Thainess Part 3: King, Nationalism & Religion

The Monarchy

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family is revered throughout the country. The previous King — Bhumibol Adulyadej, better known in the West as Rama IX — was especially beloved for his six decades of public service and humble demeanor. Following his death in October 2016, his son Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) ascended the throne and there are marked differences in level of respect given to him compared to his father.

Still, images of the King and other members of the royal family are everywhere, from posters on the exterior of buildings or on road dividers to photos displayed in businesses or on taxi dashboards. Many receive bunting as decoration prior to special days such as birth anniversaries or local visits.

One must always stand when the King’s anthem is played before movies, concerts, and sporting events. I had known about the movie theatre requirement prior to moving here but the first time I saw it at a concert was an Eric Clapton show at Bangkok’s Muang Thani Arena in 2007. Travelers should also refrain from making disparaging remarks about any of the the royals.

The monarchy is protected by one of the most strictly enforced lèse majesté laws in the world. For many years, criticism of the king, queen, crown prince, and more recently, former kings, members of the royal family, and even their pets have been strictly prohibited. Violations carry large fines and prison sentences of up to 35 years.

National Pride

Over the past several decades, the government has introduced various practices to encourage nationalism. The country clings to pride that it’s the only nation in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized by European countries.

One example of this institutionalized patriotism is twice daily broadcasts of the national anthem. Pedestrians, commuters, and students are required to stop or stand whenever this song is played. The national flag is flown in many places, raised with the national anthem each morning and lowered again in the evening.

In recent efforts to boost patriotism, a group of generals proposed that traffic also come to a standstill, arguing that motorists “already spend more time in traffic jams anyway.” In practice, however, this tends to cause a degree of chaos and isn’t often encountered.


About 95% of Thailand’s population is comprised of Buddhists from the Theravada school. The religion practiced in Thailand is somewhat unique to other Buddhist nations, having been infused with many outside elements. Hindu practices and traditional Chinese beliefs have influenced local beliefs to an extent, with animist beliefs playing a large role in making Thai Buddhism what it is today.

Monks are highly revered and respected in Thai culture and disrespecting a monk is a huge no-no.

There are designated seats on public transport for monks, for example, and people should always give up their seat to a monk if no other is available. Females, especially, should be careful of their actions around monks. As well as not touching a monk or directly handing things to them (females should put any offerings etc. on a monk’s dish rather than into their hands), women shouldn’t sit next to a monk or their belongings. While it is taboo for a woman to touch a monk or pass things to him directly, polite conversation is fine.

If you act inappropriately around a monk in Thailand you can be sure that regular people around you will quickly point out your errors with disapproval.


Despite teachings against material attachment, many Thais worship Buddha images and don amulets for protection.

When Buddhism reached Thailand, people started to worship the religion. This, in return, influenced the creation of Thai Pra Kruang. Amulets were made to serve as an object of worship for the followers of the belief. It is argued that Thai amulets were first designed after the style of Greek amulets and icons of deities distributed widely under the rule of Greek King Menander in India.

The emergence of authentic Buddhist amulets in Thailand during the late 19th century demonstrated a cultural shift in Buddhism’s role in the country’s society. This was due to Bangkok’s Thai elite members championing philosophies related to humanism and individualism. These modern values indirectly caused the belief in the supernatural powers of amulets to be reinforced in Thai society. Local people began to view the Buddha and his devotees as saviors who could bring good fortune to the worshippers.

Hence, prominent monks in the country began to produce amulets of their own for the believers. Since then, Buddhist amulets in Thailand have been widely found across the country.

Many amulets found in Thailand’s rural areas are often made from natural materials. Wood, flowers, stones, and even earth and clay are used. Some are made with powders mixed with oils or herbs and then pressed into a pre-designed metal plate to create different shapes and sizes. These amulets are then baked at high temperatures to solidify them. Some amulets are made from metal or a mixture of metal and other ingredients. These mixtures are melted down at high temperatures and then poured into a mold to set.

Amulets are often inscribed with the mark of the temple or the monk who produced them. Cryptic and sacred diagrams composed of graphic symbols (known as ‘yantra’) are often found on the amulets.

The ingredients included in amulets are often kept as secrets by the monks or people who make them –depending on the final use. The finished amulets are then blessed by monks, priests, or learned laymen upon creation. 

The most common belief about amulets in Thailand is that they can provide the carrier with good luck. Also, that they protect against any kind of misfortunes in their lives. Thai people usually wear amulet necklaces as a way to protect themselves against disease, accidents, and witchcraft. It is also believed that the older the amulet is, the stronger the protective power. It has been said that three different types of people collect amulets – the wealthy, the traders, and the believers.

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