Thailand Culture, Tradition & History

Last Updated: February 04,2020

Thailand's history begins as a story of migration. Originally, Thai people lived in southwestern China then they went into a so called frontier land which is mainland Southeast Asia for trade, forced labor and patronage over a period from 10th to 13th centuries. Eventually the country fused a national identity around religion, language and monarchy and Thai kingdom were founded in the Mekong River Valley. Thai kings resist colonization from the expansionist Western powers on the border, so Thailand had never been ruled by Western colonization. Since the transition to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the military predominantly rules the country till now.   

Sukhothai Period (1238 - 1438 AD): 

The independent Sukhothai Kingdom was founded as a strong sovereign kingdom in the year of 1238. It is said the 13th century was 'golden era' in Thai history as Thais became a powerful force in independence and an ideal state governed by kind rulers. The king Ram Khamhaeng who tradition and legend states established the Thai alphabet dominated the country. Everyone could bring their problems to the king directly, by rang the bell in front of the palace. This featured politics existed in that period was called "father governs children" by Thai historian. However, after his death in 1365, Sukothai fell into decline and gradually replaced by the more powerful Ayutthaya Kingdom in the lower Chao Phraya area.  

Lan Na Kingdom

Lan Na state centred in Chiang Mai coexisted with Sukhothai and King Mangrai was its founder. Lan Na and Sukhothai were alliances. With the establishment and expansion of Ayutthaya Kingdom from the Chao Phraya valley, Sukhothai was finally yielded and the fierce battles between Lan Na and Ayutthaya broke out constantly and eventually Chiang Mai was conquered and became a vassal of Ayutthaya. 

The independent history of Lan Na was ended in 1558, when it finally occupied by Burmese. It was ruled by Burma until the late-18th century when the local leaders rose up against the Burmese with the help of the rising Thai kingdom. Then the "Northern City-States" then became vassals of the Thai kingdoms of Thonburi and Bangkok. Until the early 20th century, they were annexed and became part of modern Siam, the country is now called "Thailand".

Ayutthaya Period (1351-1767 AD):  

The Ayutthaya city was located on a small island, encircled by three rivers. Because of its defensible location, Ayutthaya became powerful quickly. Since 1511, Ayutthaya kingdom firstly contacted with Western countries, known to Europeans as "Kingdom of Siam", which led to a period of economic growth as lucrative trade routes were set up. Ayutthaya became one of the most prosperous cities in Southeast Asia and it was estimated to have been the largest city in the world in 1700 CE, with a population about a million.  

With the development of the economy, Thai literature, art and medicine had also got great achievement. So Ayutthaya period was also considered as "golden age in Thailand" 

In the early period of Ayutthaya kingdom, Theravada Buddhism as the official religion was established and promoted. 

Thonburi Period (1768 – 1782 AD):

After over 400 years of governing, in the year of 1767, the Ayutthaya kingdom was destroyed by invading Burmese armies. The capital was burned and the territory was split. However, led by Taksin, a capable military leader, Siam made a rapid recovery. He defeated the Burmese and re-founded a Siamese state within a year and made Thonburi as its capital which is on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, 20km from the sea. King Taksin was crowned in 1768, officially known as "Taksin the Great". However, the kingdom collapsed soon due to a lack of authority, and King Taksin was quickly brought down by Rama I. (Rama means "king" in Thai.)

Rattanakosin Period (1782 - the Present):

Rama I succeeded Taskin in 1782 and became the first king of the Chakri dynasty. In the same year he established a new capital city – Rattanakosin, across the Chao Phraya River which is today's Bangkok. Since then a new stable dynasty was founded and that saw Thailand prosper greatly. During his reign, the Emerald Buddha and Wat Phra Kaeo were built. 

Rama II (1809 – 1824) opened up trade with China and Rama III consolidated it, in the mean while he built up the army. During the reign of Rama II and Rama III, culture, music, poetry and the theater had got great development and became prosperous. The Wat Pho was built by Rama III, known as the first university of Thailand. Rama IV lived as a monk. He was the first king could speak English and he encouraged European trade again but he also ended European treaties and established modern Thailand and avoid colonization. He championed the rights of women and children. 

Rama V (1868 – 1901) abolished slavery and he made a series wide-range government reforms. However, he lost territory in both Laos and Cambodia to France.    

Rama VI (1910-1925) like western advanced education and technology. He reformed the education and even introduced football as a sport, as well as western primary education. 

Rama VII (1925-1935) developed a constitutional monarchy along British lines, which remains the foundation of government. 

By the year of 1939 Thailand became a democratic government. During the World War II, the country was occupied by Japanese army. In 1946, the country's named was changed to "Thailand" from "Siam". Since 1947, Thailand had become a military dictatorship country, until 2007 with only brief periods of civilian government. 

Culture & Tradition

You will quickly find many differences between you and Thai people when travelling in Thailand. You will find an interesting gesture known as the "wai" is widely used when greeting each other, apologizing, showing respect and saying goodbye instead of other gestures we are familiar with like handshake. Thailand is just such a different country with different culture attracts us flock into. 


Theravada Buddhism has been practiced in Thailand for at least a thousand years. It is the pre dominant religion in the country and it has left a deep impact on Thai culture. Hinduism has also made important contributions to Thai culture in literature, art and in many Thai customs. More than 94% of Thais call themselves believers of Buddhists. There is a faith in their hearts calls for sense of peace with one's surroundings and the people one meets. So you will find Thai people are always smile and avoid displaying the emotions of anger. They are kind, hospitable and lovely and that is why Thailand is called the Land of Smiles. They are polite and respect to others, especially elders. 

Family matters 

Family is very important and always comes first in Thailand, with a much greater emphasis placed on the extended family which is beyond the imagination of people from western countries. It is quite normal for extended families to live together or very close to each other. Many Thais maintain strong links with their family even if they work in a far-away city. Grandparents raising their grandchildren or children raised by their aunts and uncles if their parents have to work elsewhere is very common phenomenon and that is the role of extended family in everyday life. Younger members of the family take care of older members whether in financially or doing a range of chores. 


Thai society is a hierarchical society. Young people respect elders, everyone respects monks, obviously, the hotel staff should show their respects to their honored guests. 

The common and traditional gesture "wai" is widely used by Thai people particularly in greetings. It is a gesture with both hands joined as if in prayer and put them in front of the chest while the head bows to touch their fingertips. The depth of bow shows the depth of the respect. 

Ancestors are highly respected in Thai culture and be identified as part of spiritual practice. Older members in an extended family have a strong influence when making a family decision and older sibling are expected to look after and be a role model for youngers. 

Thai people eat with a spoon in the right hand and fork in the left. They use fork to push food onto the spoon, and do not put the fork into the mouth directly except eating chunks of fruit. Knives are not to be seen on the table and if there is some food need to cut, they use the side of the spoon. Leaving a little food on the plate to show you are full is the tradition but rice is an exception because it is quite significant in Thai culture. 

Showing anger in public is not much approved, as it is deeply insulting to those criticized. Thai people always aim to build a positive, smiling atmosphere and avoid negative air. 

Different parts of the body have different significance in Thailand. The head is taken as the most spiritual part of the body and you should never touch a person's head even to a head of child. It is not common to see Thais hugging, holding hands or touching each other in public and kissing in public is serious taboo. 

Feet are considered dirty and impure in Thailand. Putting feet on a chair is considered rude. You should never touch somebody with your foot or point your foot at a person or a Buddha image.  

Temples with Buddha images are the most sacred area and monks are highly revered and respected in Thai culture and disrespecting a monk is a huge no-no.

Thai cuisine 

Like most other great cuisines, Thai cuisine also has been heavily influenced Europe and Chinese and the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. The combination of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter flavors create a magnetic mix that has become one of the most popular cuisines in the world.  The ethnic diversity and various in landscape lead to the differences in cuisines across the country. 

In Thailand, large cuts of meat tend to be avoided because of the Buddhist religion while a multitude of seafood is a great supplement as the country has a long shoreline. Tasting the authentic soups, rice dishes, noodle, sea food at the lively food market are one of the real pleasure of traveling in Thailand, and the variety of exotic tropical fruits should not be missed. 


Because of the rich culture, religious and traditions of the country, Thailand has plenty of festivals. Songkan is a remarkable 'Water Festival', that welcomes in the Thai New Year. It is celebrated from April 13-15 every year. Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun in Bangkok are among Thailand's most sacred temples and a good place to witness the long-established tradition of Songkran. And the whole country will be soaked in a huge 'water fighting'. People of all ages will go out into the streets pouring buckets of water over each other aim hoses at the crowds and some fire giant fluorescent water guns at each other. 

Loy Krathong, the 'Festival of Light' is another very important festival and it is the most beautiful in the world. It is celebrated on the full moon of the 12th Thai calendar month. Banana-leaf made lotus shapes boat decorated with flowers, incense and candles are floated down the rivers, while in Chiang Mai the night sky becomes illuminated with hundreds of floating lanterns. 

Generational differences

While Thailand boasts a country with rich history and culture and steeped in religious tradition, however, when you are wandering around the streets in Bangkok, you will find, actually, the country is pacing into the future. While you will still see some old people are selling offerings outside the ancient temples, the young people bustle among Bangkok's gleaming skyscrapers to and from modern shopping malls. But most of the rural population outside the capital city still lives a semi-subsistence lifestyle especially in some ethnic minority tribes, the long term-established customs still dominated their daily life. Thailand may be one of the innovators and driving forces in the economics of Southeast Asian in the mean while a lot of people in the country are still proudly uphold its traditions.

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