Most Thais live in the countryside or in small villages. A typical rural family includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and sometimes even distant relatives. Thais believe that living together under one roof encourages courtesy, tolerance and mutual respect. Urban families share these values, although they may not live with their extended family. Children are brought up to respect their parents, teachers and the elderly. The avoidance of conflict is considered very important in Thai culture.

When a baby is three days old, a traditional family will hold a tham khwan ceremony to ward off evil spirits. The child is rocked in a basket, and an old woman gives the spirits a coin to ensure that they stay away. At one month, the baby's first haircut is marked by a ceremony and a family gathering. Another haircutting ceremony and family get-together is held when the child reaches puberty.

Most Thai men spend three months in a Buddhist monastery when they are 20. During this time, they learn the 127 rules of Buddhism. Some choose to stay on at the monastery and become monks; most return to society. Before his stay in the monastery, a Thai man is regarded as a khon dib or "immature person."

Most young people seek the approval of their parents and relatives when choosing a marriage partner. A member of the groom's family formally asks for the bride's hand. After the marriage has been registered at the local district office, a ceremony is held to bless the bride and groom. The couple, dressed in traditional Thai costumes, sit or kneel side by side with their heads bowed and their hands held in front of them in a prayer-like gesture. Their heads are joined together by a thick white cotton thread. Guests take turns pouring holy water over the hands of the bride and groom. Some couples do not have a ceremony; instead they live together without registering a marriage. Divorce is not uncommon and requires only mutual consent or proof of desertion.

The status of women is improving in Thailand, although according to Buddhist tradition, women are not treated as men's equals. More and more women are entering business and the professions. In some parts of the north, it is the women who inherit land. The first woman phu-yai-ban (village head) was elected in 1983, and the first female provincial governor was named in 1993.

   Did you know?
Semi-nomadic chao khao (mountain people) live in the mountainous regions of the north. They include Hmong, Lahu, Karen, Akha, Mien and about a dozen other distinct cultural groups. The hill tribes maintain their own culture, customs, laws and beliefs.

   Did you know?
Traditional Thai dress for both men and women is an ankle-length piece of cloth wrapped around the waist, which is called a sarong in the south, phasin in the north and phathung in central Thailand. This dress is still worn in rural areas.