You already know that Thailand is home to incredible islands, fabulous food and some of the friendliest people in the world. But did you know it’s also home to the world’s smallest mammal? Or that one of the largest flowers in the world grows in the forests of Khao Sok? Brush up on your Thai trivia knowledge and impress family and friends with this selection of 45 interesting and fun facts about Thailand.
Covering an area of 513,120 sq km, Thailand is a similar size to France and around twice the size of the United Kingdom.
Thailand’s coastline stretches for 2815 km which equates to 1,750 miles.
There are 77 provinces in Thailand. This includes 76 provinces — which are similar to counties and known in Thai as changwat — plus Bangkok as a special administrative area. The largest province is Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in the North-East. The smallest is Samut Songkhram to the south-west of Bangkok.
The official language spoken is Thai. The standardised central Thai version is taught in schools nationwide and is spoken throughout Thailand. In addition to the official Thai language, there are also dozens of other regional languages and dialects. For example, in North Thailand people may use the local language, Kham Mueuang, when conversing with friends or family, but may use central Thai on other occasions. In the North-East the language spoken is Isaan. In the far south near Malaysia, the language and dialects are different again. And there are also different languages spoken by Thailand’s various hill-tribe communities.
6) Land of the Free
Thailand was previously known as Siam. The name was changed in 1939 to Thailand (‘Land of the Free’).
7) Red, white and blue
The colours of Thailand’s flag are red, white and blue. Red represents the people, white represents religion and blue is for the monarchy.
The current design of the flag was adopted on 28 September 1917. To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the flag in 2017, Thailand introduced National Thai Flag Day. The occasion is now marked annually on 28 September.
8) Bangkok: City of Angels
The name Bangkok comes from the location where King Rama 1 established the new capital of Siam following the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. He moved the capital south to what was then a small village known as Bang Kok (the village of olive plums). The capital was moved across the river in 1782 and this is where the Grand Palace was constructed.
When talking about Bangkok, Thai people use the name Krung Thep (City of Angels). Krung Thep itself is an abbreviation of the full ceremonial name which leads us on to . . .
9) Longest city name in the world
Bangkok is not just the capital and largest city in Thailand, but also has the distinction of having the longest name of any city in the world. The full ceremonial name of Bangkok is:
Krung Thep Maha Nakorn Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahidol Pop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchawiwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
Now you know why Thai people just use the first part of the name and call it Krung Thep!
10) Tallest building in Thailand
When the Mahanakhon building was built in Bangkok in 2016 it was the tallest building in Thailand. At 314 metres high the skyscraper took over the mantle of tallest building from the 304 metre high Baiyoke Tower. However, in 2018 the 318-metre high Magnolias Waterfront Residences Tower (Iconsiam Tower 1), edged them both out at 318 metres high. Although it might no longer be the tallest building in Thailand, King Power Mahanakhon is still the location of the highest rooftop restaurant and bar in Bangkok.
11) Highest mountain in Thailand
At 2,565 metres above sea level, Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai province is the highest mountain in Thailand. During the cool season months (November-February) temperatures at the summit can drop to around freezing and ground frost can sometimes be seen.
12) A colour for every day of the week
In Thai culture, each day of the week is associated with a particular colour. Although the old tradition of wearing the colour of the day is not as widespread as it once was, the old custom can still be seen in some situations. Most Thai people will know the day of the week they were born and their ‘lucky’ colour:
The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism with an estimated 90-95% of the population identifying as Buddhists.
14) Becoming a monk
Although it’s not compulsory, many Buddhist males will temporarily ordain as a monk during their lifetime. The period can range from a few days to a month or longer. The act of becoming a monk is believed to bestow merit on the man’s family. Although a boy or man can become a monk at any age, it is more common to do so before reaching the age of 20 or before getting married.
15) Why Thailand is years ahead
Thailand is literally years ahead of most countries. 543 years ahead to be precise. And that’s because although the Western calendar is used in Thailand, the official calendar is the traditional Buddhist calendar. The year in which the Buddha died and entered Nirvana, is believed to be 543 BC. So in Thailand, the year 2021 is also the year 2564. Everything from Thai ID cards to 7-Eleven receipts shows the year according to the Buddhist calendar.
16) Celebrating New Year three times
Thailand knows how to party and when it comes to New Year celebrations, the country gets to do it three times. Along with the festivities you may expect on December 31, Thailand also celebrates the traditional Thai New Year in April with the Songkran Water Festival. And with an estimated 14% of Thailand’s population claiming Chinese ancestry, the Chinese Lunar New Year (in January/February) is also celebrated by many Thais.
17) Funny ha ha ha!
The Thai word for five is ‘ha‘ so Thai people use 555 in text messages and on social media as a way of expressing laughter and as an alternative to ‘lol’.
18) Lucky number 9
In Thailand, the number three is lucky because of its association with the triple gems of Buddhism. Even more auspicious is the number nine because not only is it 3×3, but also because the word for nine, ‘gao’, sounds similar to two other important words in the Thai language.
19) Animals of the zodiac
Similar to the Chinese zodiac, in Thai culture the zodiac is a repeating 12 year cycle with a different animal associated with each of the twelve years: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, serpent (dragon), snake, horse, goat (ram), monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In Northern Thai Lanna culture, the elephant can replace the pig .
For Thai people, the completion of each twelve year cycle is regarded as important because it brings them back to their birth-year animal. So a 12th birthday or 60th birthday are important milestones. Some temples in Thailand are also considered extra auspicious for people to visit. For example, for people born in the year of the goat, a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is considered to be extra special.
20) Thailand’s national animal
The Thai elephant (chang Thai) is the national animal of Thailand and has played an important part in the country’s history. National Thai Elephant Day is celebrated annually on March 13.
The elephant was so important that it appeared on the flag of Siam and to this day still features on the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy. And did you know that if you look at a map of Thailand, you may be able to see that it resembles an elephant’s head? The ‘ears’ are in the north and north-east and the long ‘trunk’ extends down to the south of the country.
21) Elephant trunks
An elephant’s trunk is actually a nose, but unlike a human nose it has many more functions. Not only is the trunk used for smelling and breathing, but also for drinking, trumpeting, and grabbing hold of food and other items. Remarkably, an elephant’s trunk contains over 40,000 different muscles. By comparison, the human body has around 600 muscles.
22) White elephant
The phrase ‘white elephant’ originates from Thailand. These elephants are considered auspicious and under Thai law all white elephants belong to the king.
23) National tree and flower
Thailand’s national tree and flower is the beautiful Ratchaphruek (cassia fistula). Known in different parts of Asia as Indian laburnum, in Thai the tree is known as Ratchaphruek, the ‘royal tree’, and produces gorgeous cascading yellow flowers from March to May.
24) National sport
Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is the country’s national sport. Although football is hugely popular in Thailand, it is the traditional ‘art of the eight limbs’ which is an integral part of the country’s history and identity. The importance of the sport is honoured with National Muay Thai Day held annually on March 17.
25) National bird
Thailand’s national bird is the Siamese Fireback. The striking pheasant-like bird isn’t common, but can be seen in a number of locations including Khao Yai National Park.
26) National dish
While many Thais may consider pad krapao (or even Mama noodles!) as the unofficial national dish, it is pad Thai which takes the official crown.
Thailand’s national dish has an interesting history. It came into being during World War II at a time when Thailand was experiencing rice shortages. With rice prices increasing, the Prime Minister of Thailand put together a proposal for a noodle-based national dish. Rice noodles and a few other essential ingredients were combined and then stir-fried resulting in pad Thai. The dish has been adapted by different regions and different chefs, but the key ingredient of rice noodles remains a constant.
27) Smallest mammal in the world
The smallest mammal in the world can only be found in a few limestone caves near the Khwae Noi River in Kanchanaburi province. The Kitti’s hog-nosed bat is also known as the bumblebee bat because its body is only the size of a bumblebee. The tiny creature weighs in at less than two grams.
28) Monkey business
The city of Lopburi in central Thailand is home to hundreds of macaques. As a way of thanking the monkeys for the tourism revenue they bring in, the city hosts the annual Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival with a huge banquet of fruit laid on for them.
29) Love birds
Fish owls are considered a symbol of true love and you may see them on bags and souvenirs when shopping in Thailand, especially in Southern Thailand. Known in Thai as ‘Pi-Tid-Pi-Tee’ for the sound they make when hunting at night, the birds mate for life. They are also considered to bring good luck to the areas they live.
30) Siamese twins
Conjoined twins Chang and Eng were born in Samut Songkhram province in 1811. The twins — who were conjoined at the sternum — were subsequently taken from what was then Siam to America. In a less enlightened era, the twins were exhibited as ‘human curiosities’ and their appearances at events led to the coining of the phrase, Siamese twins. Both men married and settled in America where they raised families. They died within a few hours of each other at the age of 62. A statue in honour of the twins is located in their hometown of Samut Songkhram.
31) Siamese cats
If you visit Thailand you will inevitably see Siamese cats on your travels. In many cases they are closer in appearance to the original Siamese breed from Thailand compared to their cousins that live in the West.
The north-east province of Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Korat) is where the Korat cat originates. The elegant cats are known in Thai as ‘Si-Sawat’ and considered good luck. In days gone by, a pair of Korat cats were a traditional wedding gift. Visit Nakhon Ratchasima city and you can see references to their famous cats around the town. The local football team has the nickname ‘Swat Cat’ with the Korat feline featuring on the team badge.
32) Siamese Fighting Fish
Most people have heard of Siamese cats, but have you heard of Siamese Fighting Fish? These colourful creatures are honoured as Thailand’s national aquatic animal. Also known as bettas, the fish are renowned for being territorial and will fight other fish — sometimes to the death — to defend their patch.
33) Ancient forests
Khao Sok National Park contains the remnants of a rainforest that dates back an estimated 160 million years. This makes it one of the oldest tropical evergreen forests in the world.
34) Largest flower in the world
It is in the unique ecosystem of Khao Sok National Park where you can find the Rafflesia. Varieties of this tropical plant are the largest flower in the world and can grow up to 90cm in diameter and weigh 7kg. And because they are pollinated by flies, rafflesias also have the distinction of being one of the smelliest flowers on the planet, omitting an odour similar to rotting meat.
35) King of fruits
There can’t be many foods that divide opinion as dramatically as the durian fruit. For durian lovers it is the ‘King of Fruits’. But for others, the pungent odour is food hell. If you travel around Thailand, you will often see no durian signs alongside no smoking signs in hotels and on public transport.
36) Spirit houses
While Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country, it encompasses a mix of animist beliefs and customs. All around Thailand you will see evidence of this with spirit houses. Often elaborate structures, they are there to keep the spirits happy complete with daily offerings.
37) Thai nicknames
Thai people are given official names which are often long and complicated. Instead of their long formal name, a nickname (‘chue len’) is given to them at birth and this is commonly used instead. Sometimes it’s a contraction of their formal name, but it may just be a random short name the parents like. Some traditional names have meanings in Thai like Noy (little), Nok (bird) and Fon (rain). In more recent years there has been a trend towards names with more of an international influence so don’t be surprised if you meet people who are called Benz, Beer or Coffee.
38) Yaksha giants
If you travel via Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport you will see imposing giant ‘yaksha’ figures near the check-in desks. You will also see them at temples across Thailand. In Buddhist mythology the yaksha are guardian warriors who keep away evil spirits and are often simply referred to as ‘yak’ (giant). Just as children in the West may learn from picture cards that, ‘d is for dog’ Thai youngsters are taught that the consonant ‘yau’ is for yak.
If you’ve visited Buddhist temples in Thailand, you’ve probably noticed decorated serpent-like creatures at the entrances. These are nagas and they are another important creature from Hindu and Buddhist mythology who take on the role of protectors and frighten away evil spirits.
40) Garudas (Khrut)
The garuda is the national emblem of Thailand. With its roots on Buddhist and Hindu mythology, the garuda (or ‘khrut‘ in Thai) represents the authority of the Thai monarch. The half-bird, half-human khrut appears on Thai bank notes, legal documents and at royal temples.
41) Mind your feet
In Thai culture, the head is regarded as the most sacred part of the body because this is the top where the spirit resides. Conversely, the feet are at the bottom and in touch with the ground so are less clean. Thai people will take off their shoes before entering temples or someone’s home and it’s rude to point at anything or anybody with your feet.
42) Thailand’s first university
Wat Pho in Bangkok is the location of what is regarded as Thailand’s first university. The seat of learning was established in the 1800s to preserve the expertise and teaching of traditional Thai medicine and massage.
43) Longest train tunnel
If you travel by train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you will pass through the longest railway tunnel in Thailand. At 1,352 metres long, the Khun Tan tunnel cuts through the mountain in Lamphun province. At 578 metres above sea level, the photogenic railway station at Khun Tan also has the distinction of being the highest train station in Thailand.
44) Largest lake
Songkhla Lake is Thailand’s largest natural lake straddling the southern Thai provinces of Songkhla and Phatthalung. The lake, lagoon complex and associated wetlands covers three main areas with the northern stretch around Thale Noi supporting the most wildlife. The wetlands are home to more than 280 species of aquatic birds.
45) Movie magic
From James Bond to Rambo to Bridget Jones, Thailand has featured in a host of movies. Of all the films shot in Thailand, it is perhaps Roger Moore as 007 in The Man with the Golden Gun which is the most famous, but Leonard DiCaprio and The Beach must also be a contender. And if you watch just about any film about the Vietnam War, there’s a good chance that the epic scenery of Thailand has been used as a stand-in for Vietnam. The iconic Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter was filmed in a bar in Bangkok and the shots of the POW camp with cages in the river was filmed at Sai Yok, Kanchanaburi.