Throughout her long history, Thailand has gently absorbed immigrants. Many were skilled as writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and architects, and helped enrich indigenous culture. People inhabiting Thailand today share rich ethnic diversity mainly Thai, Mon, Khmer, Laotian, Chinese, Malay, Persian and Indian stock with the result that there is no typically Thai physiognomy or physique. There are petite Thais, statuesque Thais, round faced Thais, dark-skinned Thais and light-skinned Thais. Some 80% of all Thais are connected in some way with agriculture which, in varying degrees, influences and is influenced by the religious ceremonies and festivals that help make Thailand such a distinctive country.
Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90% of all Thais, and casts strong influences on daily life. Buddhism first appeared in Thailand during the 3rd Century B.C. at Nakhon Pathom, site of the world's tallest Buddhist monument, after the Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka (267-227 B.C.) dispatched missionaries to Southeast Asia to propagate the newly established faith. Besides mounding morality, providing social cohesion and offering spiritual succour, Buddhism provided incomparable artistic impetus. In common with medieval European cathedrals, Thailand's innumerable multirole temples inspired major artistic creation. Another reason for Buddhism's strength is that there are few Thai Buddhist families in which at least one male member has not studied the Buddha's teachings in a monastery. It has long been a custom for Buddhist males over twenty, once in their lifetimes, to be ordained for a period ranging from s days to a month. This usually occurs during the annual Rains Retreat, a a-month period during the Rains Season when all monks forego travel and stay inside their monasteries. Besides sustaining monastic communities, Thai temples have traditionally served other purposes as the village hostelry, village news, employment and information agency, a school, hospital, dispensary and community centre to give them vital roles in Thai society. The Thais have always subscribed to the ideal of religious freedom. Thus sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs freely pursue their respective faiths.
Spoken and written Thai remain largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. English and other European languages are spoken in most hotels, shops and restaurants, in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nation-wide.