Having said that the concept of sanook ("fun") describes one of the most characteristic features of Thai mentality, it should not come as a surprise that Thai people are literally crazy for all sorts of parties and festivals. Most holidays are related to the monarchy or Buddhism, others have just been adapted from Western countries. Not all but many Thai holidays are official public holidays, and banks, government and administrative offices, as well as Thai embassies worldwide close for a full day. Please note that when a national holiday falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, the following Monday will be a (substitution) holiday as well.
Dates of religiously inspired holidays, or the traditional Chinese New Year, may vary from year to year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Complete List of Thai Public Holidays
The most famous traditional Thai holidays are probably the infamous water festival of Songkran in April, and the slightly more contemplative Loy Krathong festival in October or November. Songkran is Thailand's traditional New Year festival, which generally starts on April 13 and marks the beginning of the long-awaited rainy season following months of drought. Known as Thailand's water festival, Songkran is mainly wet, and you just can't help getting soaked from water buckets shed over your head, or high-pressure water pistols filled with sometimes ice-cool water.
Whereas traditionally this throwing of water was introduced as a symbolic method to wash off the sins of the year gone-by and pay respect to the elderly, Songkran, as it is celebrated nowadays - especially in Thailand's major tourist areas - has more or less lost its links to the original cultural roots and has degenerated to the "world's largest water battle"! Be prepared to get soaked during Songkran! As you can't avoid it anyway, your best option is possibly to participate in the wet and crazy fun. For safety reasons, just be careful when riding a motorbike, and keep your wallet, cell phone, camera etc. in a plastic bag. (If you don't fancy a week-long water-splashing street party, you're advised to stay away from Pattaya or Chiang Mai, but "seek shelter" in quieter areas.)
Traditionally Songkran is celebrated for three days (April 13-15), but in some parts of the country (including "Funtown" Pattaya) it's been extended to as long as a full week and usually lasts from April 13-19. Songkran in Pattaya Videos Loy Krathong, depending on the traditional Thai lunar calendar, celebrated either in late October or November, is a rather contemplative and romantic festival.
A so-called Krathong is a small raft - typically made from a section of a banana tree trunk which has been skillfully decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, candles and flowers. The Thai word "loy" means "to float", and now you may guess what "Loy Krathong" is all about!
During the evening hours, Thai people gather at riversides, lakes or at the sea in order to release ("loy") their "krathongs". This is accompanied by firework and the releasing of small hot balloons, which light the nightly sky above the waters.
The cultural roots and the religious meaning of the Loy Krathong rites are rather unclear, but they are believed to be of ancient Indian origin. As on most festive occasions, Thai people - especially lovers! - wish for good luck in the coming year.
Probably Thailand's most important holiday is King Bhumibol's birthday on December 5, which is also Thailand's National Day and celebrated as Father's Day. As on election days and other important Thai holidays with an either religious or monarchy-related background, a general alcohol ban may be imposed (also applicable to foreign visitors), and all entertainment venues required to close for a day. Sanook? Thai Public Holidays
Thailand Tourism & Image Problems
In 2010, Thailand has attracted nearly 16 million tourists from all over the globe and successfully maintained its status as one of the world's top travel destinations.
Since Thailand's "touristic discovery" in the 1960s, however, Thailand has been mainly connoted with what is referred to as "international sex tourism" and has attracted millions of so-called sex tourists from all over the planet. Due to negative reports in the international media, the Kingdom soon became known worldwide as the "sex capital of Asia" which mainly catered to "sex-starved perverts, pedophiles, poofsters and criminals." So unfortunately, and despite the Kingdom's cultural attractions, beautiful beaches and tropical islands, Thailand suffered from a fundamental image loss before it was even given the chance of building a more respectable reputation. In fact, this one-sided focus on Thailand's sex image that had initially laid the foundation for the country's rapid development as a tourist destination of world standard, completely overshadowed all the other facets of Thailand.
Thailand in the 21st century, however, isn't only about sex, prostitution and nightlife (even though "adult entertainment" still plays an important role in ensuring cashflow to the country.) Here's not the place to discuss Thailand's old image problems, and the controversial issue of "sex tourism" in general, as there's so much more to a holiday in Thailand than exotic girls in GoGo bars trying to make a living from the hidden desires of Western civilisation. But, to cut a long story short: If you don't like "sex tourists", simply avoid girlie bars and A-GoGo clubs in Thailand's notorious red-light districts. (And if you don't mind, or should be a bit of a "sex tourist" yourself, well ... just follow your nose and enjoy.)
In recent years, Thailand's tourism officials have made immense efforts to shift the country's run- down image, away from sex tourism to family and so-called "quality" tourism. And it's true that, since the late 1990s, the self-proclaimed "Land of Smiles" has indeed become a suitable tourist destination not only for single male tourists but couples, families and retired people alike. Please just read our articles on Pattaya's vast range of tourist attractions, daytime pastimes, shopping opportunities and restaurants, to find out that vacations in Thailand can no longer be reduced to keywords such as "nightlife", "sex industry" or "sex tourism."
As noted at the top of this page:
"There's simply something for everyone: from white sand beaches and gold-ornamented Buddhist temples to lush evergreen rain forests, from tropical islands to the bustling nightlife and shopping paradises of Bangkok and Pattaya; from inexpensive bungalow huts for backpackers to top-notch five-star luxury hotels ..."
Despite the ethnic diversity of Thai people (including ethnic Chinese, the "Lao" and "Khmer" from Isaan, hill-tribes in the North and Muslims in the deep south), there are two main unifying factors that define Thai identity. The first factor is the deep respect Thai people from all over the country pay to the King and the revered monarchy, the second one is a unique and common language. Regardless of the variety of regional and ethnic dialects found all over the Kingdom, standardized Thai language - including a standard alphabet - is the principal language of education and spoken throughout the country. For a basic introduction to Thai language - or just to pick up some useful phrases - please visit our extra Thai Language pages.
95% of Thai people are Buddhists, which is a higher percentage than in any other Asian country, and most aspects of modern Thai culture have been heavily influenced by "Theravada" Buddhism. Other influences on modern Thai culture include ancestor worship and an ancient animistic belief which is most clearly reflected in the humble respect all Thai people pay to images of deceased family members, and the pre-Buddhist tradition of "spirit houses".
A common sight in the morning hours are orange-robed Buddhist monks, who collect alms from devote worshippers, and a visit to Buddhist temple (Wat in Thai language) is a definite "must" for every first-time visitor, especially when staying in Bangkok or Siam's ancient capitals Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.
Traditionally, Thais have a strong sense of social hierarchy, with seniority being a basic concept of traditional Thai culture. This is most evidently reflected in the traditional Thai greeting which is not a handshake but the so-called "Wai". A Wai consists of a bow of the chin towards the chest with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. The younger, or socially lower-ranking, person is always expected to wai first in order to show respect, and the lower his status is, the lower he bows his head.
Sounds complicated? Well, it really is. And as you're not really expected to wai as a foreigner anyway - and it's easy to make a mistake or even a total fool of yourself (e.g. if you wai the receptionist at your hotel or the cashier in a supermarket) - a Wai should rather be avoided by tourists not familiar with its subtle degrees.
Thailand is also known as the Land of Smiles. And indeed, Thai people can smile and celebrate without the slightest reason for happiness, and the Thai words sanook ("fun") and sabai ("feeling good") really describe two characteristic features of Thai mentality.
Thai people don't like "problems" and generally avoid arguments in public. "Serious" discussions on "complicated" subjects tend to give the average Thai a "headache".
As Thai society is traditionally non-confrontational, it's recommended to avoid confrontations and aggressive behaviour in public as in most cases it just wouldn't help. If you should be unsatisfied with the room service in your hotel, for example, an angry complaint to the room maid, manager or receptionist would probably not get you any further but simply earn you disrespect. In the best case he would just say "solly" and leave you with a broad smile on his lips. Now you may have a guess how many meanings the ambiguous Thai smile can have?!
Located at the heart of South-East Asia, Thailand with its splendid beaches, fascinating cultural attractions, great shopping and entertainment facilities, has since the 1960s become one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Often advertised as the "Land of Smiles", the Kingdom of Thailand has attracted more than 22 million foreign tourists in 2012, and targets "at least 30 million" tourist arrivals from all over the globe by 2015. So what is it that attracts these millions of people to Thailand every year? Simple answer.
There's simply something for everyone: from white sand beaches and gold-ornamented Buddhist temples to lush evergreen rain forests, from tropical islands to the bustling nightlife and shopping paradises of Bangkok and Pattaya; from inexpensive bungalow huts for backpackers to top-notch five-star luxury hotels. Last but not least: beautiful ladies ...
However, Thailand isn't just one of the world's most diversified and fascinating countries, it's also cheap, yet provides an infrastructure of "Western standards" and, in comparison with other Asian countries, e.g. Cambodia, a safe environment for tourists - both male and female. Unsurprisingly, Thailand has also become a popular home away from home for many expats and retirees from all over the world; last but not least, thanks to the country's relaxed and "easy" lifestyle.
Nationals of most European, many North and South American, as well as other Asian countries, do not need a visa to enter Thailand, i.e. provided they wish to stay in Thailand for no longer than 30 days for tourism purposes only. Those who wish to stay longer can easily apply for a Tourist Visa at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate in their home countries. Thai Visa InformationThai Embassies & Consulates (official website)
Thailand - the ancient Siam - can be reached conveniently by air. A 10-hours or so nonstop flight from Europe or North America to Bangkok may not be the most enjoyable travel experience, but most Farangs (Thai slang for Western foreigners) who ever boarded a flight to Bangkok, have come back here again and again. Yes, Thailand makes addicted somehow ...
Because of its central location in South-East Asia, Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport (speak: "suwanna-poom") also serves as a perfect hub for tours around neighbouring Asian countries. Suvarnabhumi AirportAirports Authority of ThailandBangkok Airport Guide
Thailand's most popular destinations - besides the capital Bangkok - include the beach resorts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Hua Hin/Cha-Am, and the mountainous Northern region around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the "Golden Triangle". Thailand Hotel Directory
Thailand Facts & Map of Thailand
Since 1932, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Poomipon) recognized as the Head of State.
Thailand covers an area of 514,000km², with coastlines along the Gulf of Siam and the Andaman Sea, and has a total population of approx. 65 million.
Thailand shares borders with Myanmar (Burma) to the West, Laos to the North, Cambodia to the East and Malaysia to the South.
Since the late 18th century Bangkok (Krung Thep) with about 8-12 million people (figures roughly estimated) has been the capital of the former Siam, which was renamed as Thailand in 1939.
In spite of their cultural and ethnic diversity (Lao, Khmer and other influences), all Thai people are unified by their common use of Thai language - including various regional or ethnic dialects. Most employees in the tourism industry, however, especially in the country's main tourist destinations, speak some basic English, usually with a strong Thai accent and simplified use of grammar.
With 95% the vast majority of Thai people are Buddhists, 3.8% Muslims live predominantly in the southernmost provinces along the Malaysian border.
Thailand's currency is the Thai Baht (THB). Unlike in neighbouring South-East Asian countries such as Cambodia or Laos, payments in US dollars are generally not acceptable.
The international calling code from overseas is +66, the time zone is UTC (GMT) +7.
When making international phone calls from Thailand, dial 001+ country code (alternatively 004, 005, 006, 007, 008 or 009 = cheaper rates).
Thailand's traditional calender is based on the Buddhist Era (B.E.) and is 543 years ahead of the Western Gregorian calender. For example, the year 2012 corresponds to the year 2555 B.E.
Thailand: Regions & Destinations
Thailand's most popular destinations - besides the capital Bangkok - include the beach resorts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui and Hua Hin/Cha-Am, and the mountainous Northern region around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the "Golden Triangle".
Thailand's 77 provinces can be subdivided into five geographic and cultural regions.
- Northern Thailand (with the cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and the Golden Triangle)
- Isaan (Northeast Thailand) Geographically Thailand's largest region, Isaan has been influenced both by Lao and Khmer culture. Thailand's Northeast has traditionally been the country's poorest region, in the last decade, however, Isaan's infrastructure has developed significantly.
- Central Thailand (including the capital Bangkok)
- Eastern Seaboard (with the islands of Koh Chang and Koh Samet and, of course, Pattaya)
- South Thailand (with dozens of picturesque islands and beach resorts along the coastline of the Andaman sea and the Gulf of Siam: Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi, Khao Lak, Koh Pha Ngan, Hua Hin, Cha-Am and many more)
(The three southernmost provinces Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala along the Malaysian border have been home to a violent conflict between Muslim separatists and the Thai government since 2004 and should therefore be avoided by travellers.)
Thailand Climate: Seasons and Temperatures
Thailand's tropical, mostly hot and humid climate is dominated by monsoons and can roughly be subdivided into three major seasons:
Please note that these seasons may vary slightly from region to region - e.g. Koh Samui's "rainy season" partly coincides with the "dry season" in other parts of the country.
As you can see: annual average temperatures don't change significantly in Thailand, with average highs roughly between 30 and 35°C and average lows between 20 and 27°C.
It's the humidity, that frequently climbs up to more than 90% during the rainy season, not so much a change of the temperatures, that often makes the "real feel" temperature much higher than it really is. Therefore, "cool" (in the dry and sunny winter months from November to January) is just a relative term and cannot be compared to northern European standards. Even in the early winter morning hours, with a fresh breeze from the Gulf of Thailand, temperatures hardly ever sink below 20°C which, for Thai standards, may still feel uncomfortably cool. As humidity is rather low in these "winter months", this is also the favourite holiday season for most Western tourists, and the absolute peak of "high season" all over Thailand.
Accordingly, "rainy season" doesn't really mean that it rains every day (or all day long); there are just more cloudy days than during the "dry" winter months, with more rainfall and a higher degree of humidity. And when it rains, it usually takes only an hour or two before the sun breaks through the clouds again.
Thailand's coolest regions, especially during the winter months, are the mountainous areas in the North (Chiang Mai) and the northeasten region of Isaan, where temperatures may drop to as low as 15°C in the night. These are also the warmest regions during the humid summer months, and temperatures may sometimes climb up to more than 40°C.
Thailand: Contemporary History, Monarchy and Politics
According to most historians, the T(h)ai people originate from southern Chinese territory, but due to their turbulent history, they are much more a "mix-up" of various cultural and ethnic influences (Khmer, Burmese, Lao, Chinese) than a homogenic group.
The first ever unified "Thai" kingdom was established during the 14th century. Sukhothai and later Ayutthaya were the first capitals of Siamese empires.
In the late 18th century, the Chakri dynasty came to power and "Krung Thep" (the Thai name for Bangkok) became the new political and cultural centre. Unlike Thailand's neighbouring countries, the former Siam - which was renamed as Thailand in 1939 - is the only South-East Asian nation that has never been colonised by a European power in the 19th century.
Despite a bloodless revolution in 1932, which resulted in a change from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, King Bhumibol Adulyadeth, Rama IX, who ascended to the throne in 1946 and today is the world's longest-reigning monarch, is a deeply admired figure of semi-divine proportions and, by most Thais, viewed as the "father of the nation." Although Bhumibol, born on December 5, 1927, is legally a constitutional monarch and "above politics," he has made several decisive interventions in the Thai political sphere. He was credited with facilitating Thailand's transition to democracy in the 1990s, although he has also supported numerous military regimes and has authorized over 15 coups. King Bhumibol is advised by a hand-picked Privy Council, many members of which have themselves made controversial forays into politics. Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit (born 1932) who got married just a week before his coronation in 1950, have four children. Their only son, Prince Vajiralongkorn, is the heir apparent to the throne; but recent constitutions have made the amendment of the Palace Law of Succession the sole prerogative of the reigning king, which in theory allows him to appoint any of his children to the throne.
Thailand's monarchy and members of the royal family are also protected from criticism by the strictest lese majeste laws in the world. According to the 2007 constitution, "the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." According to Article 112 of Thailand's Criminal Code, "whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." Missing from the Code, however, is a clear definition of what actions constitute "defamation" or "insult." In recent years, according to critics of the law, it has been increasingly used to silence political dissent, and observers attribute the alarming rise in lese majeste charges to increased polarization following the 2006 coup and sensitivity over the elderly king's declining health. As a tourist or expat living in Thailand, you are therefore expected to pay the same respect to HM the King and Thailand's monarchy as a Thai, with the looming royal succession being the biggest "taboo" issue in Thai society.
Following a string of coup d'états, military dictatorships and short-lived civilian governments in the second half of the 20th century, Thailand had seemed to have stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy "Asian style" during the first years of the early 21st century.
But, in 2006, yet another bloodless coup d'état - pushed for by the ultra-royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and endorsed by King Bhumibol - overthrew the democratically elected Thai Rak Thai administration and ousted then-prime minister and former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been in office since 2001 and was accused of corruption and "disloyalty to the throne." In August 2008, Thaksin jumped bail to avoid a two-year jail term for alleged conflict of interest - a charge he claims was politically motivated - and has since lived in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai. Until today, Thaksin remains the probably most divisive figure in contemporary Thai history, admired by his supporters and loathed by his opponents.
The first post-coup general elections were finally held in December 2007. Ironically yet not really surprisingly, a pro-Thaksin party again won the large majority of votes.
Following renewed month-long protests of the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (aka the "Yellow Shirts") which culminated in an eight-days shutdown of Bangkok's two international airports, the Constitution Court, however, dissolved the ruling PPP party, which the PAD alleged was a mere proxy of Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai party. On December 15, 2008 Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was elected by parliament as the country's 27th prime minister.
Meanwhile, the opposition and pro-democracy/pro-Thaksin protest groups ("Red Shirts") started taking to the streets. They accused the Democrat-led coalition government of being a beneficiary of a "judicial coup" and called for snap elections to "return power to the people". Whereas the Democrats and the "Yellow Shirts" (PAD) have the support of Thailand's traditional elites, the military and Bangkok's middle class, Thaksin's political stronghold are the country's rural areas in the North and Northeast. But, other than often alleged by Thailand's biased mainstream media and royalist groups, the Red Shirts are not merely "brainwashed" Thaksin supporters but a broad political movement seeking to establish a genuine democracy without "double standards," in which political power belongs solely to the people and the country's traditional elites, the military, the palace, and other "extra-constitutional" forces, do not interfere in the political process. More recently, progressive elements within the red-shirt movement have also come out to criticise the lese majeste rule and called for amendments to the controversial law. Anti-Thaksin and royalist protest groups, on the other hand, have increasingly accused the Red Shirts of being mere "Thaksin stooges" and posing a "threat" to the monarchy.
In 2009 and from March to May 2010, up to 300,000 red-shirt supporters took to the streets of Bangkok to call for snap elections. Following violent clashes between protesters and security forces, and a bloody military crackdown on May 19, 2010, in which more than 90 people were killed and nearly 2,000 injured - mostly unarmed civilians, including foreign journalists -, Abhisit Vejjajiva finally dissolved the House of Representatives in May 2011. On July 3, 2011, fresh general elections were held and the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party, which is close to the red-shirt movement and the controversial ex-PM, won by a landslide. Ironically, Yingluck Shinawatra - Thaksin's younger sister - became the country's first-ever female prime minister. Despite rumours of a "deal" being made between Thailand's traditional elites, including the palace, and the Thaksin camp, it remains to be seen for how long the Puea Thai government can remain in power without facing renewed anti-Thaksin street protests, and whether further military coups in the politically divided nation can be avoided.
Given King Bhumibol's advanced age and continued hospitalization (His Majesty will become 84 on December 5, 2011, and has been hospitalized since September 2009) the issue of royal succession is often viewed as the core to the ongoing political tensions in Thailand, and questions surrounding the succession and transition period are now and over the medium term the biggest and most daunting question mark looming over the politically divided nation. King Bhumibol's influence as a unifying figure and moral arbiter is accepted by most Thais; but his heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (born July 28, 1952) has yet to command the same popular support as his father, who ascended to the throne in 1946. Many analysts fear that if the crown passes to Vajiralongkorn while political divisions remain, opposing factions may intensify their struggle. Due to Thailand's strict lese majeste law - which effectively stifles any critical debate of the monarchy - the issue of royal succession, however, virtually remains an "elephant in the room."
For the latest news updates on Thai politics, please visit our daily updated Thailand news page.