Discover Thailand’s Local Life and Culture
Mountains in the north, and dreamlike islands in the south – visit Thailand for your next holiday and escape into a country that will surpass all your expectations!
Thailand is a magical getaway. It is the ideal destination for a vacation whether with family, a special someone, or your best buddies. Vibrant culture, diverse geography, and welcoming locals make it your go to destination for a quick vacation. And yes, there is so much to explore, one trip won’t cover it all!
Thailand’s history and culture reflect in its exotic street food, the breath-taking temples, and incredibly photogenic turquoise lagoons. If this doesn’t draw your attention, take your pick from the party islands and scuba-diving prime spots to the beaches’ hidden gems and yoga getaways.
Before you create your to-do list, have a quick read of Thailand’s local life and culture:
- Meditation in Thailand
Meditation is an integral part of Thai culture. From meditating at home to guided meditations at centers and Buddhist temples, you must experience meditation in Thailand on your trip. Take a journey inwards to calm your mind and find peace and relaxation on your vacation. Every region in Thailand, offers a myriad set of meditation experiences that you can opt for. From 3 days to 22 days and even monthly programs, Thailand has a plethora of options for meditation.
Try a unique experience of floating while you meditate at Bangkok Flotation Discovery Experience. Where individual dream pods are set up in your private suite filled with warm water and Epsom salts. This floating claims to activate relaxation and offers a deep meditative state for 90 minutes free of gravity and a sense of touch! It is one of the most unique meditation experiences in Thailand.
Wat Suan Mokkh
Prefer something more conventional? Visit Wat Suan Mokkh for a 10-day silent retreat, Wat Pah Nanachat to live like a monk and Wat Khao Tham for mindful meditation sessions. If you plan to stay, get ready for a 4 am wake up call, with group meditation, chanting and doing chores around the temple.
Opt for luxury retreat stays resorts like the Kamalaya in Koh Samui where you can experience authentic Thai Spa, and health treatments. Or immerse yourself in Yoga at Jungle Yoga in Khao Sok, Surat Thani. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand too have several meditation retreats that help relieve stress, improve health with nutritious meals and aromatherapy sessions.
- Explore Thailand through community Tourism
A true Thai experience is exploring Thailand through Community Tourism. Community Tourism is all about living like locals and discovering local Thai culture through rich experiences. Visit community-based tourist attractions like the Ban Khwai – Buffalo Village in Chiang Mai. The locals introduce you to rice – cultivating processes, a farmer’s lifestyle and take you for a visit to Buffalo houses.
Ban Khwai Village
Head to LopBuri – the city of monkeys, where you can learn how local Thai’s grow high-quality organic food. Maybe take a ride down the river basin in a bamboo river raft.
Living in Thailand as locals do encourages a deep learning of the Thai way of life and uplifts local communities. Locals welcome tourists, happily inviting them to their homes for traditional home-cooked meals. Community tourism helps preserve the culture and scenic nature of Thailand.
Several local communities such as the Chong Changtune Ecotourism Community in Trat province encourage tourists to explore the village and bathe in white mud with special relaxing massages. Local villages in northern Thailand teach handicrafts and local art to tourists. Fishing villages in the far north happily escort tourists into mangrove jungles to see wildlife, go fishing for crabs, which is a unique and amazing experience.
- Live the rural, authentic Thai life with Northern Tribes
Northern Thailand shares its borders with Myanmar and Laos and as a result several tribes and minority groups settled in northern Thailand high up in the hills.
They are thus known as the hill tribes of Thailand and visiting these tribes is an excellent experience. The key hill tribes of northern Thailand are Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Mien, and Palaung – each with cultures and traditions of their own.
Visit the local Karen tribes who wear the brass rings in their neck to give an illusion of longer necks. And yes they are happy to share the history behind it. Living dominantly in Mae Hong Son, the Karen tribes live in bamboo stilt houses and work actively in their farms. Take pictures alongside with the women of the village, listen to their stories and watch them weave stunning baskets.
Hill tribes are also infamous for their silver jewellery crafting skills. Each of the hill tribes have a unique skill in making silver jewellery pieces which are exported across the globe. Intricate carving, hammered textures and stunning designs will have you buying at least a few jewellery pieces for your collection.
Spend time with the Akha tribe and Hmong tribe learning their ways of traditional Thai cooking and way of life. Learn the heritage art forms of dyeing cotton fabrics and weaving scarves in local villages. Living with the Thai tribes is probably one of the best ways to experience the local life and culture of northern Thailand.
- Thai Food and its Diversity –
Thai’s are very passionate about their food. And every region of Thailand has a signature dish. Every region has its own unique twist to common dishes as well as their own seasonal dishes. Local cultures, sharing borders, climates and mix of ethnic groups determine flavours of dishes and how they are cooked.
Northern Thailand being landlocked doesn’t have much seafood or coconuts. A major part of their protein comes from pork, buffalo meat and chicken. This makes the food in north broth- based, steamed and soupy rather than a thick curry. Local Thais in the north love their ginger-garlic and lemongrass infused wholesome broths with sticky rice. Some of the dishes you must try in the north are Sai ua – northern Thai sausage in Chiang Mai, Nam Prik Num – green chilli dipping sauce and Som Tum – papaya salad. Enjoy delicious coffee and tea and a variety of berries, litchis, just some of the most popular crops locally grown.
While southern Thailand will offer you a different food journey altogether. Seafood lovers get ready to indulge in a variety of fish in coconut flavours. Most mains in southern Thailand are dominated by thick gravies rich in coconut flavour. And spicy! Southern Thailand food is spicy, hot and rich.
Definitely try the Gaeng Keow Wan Gai – Chicken Green Curry when in southern Thailand and Khao Soi. Available at every restaurant and street food joint, both these dishes are simply mouth-watering.
Central Thailand being in close proximity too enjoys similar dishes. Both regions eat their main dishes with fragrant jasmine rice. With the royal family living in central Thailand, much of the delicacies are inspired by food for the royalty. Such as the bird dumpling – Kanom Jeeb Nok– earlier reserved for royalty, today it is a dish you absolutely must try at the local restaurants. It looks pretty, comes in sweet and savoury versions and tastes divine too.
Don’t think you’ll travel to all the regions? Fret not, Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya – most metro cities offer you a wide array of local Thai cuisines to try.
- Honouring the Monks with food offerings
One of life’s most enriching local experiences in Thailand is offering alms to the monks. Part of the Indian culture too, local Thais firmly believe in offering alms in the form of food to Buddhist monks. Buddhism is the key religion followed in Thailand and offering food to monks is an important part of the religion. This ritual is practiced by several families almost every day, where food is cooked specially as an offering to the monks for the next morning.
It is believed that offering food to the monks brings your good karma for all your past bad deeds.
You can engage in this activity with the help of a local tour guide. Ensure you are respectful, offering the food in the bowl with a smile, while standing a little away. No one is allowed to touch the monks at all while offering food.
Monks leave their homes and families to study the religious beliefs of Buddhism. Every male member in the family must become a monk at some point of time in life – for it is considered an honour in the family. Monks start their day early with spiritual chanting and chores and then set off to collect food offerings – as this is their main source of food. They then return to the temples and share the food across with other monks eating only twice a day.
Offering alms to monks is to honour their holy sacrifice. In turn monks shower blessings on you and your family. The whole experience is humbling and so different than you could imagine. The best place to engage in this local experience is to visit the temples early morning between 6 – 8 am, when the monks set out on their daily walks.
- Buy Local Handicrafts of Thailand
Thailand is rich with skilled artisans of each region producing stunning art and crafts to export across the globe. From toys and furniture to paintings and wood art to fabrics and jewellery, Thailand has so much for you to take back home! Thailand’s food and spices too are hugely popular and are usually adapted to several dishes.
Thai silk is one the most sought after fabrics for its fabulous designs and artistic gold weaving within the fabric. Buy beautiful Thai silk fabrics, scarves, sarongs and more at the Surin weaving village.
Lampang in Northern Thailand is famous for its hand-made carving and etching on local woods like sugar-palm wood, bamboo and mango wood. Buy intricately carved utensils, artefacts and souvenirs.
Another tradition and art form in northern Thailand is Painting umbrellas made of ‘Sa’ paper. Thai artists then coat this with oil paints and tree resin, sticking it onto the wooden frame of the umbrella. Delicate paintings on gorgeous coloured umbrellas, is one the handicrafts of Thailand that could adorn your home. Sa paper handmade from the mulberry tree bark in the Bosan village makes wonderful gifting paper and notebooks.
Shop these unique items and more at the walking markets of Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and weekend markets like Chatuchak. Buy everything from clothes to artefacts to silver jewellery to artistic pottery and lacquer wares. Visit the floating markets in Bangkok, Ratchaburi, or Amphawa to buy original Thai spices, dried seafood, and local Thai snacks.
- Loy Krathong – The Festival of Lights
Envision that magical Disney scene with candle-lit lanterns floating everywhere around you, waving high up into the sky. Then imagine banana leaf boats filled with flowers, incense and candles drifting down the water bodies. This is how locals celebrate the festival of Loy Krathong.
Arguably the most enthralling of Thailand’s festivals, Loy Krathong, loosely translates to floating lotus-shaped vessels and is celebrated annually around November to pay respect to the Goddess of Water.
The festival is believed to resemble the Hindu festival of Deepavali – celebrating the victory of good over evil. The best place to catch this scene would be Chiang Mai, located on the northern side of Thailand. Here, large festivals are hosted, and scores of visitors are welcomed to take part in the occasion. The route goes along Narawat Bridge and Mae Ping. It starts from Pratu Tha Pae, the eastern gate of the old city, and ends with people lighting their ‘Khom Loy’ (lanterns) and setting off their ‘Krathong’ (decorative floats) into the river. An alternative route would be to the ancient temple of Wat Phan Tao, whose monks set up hundreds of oil lamps to make it the most picturesque setting.
While attending this festival, some things to keep in mind are to prepare ahead and book a riverside retreat to get a first-row ticket experience without being jostled by crowds. To avoid these street crowds altogether, you can book a rooftop hotel or space for the day and get a spectacular view of the lanterns.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market is the world’s largest outdoors market located in Bangkok, which also happens to be the city’s central part geographically. It is the best amongst the top markets you’ll find in and around Bangkok. This market offers a vivid experience by welcoming you with aromas of seafood from the food stalls, peppy techno music from the clothing stalls, and a vast array of shops to take in! For the authentic Thai experience, this market is a top priority.
We would suggest that you go armed with a map if you have a list of things to buy. That said, the best approach would be to venture into the market with no priority in mind as the diverse set of stalls will anyway make you forget what you were looking for! A couple of tips would be to bargain as much to avoid getting ripped off, going as early as you can to beat the crowds and get the best prices, and adding a couple of helpful Thai phrases to your vocabulary.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 6 PM till midnight on Friday and 9 AM to 6 PM on the weekends. Be sure to prepare ahead for a long day of walking around as you feast your eyes on the colourful sights.
- Historical Parks and Sanctuaries of Isan
The northeastern region of Thailand is a glimpse into the past. Isan, as popularly called, is a forgotten diamond for those with a penchant for history and tradition. With vast rice fields, a horde of silk weavers with their looms, and buffaloes thrashing around in the ponds, this is one of our strong recommendations if you want the unrefined Thai experience.
The Prasat Phanom Rung is a historical park that contains the ruins of an old Hindu Temple. This place highlights the similarities in the religion and cultures of India and Thailand. The park sits atop the summit of an extinct volcano, giving it quite the view. Phanom Rung is well-organized enough for the regular tourist, with a gift shop and information centres right at the entrance. You can walk to the promenade, which is one of the most remarkable things about the park. Further on, you can visit the galleries, the walkways, and finally the Mandapa.
Nong Khai, Pha Taem National Park, the towns of Phimai and Chiang Khan are other nearby spotlights. The temples’ architectures that dot these places are artistic marvels and will leave you lost for words.
- The Islands of the South
The southern islands of Thailand share borders with Cambodia are stunning. This region of Thailand has the most picturesque beaches and nightlife; from Ko Pha Ngan to the famous Ko Phi Phi – the set of many movies. You are spoilt for choice between less inhabited islands where you can bask in the glory of nature, and a more upbeat life with vibrant nightclubs, discos and much more. If you’re interested in the former, places like Railay and Phang Nga Bay might be more to your liking. Fore latter, we would recommend Phuket whose beach parties are unrivalled for nightlife and parties. A hub for tourism, Phuket is anything apart from laidback. Life goes on into the wee hours here, and you will always have something to do.
For a more adventurous experience, try sea kayaking to explore the rocks and limestone formations or go scuba diving to spot manta rays and whale sharks.
That sums up our top recommendations, but we have just scratched the surface of what Thailand’s local life and culture have to offer. After all, there is only so much we can list down! Check out our website to better understand why Thailand should be your next destination to visit!