Did you know...
* that Thai's use Fish Sauce instead of Salt?
* that mangoes can be eaten unripe and sour (green) or ripe and sweet (yellow)?
* that Bangkok's full ceremonial name is "Krungthep Mahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathani Burirom-udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit"? (Listed by the "Guinness Book of Records" as the world's longest place name.)
* that Thailand has an unemployment rate of only 2.1% and a population below poverty line of 10%?
* that Bangkok alone has 687 Buddhist Temples?
* that Thai's ward off evil sprits by putting Thai Sprit houses in front of their homes?
Thailand, which literally means "land of the free," is one of the most cohesive and integrated societies in Southeast Asia. The Thai people have a reputation for being easy-going, courteous and hospitable, and so the country is also known as the "land of smiles."
Population and Location (Thailand)
The Thai people comprise 74% of Thailand’s 65.4 million population. Over 10 million people make their home in the vast sprawl of waterways and streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. The amazing growth of Bangkok is primarily due to the heavy influx of poor rural migrants.
Four main dialects of the Tai language family are spoken: Central Thai, Northeastern Thai (Thai-Lao), Northern Thai and Southern Thai. It was conventional to refer to Tai-speaking peoples in Thailand as Thai with a regional qualifier. Strictly speaking, Thai, the language of officialdom and education, is the Central Thai dialect. Linguistic scholars mark the reign of King Narai (1657-88) as the point when this dialect was established as the standard. Central Thai became the required form used in modern Thailand for official business, academic and other daily transitions.
Wet-rice agriculture dominates the Thai economy, with about 50% of Thailand’s population living in rural agricultural communities. Rice is produced both as a dietary staple and for cash sales. Thai farmers also grow a variety of vegetables. Commercial crops include sugarcane, tobacco, rubber, coconut and cotton. Domestic animals include pigs, chickens, ducks, cattle and water buffalo.
Despite the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, Thailand’s economy grew almost 6% each year, making it one of East Asia's best performers in 2002-2004. Bangkok is the heart of Thailand’s business sector and the center of the country’s service industries. Most of the country’s industry is located in and around the city, and Bangkok supports a far wider array of services than other towns in the country. Besides being the major metropolitan area, Bangkok is also the political, educational and religious centre of the nation.
The country is governed by a constitutional monarchy. Each province has a governor, and is divided into districts with a district head. There are further administrative divisions down to the village level.
Buddhism is the religion for 94.6% of Thailand’s population. Of the remainder 4.6% are Muslims and 0.7% Christian. Though the king is designated the protector of all religions, the constitution stipulates that the king must be a Buddhist.
Buddhism is a central and unifying force in Thai society. The Thai regularly make merit by giving gifts to the temple, attending festivals, and having their sons ordained. In Thailand, Buddhism is a syncretic religion: it incorporates a mixture of pre-Buddhist Hindu beliefs and practices, interwoven with animism and Theravada Buddhist philosophy and rituals. Signs of the religious tradition are everywhere in Bangkok and throughout the country.
Soon after dawn, Buddhist monks in robes (which vary in colour from dark saffron to bright orange) can be seen making their way along the canals and narrow streets. People wait to fill the monks’ bowls with food and provide other essentials, a practice that Buddhist teaching says will reward the giver with merit. Most young men become monks for a short time so that they can accumulate merit for their families. Almost every Thai house has its own "spirit house" to accommodate the spirits from the land on which the house stands.
Missionaries are allowed to live and work in Thailand with no restrictions on the preaching of the gospel. However, the mixture of Buddhism, animism, nationalism and, increasingly, materialism, has produced a culture which is particularly resistant to the gospel. Even after 160 years of Protestant mission in Thailand, less than 1% of Thai are Christian. In 1991, 34 of the 65 district towns have a group of Christians meeting each week. There are three churches with about 90 Christians in each and 15 groups with less than 21 Christians. In non-district towns, there are 15 to 20 other churches. Approximately 100 people per year in these eight provinces become Christian. The number of Central Thailand Christians is about 1,050.
Today, many Thai Christians fast and pray one day a month for spiritual breakthrough so that the Thai ("the free") may be really set free through Jesus Christ.
About Ayutthaya Province
76km (47 miles) N of Bangkok
Ayutthaya is one of Thailand's historical highlights. Many travelers take the day tour from Bangkok, which allows about 3 hours at the sites, but for folks with an interest in archaeological ruins, Ayutthaya justifies an overnight or more.
From its establishment in 1350 by King U-Thong (Ramathibodi I) until its fall to the Burmese in 1767, Ayutthaya was Thailand's capital and home to 33 kings and numerous dynasties. At its zenith and until the mid-18th century, Ayutthaya was a majestic city with three palaces and 400 splendid temples on an island threaded by canals -- a site that mightily impressed European visitors.
Then, in 1767, after a 15-month siege, the town was destroyed by the Burmese and today there are but groups of crumbling ruins and rows of headless Buddhas where once an empire thrived. The temple compounds are still awe-inspiring even in disrepair and a visit here is memorable and a good beginning for those drawn to the relics of history. (Fun note: don't miss the Buddha head lodged in the tree trunk at Wat Mahatat, quite unique).
The architecture of Ayutthaya is a fascinating mix of Khmer, or ancient Cambodian style, and early Sukhothai style. Cactus-shaped obelisks, called prangs, denote Khmer influence and look something like the famous towers of Angkor Wat. The more pointed stupas are ascribed to Sukhothai. If you've just arrived and have confined your stay to Bangkok, you might note similarities with the riverside Wat Arun, an 18th-century structure that was built in the so-called Ayutthaya style, a melding of Sukhothai Buddhist influences and Hindu-inspired Khmer motifs.