Culture of Thailand

Thailand is world-renowned for being “The Land of Smiles”, and if you ask anyone who’s recently been on holiday in Thailand about the Thai people, they will almost always praise them for their laid back approach to life, easy going attitude and great hospitality.

Thai culture

Buddhism & Religions of Thailand

Thailand is a predominantly buddhist country. With around 93% of the population calling themselves Buddhists, Thailand has the highest percentage of Buddhist of any country, and second highest number after China.

Demographic (Pew Forum 2010)

  • Buddhism – 93.2%
  • Islam – 5.5%
  • Christianity – 0.9%
  • Non-Religious – 0.3%

COLLECTING ALMS

For most monks, morning starts at sunrise when they will start their morning walk around their neighbourhood collecting alms (offerings of food or money) donated by locals. The locals will then crouch down and claps their heads together next to their head while the monk will chant words of good luck.

THE ERAWAN SHRINE

The Erawan Shrine, although a Hindu shrine, is popular with local Thai buddhists and tourists. Located in the heart of Bangkok, the shrine is an important religious simple and tourist attraction. With daily traditional Thai dancing shows and traditional music, it’s a convenient but excellent place to start for someone who wants to experience Thai religious culture.

Signs of Buddhism are everywhere in Thailand. With a vast amount of Buddhist shrines, temples, and festivals, Thailand is one of the best places in the world to experience Buddhist culture.

Collectivism in Thailand

A lot of Thai culture comes from it being a collectivist society. Collectivist cultures give a lot more importance to being faithful to the group, and keeping harmony with your friends, colleagues, family, and society in general. A strong and long-term commitment to the group is essential in Thai culture.

This dedication will often override other social obligations or rules. It’s very common for Thais to call their friends their ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, and collectively refer to their group of friends as their ‘family’. Even the Thai word for ‘mum’ is not only used for their real mother, but can be used for a friend’s mum.

You can see an example of Thai closeness if you go to a university graduation. University ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ will interlink arms and make a circle around the person who’s graduating and sing a university chant. This represents the university’s unity and spirt.

High Context Communication

It’s crucial to understand the communication style in Thailand. Because of the importance of keeping harmony in the group, Thais avoid confrontation and don’t always communicate directly.

Straight talking and speaking your mind can lead to fast results but being blunt can result in offending someone. This means Thais, like many other Asian countries, tend to communicate indirectly.

A simple example of this is to imagine being inside a new friend’s apartment on a hot day. You want your friend to turn on the air-conditioning, so you ask, “Are you hot?”. This example is quite basic and oversimplified but it shows that you sometimes have to read between the lines.

For other Asians visiting Thailand, you will probably understand this well, but for many Westerners, this can be quite confusing when you misunderstand what someone wants or thinks.

Try to read between the lines and understand the whole situation. Pay particular attention to the context of the conversation, body language, and tone of voice to understand what is trying to be communicated. Remember, if someone says “yes”, this doesn’t always mean “yes”.

Hierarchy & High Power Distance

Thai society is based on a very strong social hierarchical structure. People are socially ranked depending on age, job title, official status, and gender. It’s very important to know your place in this social structure and to be respectful to someone above you.

Although the younger generation are quite westernised, you should pay particular attention to someone in a place of authority at university, when visiting government offices, speaking to the police, or in your workplace. A simple tip to show respect to someone in a place of authority, is to place “khun” (Meaning “Mr” or “Mrs” and pronounced khoon) in front of their first name.