When visiting Thailand, a very visible aspect of the culture that you will encounter is its main religion, Buddhism. Nearly 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist of the Theravada school (the oldest surviving school of Buddhism — conservative and close to the early Buddhism). The religion has been part of the Thai people since the beginning of its history, and it very much influences the culture. Just like you find churches everywhere in Rome, you will find Buddhist temples everywhere in Bangkok. You’re likely to see monks with their orange or red robes everywhere; that’s because becoming monks is considered as a rite of passage for young Thai men. When you interact with the Thais, you will notice their mannerisms that reflect the teachings of Buddha — gentle, respectful, and full of smile.
Before our visit to Bangkok, I learned about this aspect of the Thai culture from reading guidebooks and talking to my cousin Kristi who had some Thai friends and had been in Thailand before. I wondered if this might be somewhat ‘in your face’ and might make a visitor feel uncomfortable or out of place. On the contrary, I thought we had a good experience immersing ourselves in the culture, and it brought out an interest in me to learn more about the culture and appreciate its rich history. What’s sad is that many foreigners (‘farangs’ as the Thai would call them) come to Thailand to look for white sandy beaches or the party scene (or even the darker side — sex tourism) and leave the country completely ignorant of this wonderful aspect of the culture that is rooted in their beliefs.
The photo below was taken in front of a store near the Sao Ching Cha neighborhood of Bangkok. We walked to this neighborhood after visiting the Grand Palace. On the way there we passed a street lined with stores selling statues of Buddha, ranging from the small ones to life-size. I suppose people will purchase these statues for their homes.