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An Intro to Thai Language and Culture Posted by on Jul 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

Thailand is a beautiful country that has been drawing tourists by the millions for decades. Whether it’s the sandy beaches of the many islands, the jungles of the north, the ancient ruins of former capitals, or the excitement of Bangkok, Thailand has something to offer every type of traveler. If you’re planning a trip to the Kingdom of Smiles, you should probably familiarize yourself with the language and culture of this fascinating country. Don’t look and act like an obnoxious tourist on your trip – learn a few phrases and get some cultural tidbits before you go!

Language

It looks intimidating, but give it a shot.

It looks intimidating, but give it a shot.

The Thai language (ภาษาไทย paa-săa tai) is the national and official language of Thailand. It belongs to the Tai-Kedai language family and it has its own script. Thai has 44 consonants (พยัญชนะ pá-yan-chá-ná). Vowels are a bit complicated, as there are both short vowels (สระสั้น sà-rà-sân) and long vowels (สระยาว sà-rà-yaao). Unfortunately, there is no standardized method for transcribing Thai. The Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS) is commonly used, but it does not indicate vowel length or tones. That’s right, the Thai language has tones – 5 of them! Get started learning Thai with these three videos, covering the consonants, vowels, and tones:

Thai Consonants

Thai Vowels

Thai Tones

We’re constantly posting new material to help you learn Thai, and we’ve got tons of great content in the archives, so subscribe to the blog and be sure to browse past content.

Culture

Thailand's most sacred temple - Wat Phra Kaew.

Thailand’s most sacred temple – Wat Phra Kaew.

Thailand has a rich and vibrant culture, which is very much centered around Buddhism and the monarchy. Did you know that nearly 95% of people in Thailand are Buddhists? Also, did you know that it’s illegal to insult or defame the king? These are things that are definitely useful to know before you go to Thailand! Here are a few posts from our archives that will help you better understand the importance of religion and the monarchy in Thai culture:

A great way to learn about Buddhism in Thailand is to visit one of the thousands of temples in the country. Before you do, though, be sure to brush up on your temple etiquette – you wouldn’t want to insult people or embarrass yourself by committing a cultural faux pas. If you can’t make it all the way to Thailand, never fear! Tour five of Bangkok’s best temples with us in this short video:

Pad Thai

Perhaps the most famous Thai dish.

Of course, when most people think of Thai culture, they immediately think of the cuisine. Thai food is famous all over the world, and for good reason – it’s incredibly delicious! Here are a few posts to get you better acquainted with Thai cuisine:

If you’d like to see what real Thai food looks like, check out this video that takes you on a “Culinary Tour of Thailand:”

You can’t talk about the culture of a country without mentioning its holidays. Without a doubt, the biggest and most important holiday in Thailand is Songkran (สงกรานต์ sǒng-graan), also known as the Thai New Year. There’s a lot that happens during this 3-day festival, which culminates in an epic water fight. See what it’s like celebrating Songkran on the island of Ko Pha-Ngan in this video:

Other important holidays include Chulalongkorn Day, which commemorates the fifth monarch of Siam, and Vesak, which marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.

 

Hopefully this post has given you a nice introduction to the language and culture of Thailand. If you’re already planning a trip there, get excited! You’re going to have an amazing time. And if you aren’t, well what are you waiting for?! Take it from someone who has spent many months traveling in Thailand on multiple visits – it will be worth every minute and every cent that you invest into it.

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.