Koh Samui, Thailand

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Koh Samui Information

Thai people and customs

People

Koh Samui has a year-round population of approximately 34,000. The main centers of population are on opposite sides of the island. The beach areas of Chaweng and Lamai are located on the east coast, and Nathon, whose population varies widely depending on the time of year, is located on the west coast.


The Monarchy

The King, Queen and the Royal Family are genuinely respected by Thais. Most homes and businesses have one or more photographs of His Majesty or the Royal Family prominently displayed. Showing any form of disrespect to the Royal Family will not be appreciated by the Thais and could cause you very serious problems.

 

Social Customs

 
Young monks

Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles", and for its tolerance and hospitality. The simple rule is that if you smile, people will like you. A smile is an easy way to say ‘Thank you" and can also be used to "excuse yourself" for small inconveniences. A smile is the proper response to acknowledge the wai or greetings of small children, and with hotel and restaurant staff. Most of us were raised with the "Golden Rule" and that will work for you as well in Thailand as it does at home. Nevertheless, we will provide you with a short list of things that you should know to help overcome any "culture shock" you may encounter.

  • If you are invited into a Thai home, you are expected to remove your footwear before entering the door.
  • It is considered very bad manners to put your feet on a table or chair while sitting. When seated make sure your feet are not pointed at anyone because this is offensive to Thais, as is displaying the bottom of the foot to someone. And try to remember, if you drop a Thai coin, don't try to stop it by stepping on it because it has an image of the King on it!
  • Thais regard the head as the highest (purest) part of the body, so refrain from touching or patting the head in a friendly gesture as it is considered very impolite.
  • It is not proper to lose one’s temper or show exasperation during a misunderstanding. Thais believe that "jai yen", or a "cool heart" will solve the problem.

Visiting a temple

 
Nathon Temple

Discovering the wonderful temples, or "wats" of Thailand is one of the more interesting cultural activities for travellers in the Kingdom. Visitors are welcome and discreet photographs may be taken. Shoes must be removed before entering a temple; wearing shorts or other revealing clothing is a definite no-no.

Monks are the most important people in Thai society and must be treated with respect at all times. A monk’s vow of chastity prohibits him from touching or being touched by a woman. Women are usually advised to smile and slightly bow when encountering a monk and maintain enough distance to prevent any contact with him or his robes.

If you get up early (around sunrise) for a walk, you are likely to encounter barefoot monks making their rounds to receive offerings. Monks carrying bowls will be approached by Thais (usually women) who will kneel before them and offer food or money. This is called merit making and it is very important to Thais. The Kingdom is of course predominantly Buddhist and this ritual can be seen every day all over the country.

Temple fairs are held during the cool season (November through early March) to raise money for maintenance of the wat. They're great fun and you should definitely check one out if you get a chance. There is a carnival-like atmosphere, lots of good food and a chance to see normal Thai people enjoying themselves.

Songkran Festival

Held annually on April 13, this festival marks the traditional Thai New Year. The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit words for New Year and was probably inherited along with Buddhism from India, making its celebration one of the oldest traditions in Thailand. During this auspicious occasion Thais traditionally return home for family reunions and visit temples, sprinkling water on Buddha images in reverence. Meeting friends and sprinkling water on each others' shoulders and hands is an act of wishing good luck.

The traditional gentle sprinkling of water in temples and homes is still practiced. However, overzealous Thais and tourists alike have nowadays resorted to throwing water at any passersby that dare to venture outside. High-powered water guns are also very popular. It is a splashy affair for all on that day, and generally a good way to beat the heat in what is normally the hottest month of the year. Lately, many revelers have taken to adding talcum powder, flour or even dyes to the water, though local authorities try to dissuade them.

Remember this date when you are in Samui. Leave your cameras and anything likely to suffer water damage behind in your hotel room, because you will get wet. Be especially careful if riding a motorbike, as the usually dry streets become slick with water and many participants show no mercy.

Loy Kratong Festival (Full moon day)

 
A floating Krathong

The origins of this charming and romantic evening are not clear but it is considered the most beautiful of Thai celebrations. One legend has the festival beginning in the 13th century Sukhothai period, when a young princess floated a small boat laden with candles and incense downstream past a pavilion where her husband was entertaining friends. It has since grown to be one of the country’s most enchanting festivals.

As the full moon rises, Thais fill tiny floral boats with candles and incense and launch them into the rivers, canals, ponds and the sea to wash away sins and to bless love affairs. Join in the fun! Buy a krathong from a vendor, light the taper and incense, place a small coin and a few hairs plucked from the head, say a prayer and launch it in a pond or waterway. The celebration begins around 7.30 pm, when you'll see many young Thai women wearing beautiful traditional dresses on their way to meet friends or lovers.

 
     

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