Culture and Identity
Thailand is often looked at as a country that doesn’t have a large variety of ethnic groups, however, there are 75 distinct ethnicities in the country with the Central Tai being the most dominant, having a population of just over a third of the country.
Starting in the 1950’s Thailand's then military dictator, Phibun, expanded the culture of Central Tai to the rest of the country by passing a number of cultural mandates to unify the people from all regions and establish a National Identity. These mandates included national attire and a national language. This was further expanded by the ministry of education who felt it was important to defend the influence of western culture. As years went on and the grip of military dictators settled, towns and regions began to bring back local traditions and cultures. Today Thailand embraces a harmony of cultures among all Thai people but exercises the freedom to portray the food, traditions and customs of each region.
Buddhism makes up for 95% of Thai people's religious beliefs. Buddhists and therefore most Thais believe that when you die you are reborn in a lifeform that depicts how well you had lived in your previous life. Essentially they have a strong belief in karma and if you live as a good person you will be bumped up to a better social stature in your next life. If you misbehave and are not a good human you could be reincarnated as an insect or a cripple.
Most young Thai men are expected to do serve a short time practicing as a monk. This usually takes place between the time they graduate school and before they marry or start a career. Traditionally a young man was expected to serve 3 months as a monk, shaving his head, face and eyebrows. Having a son who serves in the monastery brings great merit to a family. These days it is much more common for a man to only serve in a temple for a week or so. Females may also serve as nuns in the Wats, they too must shave their heads and ‘renounce the modern world’. Typically a woman who chooses to be a nun isn’t as highly regarded as monks and they are not viewed to bring merit to a family like a man.
You'll very welcome to visit, view and discover the temple and buddhist culture when visiting Thailand. It's important to be mindful of the religion and culture etiquette.