Thai culture is an amalgamation of different beliefs taking influences from Cambodia, China and India, as well as the ancient cultures of Southeast Asia. The biggest influence upon the peoples of Thailand comes from Buddhism, Hinduism and Animism and by migrations from India and China.
The vast majority of Thai people are Buddhist with minorities of Christians and Muslims. Buddhism in Thailand is strongly influenced by traditional beliefs regarding ancestral and natural spirits, which have been incorporated into Buddhist cosmology. Most Thai people own spirit houses, miniature wooden houses in which they believe household spirits live. They present offerings of food and drink to these spirits to keep them happy. If these spirits aren’t happy, it is believed that they will inhabit the larger household of the Thai, and cause chaos. These spirit houses can be found in public places and in the streets of Thailand, where the public make offerings.
Values and Etiquette
Thai people are extremely polite, and skimpy attire is seen to be offense by many. Westerners have garnered a bad reputation among many Thais due to immodest dress. Shorts are seen, especially by older Thais, as inappropriate for adults. While attitudes are changing among the younger generations, you might find a more comfortable and acceptable alternative to be linen trousers. Comfortable linen trousers are readily available at street vendors, shops, and markets in Bangkok and other cities.
Openly sharing your emotions, especially to strangers can seem strange to Thais. While not offense per se, try to make sure that you’re not making your hosts uncomfortable. Much as in India, the left hand is considered dirty. It should not be used to eat, receive gifts, or shake hands.
Important holidays in Thai culture include Thai New Year, which is officially observed from April 13th to 15th each year. Falling at the end of the dry season and during the hot season in Thailand, the celebrations notoriously features water throwing. The water throwing stemmed from washing Buddha images and lightly sprinkling scented water on the hands of elderly people. Small amounts of scented talcum powder were also used in the annual cleansing rite. But in recent decades the use of water has intensified with the use of hoses, barrels, water pistols, high-pressure tubes and copious amounts of powder.