December 6, 2022

8 Fascinating facts about Thailand

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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.

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 Britain 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 by selectively ceding some Malay territories to the British and 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 which 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, 126 days, the second longest reign of any monarch in history. Queen Elizabeth has, as of 2019, been on the throne for 67 years. Two of the longest reigns in world 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 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 2016, edging out Dubai, London, and Paris. In 2016 they received 19.41 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.

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