Bangkok’s culture is influenced by the modern day, yet still retains very proud links to its tradition and Buddhist spirituality. This culture can be found on every street corner, in the food, language, music, dance, the arts, and Buddhist temples.

"Bangkokians" are a warm and friendly people, generous with their welcoming smile, deeply proud of their "Thai-ness", and normally too polite to show offence, anger or annoyance. Only a fool though, would dare mistake their friendliness for weakness.

There are standards of behaviour that should be upheld at all times in Bangkok, and Thailand more broadly. Thais take great pride in their monarchy, especially the King. Visitors are well-advised to respect the reverence in which Bangkokians hold the Thai Royal family.

Explanation of Thai etiquette LINK

Buddhism is the predominant religion in Bangkok, with monks, temples, spirit houses, Buddha images and statues everywhere you look. It is expected that appropriate clothing be worn in temples, and shoes removed before entering.

There is also a sizeable Muslim minority scattered around the city who are 100% Thai is every respect.

For Bangkokians, maintaining a calm, peaceful and harmonious demeanour at all times is crucial. Outward expressions of bad temper, raised voice, threatening gestures, arguing, or critical comments is universally avoided. Such behaviour serves no useful purpose in polite Thai society.

The famous wai is used as a gesture for both greeting and respect. A Wai requires the person to use both of his hands as if praying in front of his face. In general, it is considered to be a mark of respect to try to keep the head at a lower level than that of a senior or older person when talking to or passing them. Its not advisable for tourists to attempt to Wai others, as there is a complicated protocol involved. A smile or nod is enough to acknowledge a Wai given by hotel staff and so on. 

On entering a private house, it is customary to always remove your shoes. The polite way to address an elder of similar, or older age is to use the title "Khun" before the person's first name.

Most Bangkokians are too polite to comment openly on behaviour that is disrespectful, but you should be aware that their silence should not be mistaken for it is still offensive. Looks and appearances are important to Bangkokians. Personal hygiene is held in high regard by Thai people, when meeting them, dressing smartly, or at least appropriately, can be interpreted as the degree of respect you hold for them.

Many homes and businesses have spirit houses on the property to allow the placement of alms, flowers, foodstuffs such as sticky rice and rice whiskey. The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or celestial beings, who would otherwise reside in the spaces occupied by human dwellings, large trees, caves, cliffs, waterfalls etc. It is believed that the spirits are finicky and mischievous, demanding respect from humans and capable of doing great harm if they aren't afforded proper respect. This custom perhaps helps shed some light on the spirituality of Thai people in general.

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One of the most famous Spirit Houses is the Erawan Shrine at the side of the Hyatt Erawan Hotel.

ART

Bangkok Art and Culture Centre is a unique art centre, opposite MBK and Siam Discovery Centre. Aside from the interesting architecture, you'll find paintings, sculptures, music and dance performances.The centre is designed as a working educational art space and holds exhibitions of art from Bangkok, Thailand, and the world.

Centre web site: www.bacc.or.th

Trip Advisor Reviews - LINK

 

MUSIC

Modern Thai society has fully embraced the pop and boy-band culture of the west. But the strong links to the more traditional music and song remains.

The music of Thailand is in keeping with its geographic location at the intersection of China, India, Cambodia, with additional influences from the historical trade routes including Persia, Africa, Greece and Rome. Thai musical instruments are varied and reflect ancient influence from the region as well as far flung locations of the world.

Two of the most relevant and often herd musical tunes you will hear are,

  • the Thai National Anthem which is played in many public spaces each day at 8am, and again at 6pm. You will see Thai people stop in their tracks, out of respect during the National Anthem until it's completed. Listen to the Thai National Anthem - LINK
  • The second is the "King's Anthem" or "Thai Royal Anthem" which you will always hear played before a movie in any cinema. It is expected that ALL people stand during the playing of this Anthem. King's Anthem - LINK is a very touching version of this song. If you'd like to learn the words, check this - LINK

 

Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) still plays the traditional musical accompaniment at every match. This rhythmic music accompanies the Ram Muay ritual dance, as well as the contest itself and is a sound recognised as a symbol of deference and respect. The music is made by musicians playing one of two kinds of oboe, a pair of Thai drums, or symbols. The music's tempo changes according to which stage the match has reached. During the Ram Muay it is slow, then as the fight commences tempo increases. During moments of excitement in the match, the music becomes frenetic.

Further information on the many and varied forms of Thai music - LINK

Karaoke bars seem to be everywhere in Thailand. A lot of Thais love nothing better than to spend time crooning (after enough lubrication) endlessly into a microphone.

DANCE

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Teut-Teung (drum dance) - The teut-teung drum, in folk music is used across Thailand in parades at traditional festivals.

Farmers Dance (rice growers dance) - A modern dance created by the Thai Ministry of Culture. Wearing the attire of traditional rice growers, the dance itself plays out the daily graft of workers that feed the country.

Combat Sticks and Swords - These dances are inspired by war and combat, either sticks or swords the main props. This ceremonial dance is performed prior to combat.

Thai Calendar

The Thai solar calendar, Patitin Suriyakati ปฏิทิน สุริยคติ, is Thailand's version of the Gregorian calendar. It replaced the Patitin Chantarakati (Thai lunar calendar) in 1888 (2431) at the behest of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).

Essentially the Thai Calendar starts year one with the birth of the Lord Buddha - Siddhārtha Gautama in 543 BC.

Therefore to calculate the Thai calendar year add 543 to the western year. i.e. the year 2010 is considered to be the year 2553 in Thailand.

The Thai year is used in all official documents, but businesses use either. Individuals tend to use the traditional Thai year.

Although the tradional Thai new year is in April, the calendar year begins on 1st January, as in the west.


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