50 things about Asean countries you probably didn't know - Asean's golden jubilee

Asean's golden jubilee: 5 interesting things about Thailand

Ten countries, several ethnicities, dozens of fables, scores of cultural symbols, hundreds of places to visit and thousands of delicacies to relish - diversity flourishes across this region of over 628 million people. On these pages, and on B6-7, are some facts about the regional grouping's members.

1. World's smallest mammal

Weighing just 2g and measuring 29mm to 33mm in length, Kitti's hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) is the world's smallest bat species and also arguably the world's smallest mammal species.

First known to the world in 1974, the tiny bat species lives in a handful of limestone caves along rivers in Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand, foraging for insects in the surrounding forests.

The colonies have around 100 bats per cave, with females producing just one offspring annually.

Sadly, the bat - also known as the bumble bat - is classified as being at risk of extinction.

2. Thailand's national dish?

Phat thai (below), also known as pad thai and literally meaning "fried Thai style", is a stir-fried rice noodle dish, commonly cooked with eggs, tofu, shrimps, tamarind pulp, shallots, chilli and fish sauce.

For many visitors, phat thai is their introduction to Thai food and many consider it to be the country's national dish - although some might contend that tom yum kung takes that honour.

Bright and airy, the Or Tor Kor Market recently ranked fourth in a CNN survey of the top 10 best fresh markets in the world. .PHOTO: THE NATION

Yet, evidence indicates that it is not even Thai. Bangkok-based celebrity chef McDang, or Sirichalerm Svasti, said in an interview that noodles and stir-frying - the two main elements of phat thai - arrived in Thailand with Chinese immigrants. He did note that the sauces and pastes used are Thai.

It turns out that the dish was popularised by military strongman Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the 1930s and 1940s in an effort to create a "national dish" as part of his programme of nationalism.

3. Sombat Metanee, world's most prolific actor

Sombat Metanee is an 80-year-old legend of the Thai silver screen who, for a time, was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific movie star, performing in an incredible 617 titles.

Introduced to the world of celluloid in 1961, Sombat gained popularity for his good looks, sculpted body and sex appeal.

During his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s - the golden era of the Thai film industry - he often worked on several films at the same time, with almost the same hairstyle in each role.

On average, he starred in some 30 films a year covering various genres - action, drama, comedy, romance, romantic comedy and musical. Frequently paired with lead actress Aranya Namwong, Sombat was also well known for his singing voice and released a number of movie soundtrack records and albums.

Thai movie star Sombat Metanee has performed in an incredible 617 titles and still appears on TV and in films.PHOTO: THE NATION

Even today, he makes occasional appearances in Thai films and TV soaps, as well as TV commercials.

4. Bangkok's 'gourmet' fresh market

Most wet markets in Bangkok, or anywhere in Thailand, are wet, smelly and crowded places where hygiene and quality are not the top priorities. Not so with Or Tor Kor Market (pronounced Aw Taw Kaw), the Marketing Organisation for Farmers, in northern Bangkok - right next to the world-famous Chatuchak Market.

The bright and airy market recently ranked fourth in a CNN survey of the top 10 best fresh markets in the world, alongside the likes of La Boqueria in Barcelona, Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Union Square Farmers Market in New York City.

According to the report, Or Tor Kor "displays exotic fruits and vegetables that are unique to Thailand, as well as imported specialities from around Asia. The market is immaculate and brightly lit, allowing shoppers to easily cruise for seafood, sweets and cooked foods".

While most of the fruit and vegetables on display look noticeably superior to those found elsewhere in Bangkok, they are also considerably pricier.

To get to the market, exit the MRT at Kamphaeng Phet station and follow the signs. The market is open daily from 6am to 8pm.

5. What's in a nickname?

Unlike people from other nations, almost all Thais have a nickname.

Nicknames are common in Thai culture and are usually chosen by parents based on their child's gender. Thais generally address their family members, friends and colleagues by their nicknames instead of their "official" names.

There are no specific rules on how parents choose nicknames for their children. Most likely, it is just a favourite name and, as a result, nicknames today are immensely varied.

Nicknames based on the names of animals are among the most popular, such as Nok (meaning bird), Kai (chicken), Moo (pig), Kung (shrimp), Pla (fish), Kwang (deer), Tao (turtle), Kob (frog), Ped (duck), Mod (ant), Singhto (lion) and Norn (worm).

Some nicknames clearly indicate the gender of the person, such as Chai (male), Ying (female), Boy, Man and Num (young man), while others suggest the order of birth, for example, Ton (beginning), Neung (first or number one), Yai (eldest), Lek (youngest) and Nong (mostly youngest sister).

Car brands like Benz and Porsche have become popular nicknames among boys.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe