Spoken and written Thai remain largely
incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely
understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial
language. English and other European languages are spoken in most hotels,
shops and restaurants, in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road
and street signs are found nation-wide.
Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90% of all Thais, and casts
strong influences on daily life. Buddhism first appeared in Thailand during
the 3rd Century B.C. at Nakhon Pathom, site of the world's tallest Buddhist
monument, after the Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka (267-227 B.C.) despatched
missionaries to Southeast Asia to propagate the newly established faith.
Besides moulding morality, providing social cohesion and offering spiritual
succour, Buddhism provided incomparable artistic impetus. In common with
medieval European cathedrals, Thailand's innumerable multiroofed temples
inspired major artistic creation. Another reason for Buddhism's strength is
that there are few Thai Buddhist families in which at least one male member
has not studied the Buddha's teachings in a monastery. It has long been a
custom for Buddhist males over twenty, once in their lifetimes, to be
ordained for a period ranging from s days to a months. This usually occurs
daring the annual Rains Retreat, a a-month period during the Rains Season
when all monks forego travel and stay inside their monasteries. Besides
sustaining monastic communities, Thai temples have traditionally served
other purposes – – as the village hostelry, village news, employment and
information agency, a school, hospital, dispensary and community centre – –
to give them vital roles in Thai society. The Thais have always subscribed
to the ideal of religious freedom. Thus sizeable minorities of Muslims,
Christians, Hindus and Sikhs freely pursue their respective faiths.
There are thousands of temples, or wat, in Thailand.
Some of these vary in style and size but according to the principles of
Buddhist architecture, the structures within a temple should include a
bot, or ubosot, for religious ceremonies such as ordinations; a wihan to
house various Buddha images and for laypersons to take part in religious
services; a Sala kanparien which is a large meeting hall which is not
only used for religious services but also sometimes as a social or civic
center; a mondop for storing the Buddhist scriptures; chedi for housing
sacred relics or images; a ho rakang, or belfry, to sound the time for
ceremonies, prayers, etc. and kuti where the monks live. Some may also
have a library, a crematorium and a school.