Thailand has a long history of its inhabitants intermingling with those of other countries and regions. As a result, though about 96 percent of the population listed themselves as Thai in 2010, there are vast cultural and linguistic differences among them. So, when travellers explore this country during their holidays, they will find locals with varied dialects and languages. There are over 30 ethnic groups here, which may be best grouped according to the family of languages they speak. These families are generally taken to be Tai-Kadai, Mon-Khmer, Sino-Tibetan, Malayo-Polynesian and Miao-Yao.
The groups that speak these languages are the Tai Yuan, Isan, Lu, Phu Thai, Saek, Shan, Tai Dam and Tai Nua. The Tai Yuan people mostly inhabit the northern part of the kingdom of Thailand while the Isans mainly live in the north-eastern part. Originally, from Lao ethnicity, the Isans were forcefully assimilated into the national culture, and soon they developed an identity, independent of their Lao roots. The Lu people live in China and Vietnam, apart from this kingdom and mainly practise Theravada Buddhism. Tours can be taken to the north-eastern region of the nation to meet the Phu Thai people. The Saek community can be found inhabiting the area near the Thailand-Laos border in the Isan region. A small minority of the Shan people, originally from Burma, also live here. This language-family is also used to communicate by members of the communities, who dwell in the southern Thai provinces. The Tai Dam people came to this nation from Vietnam and settled here. Thailand also has inhabitants who converse in the Tai-Nua branch of the Tai-Kadai group.
Vacations in Thailand may be utilised to learn about the Mon-Khmer languages from the Bru, Khmer, Kuy, Lawa, Lua, Mani, Mlabri, Mon, Nyah Kur, Palaung, Phai and Sao people. The Brus live in the Sakon Nakhon and Mukdahan provinces, and also in the Isan region. Khmers came from Cambodia and made the north-eastern part of the country their home. Kuys practise a variety of professions here like mining, weaving, handicrafts, rice and silk farming. Lawa, who live in the northern region of the kingdom, are one of its oldest ethnicities. The Luas are another Lao group, who have considerable numbers in Thailand. Mani is among the smallest groups here and its members practise a hunting-gathering lifestyle.
The hills in the northern part of the kingdom are also home to the small Mlabri community. Tourists can meet Mon inhabitants in the southern extreme of the sovereign state, near its border with Malaysia. Among the oldest residents of the region are the Nyah Kurs, who found some of the earliest civilisations here. Northern Thailand is also home to the Palaung ethnic group, who mostly follow the Theravada sect of Buddhism. The Phai community is mostly concentrated in the Nan Province of the kingdom. Northeast Thailand is where people of the Sao community mostly live.
Tibeto-Burman and Chinese
These two families of languages are spoken by the Han, Akha, Karen, Lahu, Lisu and Yi ethnic groups. During trips to this country, people may also interact with one of the largest Chinese community outside of their homeland, and they mostly belong to the Han sub-ethnicity. The Akhas came from China in the 1900s and relocated to the hilly areas of the kingdom, which are also the refuge of the Karens, who had migrated from Myanmar. Lahus and Yi, who have strong Chinese roots and Lisu, who are also found in Arunachal Pradesh (India) are also among the hill tribes of Thailand.
The Malayo-Polynesian languages are spoken by the Cham, Malay, Moken and Urak Lawoi ethnic groups. Here these people mostly inhabit the southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla. The southern part of the country can be visited to meet some ethnic Malays as well. A minority, the Moken people, live on the west coast of the kingdom and also in southern provinces of Phuket, Krabi, Satun, Trang, Ranong and Phang Nga. Among the aboriginal inhabitants of Thailand speaking these tongues are Urak Lawoi who inhabit the islands around the country.
Hmong-Mien or Miao-Yao
The most significant ethnicities in this nation to speak the Miao-Yao or Hmong-Mien languages are the Hmong and Yao. When and where the Hmong inhabitants first appeared is widely debated. It is generally believed that they originated in the area around the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Some historians and anthropologists theorise that this ethnic group has inhabited southern China for over 2000 years. The Yaos make up one of the six tribes that live in the Thai hills. Their history can be traced to about 2000 years ago, and they probably appeared in the Hunan province of China. They were pushed down further south by the rapidly expanding Han inhabitants.