Tourism and Thailand

Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia and possibly the world. Mass tourism to Thailand started in the 1960s when American soldiers fighting in Vietnam would travel there for their R & R (Rest and Recreation).

Due to Thailand relaxing their sex laws to cater to the needs of those American soldiers, it then became known as the sex tourism capital of the world, especially Bangkok the nation’s capital.

Although still used by some for sex tourism, today most of its visitors are in search of its many beautiful beaches and tropical islands. Thailand has 1430 small islands, many of which are ideal as tropical get-a-ways, with isolated sandy beaches and a tranquility rarely found elsewhere.

Thailand is fortunate to have two coastlines, one with the Andaman Sea and one with the Gulf of Thailand, both with adorable beaches exactly suited to tourism.

It has to be said though that one of the factors that helps to draw tourists to the county in such high numbers, is the people who are known for their friendliness and hospitality. This friendliness and hospitality can best be experienced if, before arriving, you take some time to learn a little of their language.

The Thai people are a proud people, with good reason as Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that never became under any European rule, even during Europe’s years of building Empires.
They are also proud of their King who is the longest ruling monarch in the world and has been on the throne and loved by his people since 1946. Lastly the Thai people are proud of their language which, although thought to have originated in China and having words shared with older languages, is unique to Thailand.

Like some other languages in Southeast Asia and the Chinese language itself, Thai is a tonal language which is a language which allows the same words to have different meanings is voiced in a different tone. There are 5 different tones used in Thai and in order to allow the written word to take these tones into account, there are 4 different tone markings.

Some say that Thai sounds very similar to Lao but the two are written differently and so are therefore different, making Thai unique. As the Thai people are proud of their language, they are always pleased to hear a foreigner speak it, even if they speak it badly.

As a friendly people they will openly display their pleasure at you attempting their language and in many of the tourist areas, the shopkeepers and stall owners will even have a special price for Thai speakers.

There is little doubt that for the English or any westerner, the Thai language with its different tones, may be difficult to learn but the dividends that can be received for doing so will certainly make up for any effort you expended in learning it. Not only could you save money but you will make friends far more easily.

Read to Speak Thai

Reading the Thai language, known as Standard Thai, is an important part of the language acquisition, and simply should not be overlooked in your studies. By reading the novels, newspapers, menus, and magazines of the region, you get a complete feel for the language, a feel for the country, and work toward total immersion and complete understanding of this amazing language.

Going to Thailand with a deep understanding and appreciation of this language will enhance your trips to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep the Khaosan Road, Wat Chedi Luang, Golden Buddha, and many other cultural and historical spots. You will know whether you like your food phetL (spicy) or maiF phetL (mild). And the knowledge gained from reading Thai as often as you can, will help you to know if your taxi Bangkok is charging you the correct fee or if he is over-charging you for your ride from the airport. Beyond these practical but important reasons to learn to read Thai, there are the two important impacts of actually learning the language fully and appreciating and respecting the Thai language.

Learning the Language
Because the Thai language is 100 percent tonal and has quirky vowels and consonants, learning to read the language and also reading the language out loud will help you to become a master of it easier and quicker. You should look at instructional readings, as well as reading for pleasure. Make sure to read Thai poetry, some of the most beautiful in the world, past and present. Some poets are Chit Phumisak, Narai, and Angkarn Kalayanapong.

Different Thai specialty Internet sites recommend many books and authors to enhance this reading experience, but all of them love and recommend the Benjawan Poomsan Becker Series. The excellent thing about this series is that you can start with the beginner book, next move to the intermediate one, and then finish with the advanced version of the series. I did a quick search online and found that each of the books were readily available at most major online bookstores for less than $10.00 each. This is the set that I found most helpful when I tackled the Thai language.

Appreciating the Language
Do not think that you should only read books that are instructional such as the Becker Series. If you delve into the magazines, novels, and newspapers of the country, you will appreciate and better understand the country of Thailand. You can learn about the singer BamBam, the TV actor Chai Romruen, artist, comedian, and writer Udom Taephanit, Tao Master Mantak Chia, royal poet Sunthorn Phu, former king Bhumibol Adulyadej, or army general Pallop Pinamanee. You can also discover about such pressing and serious issues such as rampant Thai water pollution, how to prevent Thai deforestation, and the alarming price spike in one of the country’s greatest commodities, rice.

By reading about Thailand in the Thai language, you will gain a better appreciation of this exotic and upcoming land. This appreciation will bolster your full and complete mastery of the Thai language and Thailand.

Thailand as a Holiday Destination

Thailand’s beginnings as a destination for foreign visitors probably started when American soldiers fighting in Vietnam, would use Thailand, and its capital Bangkok in particular, as their main R & R destination. The needs of these soldiers getting a break from the fighting, soon changed the name, among the soldiers, from R & R (Rest and Recuperation) to I & I (Intoxication and Intercourse).

To cater to the soldier’s more basic needs, Thailand relaxed its laws on prostitution which was instrumental in Bangkok becoming known as the sex capital of the world. Although for a time, Thailand received a large chunk of the sex tourism industry, by the 80s and 90s, news of Thailand’s excellent beaches were also starting to affect the tourism industry and sex tourism started to be replaced by more traditional tourists seeking the sun and sands in exotic surroundings that only Southeast Asia could provide.

Although most tourists today do spend time away from the beaches to visit Bangkok, it is for other reasons than sex. As the nation’s capital, Bangkok has much to offer foreign tourists but perhaps most popular among the city’s destinations are the impressive Buddhist Temples.

Buddhism is the religion of choice for 95% of Thais and the religions many statues of Buddha, some made of old, are like a magnet for tourists. Thailand has been blessed with 1430 islands which each look like exotic paradises and some of which are exactly that.

These islands have become perhaps Thailand’s biggest draw for current tourism and with so many islands still left unvisited, may be the attraction for many more years to come.
As Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized by Europeans, it has never had a European language as its official language, unlike its neighbors.

However, since tourism has been prevalent in one form or another since the 1960s, many Thais in the more popular areas to be visited, have learned other languages in order to cater to the visitors wishes.
This means that for most foreign tourists visiting Thailand, there is not an essential need to learn Thai but, to get the full experience of what Thailand and its people can offer, visitors should at least try and learn a few phrases or more.

One very useful website which describes how to learn thai has proven to be extremely popular.

There are three things that the Thai are particularly proud of; their history, their King and their language. Their history, dating back to when the country was known to the world as Siam, is rich in culture. Its King, King Rama 1X, is the world’s longest ruling monarch having come to the throne in 1946, earlier than even the UKs Queen Elizabeth 11.

Their language, which is thought to have been brought over from China around the 6th century, is unique in so far as although it sounds like Lao, has its own script. The Thai language is a particularly hard language to transcribe into English because like Chinese, it is a tonal language and therefore has tonal notifications in its script.

Thailand, a Country with Many Dialects

Although Thailand has an official Thai language, only 20 million of the population of 67 million, know or at least use the official dialect. Thai has many dialects but the official one, the one used for formal occasions, is the one from central Thailand.

As with the Vietnamese and Chinese languages, Thai is a tonal language which means that the same words can have different meanings, if used in different tones. 50% of the Thai language words originated from Sanskrit, Pali or Old Khmer and although it sounds very similar to the Laos language, the two languages have different scripts.

The Thai language consists of 44 consonants and 18 vowels with 4 tonal markings which have made it very difficult to rewrite in English and even today there are different opinions on the correct translation.

Being a tonal language Thai can give westerners problems in learning to speak it however, learning to read it can be even more difficult, mainly because, in Thai writings, no spaces are placed between words. Fortunately for foreign tourists though, road signs are written in both Thai and English and of course, menus and other information in the more popular tourist areas are also written in English as well as Thai.

If you are wondering what dialects the rest of the 67 million Thais speak, the answer is many different dialects, examples of which include; 20 million people in the North of the country speak the Isan (Northeastern Thai) dialect which has many of the old Siamese Thai influences.

The Dambro dialect is spoken by 4.5 million people in the South of the country and Phu Thai is spoken in the Nakhon Phanom Province by half a million people along with 300,000 in Laos and Vietnam. Many other dialects are used by fewer numbers in other areas of the country to make up the rest of the population.

Of course, as a tourist in Thailand, it will be the official or standard Thai language which you will come across most but if you venture out of the popular tourist areas, you may trace the differences in the language. Knowing that there are so many different dialects used in the country though, should not put you off from trying to learn the official Thai before you make a visit to the country as it can be beneficial in helping you make friends and could even save you a little money.

The Thai are a friendly people who realize the problems have with their language and so appreciate it when someone goes to the trouble of at least trying to learn it, forgiving them some of the mistakes they may make.

It is particularly beneficial to know Thai when haggling over prices and the Thai actually have what they call a Thai speaker’s price, which could differ quite considerably from the tourist price for something. Although anyone should try and learn any language before visiting a country, it is especially appreciated in Thai, more so than in most other countries.