Buddhism in Thailand
The official religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, practiced by more than 95% of the population and by many who reside in Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Small tokens of this religion are seen in the most inconspicuous of places around the country. Visitors will find daily reminders of Buddhism during their travels, from towering temples found along the Chao Phraya River to spirit houses protecting buildings and more across the country.
Buddhism is a key component to the identities of many Thais. Many will give daily offerings to things like spirit houses. Others will sporadically feed the many soi (street) dogs to make merit. By making and gaining merit, many Thais believe they will live longer and happier lives. Some people will also wear Buddhist amulets in order to protect themselves.
Monks in Thailand
There are some 300,000 monks living in the Land of Smiles. From Phuket to Bangkok, visitors are almost guaranteed to see a few of them in Thailand. Their yellow and orange robes are very recognizable in a sea of modern-day clothing. Many Thais will start their day off by giving offerings to monks who are collecting donations in the streets.
Every man in Thailand is required to become a monk for a period of time before the age of 20. Though the expected time length is about three months, some will stay as little as a day or two. The majority of monks remain for at least a few weeks. Young men do this in order to receive good karma and merit. Those Thais who are affluent or have money are considered to have very good karma. Those who do not have money are thought to have behaved poorly in a previous life, thus, not having good karma.
Living as a monk is no easy task. For one, there are hundreds of rules by which they must abide. Some are pretty basic, such as monks always having to wear a robe, while others are more seemingly difficult tasks, such as not drinking alcohol or not swimming for fun. They must also follow a long list of stipulations when going out in public. For example, monks cannot laugh or speak loudly.
Monks are normally very friendly, even to foreigners. Some temples have things like monk chats, where tourists can sit down with a monk and talk with them about their lives. As a reminder, the majority of Thais will give up their seats on public transportation for a monk. Tourists should do this as well.
Songkran is one of the most famous Buddhist festivals amongst tourists. It is a giant water fight that takes place nationwide, symbolizing the washing away of sins and bad luck from the previous year. It originated from the practice of pouring water over statues of Buddha.