Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world and for good reason—the country boasts incredible beaches, world-renowned food, and acts as a hub for travelers in Southeast Asia. Even given that, there are many facts you probably don’t know about the “Land of Smiles.” Even though I’ve spent almost a half year traveling all over Thailand, there are still things I’m learning about the country every day. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating country in a new installment of Facts You Might Not Have Known: Thailand edition.
1. It used to be called Siam.
For most of its history, the country currently called Thailand was known as Siam. After reforms 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 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.
3. Thailand was never colonized by Europeans.
Thailand remains the only country in Southeast Asia 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 ones. Thailand managed this feat by selectively ceding some Malay territories to the British and through the clever use of negotiations. During WWII, Thailand was allied with 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 that swept through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
4. There are many parallels between the former King of Thailand and the Queen of England.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in 2016, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had many interesting things in common:
- They were two of the 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. King Bhumibol reigned for 70 years and 126 days, the second longest reign of any monarch in history. Queen Elizabeth has, as of 2019, been on the throne for 67 years. These are two of the longest reigns in world history (and Louis XIV of France beat them both, if you’re wondering, with 72 years and 110 days.
- 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 were crown princes for decades. Prince Charles has been the heir apparent to the British Crown for over 60 years as has former Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in Thailand. Both were the longest-serving crown princes in their respective countries.
5. Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world.
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world as of 2017, edging out Dubai, London, and Paris. In 2017, the country received over 20 million visitors. Surprisingly, the percentage of the Thai economy generated 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
This name 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 comes in at 163 characters, making it the longest place name in the world.
So how did they get the name “Bangkok”? It 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’s had over 21 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, 2006, and 2014.
8. Bangkok is the hottest city in the world.
The World Meteorological Organization declared Bangkok the hottest city in the world, with its 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 winter. Bangkok is warm all year long and never gets cold, meaning it handily takes the crown here.
9. All men in Thailand had to be Buddhist monks at one point.
In the past, all men had to spend time as a Buddhist monk before they turned 20 years old. This included the current King of Thailand. The period of time would often only be for a few months since unlike western monasticism, there are no long term vows when becoming a Buddhist monk.
10. Red Bull has its origins in Thailand.
Despite being an Austrian company today, Red Bull is based on the drink known as Krating Daeng, which was introduced in Thailand in the 1970s. The logo for Krating Daeng is almost identical to the current Red Bull logo except for the text in Thai. Dietrich Mateschitz launched Red Bull in 1987 and modified the taste of Krating Daeng to be more palatable for westerners. Today, Red Bull GmbH is 51% owned by the Yoovidhya Family, the descendants of Chaleo Yoovidhya, who invented Krating Daeng.
11. You might find yourself unexpectedly standing at attention for the Thai National Anthem.
In some countries like the United States, the national anthem is played before the start of sporting events. In Thailand, it is also played at the start of movies, and also in public places at 8am and 6pm when the flag is raised and lowered. If you find yourself somewhere public at those times and you see everyone standing up in silence, just stand up and remain silent for a few minutes until the anthem is completed. It’s considered offensive to remain seated or to talk during the anthem.
12. Thailand has been a shooting location for many Hollywood films.
Thailand has served as the backdrop for many major Hollywood films. Some of the notable films shot in Thailand include:
- The Hangover Part II
- Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith
- Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason
- The Deer Hunter
- Around the World in Eighty Days
- The Killing Fields
- The Beach
- Rambo: First Blood Part II
- The Man with the Golden Gun
- Cutthroat Island
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
13. Every year, Thailand hosts the world’s largest water fight.
The Thai new year is called Songkran, and for three days the entire country undertakes a giant water fight. The origins of the tradition go back to the use of water to clean and purify temples during the new year. At some point, this morphed into buckets of water and super soakers. Anyone walking around outside during Songkran is liable to get soaked, and it doesn’t matter if you have an expensive camera with you or not!
14. The Thai government funds Thai restaurants in other countries.
Every wonder why there are so many Thai restaurants out there in the world, especially given the number of Thai people in some communities? It is because the Thai government actually funds Thai nationals living overseas to create Thai restaurants. The Export-Import Bank of Thailand provides loans and the government helps with the logistics of running the restaurant. This is all in the name of cultural promotion and foreign policy.
15. Thai is one of the most complicated languages in the world.
The Thai language is extremely complex. It has 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and five tones. In comparison, Mandarin Chinese has only four tones. The written language has 44 consonant symbols and 15 vowel symbols that combine with 28 vowel symbols and four tone diacritical symbols. In fact, it is not a true alphabet, but rather is an abugida which Wikipedia calls “a segmental writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are written as a unit.”
16. Thailand has over 1,400 islands.
Thailand has an enormous number of islands considering that the vast majority of the population and land area is located on the Asian continental landmass. Most of the islands are in the southern part of the country, in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The number of islands and its location in tropical latitudes makes for excellent SCUBA diving.
17. There are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand.
As of 2019, there are five world heritage sites in Thailand. They are:
- Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
- Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex
- Historic City of Ayutthaya
- Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
- Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries
Recommended Resources And Readings:
Best Books About Thailand
- A History of Thailand: Succinct but thorough, you can’t go wrong with this book Thai history intrigues you and you’re keen to learn a little more!
- Lonely Planet Thailand: A favorite guidebook for travelers in the region, this will get you sorted when planning any trip to Thailand.
- Geek in Thailand: Discovering the Land of Golden Buddhas, Pad Thai and Kickboxing: A fun and lighthearted read that offers humor, culture, and so much more.
- Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen: One of the best cookbooks out there if you love Thai food and want to recreate the flavors in your own kitchen.
Plan a Trip to Thailand:
Thailand Travel Guide: Our free guide covers everything you should know about booking travel to the Island, what you should do once you’re there, as well as where to stay, and more. If you’re traveling the region, this guide to backpacking Southeast Asia should cover everything you need to know.
Navigate the Country: Being rather large country, your best bet is to use puddle-jumper flights to hop down to the Thai islands, and then trains and buses form a dense web of anywhere else you might want to travel. Day tours from the hub cities of Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Koh Samui also offer a more comfortable way to explore the best sights.
Book Travel Insurance: Although safe, Thailand can present its fair share of problems for travelers—if you need medical care or coverage for your gear, you’ll be glad for travel insurance—we recommend World Nomads travel insurance.