1. Thailand is the only country in South-East Asia that has never been colonised under European power
The name Thailand in the Thai language is Prathet Thai, which directly translates to ‘Land of the Free’. It seems pretty apt then that this country is the sole country in the whole of South-East Asia to never have been colonised by any European nation. Considering that only very very few countries in the world have managed to escape European rule, this in itself is a huge accomplishment.
2. The first known Siamese twins were born in Thailand
Chang and Eng Bunker, the first known conjoined twins, were born on the 11th of May 1811, in a province near Bangkok in the Kingdom of Siam, today’s Thailand. The twins married two different women, who were also sisters, and each couple were parents to more than ten children each. Innitially they lived together and shared a bed big enough for four but after a number of years the two sisters began quarrelling and so two separate households were established. The Siamese brothers then ended up spending three consecutive nights at each home until their death in 1874.
3. Speaking about Siamese…
As mentioned above, Thailand used to be known as the Kingdom of Siam and is the country where Siamese cats originated from. The Thai people seem fascinated by these cats and a 14th- century poetry book describes how there used to be 23 different types of Siamese cats, although nowadays there are only six. It is also considered a gesture of good luck to present a bride with a pair of Siamese cats on her wedding day.
4. Home to an exorbitantly priced delicacy made from saliva
The sea-salt briny flavour of swiftlet nests are made from the strands of saliva from the male cave-dwelling swiftlet bird; and are one of the most expensive, coveted and sought after delicacies on the planet. Perhaps not for everyone, these nests are collected from Thai caves and are charged at more than USD 900 per pound. These nests are dangerous to harvest, painstaking to prepare and according to traditional Chinese medicine, have a long and extensive list of health benefits for those who can afford the salty dish.
5. Every year there is a festival dedicated entirely to monkeys in Thailand
Yet another one of Thailand’s funny things - In the month of November there is an annual Lopburi Monkey Banquet that is hosted in front of Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in the province of Lopburi. The locals invite over 600 monkeys to feast on a buffet of over two tonnes of scrumptious food that has all been lovingly prepared by the locals. The monkeys’ menu consists of rice, tropical fruits, salad, grilled sausages and even ice-cream. The festival is hosted out of the belief that good luck will follow from treating the furry creatures with respect. The locals also do it as a means of saying thank you to the monkeys who bring thousands of tourists to the city each year. All those who appreciate any and all monkey business will get a massive kick out of this unusual festival.
6. The grotesque and gory Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Continuing along the theme of bizarre and weird festivals, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held every year in the month of October and despite what the name suggests, is a rather grisly affair. A key feature of this festival are the people who get involved in very gory self-mutilation and parade in trace-like states in an attempt to purify their souls. Along with the self-mutilation of piecing their faces and body parts with strange and everyday objects, the locals walk barefoot across hot coals and abstain from eating meat for the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar out of the belief that they will be rewarded with excellent health and peace of mind. Not for the squeamish, the woozy or the fainthearted.
7. Paying respect to the royal family is a very serious matter.
In Thailand the royal family is adored and deeply respected by its citizens and it is strictly against the law to criticise any member of the monarchy. The country has the lèse majesté law, which means that any disrespectful acts that are performed toward the king, queen or royal heirs are punished with imprisonment for treason. The popular Hollywood film, ‘The King and I’ was even banned from Thai cinemas as it was deemed to be derogatory to the king. Mother’s and Father’s Day in Thailand are also celebrations for the king and queen rather than for one’s one mother and father and is celebrated nation-wide by the Thai people. Lastly, in the capital of Bangkok the overhead walkways and the monorail will simple come to a complete halt if any royal personage is passing beneath the platform. This is because no layman should ever pass above the head of royalty.
8. All men used to become Buddhist monks
In the past, all Thai young men under the age of twenty, of all social rankings, including the princes and kings, became a Buddhist monk for at least a short amount of time in their lifetime. Although it was never a national requirement, if from a Buddhist family, it was almost always done. Obtaining monkhood is considered to be a very blessed event and by dedicating a portion of one’s life to Buddhism, it is believed that the good karma will be bestowed upon the man’s family. Today there are far fewer Buddhist men who observe the practice of monkhood.
9. Bangkok’s ceremonial name is one of the longest names in the world
Not only is the Thai capital Thailand’s largest city but one-tenth of the entire Thai population live in Bangkok. Made up of Pali and Sanskrit root words, Bangkok’s ceremonial name is, ‘Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.’ Phew! What a mouthful. The name 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 Visvakarman at Indra‘s behest.’
10. Thailand is home to a fish that can walk on land
Built like no other fish in the world, the Cryptotora thamicola, otherwise known as the blind, waterfall-climbing cavefish, uses its two front and two back fins to propel itself up waterfalls. In fact, it crawls on land the same way that any four-footed animal would. This is pretty remarkable as the Cryptotora thamicola’s skeletal adaptations for walking have ever been observed in any sort of fish before now. While the cavefish’s anatomy is described as being ‘salamander-like’, the cavefish is actually a distant relative of the commonly known, pet goldfish.
11. Thailand is the world’s number one orchid exporter
Not only is the delicate, exquisite orchid Thailand’s national flower, but it is also the world’s largest exporter of the floral treasure. Around 45% of Thailand’s orchids are exported out of the country and the rest are sold to locals on the domestic market. Flower enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that there are 1,500 different orchid species growing wild in Thailand’s forests and jungles. Markets, shopping centres, temples and festivals abound with the exotic flower and it is not uncommon to see orchids growing on the side of the road or between one of the many tangled electricity cables.
12. It is considered disrespectful to touch anyone on their head even a child
In Thai culture, the head is considered to be the most important part of the body. As a result, no one should ever touch the head of another person, even a child. As a sign of respect and acknowledgment, Thais often try to keep their heads lower than the head of anyone older than themselves or anyone in a higher position. On the opposite end of the body, the feet are considered lowly as they are symbols of attachment to the ground or earth, which is deemed to be a cause of human suffering and struggle. For this reason, feet should always be tucked under one’s body and if sitting down, one’s feet must not point toward another person or any statue in a temple.
13. Smallest and biggest and everything in between
Not only is Thailand home to one-tenth of the species of animals in the world but it is also home to the smallest mammal, biggest fish and the largest living lizard on earth. The smallest mammal, the Craseonycteris thonglongyai, commonly known as the bumble bat or Kitti’s hog-nosed bat weighs just a teensy-tiny two grams and can be found living happily in the Land of Smiles. Down below the seas around Thailand there are also many whale sharks which carry the record of being the biggest fish in the world. And if both those things weren’t enough, another interesting fact about Thailand is that it is also the playground of the biggest living lizard in the world – the monitor lizard, which can grow up to 7 feet.
14. Some of Thailand’s facts and figures in a nutshell
There are 1,430 islands in Thailand, 35,000 temples and nearly 67 million people comprise of Thailand’s population. Each year around 6 million tourists visit the country and there are 11 million non-resident visitors (local and foreign) who visit Bangkok, the capital, each annum. And for readers searching for geography facts about the country; Thailand shares its borders with four different countries; namely, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. And lastly, Thailand’s most exported crop? Rice, of course!
15. Birthplace of Red Bull
Famous throughout the world, the popular energy drink, Red Bull was born in Thailand. It was based on Krating Daeng, a sweet, uncarbonated energy drink that was sold throughout the country and across Asia from 1976 by Chaleo Yoovidhy . Later in 1987, an Austrian entrepreneur named Dietrich Mateschitz modified the ingredients to better suit Western tastes and thus, Red Bull was born.
16. Thailand was once referred to as “Venice of the East”
This was due to the many original buildings that were built on stilts over the Chao Phraya River as well as the many meandering canals that were a significant factor in Bangkok’s trading activities. Although there are still a fair number of pretty canals in the capital for tourists and locals to enjoy boat rides along, due to the fact that Bangkok grew larger in time, the majority of canals were filled and paved and have become streets and pavements today.
17. Thailand has the world’s longest reigning monarch in the world
King Bhumibol Adulyade reigned from 9 June 1946, and at the time of his death on 13 October 2017, was the world’s longest-reigning head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in all of Thai history. King Bhumibol Adulyade reigned over Thailand for 70 years and 126 days and was greatly revered by the Thai people. He owned a patent on a type of cloud seeding, an engineering degree from Switzerland and composed Thailand’s national anthem among many other impressive achievements.