Thailand is one of the many south east nations that have been very influenced by Indian culture, traditions and mythology. This was partly the result of direct contact with Indian settlers, but most significantly, it was brought about indirectly via the Indianised kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya, and Cambodia. The most prominent and important Indian contribution to the Land of the White Elephant, would perhaps be that of the introduction of Buddhism to the country. A whopping 94% of Thais adhere to Buddhism, and this fact can be traced back to the intrepid monks sent over by King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC.
Thai literature and drama draws great inspiration from Indian arts and legend. The Hindu epic of Ramayana is as popular in Thailand as it is in India. In fact, the city Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, 80 kms north of Bangkok, is simply a reworking of the name Ayodhya! The New Year festival Songkran is from the Sanskrit word Sankranti! The king of Thailand Vajiralongkorn is also styled as Rama X, as he is the tenth monarch of the Chakri dynasty. And the rituals of the royal family are extremely Indianized, to say the least. Closer inspections of the chants by the priests involved (who are called Brahmins) during a particular ceremony, have revealed that it is actually old Tamily poetry in praise of Shiva, written by a Nayanar saint!
Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonised. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire. As a result, the country remained a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers, Great Britain and France.
Interesting things to do on a visit to Thailand
If you ever wanted to learn Muay-Thai, well, you couldn’t pick a better spot. Whether it is for the superior quality of training or the sheer number of trainers or quite simply for the delicious food, Thailand is a hub for Muay-Thai enthusiasts around the globe.
The history of Muay-Thai can be traced to the middle of the 16th century. During the battles between the Burmese of the Konbaung Dynasty and Siam, the famous fighter Nai Khanomtom was captured in the year 1767. The Burmese knew of his expertise in hand-to-hand combat and gave him an opportunity to fight for his freedom. Soon after winning the match, he was freed by his captors and allowed to return to Siam. He was acknowledged as a hero, and his fighting style became known as Siamese-Style boxing, later to be known as Muay-Thai.
Muay Thai- A great self defence art form! Photo Courtesy: Muay Thai Scholar
Learn Rock Climbing
Rock Climbing is an experience to look forward to in Thailand. Travellers make a beeline to the vast rocky swathes along the coastline with the intention of learning Rock Climbing, spending exciting and adventurous weeks in the process. Southern Thailand — particularly Tonsai, Railay, and Koh Phi Phi — is home to some of the world’s best sport climbing. For the uninitiated, sport climbing is rock climbing on previously established routes that have permanent, dedicated anchors for safety; in traditional climbing, climbers must place removable protection as they scale the wall.
Looks like a great workout!
Visit all the temples you can!
Thailand has a bevy of temples to its name. There are an estimated 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand! Thai temple architecture, while sharing influences with other Southeast Asian styles, is also unique. Be it the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) in Bangkok, or the Wat Phu Khao Thong, (Golden Mountain Temple) built way back in 1387, these temples are a must-visit!
The stunning Wat Arun Temple in Bangkok. Photo Courtesy: Into Asia
Experience Thai festivals
The festival of Songkran is a wonderful way to indulge in local culture. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. In addition to visiting local temples, people flock to the streets to take part in wide-ranging water fights. The throwing of water has traditionally been a sign of respect and well-wishing, as revelers hope to wash away bad luck.
The super fun water festival! Photo Courtesy: Into Asia
Another attractive festival is the Phi Ta Khon, an annual celebration based on an ancient tale about Buddha’s reincarnation. The Buddha took a long journey and was presumed dead by his followers. When he returned, the celebrations were so wild they woke the dead.
In a re-enactment of the story, the men of Dan Sai dress as masked spirits, wearing colourful, long-trailing costumes made from strips of cloth sewn together.
The fascinating Phi Ta Khon Festival. Photo Courtesy: Asia Tour Online
Places of Historical importance in Thailand
The Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom is the oldest Buddhist structure in Thailand. The history of the chedi goes back to the time when Buddhism was introduced in South East Asian countries, including Thailand. The monks sent by Ashoka, brought with them relics of the Buddha that have been enshrined into the Phra Pathom Chedi.
The lovely Phra Pathom Chedi. Photo Courtesy: Tourist Guide Thailand
The Khmer monuments
Around 10 centuries ago when the Khmer empire controlled much of present day Thailand, a large number of Khmer temples were built, many of which remain in a well preserved state today.
Ancient highways were built to connect Angkor, the center of the Khmer empire, with other parts of the empire. Along one of these roads from Angkor to Phimai are three of the most impressive and best preserved Khmer temples in Thailand, namely Phanom Rung, Muang Tum and Phimai.
The majestic Phanom Rung. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia
The Ayutthaya Historical Park
This comprises of the ruins of temples and palaces of the capital of the ancient Ayutthaya Kingdom. The park is located on an island surrounded by three rivers where the old capital used to be. It promises to be a delightful visit!
The ancient temples of Aytthaya Park. Photo Courtesy: Easybook
So, pack your backs, history-lovers and travel-geeks, and head on down to Thailand for the beautiful beaches, enthralling festivals and cultural attractions that promise to leave you wanting to stay on for much longer!