10 interesting facts about Thailand you didn’t know
Thailand is one of our favourite countries in Asia, and Bangkok our favourite base where we keep returning to. Along the way we’ve picked up some unique and interesting facts about Thailand, which we think will fascinate every traveller.
#1 LONG LIVE THE KING!
The former King of Thailand, Bhumibol Aadulyadej, is big here. Also known as Rama IX, he is idolised and revered by everyone in Thailand as a god like symbol.
Thailand has some of the strictest lese majeste (injured majesty) laws in the world. Defaming or insulting The King is a criminal offence and you risk several years imprisonment under Thai law.
This applies to foreigners as well. In 2007, a 57 years old Swiss national (Oliver Jufer) was sentenced to 10 years for accidentally spilling black paint on a portrait of The King in Chiang Mai while drunk. He was eventually pardoned.
You risk being arrested if you deface or even step on the currency (which has The King’s image on it) or as one nurse recently found out, wearing black on The King’s birthday on 5th December 2014, or failing to stand for the Royal Anthem in the cinema.
#2 TWO NATIONAL ANTHEMS
Thailand is one of the few monarchies (like Denmark and Sweden), which has a separate National Anthem for the royal family as opposed to the national anthem for its citizens.
The Thai Royal Anthem, is called the Sansoen Phra Barami and is performed during state occasions and before a film in the cinema begins. When the Royal Anthem plays in the cinema, it is a criminal offence not to stand and take in the short movie clip about the King.
We watched the film, “The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies” in Siam in Bangkok and just before it began, we had to stand through a clip similar to this:
#3 FREEZE AND RESPECT THE THAI NATIONAL ANTHEM
The National Anthem of Thailand (“Phleng Chat Thai”) is as important as the Royal Anthem. At around 8am and 6pm in Thailand, it is played in all public places from a loudspeaker. Thais are required by law to stop whatever it is they’re doing, stand still and respect it for the few minutes it’s playing.
When we first arrived at Sala Deung Sky Train station, we tried to ask around for the correct exit to leave the station and got extremely confused when we saw everyone standing still completely immobile. The man we asked smiled at us, gestured “one minute” with his fingers and then went statue-esque. Now we know why!
We took this short clip in central Bangkok and what made us laugh was the Chinese tourist walking in between the motionless Thai people wondering what the hell was going on:
#4 BANGKOK’S FULL NAME…yikes!
The city is known in Thai as “Krung Thep Maaha Nakhon” but its full ceremonial name is:
“Krungthep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”
The name is listed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s longest place name and Thai children are taught to sing the name as a way to remember it.
This boy we met in Silom in Bangkok kindly obliged for us:
#5 INTERNET CENSORSHIP LAWS
It’s not quite China standards in Thailand, but since 2008, the Thai government invested around 500 million bahts (£10 million / $15 million) to build a gateway to block websites with contents defaming the monarchy, porn and anything with “improper content and language aimed at inciting hatred and undermining national security for political or other reasons”.
We tried to open this article by the Daily Mail about Thailand banning scuba divers from damaged coral reefs, but instead got this message:
(We also decided to test it for porn, [strictly for curiosity of course!] and found the site http://besttwinkvideos.com was also blocked, receiving the same message).
#6 DON’T LEAVE THE HOUSE COMMANDO!
Apparently both are illegal, so always wear underwear when in public in Thailand and don’t drive shirtless.
Not sure how this would be checked but we couldn’t find details of anyone who’d been arrested for going in the streets commando. Sebastien decided to do his own practical research and had no problems from the Thai police:
#7 SIAMESE CATS
Siamese cats originated in Thailand where they are called “Wichian Mat”, meaning “Moon Diamond”. Siam was the former name of Thailand until 1949.
Giving a pair of Siamese cats to a bride on her wedding day is a gesture of good luck to her marriage.
#8 SIAMESE TWINS
The name, “Siamese twins” comes from the first reported case of conjoined twins, brothers, Eng and Chang Bunker, born in 1811 in a village near Bangkok, who were joined at the chest.
Both brothers married and had 22 children between them. Eng died in 1873 from pneumonia and Chang died a few hours later.
#9 LARGEST EXPORTER OF RICE
Thailand has historically been the biggest exporter of rice. It lost out to Vietnam and India recently but is apparently set to reclaim the title in 2015 according to the Bangkok Post with shipments estimated at 10-11 million tonnes this year to places like China, Nigeria, Iran and the Philippines.
#10 GIANT LIZARDS ROAMING FREE!
The monitor lizard is the world’s largest living lizard and is native to Thailand. They can grow as long as 2 metres (7 feet), are carnivorous but generally not harmful to humans.
They are common throughout the Thai islands and we spotted this one at Koh Adang when we were island hopping: