Yi Peng Festival in Thailand will be observed on November 8th-9th, 2022. Reserve the tickets...
Thai Culture

Thai Culture

By Chris QuanUpdated May. 27, 2022

“The Land of Smiles” is a place with a millenarian culture you will never finish to explore. Almost every aspect of daily life is influenced by Buddhism; Thai people want to be happy and respect every form of life.

Even though it is not a big country, Thailand is home to many different ethnicities, and this helped to create a varied nation with many different regional cuisines, and old customs that still hold up to these days.

Check our brief introduction to Thai culture to learn more about this amazing country!


  • With more than 70 ethnic groups, Thailand is a varied and charming country.
  • Thai people cherish happiness and respect, two of the most important points of their culture.
  • Thailand developed its own version of Buddhism, born from the Theravada school and influenced by Hinduism and folklore along the way.
  • Rightfully famous all over the world, Thai food is complex and full of flavors.
  • Thai festival, like Loy Krathong and Yi Peng, are a stunning sight that you will love.

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In Thailand, we can find about 70 ethnic groups, the biggest one being the Thai (about 20 million people). Thai people, formerly known as Siamese, include people from all over Thailand, as well as Isan people. They probably originated in Southern China, in the province of Guangxi.

The Laotian live in the north of the country, and their culture has been preserved through the centuries thanks to their relative isolation. They live in a region characterized by multi-ethnicity: Vietnamese, Cham, Mon, and Khmer.

The Karen are the third largest ethnicity. Karen people live on the hills of northern Thailand, especially around Chiang Mai. They have adapted to Thai culture, but they still heavily rely on the forest for their survival.


Thai is the official language of the country, but other languages (like Karen, Khmer, and Malay) are spoken as well. The second most common language is Lao, which is used by more than 15 million people.

The Thai language is used by 20 million people, and it is part of the Tai language family. Thai and Lao are so closely related to be mutually intelligible. The writing system of Thai derives from the Khmer language, and its spelling is quite complicated.

As many other Asian languages, Thai is a tonal language; it has six tones. Its vocabulary sees plenty of loanwords from Chinese, Pali, Sanskrit, and English.

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The most common religion in Thailand is Buddhism. Buddhism in Thailand is a particular version of the religion, derived from the Theravada school born in Sri Lanka, and influenced by Hinduism and folk religion.

Theravada Buddhism has conservative views of the doctrine, and its main belief is that insight must come from experience, using knowledge and critical reasoning. It also strives to give the most correct interpretation of Buddha's teachings.

For Thai people, Buddhism is a strong component of their daily life. Thai people will give offerings in shrines and leave small gifts in temples. Buddhists will behave well, help other people and observe the teachings of Buddha, in order to gain merit and then have a protective force that can help them in life.


The wai is one of the most peculiar Thai customs. It is a form of a salute, the hands are put together like when praying, and a slight bow is performed. The smile accompanying the gesture symbolizes a welcoming disposition.

Touching other people in public is not considered polite and touching someone on the head is seen as extremely rude. Feet are the dirtiest part of the body and pointing them towards someone is disrespectful.

The younger will always show their respect towards the elder, and everyone will respect Buddha images and the monks. When there is a conflict, it is good not to show one's anger. Instead, it is necessary to handle the dispute with a smile. For Thai people, sanuk is really important: life has to be fun.

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Famous all over the world, the cuisine is the pride of Thai people. Thai dishes present a strong aromatic component and some spiciness. All Thai food is said to demonstrate intricacy, attention to detail, texture, color, and taste.

Every aspect of the dish is important, and dishes are never too simple; the goal is to create harmony between the ingredients. Some Thai dishes, like Green Papaya salad, present all the flavors: sour, sweet, spicy, and salty.

Thai cuisine can be divided into five regions: Bangkok, Central Thai, Isan, Northern Thai, and Southern Thai. Each region is characterized by its own flavors, with influences coming from the close neighbors like Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and China.

Dining Etiquette

In Thailand, families are quite big and it is common to share a meal all together. Families eat sitting on a mat on the floor. They eat their food using only the right hand (the left hand is considered impure).

When Rama V was educated by an English woman, he found out that knives are not suitable for Thai food, but he introduced the fork and the spoon, which are still used by everyone today (chopsticks are used only for some noodle soups). Thai people push the food on the spoon using the fork, and then put the spoon in the mouth; they never directly eat with the fork.

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There are two components of a Thai wedding: a Buddhist one where people pray and offer food to monks, and a laic part, coming from folk tradition.

Nowadays, people will visit the temple and the monks even during the non-Buddhist part (which was prohibited in the past), and some weddings are held within the temple.

During the Buddhist component, the couple pay their respects to Buddha, pray, and sing, lighting incense and candles before the images. Gifts and money are given to the temples and the monks, who bless the new couple. Sin sot is the Thai dowry system. The groom pays a sum to the family to compensate for the loss of a daughter and to demonstrate that he is able to take care of the bride.


Funerals, lasting one week, see a lot of activities to make merit for the deceased. People will distribute copies of the Buddhist scriptures and give small gifts to the monks, who will chant prayers for the deceased. Crying is not well seen, as it might disturb the spirit of the departed.

The coffin is adorned with a picture, depicting the deceased during his/her best days, and often there is a thread connecting the chanting monks and the corpse. This way, merit will be transferred from the monks to the departed. Finally, the corpse is cremated and the urn is placed in a chedi inside the local temple.

Minorities will bury their dead, following the traditional customs of their own community.

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Visual arts in Thailand mostly come from Buddhism, being the creation of Buddha images. They are extremely important, and have been created during the centuries in many different styles. Temple art and architecture is important as well, displaying peculiar elements from Siamese architecture.

Two of the most notable works of literature in Thailand are the Ramakien and the poems of Sunthorn Phu. The Ramakien, written by Rama I and Rama II, is based on the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, and it is the subject of the khon, the traditional dance of Thailand.

Traditional paintings lack perspective; the bigger an element is painted, the more important it is. Main elements are isolated from each other by space transformers, using a technique called "apportioning areas".


The most important festival is Songkran, the Thai New Year. It is celebrated with music, dances, and, more importantly, water games. People will wash Buddha images and the elderly as a sign of respect and to help them get rid of impurity.

One of the most visually stunning festivals is Loy Krathong, the Light Festival. People will let flow their small boats on rivers and canals at night. Every boat, a small tribute to Buddha, contains a candle, creating a unique sight you will hardly forget.

Another version of Loy Krathong is Yi Peng, held especially in Chiang Mai. During the festival, people will wait for sunset to launch their lanterns in the sky, a gesture symbolizing one's willingness to let go of hatred and anger.

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