Known as the “Land of Smiles”, Thailand is a developing nation that has retained its traditional history over the years while absorbing many of the modern aspects of Western influences. Thailand is a mecca for tourism, where visitors flock to lounge on white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters in the south, trek through jungle terrain and explore seven-tiered waterfalls in the north, and learn the essence of the Thai lifestyle while challenging tolerance for spicy food in the east.
Evidence of Thailand’s monarchy and Buddhist values are reflected in the country’s glimmering and grandiose palaces and temples. Images of the royal family can be seen on billboards at every street corner and sold in many family-owned shops and markets. A coup in 1938 transitioned “Siam” from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, and the country’s new namesake officially became “Thailand”. The country wavered between democracy and military-led government until the first Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party, Chuan Leekpai, was elected in 1992. Sharing borders with Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia, Thailand has a rich culture and broad history that makes it a great choice for study abroad students.
The heart of Thailand is Bangkok, the nation’s bustling capital, and home to a number of universities and landmarks alike. With a population of 10 million, Bangkok is a whirlwind of sensory indulgences: street vendors searing meat skewers, whizzing motorcycles, and cheerful faces can be found wherever you turn. Locals attend Muay Thai boxing, the pride of Thai sportsmanship, in the evening after enjoying a traditional Thai meal of meat, rice, and vegetables, or Som Tam, Thai papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts. Offerings of rice are made to Buddhist monks in the mornings to earn “merit”, a form of universal karma that is very important to accrue during a Thai Buddhist’s lifetime.
Thais also hold high regard to those seeking higher education, and university uniforms are worn by students both in an out of the classroom, embellished with university-specific pins and buttons. Students often visit important historical sites such as the Grand Palace, the “Reclining Buddha Temple” Wat Pho, Lumpini Park, the Chao Praya River and the giant swing at the Wat Suthat Temple.
The vast cultural landscape can be found in many regions of Thailand, with indigenous populations scattered about the Thai countryside. The Hmong, Karen, Yi, and the Mon-Khmer peoples are indigenous hill tribes that have made the mountainous regions of Thailand their home. Traveling and experiencing the many regions of Thailand provides a fulfilling and holistic exposure to Southeast Asia. Each region maintains its own unique flavor and culture, and provides ample avenues of exploration for students interested in expanding their world knowledge.