Time, Holidays, Units of Measurement
Time in Thailand
The year 2008 in Thailand is 2551, like the year 2007 was 2550. Thailand uses Buddhist Era (B.E.) dates, not Christian dates (A.D.). To translate between the two, just add/subtract 543.
Thailand's Buddhist Era years are one year behind that of Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka, where the year is 2544. (The Western Christian world had a similar situation until it synchronized years in 1592, thanks to Pope Gregory XIII's imposition.) The Thai New Year date change now occurs on January 1, not April 13 (the date Buddha attained enlightenment, "Songkran"), but the latter is still the festive Thai "New Year" long holiday.
The time zone in Thailand is +7 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). If you're like most people, you may find it straining to know the time zone in other countries and cities, e.g., for phone calls and bank transactions. Windows 95+ has built-in time zones for other parts of the world, available by a right mouse click on the time on the bottom right of your Windows screen, then choose Adjust Time/Date, then choose the Time Zone tab (just view, don't change, of course). However, after doing mental arithmetic, many people still forget if we're X hours ahead or X hours behind our associates. A solution is either a time zone wheel, or a software timezone program listing the cities of key associates and the times there, or my preference: wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/time-zone/ (assumes your PC's clock is accurate and your time zone set properly).
Keep in mind that the day will end in Tokyo and New Zealand before Thailand, and the sun rises here before it does in Europe or America. In fact, if you send international courier shipments to the U.S., you will be able to send them "faster" than you will receive them. For example, when it's high noon Tuesday in Thailand, it's midnite Monday-Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and the 9pm summertime sun is setting on Monday in California.
Thais keep track of the time of day differently than foreigners, and people sometimes miss appointments due to miscommunications. It's not common in Bangkok professional circles any more, but it does happen on occasion, especially with Thais who are new to foreigners. The Thais split up the day into four 6-hour sectors, whereby "two o'clock" could mean 8:00am, 2:00pm, 8:00pm or 2:00am.
The best way to prevent this is by specifying the time clearly in one of the languages, e.g., either "2 o'clock p.m.", or military time ("naleeka") 14:00, or "two o'clock in the afternoon" (in Thai, "bai song mohng"). It may be best to use the Thai language if you can, because Thais who are unaccustomed to English may get their English mixed up and say "in the afternoon" when they mean "at night" or "in the morning".
While I don't want to exaggerate potential time-of-day problems, I do know a remarkable number of people who have experienced this on occasion, in addition to a few of my own unfortunate experiences. Thus, the following table is offered for reference, with the time of day in the Thai language:
In addition to the regular numbers in the military time column, some of the other words above will also be recognized by anyone who lives here a while, due to multiple usage. For example:
naleeka = clock
tawn khun = nighttime, and is not used in clock talk. khun nee = tonite, wan nee = today
Office hours usually start from 8:30-9:00am, with a one hour lunchtime usually starting between 12:00 and 12:30, and you should be able to catch people back in the office from 1:30 until somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30pm. Most government offices close at 4:30, and many will close their doors from newly arriving people at 3:30. Banks run from 9:30 to 3:30.
Restaurants usually take their last orders between 10pm and 11:30pm, though some stay open very late if not 24 hours (one of the real nice things about Bangkok). Western fast food places close earlier than in the west, often 9:30 to 10:00pm.
By law, entertainment places are supposed to close at 2am, and the vast majority do so. Unfortunately, many lively discotheques and other popular places don't get going until around 11pm. This is reflected in their clientele.
For more information on operating hours of some specific services, e.g., for different kinds of buses, please visit the appropriate pages here on ThailandGuru.com
Be careful about wall clocks you buy in Thailand. Most keep accurate time, but some do not. What I do is synchronize them with my watch at the start, and then see how much they drift over time. As for the accuracy of your watch, you can synchronize and re-check it every evening at 6pm when all the radios and TV stations, and most soundovers in public places, play the national anthem. This is usually preceeded by beeps for the last few seconds before 6:00:00.
A list of the national work holidays is given below. However, the exact day of the year of some of these will vary, as noted. The ones affected are those based on the lunar calendar, rather than the 365-day solar calendar. Lunar calendar events usually come on a full moon.
Before Thailand (and many western civilizations) switched to the solar 365-day calendar, a lunar calendar was used, whereby one month, or moonth, was 29 or 30 days, e.g., full moon to full moon (29.5 days). Since a solar year is not exactly 12 moonths, there is a shift from year to year between the lunar and solar calendar dates. Notably, the Thai lunar holidays that are in common with Chinese holidays and the holidays of other past lunar calendar cultures may not coincide with each other on the same date, because there are variations in the different implementations of the ancient lunar calendars.
(The moon orbits the Earth in 29.5 days. The Earth orbits the sun in 365¼ days. The February 29 leap year is due to that ¼ day. Western civilizations in ancient times also used various lunar calendars like eastern ones, whereby a leap year happened once every three years by adding an extra month instead of an extra day. When the west standardized upon a solar calendar, the 12 moonths were stretched longer than one moon cycle by an extra day or two, i.e., 30 or 31 days, so that 12 moonths added up to 365 days.)
In addition to holidays, there are holydays and festivals which are not countrywide work-free days. So consider these:
Units of Measurement
Thailand is a metric country, having converted many, many years ago, with a few exceptions, mainly in the measurement of land and property (which is understandably difficult to change), and in weighted amounts of gold.
Land is measured in "rai", which is now set as follows:
1 rai = 1600 square meters (think of 40m x 40m, for example, or 100m x 16m) = 4 ngaan
There are two other land & property measurements to be aware of. 1 rai is split up into 4 ngaan, which makes a ngaan equal to 400 square meters. One waa is equal to 4 square meters, so that a ngaan is equal to 100 waa.
Thais originally had their own measuring system for sizes and distances, but this has been entirely abandoned for the metric system.
As for foreign units of measure, here are some useful conversion rates:
Weights of gold is measured in "baht", which has a different meaning than the currency "baht" but is pronounced the same.
1 baht of gold = 15.2 grams
Gold is practically always sold in units of baht rather than in metric measurements. This "baht" has no relation to the current value of the currency.
Other measuring units, mostly obsolete, include yote, kabiet ... tanan ...
Evolution of Human Time
Historically, it's unclear who split time into 24 hours, but it was probably the ancient Babylonians who liked multiples of 12 because the number 12 is divisible by almost half the numbers below it, i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. They liked 60 (which happens to be the number of minutes in an hour), because it's divisible by both 10 and 12. (Practically everywhere in the world, people use base 10 because our species has 10 fingers on our hands.) The Babylonians are also where we get 360 degrees of a circle (60 x 6 x 10) and similar measurements. The Babylonian civilization was an irrigating, wealthy class civilization located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in present day southern Iraq from about 7500 years ago to present, though written language and science started to fluorish about 5500 years ago. Water clocks based on dripping water and the water level of a bowl go back to 5500 years ago in Babylonia, Egypt and China (3500 B.C.).
In tropical parts of the world, the day was split between daytime and nighttime, with the zero hour happening at sunrise and sunset. In Europe, a very northern latitude, this caused a problem due to the seasonal variations between length of day (especially in "the land of the midnite sun" as you can imagine), so the zero hour was shifted to midnite and noon.
In Medieval Europe just over 600 years ago (late 1300's A.D.), mechanical clock technology arose among the French, English and Dutch, around the same time that the Europeans started sailing around the world, starting with Henry the Navigator of Portugal (port). Maritimers spread the midnite 12 hour clock. (Why it's not a noontime zero-hour clock, to synchronize with the sun, I don't know.)
In 1884, the Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England, became the reference point for time zones, "Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)", later called Universal Time (UT). (The Greenwich Observatory was created in 1675 as an astronomical telescope observatory based upon the design of the Italian astrophysicist Galileo.) All of Thailand is +7 GMT, which means that when it's 4:00 in England, it's 4:00 +7 = 11:00 in Bangkok.
Sometime, somehow, the Thais developed a hybrid clock of 6 hour intervals, sunrise to noon to sunset to midnite. This is usually attributed to the custom of village watchmen using wooden clackers to signal each hour. Any unexpected clacking or the absence of the clacking was a signal of trouble.
How far back in time this six hour cycle goes, and whether this is the entire story of the six hour period, is a topic that Thai historians may be able to shed some light upon. Old Thai and Khmer ruins have sun clocks in their architecture, from shadows and holes, and of course plenty of old written laws and codes cast in stone going back to over 2000 years ago.
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