Thailand Country Guide

People & Culture


Thailand's people are predominately Thais with significant minorities of Chinese who have assimilated into the Thai culture and identity. The Malays, who are Muslims, live in Thailand's southern region near the Thai-Malaysian border. Hill tribes such as the Karen and the Hmong live in the northern region of the country. The dominant religion in Thailand (95%) is Theravada Buddhism while others include Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and various animist faiths.

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Thai Wat in Bangkok by Ahoerstemeier

Thailand's culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism but unlike Buddhism practiced in other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, Thai Buddhism follows the Therevada school, which has strong Indian roots and emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as "wats" are resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate and multicolored pointed roofs. Becoming orange-robed monks for short periods (usually three months) are common rites for many young Thai boys and men.

One pre-Buddhist tradition that is practiced today is the spirit house ("saan phraphuum") often found at the corner of many Thai houses or businesses. These spirit houses are there to accommodate spirits so they don't enter the building and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. A famous spirit house in Bangkok is the Erawan Shrine, which protects the Grand Hyatt Erawan. The house was built in 1956 on a former execution ground.

Mosque in Surat Thani by Ahoerstemeier

Traditional arts that remain popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, which are based on religious rituals and court entertainment. The sport of Thai boxing ("muay Thai") originates from the training of Thai warriors and undoubtedly the country's best known indigenous sport. The tribes people living in the northern mountainous regions such as the Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu and Akha have their own cultures that are distinct from Thai cutlure. The southernmost region is home to Muslim Malays whose culture identifies with the Malays living across the border in northern Peninsular Malaysia.

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