History of the Thai Flag

The current flag of Thailand was adopted in 1917. It has five stripes arranged horizontally in blue, white and red colors. The five stripes are arranged with red on top, then a white stripe, next a blue stripe which is twice as broad as the red and white stripes, followed by another white stripe and finally one more red stripe. The red and white and blue colors each signify the nation, religion and king respectively, and are considered the country’s unofficial motto. This flag is referred to as thong trairong, or tricolor flag.

The current Thailand flag was adopted by the country as recently as on 28th October, 1917.  This flag is very different from the earlier Thailand flag that was used during the time when the country was referred to as Siam. The first known Thai flag was created around the year 1855 by King Monkrut or Rama IV in which a white elephant was depicted and which was a royal symbol that was set to a red ground and which helped to make the Thailand flag more distinct in order to improve its international image. The red flag with a white elephant in the middle is called thong chang, or “elephant flag.”

An interesting feature of the Thailand flag is that it closely resembles the national flag of another country (Costa Rica) that had earlier adopted those very colors about eleven years prior to the creation of the Thailand flag though these flags differed from one another in that the blue and red colors in the flags were inverted.

Thai Superstitions About Color

Thais are a very superstitious people and there are many superstitious beliefs and customs that have long been observed in Thailand. Some superstitions are about good luckand some are about bad luck. For example, there are superstitions about the meaning of colors and some take it very seriously.

Black, which is a mourning color, is worn at funerals and is a color associated with death and grieving. Therefore, it is forbidden to wear black at auspicious ceremonies like weddings. Traditionally, it is taboo to wear black except during the funeral rites and periods of mourning for the family. Nowadays black has become a very fashionable color to wear among younger Thais and the taboo is no longer adhered to in most cases.

There is also a color assigned to each day of the week: yellow for Monday, pink for Tuesday, green for Wednesday, orange for Thursday, blue for Friday, purple for Saturday and red for Sunday. Those living in Thailand may be familiar with the practice of wearing yellow on Monday to celebrate the King’s birthday and blue on Friday to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. These colors were chosen to according to the day on which the respective monarch was born and is used to symbolize them.

Thais believe that wearing the right color on the right day would bring luck. Most people don’t really seem to follow this practice anymore, but some may have a small piece of clothing, like a tie or handkerchief, which is the correct color. It is more common that people consider the color of the day of their birth. Many times people consider this color to be their lucky color. Thais seem to know which day of the week they were born on although this is not something I ever learned and will have to ask my parents about.

Smiles Have Many Meanings

Thailand is known all over the world as the “Land of Smiles.” New visitors often assume that the Thais are a very friendly and happy people, but this is a bit of an oversimplification.

Thais have a much broader range of uses for smiling than westerners. Thai may even smile in situations which would be considered as inappropriate or even as rude in the west. For example, if a Thai bumps into you in a bar and spills some of your drink, he’ll probably smile – a reaction that is unlikely to go down well with the average foreigner.

But the smile (yim in Thai) is perceived in Thailand as being just about the most appropriate reaction to any possible situation. It’s used to show a multitude of feelings and emotions including: happiness, embarrassment, fear, tension, resignation and remorse. What the smile means depends on the ‘type’ being used and is often hard for foreigners to distinguish.

So, just because a Thai is smiling, you can’t assume that they are happy. It helps to be aware of the less pleasant varieties of smiles though. It will help you to keep from being mesmerized by the ‘happiness’ of everyone that you don’t see what’s really going on underneath the sometimes superficial smile.

McDonald’s Pies in Thailand

I don’t normally walk into McDonald’s in Thailand, but I was killing time before a movie and a friend wanted to have some french fries. I decided to try one of the dessert pies that were on the menu for 22 baht. They don’t have the boring apple or cherry pies that you find in the US. Instead, they have Pineapple pie, Corn pie and Taro Pie. The flavors may sound strange, but pineapple, corn and taro are all common ingredients in tradition Thai desserts. It’s only natural that McDonald’s would modify the American idea of dessert to better suit the Thailand’s idea of dessert I’d suggest trying one of the three flavors out if you have the chance.

Here’s what they taste like:

Pineapple – the filling tastes like canned pineapple and is mostly sweet, but it’s also a little sour

Corn – the filling tastes like creamed corn and also is a bit sweet

Taro – the filling tastes like Taro ice cream, but it’s warm and sweet

 

Butterfly Pea Flower – Dok Un Chan

The Butterfly Pea is a climbing plant often used for its dye, as a food coloring and herbal remedy. It is thought to have originated in South America and Asia. It belongs to the sub-family Papilionaceae of the family Leguminosaeand is a perennial climber. With pinnatedleaves extending to five to nine leaflets, it often grows into a thick foliage. But the climber is commonly cultivated for its attractive azure flowers with winged petals and light markings. The flowers last 24 hours only. Its flat pods pops black seeds when mature.
In Thailand, the blue flowers are commonly used as dyes for colouring dessert or making herbal drinks. As a dye, it is popular amongst the health conscious who avoid using artificial dyes. Thais call the butterfly pea dok un chan and this flower is also used as a hair coloring, believing that the flowery will help make your hair black, healthy and silky. There is a belief that if the flower will help the hair grow thicker and darker.

Often when I walk through markets that emphasize traditional Thai lifestyle, I will see the sweet drink made from dok un chan. It is an infusion of the flower derived from boiling the flower and then removing the flower. What’s left is a purple-blue water that you can use as a dye or ingredient in food. In the case of the drink, the purple-blue infusion is combined with syrup and then served cold.


Motorbikes a Dangerous Way to Travel

Instinctively, I always steerclear of the motorbike taxis when considering form of transportation for getting around in Bangkok. When I see how motorbikes zigzag through traffic and speed dangerously close to cars, even knocking their side view mirror, I have a hard time imagining myself sitting on one.

Sure, I’ve been on motorbikes. I just make sure that the area where I’m travelling is less congested than Bangkok. The last time I was on a motorbike was in Koh Phangan in the southern part of Thailand and I was riding with a novice driver. Before that, I’ve been on motorbikes many times when I was a kid sitting behind my dad as we drove around the small southern town of Songhkla. In both of these places, motorbikes are higher in proportion to cars than in larger cities and there is considerable fewer vehicles on the road.

Today, there was a motorbike related death near my workplace. It only served to confirm my suspicions that motorbikes are one of the most dangerous ways to travel on the road. Since the motorbikes are so small, it is easy for them to overlooked by larger vehicles when they change lanes or make turns. Also, the motorbikes can lose their balance easily when they hit a bump or run through lose gravel. Lastly, the motorbike drivers themselves tend to be rather daring and exhibit a lack of concern for their own safety when they zoom around. My dad likes to say that they “have no fear of death” and their actions seem to reflect that idea.

I doubt I’ll ever voluntarily get on the back of a motorbike taxi in Bangkok, it seems too risky a venture. I’d rather sit in a four-wheeled vehicle or some other mass transit system, than hang on to some strange man praying that I make it to my destination alive and with all of my limbs still attached to my body. That’s not to say that normal taxis are any less dangerous!

Cicada Molt on a Tree

I’ve occassionally seen these papery shell of what appears to be some sort of insect and wondered “What is this?” At first, I thought it was a dead insect. My dad was able to easily identify it as the molt of a “chukachun” or cicada. He remembered them from his childhood in the southern province of Songhkla, where he used to catch them in the woods near the beach.

Basically, the papery shell is what is left over when the cicada grows too big for its current exoskeleton. As it grows larger, the cicada would cling to a tree and then it bust out a crease along the back. The cicada then leaves its old skeleton on that tree as it crawls or flies away.

Cicadas are interesting creatures and besides their curious molting behavior, they also have an interesting call. The male cicada makes a mechanical noise that resembles a lawn mower. When hundreds of male cicada make this noise simultaneously calling for females, it can be a defening sound. You probably won’t find many cicada in urban areas, but if you are in a wooded area you might be lucky enough to find evidence of this bizarre insect.

          

Eco-activities in Thailand

To be in touch with nature and to help conserve it for future generations, eco-resorts and eco-tours are being designed for responsible nature lovers. The goal of ecotourism to increase the appreciation of Thailand natural beauty and to help keep it intact for others to enjoy in the future. Here are some suggested activities that eco-minded tourists might consider when coming to Thailand on holiday.

Elephant Safaris

Experience riding through the forests on the back of a king of the jungle, and learn to appreciate their mighty strength and agility. Most elephant camps that offer treks are based in Chiang Mai, but elephant rides which last a few minutes are also offered at tourist destinations in most resort towns. Elephant safaris can range from a few hours to a few days through the jungle so you can select a safari to suit your time frame or level of adventure.
These elephants are forbidden to work in the logging industry and elephant safari keep them and their owners gainfully employed. Another benefit is that the elephants are kept out of the cities where conditions are tougher for them

Sea Cruises & Beaches

Take a cruise and view the impressive scenery the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has to offer. Travel in style and leisure in a luxury liner or travel intimately in a converted rice barge up the Chao Phraya river. Wherever you choose to go, visiting Thailand’s coast and gorgeous beaches are not to be missed, especially the islands. Accommodation and travel conditions range from luxurious to rugged so choose your resorts and travel methods to suit your style, desired comfort level and budget.

Trekking

Thailand offers ideal terrain for hiking, from the limestone forests of Krabi to the undulating mountains in the North, where many hill tribe people live. Head over to any national parks for nature-based trekking, teeming with wildlife, waterfalls, and other natural attractions. Some treks incorporate elephant safaris and other modes of transportation, such as rafts and pickup trucks. Treks vary in length and difficulty so check with tour operators when booking to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and select a trek based on your interests.

Walking Tour

Sometimes getting intentionally lost in a city or town is the best way to find out how the locals live instead of sticking only to the high traffic, tourist areas. You’ll learn a lot about Thai culture by observing the lifestyle, trying Thai food and interacting with Thai people. You can use a guide book and do your own walking tour or join an organized walking tour.  Most walking tours involve temples and in Bangkok, sometimes walking is much faster than driving! Do keep a map handy though as you’ll want to be able to get unlost eventually.

Wildlife Viewing

Some of the rarest tropical animals and birds can only be found in the nation’s national parks. The most common trips are bird watching, but even a simple walk in any mountainous area will guarantee a sighting of gibbons and monkeys. National parks are located all over Thailand so you can select a park which is known for particular animals or birds or geographic features. While viewing wildlife might be your primary goal, there will be plenty of opportunity to see the amazing plant life as well. Reccommended parks are Khao Yai, Doi Inthanon, and Sam Roi Yod, although there are many others.

6 Principles of Ecotourism

The term “ecotourism” was coined in 1987 and is used to describe a wide range of activities. The word itself is a blend of “ecology” and “tourism.” In 1991, The Ecotourism Society (TES) developed the following definition of ecotourism: “Ecotourism is a responsible travel to natural areas that covers the environment and sustains the well being of local people.”

TES has expanded the definition with these 6 basic principles of ecotourism:

  1. It avoids negative impacts that can damage or destroy the character of the natural or cultural environments being visited.
  2. It educates the traveller on the importance of conservation.
  3. It directs revenues to the conservation of natural areas and the management of protected areas.
  4. It brings economic benefits to local communities and directs revenues to local people living near the protected areas.
  5. It emphasizes the need for planning and sustainable growth of the tourism industry and seeks to ensure that tourism development does not exceed the social and environmental “capacity.”
  6. It retains a high percentage of revenues in the host country by stressing the use of locally-owned facilities and services.

The term ecotourism covers aspects of tourism that draws upon natural, human-made and cultural environments. It is often used to describe any type of travel which focuses on natural environments or settings. Additionally, ecotourism adds social responsibilities to make travel to natural areas purposeful and attempts to increase understanding of cultural and natural history of the environment. The local people benefit economically from conservation and the overall goal is to preserve the natural environment despite the human pressures of tourism.

Ecotourism – Is it harmful or helpful?

In the last decade, ecotourism has exploded and everyone wants to cash in on this trend from eco-resorts to eco-adventures. Ecotourism attempts to maintain the natural aspects of the tourist destination while compromising with the need for income from tourists and the resources that these tourists require. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local area.”

Tourism brings lots of money to an area which might not have much income otherwise and ecotourism has become the solution to preserving the natural assets of these areas. In most cases, tourism does benefit the local economy and better the locals’ livelihoods with income from tourism. Traditionally, the locals’ and tourists express little concern over the changes in the local area, natural beauty, waste disposal issues and so on which arise as the number of tourists increases. These problems are especially difficult in newly opened areas or developing countries, such as Thailand.

The trend in the past decade to help alleviate the problems caused by tourism, especially in natural areas, is ecotourism. However, the term ecotourism itself is often misused or overused. There are no set rules or accepted way to verify whether something classifies as ecotourism or not. This means that many tour operators can make claims about their tours being eco-tours without any clear criteria. The operators might not know any better or they are simply following what everyone else is doing without understanding the purpose of ecotourism.

There are many problems with ecotourism that eco-destinations must deal with. These problems include poor waste management, shortage of knowledgeable guides, and excessive development. These destinations often undergo a drastic change when “big operators” come into an area and develop larger resorts and complexes. I recently visited Thong Nai Pan on Koh Phangan and saw a drastic difference between two beaches in the bay. One beach was changing quickly as investors from Bangkok were pumping money into renovating resorts from the original wooden bungalows to concrete rows of rooms. As the resorts provide nicer amenities, they can charge more for the rooms and attract customers with more money to spend. But, this type of resort and the tourist they attract tend to have greater impact on the environment because there are bigger buildings and facilities, such as pools, and thus produce more waste.

An unfortunate byproduct of tourism is that the very visitors who are coming to see the beauty of the landscape inadvertently cause damage to the place that they have travelled so far to see. A good example are snorkelers which crowd on boats to view coral reefs and damage the corals by stepping on them. Plastic bags and drink containers floating in the water is another byproduct of these visitors. Day after day, the visitors come and little by little the coral will become less beautiful and the ocean water will become more polluted. The result is that the natural assets which brought the visitors to the area in the first place will be destroyed.

The million dollar question is “How can we ensure destinations are sustainable?” It is a matter of figuring out ways to control the negative impacts of tourism (e.g., loss of habitat, loss of water quality due to poor sewage/pollution control, etc) so that they don’t lessen the areas’ value as a quality tourism destination. This responsibility cannot fall upon the local authorities alone as the nature which is lost belongs to us all. We all are responsible for the affects of our travel and need to consider ways to ensure our destinations prosper with the fewest negative effects on the environment.