The first thing to know about Thailand, the “Land of Smiles”, is that it is famous for its Buddhist religion. Buddhism is the official religion of the country. 90 percent of its inhabitants are Buddhists, and the ways, values, belief-system, culture and festivals in Bangkok are influenced by Buddhism. Thus, trying to understand Thai culture usually entails learning about Buddhism as well, or understanding some of its basic precepts. A wise traveler should respect the locals’ faith as part of their culture.
Respect is actually very important in Thailand. The Thais have great respect for the old and the deceased. They perform ceremonies and rituals for the dead. In addition, the Thais also show respect to each other through the “Wai”. The Wai is an important part of the Thais’ culture. They put their hands together and bow not just to the elders to show their respect, but also to other people when they want to say hello, goodbye, sorry and thank you. The Wai is often also used when one is asking permission to talk to another. It is taught to Thai children at a young age and is as much a part of their heritage as the traditional arts, music, and dances that you are sure to see at many cultural performances, specifically those at Chiang Mai. The traditional Thai dance, especially, symbolizes the local values and character. Those in Chiang Mai have ladies dancing in full regalia to the accompaniment of traditional music. If it is a different kind of art you seek, on the other hand, all you need to do is go to their temples. The country’s history and culture can also be seen in the murals of Wat Chiang Man, Wats Lai Kham and Prasat.
There are also many religious festivals in Bangkok, but the two most important and popular festivals in Bangkok are the Songkran (a water festival) and the Loy Krathong (light festival).
Songkran – The Songkran is celebrated in April. During this time, the locals engage in water fights and street dancing. The celebration usually stretches for a week. Small businesses including local banks close for the festival and people usually go to their provinces for family reunions.
Loy Krathong – The Loy Krathong is commemorated every full moon night in November. Usually, this falls on the 12th or the 13th. The celebration is city-wide but a big celebration is normally held in the Lan Tasanapirom Plaza and at the Chaophraya River. At the Chaophraya River, the Thais will gather in the riverside with their floats made of banana leaves and other offerings like incense sticks, flowers and money. As they release their floats in the river, they are said to be releasing their worries and sicknesses as well. The twelfth lunar month is said to be perfect for such a celebration. The harvest time is over and it’s time to thank the goddess of water. Many Thais also use this festival to pray for another fruitful and healthy year and to pray for their soul mates.
The culture and festivals in Bangkok truly are the reflection of the Thais’ charming qualities. If you want to get a glimpse of the culture of Thais, consider visiting during their festivals. You will not only get a chance to witness first-hand their rituals, but also get a chance to meet them and be on the receiving end of their famous, warm Thai smiles.