Thai arts and cultures have been rooted throughout a long history and have evolved significantly over time deriving influences from diverse civilizations, religions, and ideologies.
Traditional Thai art is influenced by both Buddhist and Hindu literature. Thai painting in the first era was displayed as a mural art in the temples, illustrating the Buddha’s stories and his previous life as Phra Wetsandorn (Vessantara), known as “Jataka”. They can still be found in fine condition at historical sites in several provinces, including Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, Petchaburi, and Lopburi. Thai sculptures, like paintings, were initially influenced by other traditions such as Mon, Khmer, and Sri Lanka, which mostly depict the image of Buddha and Buddhist ideology. However, Thai contemporary art in modern-day galleries is moving beyond the pre-modern narratives and Buddhism as they reflect social issues and Thailand in a globalized world.
Thai traditional performance and dancing are inspired by local Indian literature. “Khon”– the classical masked performance, considered as an elegant and highly-respected art, in fact, a shared culture among the Southeast Asian nations at least Cambodia, is the adaptation of “Ramayana” or “Ramakian”. The popular “Likay” is a folk musical opera, starting from the Thai Muslim, gaining partly influence from the Malay Peninsula. Along with that, “Manohra”, a folk dance, and “Nang Talung”, a leathered-puppet show, are performed locally in the South of Thailand, telling folklores and lives of commoners. On the other hand, Thai contemporary dramas and plays are rather adapted from pieces written by the past Thai kings and contemporary famous Thai and Western writers such as Shakespeare. The modern stage, like B-Floor and some other solo and grouped performers, transforms the current political and social context in Thailand into pure and abstract performance.
Thai films offer varieties ranging from horror and comedies to mixed and unidentifiable genres. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, a fantasy drama and spiritual journey, directed by an internationally acclaimed director – Apichatpong Weerasethakul – and won Palme d’Or at Festival de Cannes in 2010 was a wake-up call for the Thai new wave cinema, both short and featured films. Unlike the past, Thai movies have been endorsed in several international film festivals, to name a few, Sundance, Rotterdam, Busan, and Cannes.
Thai cuisine is one-of-a-kind, a true fusion food that combines all flavors of saltiness, spiciness, and sweetness to create a complex and exquisite taste. From street food to fine dining, Thai food offers a combination of ingredients – home-grown vegetables and herbs, spices, fresh seafood, and game meat – and is also influenced by touches of Chinese, Persian, and other Asian cuisines. The Thai Government’s policy – “Kitchen of the World” – makes Thai restaurants one of the fastest-growing industries in Thailand and abroad. Famous dishes like Som Tum (papaya salad), Tom Yum (spicy soup), and Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles) are loveable not only for Thai people but people around the world. Today’s Thai gastronomy is prepared with artistry, incorporating French, Japanese, and Mexican interpretations, as well as modern techniques, including molecular gastronomy.
Thai costumes and textiles are among the Thai people's most prized possessions. Thai clothing and attire changed dramatically during the Rattanakosintra period as Thailand, or Siam at the time was forced to modernize and civilize its way of life following colonial modernity. Thai silk, well-known for its quality, can be well mixed and matched with international design. Queen Mother Sirikit, a founder of Silpacheep Arts and Handicraft Centre, collaborated with the French couturier, Pierre Balmain, to design her dresses in Thai silk for her official visits to several countries during the 1960s. Jim Thompson, a mysteriously disappeared American designer living in Thailand, is a leading figure in reviving and fabricating fine Thai silk products printed with exceptional Thai patterns. Thais nowadays even dress in Thai outfits for special occasions.
Thailand composes its music by using musical instruments originally from India, Indonesia, China, Dutch, and Persia. Thai classical music is played in a form of a chamber band called “Pi-Phat”, “Khrueang sai” and “Mahori”. Thai country music or “Luk Thung” is influenced by Latin Americans. “Mhor Lum”, a Northeastern or “Isaan” music portraying dramatic lives of the marginalized, shares tunes with its neighboring country - Laos. Global movements of music after the 1940s like jazz, soul, pop, and rock also highly impact contemporary Thai music. Dissimilar the jazz elsewhere, Thai jazz introduced by the late King Bhumibol is more lighthearted. Nonetheless, Thai music is distinguishable by the singing-like tones of the Thai language.
The Thai language is an official language of Thailand and is mainly spoken by Thai people. 44 alphabets and 21 vowels could produce 5 tones and 32 sounds. Its writing has developed from Khmer, firstly used by the elites in ancient times. Thai words are mostly derived from Pali, Sanskrit, and Khmer and are similar to the Lao language. Alongside standard Thai, dialects are still used in different parts of the country. “Sawasdee” (Hello) and “Khob Khun Krub/Kha” (Thank you), invented words by “civilizing project”, are common greeting phrases Thai people gently say with smiles.