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10 Unknown Facts About Thailand
1. Rainmaker King
A few years ago, rice farmers in Thailand experienced a period of severe drought. The king, who has been involved in helping Thailand’s rural population for many years, invented a method of making rain, for which he has also applied for an international patent. Airplanes are used to shoot silver iodide chemicals into the clouds in specific ways so they are stimulated to rain. This method has proven to be successful.
2. Mysterious fireballs
At certain times of the year, a strange phenomenon occurs that has not yet been scientifically explained. Well, there were scientific theories, however, scientists are still confused by this phenomenon and cannot properly explain it. Located in the northeastern part of Thailand, the locals have their own explanation for the mysterious fireballs coming out of the Mekong River: they say they are the fireballs of the legendary Naga Serpent.
Once a television crew tried to uncover a “hoax” and said the phenomenon was just Cambodian soldiers shooting in the air. However, they were quickly proven wrong. There are records of this phenomenon happening for hundreds of years, and it’s sort of the Thai version of “Loch Ness”.
3. Thai bonsai
Most people are aware of Japanese bonsai trees. But Thailand also has its own tradition of miniature trees, called mai dat. Historical evidence shows that this tradition has existed since the 13th century. Mai dat have their own style – they are not as small as Japanese bonsai, but often larger. Also, while with Japanese bonsai the goal is usually to make a small tree look as natural as possible, a mai dat should look especially well trimmed. The goal of the mai dat artist is to create wood that is made according to human forms. Thailand is a country that was once almost completely covered in forests and swamps – it was a tropical wilderness. Only in recent decades have forests been cleared and turned into farms and cities. So imitating nature is not what Thais consider beautiful.
The traditional Thai belief is that the King is the human reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. All kings of the current dynasty, since the 18th century, are called “Rama” – the current king is Rama XI. Rama was the name of a demigod from the Indian epic Ramayana, which has its own Thai version, Ramakien.
5. I Can’t Touch This (Monk)
Women are forbidden to touch a Buddhist monk. Some women feel offended by this or think it’s because women are considered unworthy, but that’s not the case. It is simply about avoiding arousing feelings that would not be appropriate for monks, feelings such as sexual desire.
6. Bangkok tram
There used to be a tram in Bangkok. Today, Bangkok is notorious for its chronic traffic jams, and almost the only way to avoid traffic jams is with the ultra-modern skytrain (BTS) or the newer subway (MRT). However, once upon a time, a tram ran through Bangkok. Bangkok’s tram network was established in 1894 and closed in 1968. In fact, back in 1888 there was a guy called Alfred John Loftus (Phraya Nithetcholthee) who ran the Bangkok tram line – pulled by horses! However, after several changes of ownership, the horse-drawn carriages were replaced by electric wagons. New routes were opened and built, until in 1968 the last tram in Bangkok was stopped.
You can still see some of the railways in the Thanon Charoenkrung Soi 39 area.
Although almost everyone knows about ladyboys in Thailand (and quietly a few men can tell stories of their surprise when they discovered that the “woman” they were banging all night wasn’t really a woman at all), few people know that there are also quite a few boys: women or girls who they dress, act and look like men. Whole books have been written about Thai gender roles, and while some ladyboys and tomboys and gays feel that they are not treated equally, they are treated much more tolerantly than in any other country in the world. For example, I know of a case of a 15-year-old boy who decided to be a ladyboy – and really dresses, talks and acts like a woman now. However, his classmates never made fun of him, teased him or bullied him because of it. Since this is a remote village and not modern Bangkok, it speaks volumes for the Thai’s tolerance for people who choose to “be different”.
9. Men’s nails with long nails
This might sound strange: but many (totally real) men grow long nails. Most often it is the nail of the little finger. Part of this is because in rural Thailand, long nails are really a sign of a certain social status: a farmer cannot grow long nails, because they will simply break during the hard work in the fields. In fact, in Isaan (Northeastern Thailand) it is even believed that a long fingernail is good luck. In addition, when I asked why they have a long nail, many men told me that it is useful: it is easy to scratch yourself with a long nail, and sometimes it is simply useful to open something.
10. White is beautiful
While in the Northern Hemisphere, many people want a stronger tan and take every opportunity to lie in the sun and make their skin darker and more exotic, because for Thais, white and fair skin is beautiful. In fact, Thais spend about US$50 million a year on skin whitening products.
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