Koh Samui Culture
The culture of Koh Samui has to be viewed through two lenses at the same time. Firstly, the people here are Thai, with all the beliefs and attitudes that go with this. And, secondly, they are members of a fiercely independent island community also. And, in many aspects of daily life and response, the Samui Thais are different from those in other regions.
Thai people everywhere hold three things sacred - their God, their King and their family, in that order. And when outlining their culture it’s these things that shape their assumptions, expectations, behavior and responses.
Thai Buddhism is unlike any other of the many forms that this religion takes. Anyone familiar with Theravada Buddhism, or Zen, will find it hard to relate their experiences with what they find in Thailand. Thai Buddhism is essentially 'animistic’. This is the process of giving inanimate objects such as trees, caves, hills or similar places a spiritual presence. It is closely linked with the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ spirits (which are everywhere) and keeping the good ones happy so they will protect you.
Thai beliefs as are others are centred around the ‘self’. Prayers and offerings are made for good luck or success in business or in romance. Or, often, for the success of family members and good friends. This is very much knitted-in with the strong nationalistic awareness that the Thais possess (as is with the majority of nations) - that they and their country and King have no equal anywhere in the world.
On an everyday level this takes many different forms and gives rise to several ‘dos and don'ts’. Firstly, never even come close to vaguely insulting the Thai King. Even something as innocent as throwing money to someone will be frowned upon – all the notes and coins have an image of the King on them.
Thai people are very tolerant, particularly of foreigners who don't know what is expected of them, but speak badly – even as a joke – of The King and you may well find yourself in jail or facing a big on-the-spot fine.
They'll extend more understanding when it comes to religious matters, though. But here, also, respect and caution are the keywords. Females must cover their bodies – particularly their bare shoulders – when visiting a temple. And for a woman to have any sort of physical contact with a monk requires him to undergo days of ‘cleansing’.
Similarly, the head is the most spiritual part of the body, being closest to God. And the feet are the most unclean, for the opposite reason. Avoid moving yourself into the space above a Thai person's head – it will upset them. And, please, never loll back with your feet up on the table!
Keep remembering that you're not back home! In a heat-wave it is probably OK to walk about the streets in your swimwear. But the Thai people are modest by nature and the sight of a of someone wearing just their on the road or in a supermarket will offend everyone to one degree or another.
Again, in daily life, avoid either losing your temper (usually through sheer frustration) or demanding your ‘rights’. Neither has any effect. The laws and customs you take for granted don't apply here. If you start shouting or demanding, then the usual result is that the Thai person will walk away to ‘attend to your request’ - but simply leave you there and not return. Please do not take this personally.
Yes, Koh Samui is a holiday destination, but it might not be as cosmopolitan yet as some might be expecting. People’s expectations are different everywhere but with a little thought, and a measure of respect, most people will exist here quite happily together, whatever country they come from!
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