Thailand has a great ethnic diversity in its people, which include the Thai-Malay Muslims in the deep-south, hill-tribes near the northern Burmese border, the Khmer and Lao from Isaan, and ethnic Chinese. Even with this diversity, there are two factors that unify the country and identify the Thai people. A significant issue is the common and unique language spoken across the country, and also the deep respect the people in Thailand have for the monarchy and their king.
The principal language spoken in Thailand is the same for most people in the country, which is Thai. This has become the standardised language, even with such a diverse range of ethnic and regional dialects. For the travellers on the Thailand travel packages it may benefit to learn a few phrases to help out in those regions of the country that do not speak English.
However, there are more English speaking locals in the major cities and tourist areas, so it won’t be too difficult to communicate with the people when in the shops or markets.
Beyond the Thai people, there are the inhabitants in the country that speak a few other dialects. For instance, a large indigenous community in Thailand speaks Malay. Other minority groups speak Khmer and Mon languages, as well as other dialect that relates to the Austroasiatic family. Over time Thailand has seen a slow and steady flow of immigrants, but most of these immigrant communities are still able to identify strongly with the local culture and speak the national Thai language.
Nearly 95% of the people in Thailand adhere to the Buddhist faith. This high following is likely to be the highest percentage for this religion compared to other countries in the region. Theravada Buddhism has over time had a great influence on the day-to-day lives and culture of the Thai people. Plus, there are several other factors that have helped to shape the modern culture in Thai, which includes the ancient animistic beliefs and ancestor worships.
Any travellers on the Thailand tours that are out and about in the early morning are likely to see the orange-robed monks who walk the streets and collect alms from the devoted worshippers. One great experience for the first-time visitor is the Buddhist temples which are available to see everywhere across the country. The best places to visit to see the ancient temples and ruins are Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, while Bangkok has its fair share of fascinating temples to explore.
Also, for the tourist that plans to visit the temples or other religions buildings it is important to be respectful and wear appropriate clothing. This usually means wearing clothes that cover the knees and shoulders, while the removal of shoes should take place before entering the temple.
Buddhism is by far the most prevailing religion in the country, there are also a few other religions that are followed. The Muslims have a minority, yet still significant following with most of these people location in the capital city, Bangkok, and parts of southern Thailand. The Thai population that has converted to Protestantism or Catholicism is still quite small even after the Christian missionaries have been travelling through the most regions of the country as far back as the 16th century. Also, for the hill tribes the majority will adhere to a local religion – although there are some that have converted to Christianity or Buddhism.
A recurring tradition in Thailand in the past was for the young men to become a monk for a short period, which can include the Buddhist Lent period that takes place during the rainy season and lasts up to three months. But, the young people that follow this tradition have significantly declined in the 21st century.
The social hierarchy is of great importance in Thailand with respect given to the senior or elder members of society. Any members of the Thai people that fall within this category should be welcomed with traditional greeting that is referred to as a wai. This is different to a handshake and is more a case of bowing the head forward with the chin moving towards the chest, and the hands are put in a prayer-like position. The socially lower or younger ranking individual is expected to bow first to indicate their show of respect. The amount of courtesy or respect that is offered can relate to the time spent with the head bowed.
For the tourist on the Thailand private tour there is no real expectation to perform the wai, and should generally be avoided unless being returned, or the subtle differences are understood.
A major aspect of the Thai society is the family traditions and the hierarchical structure which has the parents or the elderly at the top. Even for the couples that are in a relationship, it is often the parents that will be given the most importance and prioritize over other Thai family members.
From a very early age, the people in Thailand are taught to respect other people in their neighbourhood, in society, and in their family. Great respect should be shown to doctors, teachers or similar people of high standing in society.
Most aspects of society for the Thai people are seen to be non-confrontational and it is best to avoid becoming aggressive or getting confrontational while on the Thailand holidays. This type of behaviour isn’t likely to be productive and won’t lead to a positive outcome. For instance, if there are issues with the hotel or room service, making an angry complaint in the reception area is only likely to lead to earning disrespect. In general, the Thai people are seen as hospitable and easy going, and this applies to both strangers and guests.
The major settlement pattern in the country is for the local people to set up home in rural villages. The most common form of work in this region is wet-rice cultivation. Even though there has been an increase in people migrating to the city or built up areas of the Thailand, there are still significant more people that regard the village live to be the preferred option.