Rice, Tsunamis, and Ladyboys: Interesting Facts About Thailand

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:

Capital: Bangkok

Currency: Thai Baht

Language: Thai, some people speak simple English.

Population: 66.7 million people (2011). 75% of the population is Thai, 14% Thai Chinese, 7% Northern Khmer, and 3% Malayu (2009).

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%

Thai food, YUM YUM!!

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%!!

During our volunteer experience in Trat, James and I got to take a look inside the life of elementary school children

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.
  • Framed photos of the King are posted EVERYWHERE across the country. Here, you see a picture of the King posted at a boat dock!

    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.
  • One of Bangkok’s red light districts, home of a lot of sex tourism and prostitution

    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!
  • A sign outside the Palace in Bangkok: “No sleeveless shirt, vest, short top, see-through, shorts, torn pants, tight pants, mini skirt…”

    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…

We lovvvvvved Thailand! Hurray!








Forty percent of all Vietnamese share the same family name… and other interesting Vietnam facts.

When we landed in Hanoi, Vietnam, we stepped into the 90-degree humid weather, and the city was bustling with HUNDREDS of motorbikes all around us… our senses were definitely peaked!  Vietnam is a colorful country with a lot of history and a lot of character. It’s important to look into the country’s statistics and information in order to understand more about the people who live there.

First of all, Vietnam 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, and  Peninsular Malaysia. It is the easternmost country of Southeast Asia, and shares a border on the north to China. With an estimated 90.3 million inhabitants as of 2012, it is the 13th-most-populous country in the world!

Here are some basic facts about Vietnam:

Capital: Hanoi (in the north)

Currency: VND, Vietnamese Dong

Language: Vietnamese.  And a lot of people speak basic English, nowadays, as the study of English is now obligatory in most schools.

Population: 90 million+ (2013)

Government: Marxist-Leninist (communist/socialist) single-party state

Economy: GDP: 320 billion, GDP Per capita: $3,547 (2013)

Religion: About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, though not all practice on a regular basis. Other religions include Christianity, Hòa Hảo, and Cao Đài. (2013)

Literacy Rate: 93.2% (2010)

Climate/Seasons: Because of differences in latitude and the marked variety in topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, roughly from November to April, monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast and pick up considerable moisture. Temperatures vary less in the southern plains around Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, ranging 69.8 and 82.4 °F over the course of the year. Seasonal variations in the mountains and plateaus and in the north are much more dramatic, with temperatures varying from 41.0 °F in December and January to 98.6 °F in July and August.

Foods: Vietnamese recipes traditionally feature a combination of main items including lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime and basil leaves. Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is known for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables, and is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide.

Work environment: Overall, the population in Vietnam is centralized in agriculture (63%), and industry and services (37%).  Women make up 48.45% of the working population. Paid maternity leave is 4-6 months. Minimum vacation days per year: 10 days.

Unemployment Rate: 4.5% (2012)

Education: Kindergartens are not compulsory, tends to only be popular in larger cities, and will usually admit children ranging from 18 months to 5 years of age. Primary education starts at age 6, is compulsory, and goes from grade one to grade five. Secondary school or Junior High School includes grades six through nine, and is NOT compulsory. Same goes for High School, which includes grades ten through twelve. After high school, if a student wishes to go on to University, they must pass an entrance examination . . . but it was estimated in 2004 that only 20% of the 1 million students that took the exam actually passed!

Life expectancy: 76.9 years old (2010)

Drinking/Smoking age: There is no legal drinking age in Vietnam, but you have to be 18 years old to purchase alcohol. There is no legal smoking age. (2013)

Driving: Minimum driving age is 18. People drive on the RIGHT side of the road (same as the US) (2013)


Interesting Vietnam facts:

  • Sportin’ Vietnamese conical hats!

    An elegant looking conical palm hat, which is traditionally known as a “non bai tho” (a hat with poetry written on it), is worn as part of a woman’s formal dress. This traditional conical hat is particularly suitable for a tropical country like Vietnam, where fierce sunshine and hard rain are commonplace.

  • Approximately 40% of all Vietnamese, or more than 30 million people, share the same family name, Nguyen.
  • One of the delicacies in the country is the Vietnamese Snake Wine, also known as “ruou ran.” This is typically made of rice wine with a dead snake floating in it. This wine is believed to be an aphrodisiac drink in Vietnam and is commonly consumed on occasions like Valentine’s Day or marriage anniversaries. This wine is believed to cure night-blindness and impotence as well.
  • The length of Vietnam from north to south is about 1,025 miles. It is roughly the distance from New York to Miami.
  • 9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from 1964 to 1975, including 2,709,918 Americans.
  • Most Vietnamese people take a nap after lunch. This means driving from 12noon to 1pm is really quiet and smooth.
  • Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is located at the same geographical latitude, 21 degrees North, with Honolulu in Hawaii and Cancun in Mexico.
  • In Vietnamese schools, instead of bells, gongs are used to call children.
  • Crawling through the network of underground Cu Chi tunnels!

    Nobody really respects pedestrian crossing lanes in Vietnam. You look left and right, say a little prayer, cross quickly, and the motorbikes *usually* zoom around you as you cross the road.

  • The tunnel network underneath Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City stretches out to over 75 miles. The Cu Chi tunnels were heavily fortified and served as the base for the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive, and have been preserved by the government and turned into a tourist attraction.
  • The Vietnamese wear helmets not to be SAFE on the roads, but in order not to be fined by the police/traffic officers.
  • Every family has 2 or more motorbikes and they park them inside, on the ground floor, which means the living room is basically a garage, too.