James and I were SO excited for Thailand! After hopping around Asia, city to city for months on end, we were pleased to rest for awhile in one country: Thailand! We set up a two-week volunteer opportunity in a city called Trat, and then planned to spend one month on an Island in the Gulf. Looking back, it was some of our best experiences so far on the trip!
Geographically, Thailand is part of an area of the world called “Southeast Asia,” and more specifically part of “IndoChina,” which is comprised of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, and Peninsular Malaysia. Thailand is bordered to the north by Myanmar/Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, and to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia.
Here are some other facts about Thailand:
Currency: Thai Baht
Language: Thai, some people speak simple English.
Government: The politics of Thailand is conducted within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. It’s interesting, because as we traveled all around Thailand, we witnessed just how beloved the King was to every citizen around the country.
Economy: GDP: $701 billion, GDP Per capita: $10,849 (2013). Thailand is an emerging economy and considered as a newly industrialized country. It is the world’s number ONE exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Tourism in Thailand makes up about 6% of the economy, while illegal prostitution and sex tourism are estimated to bring in around 3% of the Thai economy
Religion: Buddhism 95% of the population, and Muslims 4.6%
Literacy Rate: 93%
Climate/Seasons: The climate in Thailand is tropical and characterized by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid.
Foods: James and I LOVED LOVED LOVED most of the foods we tried in Thailand, although a lot of items are pretty spicy! Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. Most dishes consist of either rice or noodles as the main base.
Unemployment Rate: As of 2012, the unemployment rate in Thailand is only 0.4%!!
Education: Education is provided by a well-organized school system of kindergartens, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, numerous vocational colleges, and universities. Education is compulsory up to and including age group 14, and the government provides free education through to age group 17. **When James and I volunteered for two weeks in Trat, Thailand, we got to experience up close and personal the education system there. We were pleased and amazed how well behaved the elementary school children were, and they seemed to have very great manners as well!
Life expectancy: 74 years old
Drinking/Smoking age: There is no legal smoking age in Thailand, but you need to be 18 to purchase cigarettes. Drinking age is 20. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Act of 2008 increased the drinking age in Thailand from 18 to 20. Alcohol sale is banned between 2pm to 5pm and between midnight to 11am and also on election days and some religious holidays.
Driving: Minimum driving age is 18 years old, although you will often see very young teenagers putting around on motorbikes.
Interesting and fun Thailand facts:
- Thailand’s name in the Thai language is Prathet Thai, which means “Land of the Free.” It is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European nation.
The King of Thailand, or historically, the King of Siam, is EXTREMELY loved and respected. Most people have photos of the king in picture frames in their houses (like a family photo), and many cab dashboards, restaurants, schools, government buildings, and sometimes even 7-eleven shops post images of the King as well. When you go to a movie theater, in the previews they play the national anthem, and the whole audience rises as they project images of the King on the big screen. It’s all quite excessive and interesting.
- The 2004 tsunami hurtled a wall of water 30 feet high over Thailand’s west coast, killing over 8,000 people. An estimated 1,500 Thai children lost their parents and more than 150,000 Thais working in the fishing or tourist industries lost their livelihoods.
- In Thailand, the head is the most important part of the body. Consequently, no one must ever touch another person, even a child, on the head. Thais always try to keep their heads lower than the head of any person who is older or more important, to show respect.
Prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, but the law is very rarely enforced. Estimates of the number of sex workers vary from 30,000 to more than 1 million. In addition, transsexual prostitutes, also known as “ladyboys,” are very prevalent throughout the country, mainly in Bangkok and Pattaya.
- A century ago, more than 100,000 elephants lived in Thailand, with about 20,000 of them untamed. Now, there are about 5,000, with less than half of them wild.
- Sometimes the SkyTrain will stop for no apparent reason. When any member of the Royal family travels downtown, the trains will stop in a position so that it is not above the Royal. Essentially your head can not be directly above theirs. That goes for walking on the overhead passes too.
- Thailand exports the most orchids than anywhere else in the world. The orchid is Thailand’s national flower, and the country is home to 27,000 varieties!
Visiting temples requires modest clothing. You usually cannot enter if you are wearing shorts or skirts, and sometimes if you don’t have your shoulders covered. Some religious sites do offer rental cover-up clothing for tourists, though.
- Traditionally in Thailand, feet are considered lowly because they symbolize an attachment to the ground, which is a cause for human suffering. As such, a person must never sit with their feet pointing to a statue in a temple or at some other person. Feet must always be tucked underneath the body.
- The 1956 film, “The King and I” was a huge success in the US, but due to the representation of King Mongkut of Siam, the film is banned in Thailand. The claim is that there are many historical inaccuracies in the film, that Thai culture is represented as inferior to Western, and the worst: that the King is presented as uncultured and foolish. The penalties for anyone caught smuggling, importing, selling, or publicly showing copies of the film in Thailand are up to six months in jail and a $1,000+ fine (which is a LOT of money in Thailand.)
In general, WE LOVED THAILAND!! We are excited to post more about our amazing 7 1/2 weeks there!! Stay tuned…