Tired of the political rift that has been so prevalent in Thai society the past several years, I need to give myself a break every now and then. The Thailand Tourism Festival which took place recently at Impact Convention Centre in Muang Thong Thani was a great respite.
Apart from special deals offered by participating hotels and resorts, and various other travel-related services, the event, which was organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, also featured interesting exhibitions on both popular and less-known destinations as well as on the cultures, traditions and lifestyles of different groups of people sharing this beautiful Kingdom, among other things.
The plethora of diversity I witnessed at the fair reminded me that the difference in political views is not the only thing that sets Thai people apart.
Let's take language as an instance. Thai is no doubt the first, and in most cases the only, tongue of our countrymen. But people across the nation speak different dialects, each of which, apart from the common vocabulary, also has its own set of words. More than that, there are Thai nationals, particularly those belonging to ethnic groups, who also speak their own lingoes which in many cases are in no way similar to the national language.
At the fair I also learned about an ethic group I had never heard of before, the Tai Ya of Chiang Rai. The Tai Ya ladies in attractive traditional costumes who I talked to said that their ancestors migrated from China's Yunnan province to the Thai Kingdom more than six decades ago. They are trying to preserve their cultural heritage, which is different from other Tai peoples. I was further amazed to hear that the young generation at the village still speaks the Tai Ya language in daily life. I asked them to say a few sentences in their native tongue only to find that I couldn't understand a word.
Religions and faiths are another thing that varies among the Thai peoples.
It is true that Buddhism is the main belief. Still, we all know that different religions are observed and that it is not uncommon to see Buddhism and other faiths coexist and even mix in Thai society.
There are countless places where a wat (Buddhist temple) is located just a stone's throw away from a mosque, a Chinese shrine or a Christian church. At many religious sites, it comes as no surprise to see Buddha statues placed side by side with those of Guanyin, a Chinese goddess, or one or two of the Hindu gods. As a matter of fact, at a temple in downtown Chiang Mai there is even a figure of Donald Duck which can be easily spotted by anyone walking past the front gate. (It is not for worship, though, just an ornament.)
The variation of faith also results in a variety of traditions and cultural activities. Not all communities celebrate an occasion the same way. The end of Buddhist Lent, for example, is marked with different rituals in different parts of the country.
Food, arts and local history also differ from one region to another, sometimes between villages. In the Land of Smiles, there are various things that visitors can smile about.
My point is that Thailand is, and has always been, full of dissimilarities. But unlike in politics, these differences never lead to widespread and violent hatred among fellow Thais. On the contrary, they add up to enhance the charm of the Kingdom.
Let's just hope that one day Thai society will be able to agree on the true cause of our political trouble and get rid of it before it completely destroys us.
Pongpet is the Bangkok Post's travel editor.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor