- 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 term may also refer to an ethnic group from which many Thai people descend.
- Thailand has had several names over the centuries. For hundreds of years it was known by the names of its dominant cities, such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Thonburi. Since the 1800s, it has repeatedly switched back and forth between Siam (Sanskrit meaning dark or brown) and Thailand.
- Thailand set the world record of the longest line of washed plates in May 2010 when 10,488 washed plates were lined up. However, that record was crushed on April 6, 2011, in India when 15,295 washed plates were lined up, equaling more than 2.36 miles.
- Thailand shares a border with four countries: Myanmar (formerly Burma) to the north and west, Laos to the north and east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Malaysia to the south.
- Thailand is home to the world’s largest gold Buddha, the largest crocodile farm, the largest restaurant, the longest single-span suspension bridge, and the world’s tallest hotel.
- In the past, all Thai young men including the kings became Buddhist monks for at least a short period of time before their 20th birthday. Today, fewer young men observe the practice.
Buddhism is Thailand’s largest religion
- Buddhism is Thailand’s largest religion with approximately 94.6% of the population practicing the religion. Muslims make up 4.6%, Christians 0.7%, and “other” 0.1%.
- The world’s smallest mammal, the Craseonycteris thonglongyai (the bumble bat), is found in Thailand.
- Thailand houses the world’s largest fish, the 12-meter Rhincodon typus, otherwise known as the whale shark.
- Medicine man Hoo Sateow from Thailand has the world’s documented longest hair at 16’ 11" long. He says his hair “keeps him nice and warm.”
- In 1996, two rare “diamond-eyed cats,” Phet and Ploy, were married in a lavish $16,241 Thai wedding, the most expensive pet wedding in the world.
- In 1999, 30 vets worked to heal a 38-year-old cow elephants’ foot, which had been destroyed when she stepped on a landmine in Thailand. It set the record for the largest number of vets in one procedure.
- In 1999, a group of 282 skydivers set the record for the largest number of skydivers in a free-fall formation above Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. They held the link for 7.11 seconds.
- Thailand is the world’s 51st largest country. Russia is the largest. The United States is third largest.
- Thailand is slightly larger than the size of Wyoming at 198,115 square miles (513,115 sq km).
- Seventy five percent of the people in Thailand are Thai, 14% are Chinese, and 11% are “other.”
- The world’s largest Christmas log cake was made in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 25, 1997. The cake weighed 5,071 lbs. and reached 27’ 6". It was later cut into 19, 212 portions.
- Thailand set the record for the longest catwalk on April 9, 2010. The catwalk was 1,584 meters long and was part of the Pattaya International Fashion Week.
- Thailand is home to the world’s hairiest child, Supatra “Nat” Sasuphan.
Extended families have traditionally been the norm in Thailand
- A nuclear family in Thailand is rare because most people live in large extended families.
- The highest elevation in Thailand is Doi Inthanon at 8,514 feet (2,595 m). It is also a popular tourist destination. In fact, an estimated 12,000 people visit the summit each New Year’s Day. The lowest elevation is sea level along the coast.
- The longest place name in the world is the full name of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. It 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.”
- A century ago, northern Thailand was covered with dense hardwood forests. Today only about ¼ of the country remains wooded. Thailand has the second-highest rate of forest loss in Southeast Asia. Only Singapore has lost more. Today, logging is banned in Thailand.
- Thailand’s national language is called Thai, which many scholars believe is a form of Chinese that was gradually brought to the area between the 7th and 13th centuries. Like Lao, Vietnamese, and Chinese, Thai is a very tonal language. Its alphabet has 32 vowels and 44 consonants.
- Siamese cats are native to Thailand. In Thai they are called wichen-maat, meaning “moon diamond.” A 14th-century book of Thai poems describes 23 types of Siamese cats; today only six breeds are left. Giving a pair of Si Sawat cats (a type of Siamese cats) to a bride is supposed to bring good luck to the marriage.
- Traffic police in Bangkok wear facemasks because of dangerous levels of air pollution. Additionally, police stations are equipped with oxygen tanks in case exhaust fumes overwhelm the officers. More than 20% of Bangkok’s police have some form of lung disease. One Thai bank estimated that Bangkok’s pollution woes cost the nation $2.3 billion annually in lost production, wasted energy, and health costs.
- Bangkok was once called the “Venice of the East” because its original buildings stood on stilts above the Chao Phraya River. However, as Bangkok grew larger, most canals were filled and paved.
Thailand was built on compassion.
- Bhumibol Adulyadej
- 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.
- One-tenth of all animal species on Earth live in Thailand.
- Thailand is home to what may be the world’s longest snake, the reticulated python. The largest one ever found stretched over 33 feet (10 m) from end to end.
- Both the Hollywood movie and Broadway play of The King and I are banned in Thailand. Based on the Siamese ruler King Mongkut and a teacher named Anna Leonowens, the movie is seen as insulting to the king. While the movie depicts him as uncultured, he is believed to be the first Asian ruler to speak, read, and write English fluently. He also is considered highly intelligent, cultured, and well read. Further, he is known as the father of Thai scientists.
- The largest living lizard is native to Thailand. The monitor lizard can grow as long as 7 feet.
- Thailand is home to the world’s longest poisonous snake, the king cobra. The cobra can reach more than 18 feet long, and one bite from it can kill an elephant.
- The 2004 tsunami hurtled a wall of water 30 feet high over Thailand’s 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.
The December 26, 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake that had the estimated energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs
- Approximately 10% of the world’s bird species live in Thailand, a greater proportion than in all of Europe or North America.
- Swiftlet nests are made from strands of saliva from the male swiftlet bird. Swiftlet nests collected from Thai caves can fetch more than $900 per pound. It is one of the world’s most coveted and expensive food items.
- The Mekong River, which forms part of Thailand’s eastern border, supports more than 1,300 species of fish. It holds some of the world’s largest freshwater fish, including a giant catfish which can reach nearly 10 feet long and weigh as much as 660 lbs.
- One of Thailand’s most curious creatures is the mudskipper, which is a fish that is capable of walking on land and climbing trees. It uses its fins to “walk” and can absorb oxygen through its skin and lining in its mouth. It spends most of its time out of the water, eating the algae in tidal pools.
- Northern Thailand was a major producer of opium in the 1960s and 1970s, which was a major source of income for the hill tribes. The northern tip of Thailand, the western tip of Laos, and the eastern corner of Myanmar make up what is called the “Golden Triangle” and is notorious for the production and trafficking of opium and heroin.
- Thailand’s and the world’s longest reigning monarch is Bhumibol Adulyadej, who became King Rama IX in June 1946. He was born in the U.S. in 1927 when his father was studying medicine at Harvard. He owns a patent on a form of cloud seeding and holds a degree in engineering from Switzerland. He also plays the sax and composed Thailand’s national anthem.
Thailand is the world’s number one orchid exporter
- More than 1,500 species of orchids grow wild in Thai forests. Thailand is the world’s number one orchid exporter.
- The national flag of Thailand is raised every morning at 8:00 and lowered every evening at 6:00. It was introduced in 1917 by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Its two horizontal red stripes symbolize the land and its people. The white horizontal stripes represent the purity of Buddhism, the nation’s main religion. The wide blue band across the center stands for the monarchy. Before 1917, the flag had a picture of a white elephant against a red background.
- Over 300,000 Thai have settled in North America with the largest communities along the West Coast in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver. Today, over 10,000 Americans live in Thailand.
- World-famous golfer Tiger Woods is the son of an American father and a Thai mother.
- Just as the bald eagle is a symbol of the U.S., the Garuda (a creature from the Hindu religion) is a national and royal symbol of Thailand.
- One in 10 Thais live in Bangkok, the nation’s capital and largest city.
- Bangkok is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations. In 2005, more than 11 million foreign tourists visited in the city.
- Thailand is the world’s largest producer of tin.
- The Ramakien is the national epic narrative of Thailand and has influenced everyday Thai life for hundreds of years. The story is actually the Thai version of Ramayana, a poem first told in India 3,000 year ago.
- The brothers who gave the world the term “Siamese twins” were born in 1811 in a village near Bangkok. The twins Eng and Chang were joined at the chest and left Thailand for the U.S when they were 17 years old. Each brother married, and between them they had 22 children. In 1873, Eng caught pneumonia and died. Chang died a few hours later.
- President Andrew Jackson initiated the first official contact with Thailand in the 19th century.
- 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.
The elephant has been an important figure in Thai culture
- The first case of HIV/Aids was reported in Thailand in 1984. Thailand currently has the highest prevalence of HIV in Asia.
- Sex tourism increased significantly during the 1960s and 1970s because during the Vietnam War American troops were flown to R&R (GIs called it I&I: Intoxication and Intercourse) sites not formally attached to military bases. The Thai government passed the Entertainment Places Act in 1966, which codified the practice of police tolerance of military prostitution.
- Thailand has one of the worst child sex trafficking records in the world.
- Thailand has a reputation for sexual tolerance and is considered very safe for LGBT travelers. Transsexuals, also known as krathoeys or ladyboys, are highly visible in mainstream society.
- The population of Thailand is 67,091,089, which is ranked 20th in the world. The ranking takes into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS.
- 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.
Over 11 million tourists visit Bangkok annually
- Each year, around six million foreign tourists visit Thailand. Thailand has also attracted many expatriates from developed countries.
- 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.
- Movies that have been filmed in Thailand include The Big Boss (1941), Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), The Ugly American (1963), The Deer Hunter (1978), The Killing Fields (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The Beach (2000), Alexander (2004), Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004), Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005), Stealth (2005), and The Hangover Part II (2011).
Timeline of Important Events
|20,000 years ago||People first live in what is now Thailand|
|A.D. 900s||Thai-speaking people begin migrating into what is now Thailand|
|1238||Indraditya establishes the kingdom of Sukhothai|
|1350||The Ayutthaya kingdom is founded|
|1511||Portuguese are the first Europeans to reach Ayutthaya|
|1569-1590||Burma conquers and rules Ayutthaya|
|1688||Ayutthaya’s rulers cut off contact with the West|
|1767||Burma invades Ayutthaya again and destroys the city|
|1782||King Taksin is killed; Chao Phraya Chakri founds the Chakri dynasty|
|1855||Mongkut officially changes the name of the country to Siam|
|1867||Siam is forced to cede the first of several pieces of territory to France|
|1893||Siam is forced to cede territory to Great Britain|
|1932||Foreign-educated students and army officers overthrow the absolute monarchy|
|1941||Japanese forces invade Thailand|
|1946||Bhumibol Adulyadej becomes king|
|1960s-1970s||Thai forces fight on the side of the United States in the Vietnam War|
|Mid 1980s-mid 1990s||Thailand’s economy booms|
|1996-1999||Economic crisis spreads through Asia|
|2004||Eight thousand people in Thailand are killed by a tsunami|
|2006||Military leaders oust the prime minister and seize power|
|2007||Thai voters approve a new constitution drafted by the military government; elections are held for a new civilian government|
1Campbell, Geoffrey A. Thailand. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2002.
2Cherry, Ronald. Thailand. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2000.
3Ditmore, Melissa. Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. Vol. 2 . Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.
4Friedman, Mel. Thailand. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc., 2009.
5McGeown, Kate. “Life as a Thai Sex Worker.” BBC News. February 22, 2007. Accessed: February 8, 2012.
6Soriano, Rianne. “Popular Hollywood Films Shot in Thailand.” Yahoo. July 7, 2011. Accessed: March 1, 2012.
7“Thailand.” The World Factbook. CIA. February 8, 2012. February 20, 2012.
8“Thailand World Records.” Thailand Life. February 2007. Accessed: February 8, 2012.
9Wilkins, Frances. Thailand. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishing, 2001.