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This is why we LOVE Thailand

By Brian S.

 

A number of curious Thai practices and customs occur with frequency across the Land of Smiles. For example, anyone can completely and without consequences soak a policeman, or anyone else for that matter, with ice cold water celebrating Songkran in the month of April. At Loi Krathong celebrations in November anyone can ignite a lighter-than-air lantern and launch that flaming craft into the skies without any regard as to where that airborne firebomb might land.

 

Squishy bamboo worms for lunch

On any given day, in any Thai city, and on any soi, a newcomer to the kingdom may be shocked by the sight of a local eating a savory fried cricket or a squishy bamboo worm, a passerby drinking soda from a plastic bag, a motorist topping up a motorbike’s gas tank with petrol poured from a discarded whiskey bottle and an individual driving a motorbike with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other during inclement weather. These are but a few of the common occurrences that do not commonly occur in the Western world.

If you’ve managed to get by in Thailand for a year or two and learned to count up to ten; ask “how much”; and order your favorite Thai delicacy in what hopefully passes for fluent Thai … or if you’ve become immune to the swarms of motorbikes … or the measuring smiles, both welcoming and wary … or the collective aromas of mouthwatering charcoal cooking fires, lingering blue clouds of exhaust fumes, and the aromatic curls of wafting joss stick smoke … or if the sight of the hanging laundry flapping like circus pennants, the clutches of stray soi dogs, and the insistent raw natural beauty of the nation’s landscapes and the people that inhabit it no longer warrant a second glance.... then you probably qualify as an ‘old hand’ in all things related to the Kingdom of Thailand. But how much do you really know about this sometimes exotic, altogether curious, and completely unpredictable Asian nation that you now call home?

 

The name Thailand translates

in to the “Land of the free”

Over the centuries, Thailand has had more than its fair share of labels. Other than Thailand, and maybe Siam, how many of them can you name? Probably about as many as I could before I wrote this. In the early days, the country was known by the names of the dominant ruling cities, such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Thonburi. With the stroke of a pen wielded by King Mongkut, who reigned from 1851 to 1868, the name of Siam, which some linguists claim is the Sanskrit word for “brown” or “dark brown”, was made the official new name. In 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, the name of Siam was formally changed to Prathet Thai, a name which the rest of the world knows as Thailand. In the Thai language, Prathet Thai loosely translates into “land of the free”. This name was chosen to express pride in the fact that Siam/Thailand was the only nation in Southeast Asian that had never been formally colonized by a European power. In 1945, following the defeat of Imperial Japan, Thailand reverted back to its former name of Siam. That name lasted until 1949 when the government of Siam once again, opted for the name of Thailand, or to be precise … Ratcha Anachak Thai – the Kingdom of Thailand, which to this day remains the nation’s officially sanctioned title. Thai people, though, often refer to their nation by the colloquial title of Meuang Thai, which literally means the “nation of Thai people”. Then again, they sometimes simply use the name Thai, which means “independence” in their native tongue. Thailand also has it's nicknames, the not so known: ‘Land of the White Elephant’ and the widely know: ‘Land of Smiles’.

 

Bangkok is in Guinness Book of

Records for longest place name

Bangkok is the given name to Thailand’s capitol city. In Thai language it's ceremonial name is actually the world’s longest place name and it's registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The name is: Krung Thep Mahanakhonn Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. In case you’re wondering, that name consists of precisely 21 words and exactly 167 characters, not including the spaces between the words. When translated into English, the longer version of the city’s name is actually a bit shorter character wise, but longer word wise, and it reads as follows: City of Angles, Great City of Immortals, Magnificent City of the Nine Gems, Seat of the Kings, City of Royal Palaces, Home of Gods Incarnate, Erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s Behest.

Because pretty much everybody concurred that the traditional name was a bit of a mouthful, most agree that the Thai cartographers and government officials got it right by opting to call the place Bangkok, the diminutive version of capitol city’s name.

Bangkok was also once known as the ‘Venice of the East’, because of its numerous canals, and the fact that most of the buildings situated on or near the canals were raised up on stilts to protect them against the monsoon flooding. As the city grew, one by one, the canals were filled in to make way for the wonderful modern highways and byways.

 

Bangkok Sky Train stops when

royals pass by underneath it

In Thailand, the head is considered the most important part of the human body. As such, you must never touch a Thai person, not even a child, on the head. In fact, the Thais always try to keep their heads lower than the head of any person who is older or more important than them as a sign of respect.

That’s the reason why the Bangkok Sky Train will stop for a moment or two every now and then at seemingly random locations. You see, no Thai or farang can possibly outrank the King or his family. Therefore, your head, or mine, must never be directly above the head of any member of the Royal family. Because of this, the Sky Train is always stopped in a position so that no one will never unwittingly show disrespect to the Royals by being directly above them whenever they are moving through the streets of Bangkok beneath the Sky Train. This rule also applies to the many overhead walkways that cross over the capitol’s major thoroughfares. Any one which happens to be situated above the Royal family’s proposed route of travel will also be temporarily blocked until the royal motorcade has passed underneath.

 

Allways wear your underwear

Thailand operates under lèse majest, which is a French term that means “injured Majesty.” In other words, in Thailand it’s a criminal offense for anyone, expatriate or otherwise, to commit a disrespectful act or cause an offense of any type against the dignity of the reigning sovereign. Lèse majest is considered to be a form of treason, and if convicted, you stand a very good chance of being incarcerated in one of his majesty’s houses of penal servitude.

Just to make sure that you don’t run afoul of Thai law for any other reason, the next time you venture outdoors, be advised that it’s illegal in the Kingdom of Thailand to leave your home if you are not wearing underwear, that’s right, underwear. Technically, going about without wearing a shirt is also illegal. So be sure to dress appropriately.