The word “Thai” means free and Thailand stands for the “land of the free”. The country was only named that in 1949 and it was previously known as Siam. About 95% of Thais are Buddhists and Buddhism plays a very significant role in their daily lives.
Very few people in Thailand speak English, even those who work in tourism. There is a push by the government to change that before the Asean Economic Community is formed in 2015 since English will be its main language.
Thai people are typically known for their wonderful smiles and gentle demeanor. There are, of course, many different Thais. Here are a few.
Traditional Thai massage was passed down from generation to generation and because there was concern that the practice would be lost a university for the teaching of medicine and massage was established. It was the country’s first university and was associated with the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Po), which is adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Massage has been a method of treating illness for more than two thousand years in Thailand and is increasingly popular among foreign visitors. At this school, expert instructors teach the fine art and good ethics of Thai massage through two courses. Each course takes 30 hours to complete. The first teaches positions, rules and cautions. The second teaches the fundamental massage points for the cure of more than 80 simple ailments. The school has recently started teaching a new course on foot massage following an ancient Chinese method.
There are many, many places in Thailand offering massages. Some foreign visitors even enroll in the courses there so that they can practice it in their own country.
“Bart” means alms bowl in Thai and it is the bowl monks use to accept food. Alms bowls were traditionally made of clay and steel although today most are made in a factory. There is, however, an ancient community in Bangkok that still makes steel barts and I stumbled upon them when out searching for the Golden Mount.
The Sua Sri Sem family has a simple, outdoor work area on a small corner plot in the old part of the city where they make these bowls according to the Buddhist teachings. It is a slow process that normally takes 2-3 days for a single bowl as each piece of steel is cut, hammered and welded into place before being stained black.
They proudly display photos of the Queen accepting one of these bowls. If you are in the neighbourhood you can buy one yourself for the price is very reasonable.
Temple boys live with monks. They help them carry the food they receive during the early morning alms ceremony. When they get back to the temple they prepare the meal because monks should only eat food presented by a layperson.
After the monks finish eating, the temple boys keep enough food for the monks to have at their second meal and then they can eat whatever is left over. It is a sin for laypeople to eat before monks.
The life of most temple boys is not easy, particularly those who live in a village temple where the people are mostly poor and have little to give to the monks.
Since the parents of many temple boys are poor farmers, the boys at least have some food, a place to live and receive training on being disciplined and good Buddhists.
Hill tribes are the ethnic minorities living in the mountainous regions north of Chiang Mai. Most migrated from Tibet, Burma, China and Laos and have their own language and customs.
The Long-Necked Karen hill tribe or Padaung is relatively new to Thailand, coming across the border from Burma (Myanmar) in 1987. The female Padaung wears a neckband of brass coils, varying from 5 to 25 rings depending on her age. When girls are 5 years they wear the first 4 rings and then every year another is added.
This gives her a long neck, which is considered a mark of beauty. It could also stop tigers from killing her if she is attacked because tigers usually go for the throat first.
The Padaung women also wear brass rings on their legs below each knee.
The King and Queen
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great is the ninth king and the longest-reining monarch in the history of Thailand. He has reigned as a constitutional monarch over the Kingdom of Thailand since June 9, 1946. His name means “Strength of the land, incomparable power” and his picture appears on big billboards throughout the country.
I visited the winter residence of the Royal family, which is just north of Chiang Mai. It is called Bhubing Palace and is known for its rose gardens although there are other gardens there that are more suitable to the climate.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credit Kayan woman Steve Evans
Other photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012