Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world. Yet, there are many facts which people might not know about the “Land of Smiles”. Even though I’ve spent almost a half year here in total, there are still things I’m learning about the country. As I am spending the month of October in Bangkok, I thought it would be a good time for another installment of “8 Facts You Might Not Have Known…”
1) It used to be called Siam
For most of its history, the country currently called Thailand was known as Siam. After reforms which occurred in 1932 which transformed the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, the name was changed in 1939 to Thailand. In 1945 the name reverted back to Siam and in 1949 it changed back again to Thailand. The word “Thai” refers to the name of the largest ethnic group in the country.
2) The flag of Thailand is designed so it cannot be flown upside down.
The story goes that in 1917, then King of Siam, King Vajiravudh saw the flag being flown upside down during a flood. To ensure that such a thing could never happen again, the King designed a symmetrical flag that would be right side up no matter how it was flown. The previous flag for the Kingdom of Siam was of an elephant with the royal crest on it.
It is also believed that the colors chosen for the flag (red, white and blue) were chosen to show solidarity with Great Britian and France, which Siam was allied with during World War I.
3) Thailand was never colonized by Europeans
Thailand was the only country in South East Asia which was not colonized by Europeans. All of its neighbors were controlled by either the British or the French. Burma and Malaysia being British colonies and Laos and Cambodia being French. Thailand managed to do this through selectively ceding some Malay territories to the British and cleaver use of negotiations. During WWII, Thailand was allied with the Japan, so technically it was never conquered. After WWII it allied itself with the United States, which helped keep it free of the communist revolutions which swept through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
4) There are many parallels between the King of Thailand and the Queen of England
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have many interesting things in common:
- They are currently the two longest reigning monarchs in the world. King Bhumibol ascended to the throne on June 9, 1946 and Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952. The are currently the longest and second longest serving monarchs in the world. In fact, both have reigns which are among the longest in human history.
- Neither was the heir apparent upon assuming the throne. Queen Elizabeth, by the fact she was a woman, was the heir presumptive to the British monarchy. King Bhumibol was the brother of the young King Ananda Mahidol, who died in 1946. Had his brother had a son, he would have been the heir apparent to the Thai throne.
- Both have sons who have been crown princes for decades. Prince Charles has been the heir apparent to the British Crown for over 60 years as has Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in Thailand. Both are among the longest serving crown princes in their respective countries.
5) Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world
Bangkok is the third most visited city in the world, behind London and Paris. This year they expect to get 12.2 million visitors. Surprisingly, the percentage of the Thai economy which comes from tourism is actually less than some European countries like Spain.
6) Bangkok is actually not the name of the capital of Thailand
The name of the city of Bangkok in Thai is “Krung Thep”. However, that is actually a shortened version of the full name of the city which is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”, which translates to “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.” If you don’t use spaces (which they don’t in Thai) the translated version would come in at 163 characters, make it the longest place name in the world.
The word “Bangkok” actually comes from the name of the original settlement on the other side of the river, currently the Thonburi district of the city, which dates back to 1782.
7) Thailand has had over 20 successful and attempted military coups in the last 100 years
Military coups are almost a national sport in Thailand. Since 1912 there have been 20 attempted or successful coups in Thailand. They have occurred in: 1912, 1917, 1932, 1933, 1939, 1947, 1948, 1949, June 1951, December 1951, 1957, 1958, 1971, 1976, March 1977, October 1977, 1981, 1985, 1991, and 2006.
8) Bangkok is the hottest city in the world
The World Meteorological Organization declared Bangkok to be the hottest city in the world with a median air temperature of 28°C (82.4°F). While there are many desert cities in the world that have higher peak temperatures, they also get much colder in the evenings and in the winter. Bangkok is warm all year long and never gets cold.