An introduction to Thai culture
Singapore has been shrouded in haze for the past one week, hitting the unhealthy PSI reading of >100 last Thursday. No doubt forest fires in Sumatra is the culprit once again. While it shields the heat from the sun, it has blanketed our island in smoke and gloom which has made breathing rather uncomfortable for some.
I thought that this was a good time to escape to my beach holiday in Krabi but I found out yesterday that Chao Phraya river had overflowed its banks earlier this week due to unusually heavy monsoon rains. This has caused severe flooding in the central and north-eastern part of Thailand.
Bangkok, the capital city, could well be the next in toll come early next week when the large influx of water from the north coincides with the high tides of the Gulf of Thailand. Land subsistence from rapid urbanisation also contributed to the widespread flooding that has claimed 32 lives and displaced more than 1.4 million people.
Honestly I am not sure if the Thai would be happy to receive and entertain guests while its country is experiencing one of the worst floods in 5 decades. Though not reported, I do believe that its rice harvest would also be affected.
Nonetheless, I have been anticipating, planning and have already paid for my flight and accommodation so the trip must go on. Hopefully, whatever meagre tourism dollars I spend there might help the affected economy one teeny way or another.
Here’s my checklist two days from departure –
1. My digital camera finally arrived yesterday not a day too late! I was getting increasingly nervy when I received no notice that my order would be fulfilled in time, made worse when DD Electronics did not answer any of my calls over the whole week. Now that I got the camera securely in my hands, I can spend the weekend learning more about aperture, shutter speed, ISO and what not.
2. Prepare my children for what to expect on day of departure. This will be my 2-year old daughter’s first trip by aeroplane so I made effort to excite her about taking it and role playing with her what would happen once on board the plane when it takes off and when it lands.
3. Start a mental list of things to bring for the children. These will include but definitely not exhaustive:
- Milk powder and bottles to cover all days of the trip
- Water bottles
- Sleeping necessities such as bolsters, blankets and soft toys
- Toilet bowl seat for juniors
- Bananas – healthy snack for hungry children
- Instant oatmeal – just add hot water when the next meal is nowhere in sight
- Biscuits or buns
- Sweets – especially useful to relieve air pressure and noisy fussy children
- Sketch book, pencil and crayons – for relieving boredom
- Toys for playing in the sand
- Story and activity books
- Sunblock lotion
- Medicine – paracetemol, antiseptic cream and oil for rubbing upset tummies
4. Confirm my accommodation and airport transfer. I sent an email to Railay Bay yesterday to inform them of my flight details and arrival time as they are providing my airport transfer. I did not need to confirm my flight itself because Tiger notified me by email several days ago of the change in my departure time again! This is really pathetic service.
So while I attempt to pack my bags today, here are a few more tidbits about Thailand:
1. There are four distinct regions in Thailand varying in geography, history and culture –
- The north is a hilly mountainous region and once the base of the kingdom of Lanna, separate from the Thai kingdom Ayutthaya. It is now home to at least 20 hill tribes which make up less than 2% of the Thai population. These tribes belong to 6 principal groups: Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, Akha and Lisu. Much of the northern culture is heavily influenced by Myanmar and Yunnan, China.
- The northeast, dominated by the arid Khorat Plateau, shares strong cultural affinities with Laos and Cambodia probably due to influence from the Khmer empire that once ruled the region. It is also one of the poorest region in Thailand due to droughts.
- The central is a flat plain that is transformed into a vast hydroponic basin during the monsoon period and is the center of rice cultivation in the country. Bangkok, the commerical, political and historical heart of the country is also located here and is home to around one in five Thai.
- The south stretches along the narrow peninsula is blessed with 3,000 km of beautiful beaches which is fertile ground for tourism and rubber and oil-palm plantation. Both its language and cuisine is a blend of its Muslim influence.
2. More than 90% of the population follow Buddhism, while about 6% are Muslims who are concentrated in the far south. It is traditional for every Buddhist male to enter the monkhood for a brief period before marriage. Hence it is no wonder that the some 32,000 wats (temple) in Thailand also assume the traditional role of school, community centre, hospital and entertainment venue, in addition to community worship.
3. Thais also widely accept that there are spirits everywhere. To placate a displaced spirit due to human development, it is a practice to offer them a spirit house which looks like a small doll-house. As such, there is no building in Thailand will be seen without a spirit house.
4. Thailand is the world’s top rice exporter, earning over US$2 billion annually. There is only one rice harvest which begins in May and is harvested by April, when they will celebrate Songkran, the traditional Thai new year.
Will post my itinerary hopefully before I depart tomorrow.
4 thoughts on “An introduction to Thai culture”
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