Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is a country at the centre of the Indochinese peninsula in mainland Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.
Thailand is governed by the National Council for Peace and Order that took power in the May 2014. Its monarchy is headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946 as Rama IX, as he is the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty. He is currently the world's longest-serving head of state and the country's longest-reigning monarch;
With a total area of approximately 513,000 km2 Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country. It is the 20th most populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand's political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub. About 75–95% of the population is ethnically Tai, which includes four major regional groups: central Thai, northeastern Thai, northern Thai; and southern Thai. Thai Chinese, those of significant Chinese heritage, are 14% of the population, while Thais with partial Chinese ancestry comprise up to 40% of the population. Thai Malays represent 3% of the population, with the remainder consisting of Mons, Khmers and various "hill tribes". The country's official language is Thai and the primary religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practised by around 95% of the population.
Thailand experienced rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1996, becoming a newly industrialised country and a major exporter. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are leading sectors of the economy.
There is evidence of human habitation in Thailand that has been dated at 40,000 years before the present, with stone artefacts dated to this period at Tham Lod Rockshelter inMae Hong Son. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE to the Khmer Empire. Thailand in its earliest days was under the rule of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots, and the influence among Thais remains even today.
Indian influence on Thai culture was partly the result of direct contact with Indian settlers, but mainly it was brought about indirectly via the Indianized kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya, and Cambodia. It’s believed that Buddhism must have been flowing into Siam from India in the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire and far on into the first millennium after Christ. Later Thailand was influenced by the south Indian Pallava dynasty and north Indian Gupta Empire.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, established by the various Tai peoples, Mons, Khmers, Chams and Ethnic Malays, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artefacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist Sukhothai Kingdom, which was founded in 1238.
Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th–15th century, the Buddhist Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna, and Lan Xang (now Laos) were on the rise. However, a century later, the power of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the new Kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid 14th century in the lower Chao Phraya River or Menam area.
Ayutthaya's expansion centred along the Menam while in the northern valleys the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after Ayutthaya forces invaded the city. Thailand retained a tradition of trade with its neighbouring states, from China to India, Persia, and Arab lands. Ayutthaya became one of the most vibrant trading centres in Asia. European traders arrived in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the French, Dutch, and English. The Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767) left Ayutthaya burned and sacked by King Hsinbyushin.
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, Taksin moved the capital to Thonburi for approximately 15 years. The current Rattanakosin era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri Dynasty under KingRama I the Great. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonised. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire. As a result, the country remained a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably the loss of a large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step-by-step absorption by Britain of the Shan and Karen people areas and Malay Peninsula.
20th century: As part of the concessions which the Chakkri Dynasty offered to the British Empire in return for their support, Siam ceded four predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces to the British Empire in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. These four provinces (Kelantan,Tringganu, Kedah, Perlis) would later became Malaysia's four northern states.
In 1917, Siam joined the Allies of World War I and is counted as one of the victors of World War I. In 1932, a bloodless revolution carried out by the Khana Ratsadon group of military and civilian officials resulted in a transition of power, when King Prajadhipok was forced to grant the people of Siam their first constitution, thereby ending centuries of absolute monarchy. In 1939, the name of the kingdom, "Siam", was changed to "Thailand".
World War II: During World War II, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. The Japanese invasion of Thailand on 8 December 1941 occurred in co-ordination with attacks throughout Asia and engaged the Royal Thai Army for six to eight hours before Plaek Phibunsongkhram ordered an armistice. Shortly thereafter, Japan was granted free passage, and on 21 December 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol, wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French.
Subsequently, Thailand declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom on 25 January 1942, and undertook to "assist" Japan in its war against the Allies, while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese Free Thai Movement. Approximately 200,000 Asian labourers (mainly romusha) and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the Burma Railway, which is commonly known as the "Death Railway".
After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold War, Thailand then went through decades of political instability characterised by a number of coups d'état, as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable, prosperous democracy in the 1980s.
Totalling 513,120 square kilometers, Thailand comprises several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is the mountainous area of the Thai highlands, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon in the Thanon Thong Chai Range at 2,565 metres (8,415 ft) above sea level. The northeast, Isan, consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong River. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand.
Southern Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula. Politically, there are six geographical regions which differ from the others in population, basic resources, natural features, and level of social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is the most pronounced attribute of Thailand's physical setting.
The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the indispensable water courses of rural Thailand. Industrial scale production of crops use both rivers and their tributaries. The Gulf of Thailand covers 320,000 square kilometres (124,000 sq mi) and is fed by the Chao Phraya,Mae Klong, Bang Pakong, and Tapi Rivers. It contributes to the tourism sector owing to its clear shallow waters along the coasts in the southern region and the Kra Isthmus. The eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand is an industrial centre of Thailand with the kingdom's premier deepwater port in Sattahip and its busiest commercial port, Laem Chabang.
The Andaman Sea is a precious natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga, and Trang and their islands all lay along the coasts of the Andaman Sea and despite the 2004 tsunami, they are a tourist magnet for visitors from around the world.
Plans have resurfaced for a canal which would connect the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand, analogous to the Suez and the Panama Canals. The idea has been greeted positively by Thai politicians as it would cut fees charged by the Ports of Singapore, improve ties with China and India, lower shipping times, and eliminate pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca, and support the Thai government's policy of being the logistical hub for Southeast Asia. The canal, it is claimed, would improve economic conditions in the south of Thailand, which relies heavily on tourism income, and it would also change the structure of the Thai economy by making it an Asia logistical hub. The canal would be a major engineering project and has an expected cost of US$20–30 billion.
Most of Thailand has a "tropical wet and dry or savanna climate" type. The south and the eastern tip of the east have a tropical monsoon climate. Southwest monsoons that arrive between May and July (except in the south) signal the advent of the rainy season. This lasts into October and the cloud covering reduces the temperature again, with the high humidity experienced as 'hot and sticky'. November and December mark the onset of the dry season and night temperatures on high ground can occasionally drop to a light frost. Temperatures begin to climb again in January.
High Season (Nov–Mar)
A cool and dry season follows the monsoons, meaning the landscape is lush and temperatures are comfortable.
Western Christmas and New Year’s holidays bring crowds and inflated rates.
Shoulder Season (Apr–Jun, Sep & Oct)
April–June is generally very hot and dry, with an average Bangkok temperature of 30°C. Sea breezes in coastal areas provide natural air-con.
September and October are ideal for the north and the gulf coast.
Low Season (Jul–Oct)
Monsoon season ranges from afternoon showers to major flooding.
Some islands shut down; boat service is limited during stormy weather.
Be flexible with travel plans.
Rain is usually in short, intense bursts.
Thailand's population is largely rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. Thailand had an urban population of 45.7% as of 2010, concentrated mostly in and around the Bangkok Metropolitan Area.
Thailand's government-sponsored family planning program resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to around 0.4% today. In 1970, an average of 5.7 people lived in a Thai household. At the time of the 2010 census, the average Thai household size was 3.2 people.
Ethnic groups: Ethnic Thais make up the majority of Thailand's population, 95.9% in 2010. This number includes Thai Chinese, a historically and economically important minority. The remaining 4.1% of the population are Burmese (2.0%), others 1.3%, and unspecified 0.9%.
Thailand is home to a large immigrant community of around 200,000 foreigners. Some 41,000 Britons alone live in Thailand. Increasing numbers of migrants from neighboring Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as from Nepal and India, have pushed the total number of non-national residents to around 3.5 million as of 2009, up from an estimated 2 million in 2008, and about 1.3 million in the year 2000.
in general Thai police don’t hassle foreigners, especially tourists. They usually go out of their way to avoid having to speak English with a foreigner, especially regarding minor traffic issues. One major exception is drugs, which most Thai police view as either a social scourge against which it’s their duty to enforce the letter of the law, or an opportunity to make untaxed income via bribes.
If you are arrested for any offence, the police will allow you the opportunity to make a phone call, either to your embassy or consulate in Thailand if you have one, or to a friend or relative if not. There’s a whole set of legal codes governing the length of time and the manner in which you can be detained before being charged or put on trial, but a lot of discretion is left to the police. In the case of foreigners the police are more likely to bend these codes in your favour. However, as with police worldwide, if you don’t show respect you will make matters worse.
Thai law does not presume an indicted detainee to be either ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ but rather a ‘suspect’, whose guilt or innocence will be decided in court. Trials are usually speedy. The tourist police can be very helpful in cases of arrest. Although they typically have no jurisdiction over the kinds of cases handled by regular cops, they may be able to help with translations or with contacting your embassy. You can call the hotline number 24 hours a day to lodge complaints or to request assistance with regards to personal safety.
The official language of Thailand is Thai, a Tai–Kadai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Myanmar, and numerous smaller languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Yunnan south to the Chinese border. It is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet, an abugida script that evolved from the Khmer alphabet. Several other dialects exist, and coincide with the regional designations. Southern Thai is spoken in the southern provinces, and Northern Thai is spoken in the provinces that were formerly part of the independent kingdom of Lan Na. English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers remains low, especially outside cities.
Thailand's prevalent religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is an integral part of Thai identity and culture. Active participation in Buddhism is among the highest in the world. According to the 2000 census, 94.6% of the country's population self-identified as Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims constitute the second largest religious group in Thailand, comprising 4.6% of the population.
Islam is concentrated mostly in the country's southernmost provinces: Pattani, Yala, Satun, Narathiwat, and part of Songkhla Chumphon, which are predominantly Malay, most of whom are Sunni Muslims. Christians represent 0.7% of the population, with the remaining population consisting of Sikhs and Hindus, who live mostly in the country's cities. There is also a small but historically significant Jewish community in Thailand dating back to the 17th century.
Thai culture has been shaped by many influences, including Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian, and Chinese. Its traditions incorporate a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's national religion, Theravada Buddhism, is central to modern Thai identity. Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism, as well as ancestor worship.
Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalised, populate Thailand. Some of these groups spill over into Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia and have mediated change between their traditional local culture, national Thai, and global cultural influences. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has allowed for this group to hold positions of economic and political power. Thai Chinese businesses prosper as part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties.
The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is generally offered first by the younger of the two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch face to fingertips, usually coinciding with the spoken words "sawatdi khrap" for male speakers, and "sawatdi kha" for females. The elder may then respond in the same way. Social status and position, such as in government, will also have an influence on who performs the wai first. For example, although one may be considerably older than a provincial governor, when meeting it is usually the visitor who pays respect first. When children leave to go to school, they are taught towai their parents to indicate their respect. The wai is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting of India and Nepal.
As with other Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is paramount in Thai culture. Elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies. Older siblings have duties to younger ones. Taboos in Thailand include touching someone's head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the most sacred and the foot the lowest part of the body.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty. Common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chilies, lime juice, lemon grass, coriander, galangal, palm sugar, and fish sauce (nam pla). The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as "hom Mali" rice) which forms a part of almost every meal.