not indicate their sexual orientation, it’s just their comfort level.

Be very careful not to be the cause of some locals losing ‘face’. While the nation may be referred to as “the land of smiles”, it’s also known for its Muay Thai, so. Yeah, be careful. While this may seem like a common sense thing, some tourists may be from a nation that has not much definition or problem with personal space. Well, here you need to keep some distance from strangers. People like their personal space, don’t act too friendly with strangers, and act in a balanced way while maintaining some distance.

What not to do in Thailand?

A local in a sugarcane field, Thailand,
©Bangkok post

•Don’t act aggressively, even overly loudly speaking and gesturing too much can be seen as something offensive.

•There are family alterations in Thai homes. Additionally, if you are lucky enough to be invited to stay in a Thai household, avoid sleeping with your feet in the direction of the family later.

•Yellow flowers and black gifts are not something you should offer anyone in Thailand.

•Touching someone’s scalp is considered rude in Thailand. It is thought that the head is the holiest part of the human body and it needs to be respected. Moreover, no matter the reason, you shouldn’t be touching other people’s heads without permission anywhere in the world, anyway.

•This is the most important one, so note it down. Do Not Disrespect The Royal Family.

Alright folks, so now that you’ve learned of the history and customs, and culture of Thailand, let’s end this blog with a list of the best things to do in ThailandThailand.

Visit the Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw in Bangkok

Tour Phang Nga Bay in Phang Nga province

Enjoy a holiday in the Similan Islands of Phang Nga Province

Shop in the Floating Markets near Bangkok

Take a trip to beautiful Phi Phi islands in Krabi Province

See the views from Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Have fun at the Railay Beach in Krabi Province

I’ll come again with some exciting new things for you travel enthusiasts to sate your travel thirst. Until then, have fun.
Happy Travels!

*If you liked the blog, check out more on the Thailand travel guide-

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