1. In Thailand, the king is absolutely revered. One can be jailed for criticizing him or defacing his image (including money, all of which includes his likeness). Even though Thailand is a monarchy, there are also elections for government offices.
2. No one is permitted to touch the king or queen except the leader of a foreign state, a doctor or perhaps his barber. A few generations ago, one of the wives of a Thai king actually drowned because she could not swim and none of the nearby people were allowed to help her to safety. Violators of this rule can be put to death!
3. Each day of the week is assigned a certain color. The current king was born on a Monday and henceforth yellow is the royal color. Yellow pictures and posters with the king’s likeness are everywhere!
4. If you have to go to the bathroom (#1), it is referred to as “shooting a rabbit” for a man and “picking a flower” for a woman. If it’s more than that (#2), it’s “shooting a tiger” and “picking a very beautiful flower”, respectively.
5. The traffic in Bangkok is unbelievably bad, to be avoided at all costs. Thankfully, parts of the city are well-served by the subway and Sky Train (monorail).
6. There are stray dogs and cats everywhere. Nearly all, about 98%, of the population are Buddhists and the religion promotes peace toward the animals. They are generally looked after by the community, but not necessarily owned.
7. There are multiple calendar systems in use by the Thai people. According to our guide, at least in the Northern areas, many people (of our generation) use the Buddhist calendar. Older people will refer to the lunar calendar, while the younger set may be more used to the Western calendar. So be careful when you ask “what’s the date?”
8. There are 7-11s everywhere, because you certainly don’t want to have to walk too far for a cold one! Someone said that there are more 7-11s in Bangkok than McDonald’s in the entire world!
9. Speaking of McDonald’s, don’t think about ordering an apple or cherry pie for dessert. Their flavors are ham & egg, pineapple and corn. Yuck.
10. Like Chinese, the Thai language is a tonal one. There are six tones.
11. Most Thai people, if they own a home, will put a small “spirit house” on the grounds. This is because when their house was built, the spirits on the land were displaced and restless. The “spirit house”, together with food offerings, provides a home for the ghosts.
12. Schooling up through ninth grade is provided for free. The remaining years of high school are fee-based, as it further education after that.
13. People actually refer to this time of year as “the cold season”, even though the temperatures are generally 85-95 degrees. It will be 5-15 degrees hotter in the summer time. On top of the heat, it’s humid and I think it’s very uncomfortable.
14. Russians and Chinese are flocking here, especially to Phuket, in droves. No doubt some of the purchases of property by those visitors are with hot, corrupt money.
15. In the towns and cities, there are a lot of sidewalk street carts providing things like fresh juice, fried noodles or maybe even a small cafe serving just one table of customers.The streets are always bustling, with sights and smells that overwhelm the senses.
16. There are a lot of knock-offs and counterfeit goods for sale, for example $20 North Face backpacks and $1.50 DVDs.
17. Although there are still a LOT of rice fields, we heard that some are being discontinued in favor of planting corn and tobacco for export.
18. Thailand is probably the biggest tourist destination in Asia, with good reason, as it’s inexpensive, with lots to see and do, and the people are (generally) really friendly.
19. There is a very wide range of tropical fruits in Thailand, including a few I had never had before. One fruit, Mangosteens (I know this fruit, although I rarely see it in the USA), have become such a popular export item that locals are turning away from it due to cost.
20. Shoes must be removed prior to entering a house, a school and sometimes our accommodation, depending on the proprietor. I usually carried mine up the stairs, concerned that something might happen to one of our few pairs of shoes. While we didn’t lose any shoes, there is a brisk secondary market in footwear.