10 Unknown Facts About Thailand

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1. Rainmaker King

Some years ago the rice farmers of Thailand experienced a severe drought period. The king, who since many years had been involved in helping the rural population of Thailand invented a method to make rain, for which he also filed an international patent. Airplanes are used to shoot silver iodide chemicals into the clouds in specific ways, so that they are stimulated to rain. This method did proof successful.

2. Mysterious Fireballs

At a certain time of the year, a strange phenomenon occurs that hasn’t been scientifically explained yet. Well, there were scientific theories, however, scientists in are still baffled by this phenomenon and unable to explain it properly. It’s in the north-eastern part of Thailand, and the locals there have their own explanation for the mysterious fireballs that emerge from the Mekong river: they say these are fireballs from the legendary Naga serpent.

One time a TV team tried to uncover “the hoax” and said that the phenomenon was simply Cambodian soldiers shooting into the air. However, they quickly got proven wrong. There are records of this phenomenon occurring for hundreds of years, and It’s kind of Thailand’s version of the “Loch Ness”

3. Thai Bonsai

Most people are aware with the Japanese bonsai trees. But Thailand also has it’s own tradition of miniature trees, which is called mai dat. Historic evidence shows that this tradition has been around already since the 13th century. Mai dat have their own style – there are not as tiny as the Japanese bonsai, but rather often bigger. Also, while with Japanese bonsai the aim is usually to make the small tree look at natural as possible, mai dat are supposed to look particularly well-trimmed. It is the aim of the mai dat artist to create a tree which is made according to human shapes. Thailand is a country which used to be covered almost completely in forest and swampland – it was a tropical wilderness. Only in recent decades have the forests been cleared and turned into farms and cities. Thus, imitating nature is not what Thais consider beautiful.

4. Demigod-King

It is a traditional Thai believe that the King is a human reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. All kings of the present dynasty, since the 18th century, have been called “Rama” – the current King being Rama XI. Rama was the name of a halfgod from the Indian epic Ramayana, which has it’s own Thai version, the Ramakien.

5. Can’t Touch This (Monk)

It is forbidden for woman to touch a Buddhist monk. Some women feel offended by this or think that this is because woman are considered unworthy, but this is not the case. It’s simply about avoiding to stirr up feelings that wouldn’t be appropriate for monks, feelings like sexual desire.

6. Bangkok Tram

There once was a tram in Bangkok. Nowadays, Bangkok is known for chronic traffic-jammeritis, and pretty much the only way to avoid being stuck in traffic is the ultra-modern skytrain (BTS) or the even newer subway (MRT). However, once upon a time, there was a tram running through Bangkok. The Tram network in Bangkok was established in 1894 and got closed down in 1968. Actually, even as early as 1888 there was a guy called Alfred John Loftus (Phraya Nithetcholthee) who operated a tramway line in Bangkok – drawn by horses! However, after a couple of changes of ownership, the horse-drawn wagons where replaced with electric wagons. New routes were opened and built, until in 1968 the last tramway in Bangkok was stoped.

You can still see some of the railways in the area of Thanon Charoenkrung Soi 39.

7. Thai-Tomboys

While almost everybody knows about the ladyboys in Thailand (and quiet a few men can tell stories of surprise when they found that the “woman” they were hitting on all night was actually not a woman at all), not so many people know that there are also a lot of tomboys: woman or girls who dress, act and look like men. Whole books have been written on Thai gender roles, and while some ladyboys and tomboys and gay feel that they are not treated equally, they are treated much more tolerantly than in probably any other country in the world. For example, I know of the case of a 15 year old boy who decided to be a ladyboy – and indeed dressed, talks and behaves like a woman now. However, schoolmates never made fun, teased or bullied him about it. This being a remote village and not modern Bangkok, it speaks a lot of the tolerance of Thai people towards people who decide to “be different”.

9. Long-nailed Fingernails of Men

This might be odd: but many (completely straight) men grow long fingernails. Most commonly is the nail of the small finger. Part of this is because in rural Thailand, long fingernails where indeed a sign of a certain social status: a farmer can’t grow long fingernails, because they will simply break during the hard work on the fields. In fact, in Isaan (North-East Thailand) it is even believed that a long nail at the small finger is lucky. Apart of that, many men also told me upon my question why they had a long fingernail that it is useful: it’s easy to scratch yourself with a long fingernail, and sometimes just useful to open something.

10. White Is Beautiful

While in the Northern hemisphere, many people would like a stronger tan and use every opportunity to lay in the sun and make their skin darker and more exotic, for Thai’s, white and bright skin is beautiful. In fact, Thai’s spend about 50 million US-Dollar a year on skin whitening products.

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