Thailand covers an area of 510,000 square kilometers, and its population of 60 million is growing at a rate of 1.5% per year. Thailand shares its border with Myanmar in the west and north, Laos in the northeast, Cambodia in the east and Malaysia in the south. Jungles and swamps are scattered throughout the coastal areas of Thailand. A wide variety of tropical plants and fruit trees occur in Thailand, and elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, and leopards can be found alongside 50 species of snakes.
The Thailand climate is controlled by tropical monsoons and the weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. While Thailand’s seasons are generally divided into the hot season, cool season, and rainy season, in reality it’s relatively hot most of the year. For the European people that arrive in Thailand there seems to be only one season: a hot season. During the night the temperature only drops a few degrees and the humidity during the day and night is over 70%.
In Thailand’s inland provinces the seasons are clearly defined: Between November and May the weather is mostly dry and the cool season and hot season occur from November to February and March to May respectively. The other inland season, the rainy season, lasts from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in most of Thailand is at its heaviest.
Cultural do's and don'ts
Greetings - The Wai: When and how?
Thai people use the wai in the same way that Westerners shake hands. The main differences are that there are many degrees of the wai, and there are certain groups of people you do not wai first, and others you do not wai at all.
The degree of wai depends upon the degree of respect – the higher the respect, the higher the hands go. Normally, you do not wai someone your junior unless the social class dictates. Just raise your hands to your chest as in prayer and nod your head when you greet or thank someone. Don’t stress too much about this, as the locals know you won’t understand the complexities of how to use this greeting.
Certain gestures are considered rude to the Thais. It is rude to point with one finger at a person, so indicate with open flat hand. Also, when beckoning someone to come or follow, do it with the fingers pointing downwards. Upwards can be considered a rude gesture, similar to ‘flipping the bird’!
Traditionally, Thai people of different sexes feel uneasy with physical contact from the opposite gender, particularly from someone they don’t know. Although this has been changing in larger areas such as Bangkok, it's best to consider it while in more rural areas. So don't touch a person, even on the arm when talking to them.
Many traditional cultural taboos are changing in Thailand (more so, in the larger cities and tourist areas), but it's still worth adhering to them if possible, rather than offending, particularly older Thais. Avoid touching children on the head, especially if they have a Buddha image around their neck. Don’t use your feet to move things or to point at something. Treat any image of the King with the utmost respect (such as money), and avoid the topic of royalty or politics, as you may unwittingly offend.
Below is a list of a few Thai words that you might want to try.
Learning Thai is as difficult as learning any language, but Thai people really enjoy hearing foreigners speak their language so do try. When speaking Thai it is always polite to finish what you say with the word ‘ka’ for a girl (F) or ‘kab’ for a boy (M). This is also a sign of respect towards the person you are talking with.
- Hello & Goodbye = Sa wa dee ka (F)/ kab (M)
- Thank you = Kop kun ka (F)/ kab (M)
- One bottle of water please = Kornamplow nungkoowadnoy ka (F)/ kab (M)
- How are you?= Sa bai dee mai ka (F)/ kab (M)
- I am good thank you = Sa bai dee ka (F)/ kab (M)
- I don’t understand= My kow jai ka (F)/ kab (M)
- I do not speak Thai = Pom (M)/Chan(F) pood pa sa Thai my die ka (F)/ kab (M)
- Sorry / Excuse me = Kor tord ka (F)/ kab (M)
- Where is the toilet = Hong nam you nye ka (F)/ kab (M)
elephants in thailand
The Thai people have a long, shared history with the elephant and today the elephant remains a potent national symbol. In the past, Thailand’s forests teemed with a vast wild population estimated at the beginning of the 20th century to be in excess of 300,000 with a further 100,000 domesticated elephants.
The dramatic drop in the numbers of wild elephants in Thailand over the past hundred years has been accompanied by a big increase in the human population and major habitat loss as the forests have been cleared for agriculture. The pressure caused by habitat destruction has been exacerbated by the poaching of bulls for their ivory and young calves to be trained for tourist shows.
The big fear of elephant conservationists is that the remaining pockets of wild elephants are scattered throughout the country on green islands, hopelessly fragmented in small genetically unviable and unsustainable herds. The biggest wild populations are found in Khao Yai National Park, the Thung Yai and Huai Kha Wildlife Sanctuaries and along the Burma border. Wild elephants are protected in Thailand by national laws and the CITES Treaty.
Concern for the Thai elephant led to the establishment of the National Elephant Institute (NEI) which grew out of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang. The NEI works closely with the National Parks Department and NGO’s to help protect the remaining elephants and elephant habitat. There is hope that Thailand’s large domesticated population can be utilized to maintain the genetic diversity and help the continuation of wild elephants in Thailand.
Thailand has a long history of the domestication and use of elephants. It is said that one of the first ever depictions of the Thai people occurs on a frieze at Angkor Wat showing a Thai military unit complete with war elephants.
Historically, elephants were used for transportation and war and reigning monarchs maintained a large elephant corps. In more recent history, elephants were employed in the timber industry in the same way that they continue to be used in Burma. This employment allowed the maintenance of significant numbers of elephants. However, that changed in 1989 when the Thai government banned the logging industry. Thousands of elephants were abruptly thrown out of work.
Some of these animals and their mahouts escaped over the border to continue plying their trade in Burma but many others were thrown into crisis. Often elephants were only leased by the logging companies and actually owned by comparatively poor villages or mahouts. Overnight, the elephant went from being the main bread winner in the family to an unaffordable outgoing; the cost of food and care being beyond the owners’ means.