At the end of a long day, after battling with traffic, getting jostled about by people in the street – when you finally get into your own apartment, lean against the wall clutching your filo-fax to your chest and exhale as you slide down the wall to the floor. Silence. Relax. Home. Safe.
That’s the feeling Thailand used to give me when I was living all over Asia. Every time I would arrive in Thailand, an overwhelming sense of calm and ‘safe’ would prevail over the confusion, chaos and panic that was the rest of Asia.
My opinion is biased. There’s plenty of confusion and chaos in Thailand and I expect for travelers coming from the ‘West’ straight to Thailand, it may feel very foreign. You have to remember, I was coming from the East each time, so Thailand was far more western than any country I’d been in over those 2 years. You can actually find Muesli and yogurt in Thailand… and Milo… and forks! And an array of other things we take for granted – but trust me, in China and Korea, things like that will elude you! My fork when I lived in Korea had teddy-bears on the handle, as I had to buy it from a baby shop – the ONLY place that sold forks (right next to the ‘baby-training’ chopsticks… which looked kinda like scissors. True Story)
Bangkok actually has the longest name of any place in the world. Ever. Even in Middle earth. (Beat that Tolkien.) The Thais don’t even call it Bangkok. So if you find yourself lost in an area where no one speaks English (which is pretty unlikely as Thailand seems to constantly run normal life parallel with tourism,) call it กรุงเทพมหานคร… *blink*…. what? You can’t read Thai? Wow… ok.. let’s go phonetically then. (Scratches Thai Lexicon Museum off ‘must see’ suggestions on list) Thais call Bangkok Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Which translates to “City of Angels” *smirk* it’s the Thai version of Los Angeles… OR – Thailand’s way of saying they really love me, Angel.
But even that is not the full name… Yes. Some of you grammar nazis out there are already ticking off letters on your fingers, trying to disprove my Guinness book of world records endorsed facts. While we’re on this… How does an alcohol brand, Guinness, become such a reliable source for records? Surely those Irish men were drunk half the time. I mean, They see leprechauns, pots of gold and four leaf clovers. How can anything they endorse be taken seriously… “I swear Paddy. The potatoe was as big as the Titanic..Our wee leprechaun brought it in.”…..But I digress.
Bankok’s full name is: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
Told you it was long.
It means: The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma
That’s pretty concise.
Thais don’t really even know the full name but are taught it in school and can often recite it by singing the song they learnt it via. The same as we sing the alphabet song to remember letters, or ‘Happy Birthday’ to remember our names.
My name, Angel in Thai is นางฟ้า – which is Nang-faah. Say that to a Thai and watch them giggle. I now think this means all Thai’s have been teasing me and Nang Faah does not mean Angel – I mean, after all, I can’t see anything resembling ‘Nang Faah’ in that city name, and it’s supposed to mean ‘City of Angels’. So… Nang faah is still worth memorizing – for use as smack talk to cab drivers (who WILL try to hustle you. Be on guard. Make sure you arrange an amount up front, or watch them put the meter on. Also avoid letting them suggest places to go. Take a map book. Be firm. They get paid by shop-owners to bring customers to their stores. So if you’ve got time to kill and are feeling charitable, then by all means. Let a friendly tuk-tuk driver hustle you all over the city to clothing and fabric stores. You’ll see beautiful things. It’s Bangkok. Beautiful things are everywhere.) Nang-Faah probably means. ‘idiot’ which is why my Thai friends giggled so hard. And why they called me it.
The Thai number 5 is pronounced ‘ha’ so when Thai’s type laughter they write “5555” which means “hahaha” Not some cheesy American phone-number in a 90s movie.
While we here in the western world have to make do with breakfast, lunch and dinner with, if we’re very lucky, elevenses thrown in for luck, Thais eat four or five times a day. Om nom nom. More reasons to hit Simply Asia all the time… you’re not greedy – you’re just living like a Thai.
They really love their Monarchy. Like Really really.
The King of Thailand. Or historically, the King of Siam. Is really respected and loved. His colour is Yellow; and flowers, flags and decorations can be seen everywhere to match. The first time I went to watch a movie in Thailand (just in a normal mall, like any old mall we have here) before the Trailers start… the whole audience rises as an image of the King is projected and the national anthem is played.
Images of the King can be spotted from cab-dashboards to restaurant walls and even 7-11 shops (which are abundant).
I bet Prince Charles looks longingly at Thailand’s monarchy and wistfully whines “Why couldn’t we be treated like THAT, mother? The only place you can see my face is the cover of tabloids or Mad magazine…” to which the Queen would reply “Shut up Charles, and eat all your greens.”
The king has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state.
Interesting tid-bits… Thai-Bites?
Thailand is originally Siam, Which might be confused with the popular Dr.Seuss book Sam I am by someone with speed reading tendencies, or dyslexia. You’d be wrong. There is very little similarity. Although, they do have trains in Thailand… and you can eat ham. But not if you’re Muslim. You can have green eggs with a little food dye. Unless you’re vegan. But let’s face it. If you’re vegan.. You probably won’t be in Thailand because you’ll have no energy for travel.
The name Siam also means Siamese cats come from there. Which, if you’re going to have a cat – in my opinion’ – are the only cats worth having. I’ve only had Siamese cats my whole life. Sammy, Romeo, Frodo and Cleo. (29 years of cats… they live long. Cleo is currently 17) The Thai name for Siamese cat is Wichian Mat which translates to ‘Moon Diamond’ Which sounds like a stripper… (and we know Thailand has plenty of those too.) Speaking of strippers, how about a topless photo with a pussy….
The first ever Siamese cat documented out of Siam was owned by US President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878. How very regal! It was named “Siam”… (not very creative Mr. President….) *says the girl whose own Siamese was called Sam*
The area now known as Thailand has been inhabited for 4000 years. The Thai use the phrase “land of the free” to express pride in the fact that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never colonized by a European power.
Now here’s where I get all philosophical (and perhaps controversial)
I firmly believe that the kindness and strength evident in a Thai’s face comes from this fact. That they don’t have the resentment and subconscious history of suffering caused by westerners that other (most other countries in the WORLD) have experienced. They don’t seem to have a vendetta. This may be why they are a seemingly easy going and free natured people. Where lady-boys are not only tolerated but accepted as equally as Muay Thai Fighters. My trainers in Phuket used to say to me, “growing up, we had two choices. You either be a lady-boy or a fighter. We not pretty, so we fight” then they’d fall about laughing and teasing one another. Perhaps it’s the Buddhism that breeds this peaceful tolerance?
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps there is intolerance. But I didn’t see it.
Thailand did side with Japan in world war two. (Naughty!) And declared war on America and England in 1942. Japan did bully them into it (obviously) and after a long and tiresome defiance.. that lasted six to eight… hours *cough* Thailand agreed to grant them safe passage across the country. They did not assist them fully and maintained an Anti-Japan defense front. Thailand quickly allianced with America after the war so “all’s well that America wins over”… (isn’t that how the saying goes?)
Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Does Tastic know about this? And also – China is way bigger. That surprises me that Thailand is number one. I guess China is not so concerned with shipping FOOD out of the country. Just counterfeit handbags and running shoes.
Buddha-Bond and culture
Thai’s religion, Theravada Buddhism, ranks among the highest in the world with 96.4% of the country practicing buddhism. So if you want to avoid Jehova’s witnesses randomly knocking on your door while you’re trying to enjoy a bath, then Thailand is pretty safe bet as only 0.7% of the country is Christian. This is one of the main reasons why Boeta the Buddha has been longing for Thailand ever since he was born in Woolworths.
Every Thai male is expected to become a monk at some point in his life, generally between finishing school and starting his career/getting married. A little different to the Western idea of a gap year! (although, like a gap year – they may come back from this with a tattoo too. As tattoos are common for monks)
The Thai traditional greeting or ‘wai’… or “the little praying hands bow” is traditionally done by the younger person first. So if you’re looking to show respect, then press those palms together. Of course, on walking into hotels and resorts all the smily island girls will beat you to it with all the stealth speed of someone who’s JOB it is… because technically it is. Don’t worry about that. Sip a cocktail and look at the sea. Ooooh. The ‘Wai’ is a sign of respect and children are taught it much like we are taught ‘please and thank you’ so just go ahead and when in doubt, throw one out. Thai’s are tolerant people. They will see you are trying, at the very least, and appreciate that.
The national sport is Muay Thai. It’s been taught to Thais since the olden days, thousands of years ago to use on the battle field. Even monks are taught it at temples. Muay Thai is highly respected and full of ceremony – with the wai kru blessing dance to start the fight, and the music played through out fights to ward off evil.
Another fun thing to watch out for, if you’re ever lucky enough to catch a real Thai muay thai night, is the betting and haggling that goes on in the pit of local guys who cluster ring side.
It’s sometimes more entertaining to watch their collective reactions to every punch landed or kick missed. They almost pulsate like a single organism with cheers and chants, reeling back and forth. Listen out for the distinctly Thai habit of cheering “ah-hoyi!” at every kick or punch landed throughout the fight.
However. Fun fact. A sport that is more widely watched in Thailand than Muay Thai these days (and can be seen evident by some of the sponsorships and advertisements around the pitch) is Premiership Football. Almost every car has either Liverpool or ManU stickers all over it.
Even the taxis and scooters for rent. My Scooter on Koh Tao island proudly told me that I’d never walk alone. Thai’s will be gathered around TVs to cheer and watch these matches, wearing the full kit. So if you’re a footie hooligan, you won’t have to worry about PVRing the matches.
Naughty No Nos
Thais are very hospitable and happy-go-lucky. But in my time living there, I picked up one or two things that one should avoid doing, as they are disrespectful. Firstly. They are very traditional with regard to Elders. Show respect to elders and be aware that heirarchy exists. I mean, you’re getting old. Bits of you are falling off. The least people can do is respect you. (that wasn’t very respectful, was it?)
No foot fetishes. The rudest part of your body is the feet. (They are the dirtiest and symbolically disrespectful) avoid showing the sole of your feet to Thais (trickier than you’d think when you’re relaxing with a cocktail and your feet up) and don’t put your feet on a Thai unless you’d like them to prove that they all know Muay Thai.
Touching the head is also a sign of disrespect as it’s seen as the holiest part of the body. I made this faux pas daily as I would absent mindedly ruffle the hair of the kids who’d train at our Muay Thai gym. It would severly upset them. Before I realised it was a cultural thing, I used to do it on purpose to rile them up. One kid nearly cried. Yeah. That’s probably why they messed with me by making up a fake Thai name. ;-) No. Just kidding. for the most part they understand the cultural differences.
They are very touchy about their flag and their King’s image too. An American fighter at my gym wanted to Embroider a Thai flag onto her Muay Thai shorts. The Thai seamstress (eager to make a few bucks… aka Baht) happily obliged, but our Thai friends informed her that it was AGAINST THE LAW to have a Thai flag lower than your waist line (the unholy end of the body… wassup! High five) Being the sceptical ex Army American (read: Republican) that she was, she went to the Police station with the shorts in hand to enquire. They informed her, that Yes, indeed – it was illegal. And were she to enter the ring wearing those on fight-night, they would follow her in to arrest her. ARREST HER!? (One thing I know for sure, is you NEVER want to get arrested in Thailand. Avoid that. At all costs) She flippantly told them that she’d have to cover it up with an American flag then to which they sternly eyed her up and down and explained. “No. We will know the Thai flag is under the American one. That is still illegal. Take it off, or we will arrest you”
So, Got that folks? No Thai flags below hip line. And bear that in mind for buddah and King things too. A British fighter friend there wanted a tattoo to travel from his torso, down his hip – but the image was of a Lotus flower (a symbolic image to the Thai) and the Thai tattoo artist refused to do it that low. A Swedish Fighter friend, had a Celtic Crucifix tattooed on his hip, that peeked out the top of his board shorts (on his wonderfully toned body) and I remember many Thai asking him why it was so low down, since it was a religious symbol.
Speaking of tattoos. You can get an authentic bamboo tattoo by monks at the temples, n exchange for food or cigarettes (as they don’t deal with money) of course, they kind of do whatever they feel like as my friends who came back from the temples demonstrated where one Texan fighter had asked for one tattoo on his shoulder and came back with three images of temples down his spine. He was thrilled, and if you’re into that. Then it’s a pretty novel memory to carry with you – for a LIFE TIME!
Thailand is full of fireworks, smiles and awesome traditions like Songkran festival which is essentially a 3 day waterfight. I was there over the Loi Krathong festival – which is the festival of lanterns. You put all of your sins and bad luck into a lantern (With clippings of your fingernails or hair) and set them afloat on the ocean, or release them into the air.
I have written far too much, and only barely TOUCHED on the awesome things in Thailand. You have to see it for yourself. As you know, all you have to do is Think Thai with Simply Asia and you could win a trip there.
*Thai High Five*