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10 Fascinating “Factoids” about Thailand

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By Imtiaz Muqbil,
Executive Editor,

Visitors to Thailand never cease to be bewildered by the sights and sounds of a seemingly confusing, chaotic, complex, and often contradictory country. Behind the scenes, fascinating facts abound. Here are samples of just 10 such “factoids”:


Thailand’s beloved monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 85, has reigned since 1946, making him the world’s longest-serving head of state. The name Thailand means Land of the Free. The country was known as Siam until 1939.


Thai farmers produce some of the finest rice in the world. Northeastern Thailand is home to the cream of the crop, Hom Mali Rice, which represents about one-fourth of Thai rice exports. When cooked, the well-polished, medium-grain Hom Mali Rice is silky smooth and pure white, like jasmine, with a tender, somewhat sticky texture and a unique fragrance similar to that of the jasmine flower. Brown Hom Mali jasmine rice, which has not gone through the final polishing stage and thus retains its nutritional bran coating, also is available. Hom Mali is the only indigenous rice in the world with a natural fragrance. Though several other countries have tried to grow this variety, none has succeeded in preserving its unique aroma, texture, and taste.


Slavery was abolished in Thailand in 1905 by the late King Chulalongkorn. In the beginning of his reign, more than a third of the Thai population were slaves. This, because children of slaves also became slaves, confining entire families to a life-time of slavery. Male and females were priced according to their age. The act introduced by King Chulalongkorn made slave-trading a crime, and for all current slaves, the masters had to reduce their prices to 1 baht per month until their debt was down to zero.


The name “Bangkok” is the name of district where the city was originally founded. But its Thai name, “Krung Thep” is an abbreviated name of the city. Its full name is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest name of a place: Krungthep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yutthaya Maha Dilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Maha Sathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakka Thattiya Witsanu Kam Prasit. This is what it means: “The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city 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 Vihnukarn”.


Wat Pathom Chedi, in the province of Nakhon Pathom, just 56 kilometres west of Bangkok, houses the biggest chedi in Thailand. It is the first religious landmark that signified the introduction of Buddhism to Thailand. It was built in the reign of Rama King IV in the year 1853 to replace the old one. The old chedi is assumed to be from the early years of the fourth Buddhist century, due to its resemblance to the Indian Sanchi Chedi, which was built in the reign of King Asoka Maharaja. The new chedi took 17 years to complete and was finished in the reign of King Rama V, 1870. The height is 120.5 meters and the perimeter is 233 meters. Nakhon Pathom town has a number of attractions that make it a fine day trip from Bangkok.


Thai, the official national language, is classified by linguists as belonging to a Chinese-Thai branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. It is a tonal language, uninflected, and predominantly monosyllabic. Most polysyllabic words have been borrowed, mainly from Khmer, Pali, or Sanskrit. King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai created the first Thai alphabet in 1283, basing it on Mon and Khmer scripts which, in turn, were derived from a South Indian script. With minor modifications – particularly individual character evolution into more refined shapes – Ramkamhaeng’s alphabet survived intact through the centuries so that the modern Thai can read 13th century inscriptions as easily as could his ancestors.


Located in Chiang Mai Province, Doi Inthanon National Park encompasses the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, as well as several lesser summits. The doi (mountain) is largely a granite batholith intruding a southerly extension of the Shan Hills range and forming the divide between the Nam Mae Ping river to the east and the Nam Mae Chaem river to the west. Lower elevations in the most easterly part of the park are limestone formations and contain a number of caves. The main attractions are spread over a distance of 40 kilometers.


The world’s smallest mammal, the Craseonycteris thonglongyai (the bumblebee bat), is found in Thailand. They are found in a small area along the Khwae Noi River (‘River Kwai’), in Sai Yok National Park and adjacent areas, Kanchanaburi Province, western Thailand. There are thought to be around 2,000 bats remaining in Thailand.


More than 1,500 species of orchids grow wild in Thai forests. Thailand is the world’s number one orchid exporter. Orchids require special climatic features and growing conditions for proper growth and development of the flowers. Thailand fulfills all the conditions completely. Thailand orchids are more beautiful and have an extended longevity compared to other flowers.


The Bridge Over the River Kwai is one of Thailand’s most famous sights, thanks to several motion pictures and books highlighting its role in World War II. Located in Kanchanaburi province, about 130km west of Bangkok, the black iron bridge was brought from Java by the Japanese supervision by Allied prisoner-of-war labor as part of the Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma. Still in use today, the bridge was the target of frequent Allied bombing raids during World War II and was rebuilt after the war ended. The curved spans of the bridge are the original sections. A daily train still follows the historical route from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok Railway Station.


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