Spicy street food, Buddhist temples, pristine beaches and hectic traffic are a few things that may come to mind when thinking about the characteristics of Thailand.

Thailand is a diverse and unique Southeast Asian country with hundreds of years of history. Depicted below are several interesting things you probably didn't know about Thailand. Familiarize yourself with these and feel more in tune and knowledgeable about the Land of Smiles before heading there yourself.

1. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world

For the third year in a row, Bangkok is the world's most visited city with more than 20 million international visitors in 2017, according to Mastercard's 2018 Global Destination Cities Index, released annually. According to Forbes, Thailand's capital city is projected to see a 9.06% spike in international visitors for this year.

If you're one of the 20-something million travelers heading to Bangkok this year, be sure to check out the following attractions:

2. It had the 2nd longest reigning king in history

On Oct. 13, 2016, Thailand bid a farewell to their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the second-longest reigning king in the history of the world, ruling for more than 70 years. Following his death, the country mourned for an entire year.

I was lucky enough to be living in Bangkok during the King's funeral held on Oct. 29, 2017, one of the most beautiful and humbling experiences I've had living abroad. The royal cremation ceremony lasted five days and following the commemoration, King Bhumibol the Great's ashes were taken to the Grand Palace and enshrined at the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall.

During this five day period, the city was completely shut down and every Thai citizen was seen on the streets dressed in black, celebrating the King's life. Food was being handed out for free during this time to honor the King.

It's safe to say that King Bhumibol Adulyadej will remain a revered personification of Thai nationalism for many years to come.

Mural of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life, Bangkok
After his death, images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life were visible throughout the streets of Bangkok. Photo Credit: Alexandra Mahoney

3. It uses a different calendar

Something you probably didn't know about Thailand: it's living in the future. In Thailand, it is the year 2561 B.E. (Buddhist Era). That's because Thailand uses the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar.

Though Thailand does, in fact, celebrate the Gregorian calendar's annual New Year on Jan. 1st and it's a national public holiday, the traditional Thai New Year occurs mid-April, a celebration known to Thais as Songkran.

A unique New Year's celebration, Songkran, attracts visitors from across the world for its three-day long water fight festival. To find out more about this exciting Thai holiday, check out 9 Reasons To Visit Thailand.

4. It is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized

Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by Europeans, and the Thai people are incredibly proud of this fact.

All of Thailand's Southeast Asian neighbors were colonized either by the British, French, Spanish or Dutch, including Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

There are several alleged reasons that Thailand was never colonized, the first being that Thailand ceded some Malay territories to the British.

Another is that, following WWII, Thailand allied itself with the U.S., through both the 1953 Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group established in Bangkok and the collective joining of the 1954 Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), according to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Thailand.

5. Its politics are constantly changing

Founded in 1238, Sukhothai was the first Siamese capital of Thailand. When a country has been in existence for several centuries, it's no surprise that its government and politics have changed time and time again.

Fast-forwarding a few hundred years, Thailand was living under an absolute monarchy until the Siamese Revolution of 1932, in which a constitutional monarchy was established and the country's first constitution was written. Since then, Thailand has had 19 other constitutions, due to a constant changing of politics and governmental style. Bangkok's Democracy Monument commemorates the Siamese coup d'├ętat of 1932, a pivotal turning point in history for Thai politics, pictured below.

Democracy is a troubled and conflicting process in Thailand. Just four years ago, the Royal Thai Armed Forces launched the 2014 Thai coup d'├ętat, the country's 12th coup since 1932. The coup revoked the 2007 constitution following six months of political crisis and turmoil.

Thailand is now living under a military dictatorship led by an established junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The future of Thai democracy and the protection of its people's freedoms have been in question since this 2014 coup.

Bangkok's Democracy Monument
Bangkok's Democracy Monument, representing a vital change in politics in 1932. Photo Credit: Alexandra Mahoney

6. It used to be called Siam

Thailand is generally referred to by its citizens as Mueang Thai, and prior to 1949, was referred to by outsiders as Siam. It only changed its name to Thailand after the previously mentioned Siamese Revolution of 1932.

The country reverted back to the name Siam from 1945 to 1949, and then changed once again to Thailand. The word "Thai" refers to the name of the largest ethnic group in the country.

In Christoper Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit's A History of Thailand, the authors explain that the etymology of the name Siam possibly derives from the Chinese, reasoning that, "Ayutthaya emerged as a dominant center in the late fourteenth century. The Chinese called this region Xian, which the Portuguese converted into Siam."

7. It invented Red Bull energy drinks

In 1982 on a sales trip to Asia, Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz discovered Krating Daeng, a drink made from water, sugar, caffeine, taurine, inositol and B vitamins.

The drink was originally created by ordinary Thai resident turned billionaire Chaleo Yoovidhya. The drink was aimed to keep factory workers and truck drivers alert during long shifts.

Mateschitz tracked down Yoovidhya and the two became business partners, with the hopes of taking the Thai drink to an international market. Red Bull was launched in Austria in 1987 and is now sold in more than 79 countries.

Mr. Yoovidhya passed in 2012, but his legend of creating the world's most famous energy drink still lives on.

Can of Red Bull energy drink
Thailand's Chaleo Yoovidhya was the co-creator of Red Bull energy drinks. Pixabay / Alexas_Fotos

8. It still has a dowry system

The Thai dowry system, more commonly known as Sin Sod, is a transfer of parental property. In other words, a groom has to pay his bride's family for "raising their daughter well." It is also a way of demonstrating that a groom is financially responsible and stable enough to take care of his Thai bride throughout her life.

How much a groom has to pay to his bride's family is dependent upon her status, education, occupation and other social background information, such as a woman's virginity.

Though a prevailing Thai tradition, dowry is a controversial issue since it's rooted in sexism and objectification by putting a price on a human being and assuming that a man must take care of a woman financially. It is one of the uglier traits of a generally magnificent nation.

We hope you learned a little more about Thailand, and that this article inspired you to consider visiting if you haven't already. Happy trails!

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