People and Culture
Thais believe that life should be enjoyed, the Thais are tolerant and hospitable and are very easy to get along with.
Good manners, common sense and a smile are necessities in Thailand.
The Royal family and religion are extremely sacred in Thailand, and it is against the law to to defame them or make fun of them, this is punished by imprisonment!
The national language is Thai. English is spoken in most tourist places.
95% of the population of Thailand practice Buddhism, 4% are Muslim and the remainder are Christians, Hindus or Sikhs.
Tangomango is right on. Phuket is not the place for topless sunbathing, and the locals would almost definitely frown upon this. The Thai's are pretty (very) conservative about this despite Thailand's reputation and a western perception. I have seen this in Pattaya, but even there it was rarely done. There are secluded beaches if you want to look for them, but even those will have some locals at them from time to time and they would also be offended should you be seen.
Bottom line, RESPECT THE LOCALS, The CULTURE and their CUSTOM.
Ok so those suit salesman are pretty annoying. They constantly harass you, they are insistent on getting your attention. You can't be at all assured as to the quality of the suit you may receive so even if you want to buy a suit you have to do so nervously. I would say the suit salesman in Bangkok are more obnoxious because of the tricks they play by involving the tuk tuk drivers into their games. However in my four days in Phuket, and after two days of telling the same damn suit salesman "NO FREAKING SUITS!" he finally let down his salesman gaurd and he and I got to talking. I learned that a lot of these gentleman come from Nepal to Thailand, where they can make instead of like 1$ a day, they can make 5$ or so. A lot come from very poor areas of countries like Nepal and are trying to make a better life for themselves in this world. I acknowledged that their sales tactics are more acceptable in their cultural backgrounds as opposed to mine. Regardless of how much more human these men became to me it was still not easy to not get irritated with their antics. But I thought I'd tell you this story so you may have that perspective when you have to go deal with them first hand.
I found that it was very fun to take picture of all the suit salesman as it caught them very much off gaurd and they seemed to stop harassing me to buy a suit afterwards.
Buddhists deem feet to be the lowest part of the body, they are unclean and as such, there are certain rules to observe.
1. Always remove footwear before entering a temple or a Thai person's house. Place them neatly at the door. Some other places also require footwear to be removed before entering. A good rule of thumb is that if you see shoes at the door, take yours off too.
2. Never use your feet to point towards anything, particularly people.
3. Never sit with your legs outstretched in front of you.
4. Never have your feet pointing towards any statues of Buddha.
In Thailand the people "wai" in greeting. Wei is pronounced "why". You put your two hands together like in prayer and hold them just under your chin and bow your head slightly at the same time as you greet someone. The higher you hold your hands, which can be held as high as your index fingers against your forehead, the higher the show of respect. If you are wei'ing to a monk for instance, you would use the latter position.
The greeting if you're a female (speaking) is; "Sawatdee Kha", and if you're a male (speaking), it's "Sawatdee Krup", no matter whether you're addressing a male or female. It is considered impolite not to wei to someone that wei's to you, so be polite and show the Thai people that you are interested in their culture.
Young children are not supposed to be wei'd to, as it is a practise of respect, and respect is largely based on seniority in Thailand. Children should wei and greet an adult first.
Do not touch a Thai person on the head either, as the head is sacred and it is offensive to a Thai person. Only people who know eachother really well (as in family) or someone who has a much higher position is permitted to touch a Thai on the head. Touching a young child on the head is not considered inappropriate.
It's a shame I caught this little girl just as she was finishing wai'ing to me, but she was so gorgeous I had to put her picture up.
Anyone wanting to take home a statue of Buddha may be interested to know that you can get Buddhas from temples. They are not for sale, however. In a back room at some temples, you'll find older Buddha statues, as they have been offerings at one time, but the temples get too many to keep on display and these ones are then available to anyone who would like to make an offering to the temple. We have found much nicer Buddha statues available at the temples this way. The Buddha's that are most sought after are the bronze/brass ones where the corrosion has started, verdis gris in the shape of a mushroom signifies more power/magic in the piece. One thing I've learned from the Thais is that certain pieces, whether amulets or statues have different amounts of power. Some people, including our monk friend can "feel" for the power.
When getting yourself a Buddha, bear in mind that there is a different Buddha image for each day of the week. The Thais place a level of importance on the day of your birthday, each day is represented by a different colour and Buddha image. To maximise your good luck, any amulets should be in the colour of your day. To check for your day colour and Buddha, see this website; Thai Birthdays
You can also ask a monk to "open the Buddha's eyes". A ritual is performed on the Buddha, where the monk touches the Buddha's eyes with his ritual balm. Once the Buddha's eyes are open, you can pray to him.
Please note that there is no problem taking Buddha images from the country, but they cannot be historical pieces. If you are buying wood, make sure that there are no pin-sized holes in it, as that means borer. You will have to declare any wooden artefacts to Customs when entering Australia or New Zealand.
Sleeping is actually a bit of a national pasttime in Thailand. The Thai people can sleep anytime, anywhere. We have seen them sleeping on the top of crane towers - while the crane was being driven along!
Thai people generally sleep on typical woven mats, a specialty of the Phattalung province, but here are a few pictures of some other places you'll see them sleeping.
I always have to laugh.
Khanom La is a traditional Southern Thailand sweet. It comes from the province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
This sweet is made up of fine threads and there are two uses associated with it. The first is that it is used as a sacrifice offered to ancestors at the Sat Duan Sip (Tenth Moon) Festival. It represents the threads of clothing.
The second is that it is made for a very tall, thin ghost called 'Pret' that has a tiny mouth, the size of the eye of a needle and with very huge hands, the size of palm fronds which cannot pick up the food, so it can only eat suck up such fine threads of food.
The sweet is made from rice flour, syrup and water then put into a container, traditionally a coconut shell with small holes in the bottom. It is moved back and forth over a hot pan to create the threads and then can be gathered up and shaped into various shapes.
The picture shows a lady preparing Khanom La at a festival we went to.
The Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held only in Phuket each October. It is a week-long celebration filled with people channelling spirits, piercing their bodies with all types of blades and marching in a procession around the streets. Everyone goes vegetarian during the Festival for purification, some of the more devout eat vegetarian for the week before too. People need to purify themselves before they invite the spirits to come into their bodies. It's not just the participants who should fast from meat either, it's everyone. This purification is for your spirit, as well as your body.
The Chinese temples are the starting points and there is a different one for each day. The day before the processions start, a ceremony is performed where they raise bamboo poles, which are covered in gold leaf squares. The poles are said to join the physical and spiritual world, allowing the various spirits to descend to Phuket, where their presence will be evidenced by the 2000-odd Mah Song, or “mediums” during the festival.
If you attend one of the temples about 7.30am, you will be able to see people being pierced. It's quite shocking, but not as gruesome as you'd think. There is little to no blood.
Effigys are held aloft in the procession, they are symbols of the spirits, there are people following them, setting off firecrackers, so it can get very noisy and smokey. To attend the procession, you should wear white. When a medium passes, you should crouch down so that your head is not above theirs, as they are housing a spirit. If you are lucky, you will receive a sweet from one of them.
On the last day of the Festival, the spirits are sent back to the heavens. On this particular evening it is advisable to take a mask with you if you have problems with a lot of smoke. It gets so smokey, you can barely see anything. A table is filled with offerings for merit-making, which gets burned, along with myriad huge-size incense sticks that are burned everywhere.
A wonderful opportunity to experience some Thai culture.
Jatukam are a relatively new amulet to Thailand. They are, first and foremost protection amulets, secondly they are wealth amulets. They were first created in 1987 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in the south. Jatukam's were originally introduced to raise money for a Chedi and the smaller buildings which surround it in Jokjakarta, Indonesia. (Nakhon was the spiritual centre of an ancient realm of 9,000km2 that included India and Indonesia).
The Jatukam include at least two of three depictions, one is the monkey type figures (Rao Hu), second is the Ramathep figure, and third is the monkey with face covered by his hands (less popular).
The Jatukam pictured is a Chedi Rai (pronounced Jay-dee-rai). It is instantly recognisable, even to people with very limited knowledge of JTK. It was designed in Thai year 2530 (1987).
For more complete information, check my Nakhorn Si Thammarat page travelogue.
I have just returned to Phuket after being away for 3 months. You would not believe the change! When I bought my first Jatukam piece in January for 20,000 baht, only a few Thai people were wearing them. Now, my main Jatukam piece is worth about 100,000 baht (in May) and I've heard that it could be worth up to 200,000 baht. There are Jatukam shops everywhere, probably 10 at each main shopping centre, but be warned, as much as they will try to convince you that the pieces are real, I can almost guarantee you that they're a copy.
There have been newspaper reports recently where Jatukam figures have shown up in photos, even digital pictures and ones that were taken by farangs (westerners). This has added to the hysteria and popularity of the Jatukam.
The Jatukam in the picture, as worn by my friend, is my main piece. I have a blue one, because I was born on a Friday. Every day of the week is represented by a different colour.
This event is over a few days in april the hotest and dryest month.......it is normally over a few days but once in Pattaya a few years ago it went on for 2 weeks........
Basically the whole country erupts into big water fights............you will wherever you are get wet in doors or outside...........don't bother changing into dry clothes you will just get wet again even battles rage while driving down the road and accident rates go up.
Its mad but fun and if you think it will annoy you after a while then miss this time of year or stay in your hotel room.................thats exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of our best experiences in Phuket was being invited by a Thai friend to his family's spirit night; an annual ceremony of invoking spirits, making offerings, blessing and giving answers/remedies.
Our friend lives down a laneway (soi) where all of one extended family resides. They have their own homes yet live communally, eating at one place where everyone is cooked for etc - a gathering place really. This is where the spirit ceremony is conducted.
The ceremony was ritualised with a sense of reverence, yet it was a fine line. The "Grandfather" would make a statement and one or two people are allowed to challenge him, causing a few laughs. Mobile phones even came into play which just seemed so odd. At one point one of the "Grandfathers" told off the guys playing the drums because they had been much better at practice, then handed them some whiskey. One of the guys answered his mobile phone which went off, leaving the band a man down for a few tinkles of his bell.
It was quite an involved ceremony with two different "Grandfathers", each invoking different spirits whilst sitting in front of the offerings of fruit, candles and Thai whiskey. The spirits invoked begin at a basic level, gradually working up to to the highest spirit.
The first "Grandfather" sat cross-legged on the altar table whilst he held a stick and a candle. He kept pouring the hot wax over his head and body as he sat incanting. He ended up in a trance and got off the table to be helped into the house and out to the altar again. He crouched like a very old man of well over 100 years - because that was the spirit he had invoked. I think it also alluded to the wisdom of age. He calls each mother to 'hand over' her baby to him. He then calls the baby his, effectively making him the great "Grandfather". This is disputed, then he responds, somehow making it so.
After the ceremony, a meal is eaten - including the fruits and eggs which were blessed/used in the ceremony to bring good luck to the consumer.
An awesome experience.
This Temple is know as Wat ko Si-le which is set on a small Island attached to the mainland by a small bridge and is set on the top a very steep hill overlooking Phuket town and Phuket harbor.
There is some sort of Monk school here and many of them live here.
To get to the temple you have to practically thrash the motor out of your little rented motorbike, and then climb the giant serpent staircase that runs all the way up to the mountain top temple.
But the effort is defiantly worth it. ;-)
The view was fantastic from here and the big reclining Buddha was quite impressive too.
At the bottom of the hill there is a fishery sea port and a sea gypsy village which are both worth a look as well.
This is on the wrong side of Phuket town (the west coast) for many visitors to get to but if you have a bike its a great day trip with a special someone.
The architecture in this place alone is well worth the visit but to learn the history and culture of this place is very interesting no matter what you might believe.
There are many temples here plus the main Monks old house with their statues made from wax.
There is also an impressive Pagoda here with a good view from the roof as well as food, drink and souvenir stalls.
Wat Chalong is Phuket’s most important Buddhist temple and is the biggest and most ornate of Phuket’s 29 Buddhist monasteries.
The architecture is typical of wats found throughout Thailand. Wat Chalong is associated with the revered monks, Luang Pho Chaem and Luang Pho Chuang, both of whom were famous for there work in herbal medicine and tending to the injured of a tin miners rebellion in 1876.
From the Chalong traffic circle take bypass road Why 4021 3km (2 miles) and Wat Chalong is on the right.