Culture and identity
Most of the population are Thai and there is a sizeable Chinese minority. Other groups include Malays, Khmers and mountain peoples such as the Karen and Semang. The official language is Thai, which also has several regional variations. English is becoming increasingly used in everyday life, particularly in tourist areas, and a number of Chinese languages, Malay, and regional languages are also spoken.
Great respect is paid to the monarchy and religious leaders and many beautiful festivals are held throughout the year. Classical dance and music, sculpture and architecture are the main art forms of Thailand.
The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is World Heritage listed and is considered the most important prehistoric settlement in South-East Asia. Dating from the 5th millennium BCE, the site features the earliest evidence of farming and manufacture in the region. Thailand’s other World Heritage cultural sites include the historic city of Ayutthaya and the town of Sukhothai.
The average life expectancy of people in Thailand is 74 years (males: 70, females: 77). About 11 babies per 1,000 births die before their first birthday. The best health facilities are concentrated in Bangkok; however, a network of health centres, hospitals and clinics exist in regional areas. Traditionally, malaria had been a major health problem in Thailand but over the past decade cases have declined by 42% and deaths from malaria have reduced by 88%. Almost all of the Thai population has access to an improved water supply and safe sanitation.
Religion and beliefs
About 94% of Thailand’s people are Buddhists. Buddhism emphasises the potential of the individual to attain nirvana or enlightenment through prayer, meditation and leading a good life. Thais are followers of the southern or Theravada school of Buddhism, also widely followed in Sri Lanka, Burma and Cambodia. The Malay people in the south follow Islam, while minority groups including the Vietnamese and hill people are mostly Christians.
Food and shelter
There are regional variations of Thai cuisine but rice is the staple food. Thai rice is highly regarded for its quality and is exported to many countries. Seafood, shredded meat and vegetables are cooked with the distinctive Thai flavours combining sour (lime), sweet (sugar), hot (chilli) and salty (fish sauce). Salads, sauces and fruit carving are other Thai specialities.
There is great variation in housing throughout Thailand from the modern, high-rise apartment buildings and single-storey brick and cement homes to traditional wooden stilt houses with a palm leaf roof.