International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987

Culture Corner

Thai Culture

The celestial world is a close confidant in this Buddhist nation, where religious devotion is a colourful and ubiquitous spectacle. Gleaming temples and golden Buddhas frame both the rural and modern landscape with exuberance. Ancient banyan trees are ceremoniously wrapped in sacred cloth to honour the resident spirits; fortune-bringing shrines decorate humble noodle houses as well as monumental malls, while garland-festooned dashboards ward off traffic accidents. The Thai's ongoing dialogue with the divine anchors the day-to-day chaos to a solid base of tranquility.

Thai cuisine expresses the fundamental aspects of Thai culture: it is generous and warm, outgoing and nuanced, while also refreshing and relaxing. Even more, it is much more delicious in its native setting! Each Thai dish relies on fresh and local ingredients - from pungent lemongrass and searing chillies to plump seafood and crispy fried chicken. With a tropical abundance, a varied national menu is built around the four fundamental flavours: spicy, sweet, salty, and sour.

The country is a constitutional monarchy, headed by King Rama IX, the ninth king of the House of Chakri Having reigned since 1946, it is the world's longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king of Thailand is titled Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Adherent of Buddhism, and Upholder of Religions.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Most of Bangkok's must-sees are concentrated in the historical center, on the island of Rattanakosin, right by the Chao Pharaya River. This remarkable "Old City" area not only has gorgeous temples, palaces and monuments, but also is a vivid display of the history, religion and culture of the Thai people. There are hundreds of temples in Bangkok, and here are some of the most famous ones.

The Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew
Out of the hundreds of temples in Bangkok, the spectacular Grand Palace, along with its Wat Phra Kaew temple, is a must-see monument for visitors from all over the world. Located on the banks of the Chao Pharaya River, this complex of buildings has been the seat of power for the ruling Chakri Dynasty for more than 200 years, and now is a center of several royal ceremonies and state functions. Aside from housing Wat Phra Kaew (Thailand's most revered and respected temple), the palace walls are also home to the Emerald Buddha, a statue made of green jasper, and considered one of the most sacred images of the Buddha in Thailand.

Wat Pho
Located right next to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is one of the most visited temples in Bangkok. As the largest, and technically the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho is famous for its 45 meter-long, 15 meter-high reclining Buddha image, which is designed to illustrate the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. Within Wat Pho, students can also find close to 1,000 Buddha images and 91 chedis (stupas), as well as the first Thai massage school, where Thai massage is taught by the Traditional Medical Practitioners Association Center.

Wat Arun
Situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, on the opposite side of the Grand Palace, students can easily access and visit the most iconic temple of Bangkok, Wat Arun, via ferry to the Maharaj pier. Wat Arun, often referred to as the Temple of Dawn, is named after Aruna, the Hindu God of Dawn. The unique architectural structure of Wat Arun separates it from the others. It consists of a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers, all incrusted with faience from plates and pottery works. Students can climb up the central tower and enjoy a stunning view of the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace, right across the river.

Erawan Museum
When visiting Samut Prakan's Erawan Museum, a huge three-headed elephant statue, standing upon an equally gargantuan pedestal is the first, and last thing every visitor sees. It's a splendid, towering beast: 250 tons in weight, 29 metres high, 39 metres long, and cast in a pure green-hued copper. From conception to completion, it took almost ten years to construct. With a proud, war-like demeanor and trunks the size of ancient Banyan Trees, this is an epic image of Hindu mythology's Airavata (otherwise known as Erawan) that visitors will never forget.

Cultural Activities

The National Museum
As the largest museum in Southeast Asia, the Bangkok National Museum was established in 1874, initially to store a private collection of antiquities of the royal family, but later expanded to contain exhibits covering Thai history and archaeological remains.

Siam Square
While Rattanakosin represents the old Thailand, with its intricate history and significance to Thai culture, Siam Square exemplifies the modern and trendy Thailand of today, with its shops, cafes, restaurants, bookshops, luxury malls and entertainment that attracts university students and young professionals alike. Located in the most central neighborhood of Bangkok, Siam Square can be easily accessed by the BTS Skytrain.

(JJ) Weekend Market
Chatuchak is one of the 50 districts in Bangkok, located in the north of the city. The most popular activity in Chatuchak district is definitely the Weekend Market, also known as J.J., the largest market in Thailand, covering over 35 acres. The Weekend Market has more than 8,000 vendors selling everything you can think of, in both indoor and outdoor markets. After shopping, the Chatuchak Park complex just north of the Market is worth visiting for a relaxing break.

Museum of Siam
The museum tells Thailand's story using a variety of modern techniques. Exhibits illustrate the relationship between centuries of habitation in this region, as well as the social, historical and political developments over those years. This energetic museum's exhibits encourage visitors to investigate, play and discover Thailand in a fun and interactive way.

Asiatique - The Riverfront
During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, Asian countries were under threat of invasion from European superpowers. With great foresight, King Chulalongkorn took the initiative to raise Siam to the level of developed countries, while also deciding to establish close relations with Denmark. Included in this process was the construction of a pier belonging to the East Asiatic Company, a Danish company.

This pier is a historic sight, displaying Thailand's history of international trade between the Kingdom of Siam (the former name of Thailand) and European nations, which were prominent in Siam maintaining the sovereignty and independence it enjoys today. The area once occupied by the East Asiatic Company has been restored to its original glory under the name Asiatique, The Riverfront. An example of a rapidly modernizing Asia, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it is quickly becoming Bangkok's trendiest landmark.

The area includes interesting shops, fine dining, cabaret shows, and the famous Joe Louis Puppet theatre. Find your way to Asiatique, The Riverfront, and explore history and entertainment, side-by-side.

Cultural Immersion

Volunteering Opportunities
While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Bangkok can work with the ISA Bangkok staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Bangkok staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Bangkok, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Phrases



Pom - I (male) / Di Chan - I (female)

Khun- You

Sawatdee (krab/ka) - Hello

Sawatdee (krab/ka) - Hello

Sabai dee Mai (krab/ka) -How are you?

Sabai dee (krab/kah) - Fine

Khob Khun (krab/ka) Thank you

Mai pen rai– never mind/ no problem


Mai chai- No

Dai –Can

Mai dai – Cannot

Pood Thai Dai – Can Speak Thai

Pood Thai Mai Dai – Can't speak Thai

Kow Jai Mai? - do you understand

Mai Kow Jai – Don't Understand

TaoRai - How much?

Pang - expensive / Mai Pang - not expensive

Aow – I want/ I'll take

Mai Aow - I don't want it

lot daimai - can you lower the price

Dai – can /Mai dai - cannot

On-line Dictionary Resource

Listening & Speaking: Check out some different Thai podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.

Beware of translation websites...much can be lost in translation!