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Thai monks by Ryan Libre

There’s a lot more to Thailand than elephant rides and pad thai.

The King Makes it Rain

The King of Thailand perfected and holds the patent on a form of cloud seeding. He has designed bridges and dams and holds an engineering degree from Switzerland.

The King also plays the sax and composed the Thai national anthem. He built his own sailboat and is a talented oil painter.

He is the longest reigning monarch in the world. The Thai people love him and with many good reasons.

It is Year 2552

Buddha statue by Ryan Libre

Thai people start counting from when the Buddha was born, who came along before Jesus. A few other Asian countries also count from Buddha’s birthday, but they are all a few years apart.

The Clock Starts Over Every 6 Hours

You know the 12 hour clock, you’ve heard of the 24 hour clock, but you didn’t know that most of Thailand runs on a 6 hour clock that resets 4 times a day.

Bangkok? Where’s Bangkok?

Bangkok was the temporary Thai capital after the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya. After 10 years or so the Thais moved across the river to start a new capital city called:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

This is the longest place name in the world. Thais usually shorten it to just Krung Thep.

The original temporary capital city “Bangkok” was soon swallowed up by the rapidly expanding Krung Tep, so Bangkok is now just one of the many outlying neighborhoods.

If you ask most Thai people where Bangkok is they only have a very vague idea and wouldn’t know exactly how to get there.

The “Thai” in Thailand Means “Free”

Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized. This is a fact that they are very proud of and want ingrained in their national identity.

Even Thai Kings Often Misspell Words

The Thai alphabet has 6 more vowels than the entire English alphabet! All together, Thais have 32 vowels and 44 consonants.

All the Thai kings in the past several generations have been educated overseas. If you read their personal memos and writings there are many spelling errors.

The Chinese run Thailand

Chinese influence by Ryan Libre

Many generations ago there were no paid jobs in Thailand. Every man had to work for 3 months for free for the monarchy.

Sometimes that labor wasn’t enough and sometimes the kings didn’t trust their own subjects for accounting jobs, so they hired Chinese workers.

Their salaries may have been small, but they gave the Chinese the upper-hand in business, which paved the way to political success.

Thaksin (the highly polarizing former Thai Prime Minister), and a large majority of Thailand’s businessmen and politicians are the ancestors of these early Chinese workers.

Despite living in Thailand for many generations, many of these powerful individuals hold on to their Chinese heritage and often read the newspaper in Chinese.

Vegetarianism is NOT a Western Import to Thailand

The Chinese also brought vegetarianism with them hundreds of years ago.

Vegetarian Thai food by Ryan Libre

The Thais still use the Chinese word for vegetarianism, simply pronounced “J”. Eating vegetarian has been a major part of the Thai worldview for generations.

Despite the recent article in the New York Times about the “booming” vegetarian movement in Thailand, little has changed in the last 100 years and almost nothing has changed in the the last decade.

Going to Thailand?

Check out 10 Thai Customs to Know Before Visiting Thailand.

For a good laugh, read Matador Nights editor Tom Gates’ diary of an eating binge in Bangkok food-courts. Tom also has reviews of authentic Italian food in Bangkok and the coolest hostel in Bangkok.

Nomadic Matt lives in Bangkok. Matt is an expert on Bangkok nightlife but also knows how to get off the tourist trail in Southeast Asia.

Your very own Matador Abroad editor Tim Patterson thinks You Sabai is the best organic cooking school in Thailand.

Matador Trips editor Hal Amen shares a jungle adventure in his guide to Khao Sok National Park.

For up to date and comprehensive information about travel in Thailand, you can’t do better than the online Thailand travel guide on Travelfish.

Not a Matador member yet? Join our travel community.

Culture + Religion


 

About The Author

Ryan Libre

Ryan Libre is a photojournalist based in Japan and Thailand. He was awarded the 2010 Nikon Inspiration Award for his photographic work on the Kachin struggle for independence in Myanmar. Please visit his homepage www.ryanlibre.com.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    Isn’t it 2552?

    • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

      Yup, you’re right Turner. Thanks for the heads-up – fixed now.

  • http://exilelifestyle.com Colin Wright

    My atomic clock is WAY off…

  • http://asiaforvisitors.com Michael

    The 6-hour clock note is somewhat incorrect. It’s not nearly that precise. The afternoon is divided into two unequal portions – “bai” and “yen”.

    Also Thonburi, not Bangkok, was the temporary Thai capital after the fall of Ayuthaya. Bangkok was the name of the village that got swallowed by the new capital, and gave the western name for the city. Bangkok is still exactly where it’s always been.

    • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

      Eh, with “Thai time”, the clock hardly makes a difference.

  • http://musictravelwrite.wordpress.com Michelle

    Wow, I had no idea that Bangkok was incorrectly used. Really interesting article, thanks!

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    Super interesting, fascinating piece!

  • Kevin Fairdosi

    Haha, this article reminds me of my trip to Thailand a few years ago. I couldn’t understand the love for the King that everyone shared. When I asked a Thai friend about it, one of the reasons she cited was that he made it rain when there was an intense drought that devastated produce. Well, I thought she was crazy until I read about his patent on cloud seeding. I still don’t understand it, but at least she’s not crazy.

  • http://www.ryanlibre.com ryan libre

    Thanks all for your comments. Thailand is an amazing place that has a lot more to offer then most people take it for. Glad you enjoyed!

  • http://www.theplanetd.com Dave and Deb

    What a fascinating article. I didn’t know any of the points that you mentioned above except for vegetarianism. I always assumed that since it is a Buddhist culture that many people were vegetarians. I just didn’t know that it was a Chinese import. Great post!

  • Bob

    “…a large majority of Thailand’s businessmen and politicians are the ancestors of these early Chinese workers”

    Surely you mean ‘descendants’?

  • Ryan

    It’s taken me about seven months to get a handle on the time keeping–not that it’s necessary (I still usually just say mohng/o’clock).

    Another bit of Chinese culture seen in Thailand is the food. Surely, many dishes have been tweaked over the years but you can trace back quite a few meals to China’s kitchens.

    One of my favorite little quirks about Thailand is the spelling. Once you start to get a handle on the language, it becomes obvious why it can be so difficult. Businesses will even have signs made with errors and restaurant menus–those are great (one time, I was in the mood for some sea food so I ordered the “crap stick”).

    As for HM the king, it took a bit of getting used to since I came from a country where the nation’s leader was so openly disaproved of (USA–G.W.B.). It’s great to see a country so united under one person like that. However, I can’t say the same for the position of Prime Minister. I know the king is quite old now and am curious as to the country’s reaction to his death. It will no doubt be a devastating blow to the heart of the country.

  • Jake

    The country’s official name was Siam (Thai: สยาม; IPA: [saˈjaːm], RTGS: Sayam origin unknown) until 23 June 1939,[3], when it was changed to Thailand; it was renamed Siam between 1945 and 11 May 1949, after which the name Thailand was once again adopted. The word Thai (ไทย) is not, as commonly believed to be, derived from the word Tai (ไท) meaning “free” in the Thai language; it is, however, the name of an ethnic group from the central plains (the Thai people).[citation needed] A famous Thai scholar argued that Tai (ไท) simply means “people” or “human being” since his investigation shows that in some rural areas the word “Tai” was used instead of the usual Thai word “khon” (คน) for people [4]. With that in mind the locals seemed to have also accepted the alternative meaning and will verbally state that it means “Land of the free”. This might be due to language barriers and the avoidance of long difficult explanations.

    • http://www.ryanlibre.com ryan libre

      Hello Jake, thank you for comment.

      I have heard this from 1 or 2 academics before, but Tai (for ethnic group) is ไต and for freedom is ไท. Thai as in Thailand is spelled ไทย. ( the last letter ย is basically silent.

      they sound very similar to non Thai ears, but actually ไต the ethnic group is closer a “D” sound. If they really named it after the Tai ethnic group i can’t imagine why they would spell and pronounce it differently than that groups name…

      But really what im doing here is not academic, if you ask common Thai people nearly everyone will tell you it means free. so that is what i want people to know.

      Thanks again for you comment

  • J

    Hmmm

    The Clock Starts Over Every 6 Hours

    You know the 12 hour clock, you’ve heard of the 24 hour clock, but you didn’t know that most of Thailand runs on a 6 hour clock that resets 4 times a day.

    I’m Thai and I have no idea what you’re talking about. Yes we start our 7 pm by referring to it as “nung toom” – 1st hour of evening, and that goes til 12pm. and 1 am is Tee Nung, morning 1…but its not like we reset our clocks 4 times a day??

    This should be titled 8 things i might have just made up about Thailand.

  • J

    Hmmm

    The Clock Starts Over Every 6 Hours

    You know the 12 hour clock, you’ve heard of the 24 hour clock, but you didn’t know that most of Thailand runs on a 6 hour clock that resets 4 times a day.

    I’m Thai and I have no idea what you’re talking about. Yes we start our 7 pm by referring to it as “nung toom” – 1st hour of evening, and that goes til 12pm. and 1 am is Tee Nung, morning 1…but its not like we reset our clocks 4 times a day as you imply??

    There’s a lot more to thailand than these 8 weird (and possibly false) facts

  • Martin

    “It is Year 2552

    Buddha statue by Ryan Libre
    Thai people start counting from when the Buddha was born, who came along before Jesus.”

    Why do you have to mention this, who cares if he came before Jesus, why not say he came along before the Lone Ranger as well? Anyone who can do simple math can figure out who came first.

    • http://www.ryanlibre.com ryan libre

      Thanks for writing Martin, if the western calender, or any calender started from the birth date of the Lone Ranger i would have surely mentioned him as well.

      • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/rsw Tim Patterson

        possibly my favorite comment response ever.

        • Kirsten

          Haha ditto!

  • http://www.travelwithamate.com Travel With a Mate

    Interesting stuff! Especially finding out the King can play the sax! Does he have a band?

    Kings and musical instruments are normal I guess. Henry 8th in England toured with his band…. before he got all fat and crazy.

  • Al

    Thailand was never fully colonized….true. But Siam was basically Thailand, Cambodia and Loas. The French took Cambodia and Laos and threatened to take the rest of the country unless they received money from the then King Rama5. They made the border along the Mekong river. The French also blockaded Thailand for a ransom by stopping shipping from Koh Chang in The Gulf of Thailand. The French also settled in Chantaburi and Trat areas and their building are still there today. The Brittish encroached from the West and decreased the border of Siam.
    So really Siam lost half its land. Rama 5 paid off the French but he also united what was left of the country. Siam was basically divided up by wealthy warlords.
    Look it up.
    Thailand was never colonized cause it never existed then. Siam was halfed in size.

    Also WW2 — The Japanese were allowed to walk through the country. Hmm

  • Paskorn Thummawan

    I apologize, but there is a small mistake in the article.

    As much as I love His Majesty, he didn’t compose the national anthem… He has a total of 48 compositions from swing, waltz, to marches, but the Thai national anthem was not one of them.

    Moreover… 6 hour clock’s a bit outdated don’t u think? lol

    • Janish Q Waldorf

      I was confused by the anthem bit as well. I looked it up and ascertained that The King didn’t compose it according to some Thai websites and wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_National_Anthem).
      I don’t know if I agree with 6 hours thing. I think most people still say it in their daily life ?

  • Janish Q Waldorf

    A very good article from a foreigner I’m surprised. I suppose there are more that are yet to be revealed lol.

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