Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma 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 Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest.
The country is a constitutional monarchy, headed by King Rama IX, the ninth king of the House of Chakri, who, having reigned since 1946, is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king of Thailand is titled Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Adherent of Buddhism, and Upholder of religions.
Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country in terms of total area, with an area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), and is the 20th-most-populous country, with around 64 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand's political, commercial, industrial and cultural hub. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thai, 14% Thai Chinese, and 3% is ethnically Malay; the rest belong to minority groups including Mons, Khmers and various hill tribes. The country's official language is Thai. The primary religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of the population.
Thailand experienced rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1996, and is presently a newly industrialized country and a major exporter. Tourism also contributes significantly to the Thai economy. There are approximately 2.2 million legal and illegal migrants in Thailand and the country has also attracted a number of expatriates from developed countries.
History - There is evidence of human habitation in Thailand that has been dated at 40,000 years before the present. 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.
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artifacts 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 kingdom of Sukhothai, 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 ascension. 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 valley the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after the 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.
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, King Taksin the Great moved the capital of Thailand 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 King Rama I the Great. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, "A quarter to a third of the population of some areas of Thailand and Burma were slaves in the 17th through the 19th centuries."
Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that has never been colonized. 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 colonized by the two colonizing powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being 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 Malay Peninsula.
20th century - The losses initially included Penang and eventually culminated in the loss of four predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's four northern states, under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.
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.'
During World War II, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai Army for six to eight hours before Plaek Pibulsonggram 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 resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. Approximately 200,000 Asian labourers (mainly romusha) and 60,000 Allied POWs worked on the Thailand–Burma 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 coups d'état as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.
Politics and government - The politics of Thailand is currently conducted within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.
Geography - Totalling 513,120 square kilometres (198,120 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country by total area. It is slightly smaller than Yemen and slightly larger than Spain.
Thailand is home to 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 sustainable resource 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 Gulf of Thailand is also an industrial centre of Thailand with the kingdom's main port in Sattahip along with being the entry gates for Bangkok's Inland Seaport.
The Andaman Sea is regarded as Thailand's most precious natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang and their lush islands all lay along the coasts of the Andaman Sea and despite the 2004 Tsunami, they continue to be and ever more so, the playground of the rich and elite of Asia and the world.
Plans have resurfaced of a logistical connection of the two bodies of water which would be coined the Thai Canal, analogous to the Suez and the Panama Canal. Such an idea has been greeted with positive accounts by Thai politicians as it would cut fees charged by the Ports of Singapore, improve ties with China and India, lower shipping times and increase ship safety owing to pirate fears in the Strait of Melaka and, support the Thai government's policy of being the logistical hub for Southeast Asia.
The ports 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 moving it closer to a services centre of Asia. The canal would be a major engineering project and has expected costs of 20–30 billion dollars.
The local climate is tropical and characterized by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.
Education - Thailand enjoys a high level of literacy, and education is provided by a well-organized school system of kindergartens, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, numerous vocational colleges, and universities. The private sector of education is well developed and significantly contributes to the overall provision of education which the government would not be able to meet through the public establishments. Education is compulsory up to and including age group 14, and the government provides free education through to age group 17.
Teaching relies heavily on rote rather than on student-centred methodology. The establishment of reliable and coherent curricula for its primary and secondary schools is subject to such rapid changes that schools and their teachers are not always sure what they are supposed to be teaching, and authors and publishers of textbooks are unable to write and print new editions quickly enough to keep up with the volatile situation. The issue concerning university entrance has therefore also been in constant upheaval for a number of years. Nevertheless, education has seen its greatest progress in the years since 2001. Most of the present generation of students are computer literate. Thailand was ranked 54th out of 56 countries globally for English proficiency, the second-lowest in Asia.
Extensive nationwide IQ tests were carried out in December 2010 to January 2011 on 72,780 Thai students. The average IQ was found to be at 98.59, which is higher than previous studies have found. The IQ levels are not consistent throughout the country though, with the lowest average of 88.07 found in the southern region of Narathiwat and the highest average of 108.91 reported in Nonthaburi province. The Thai Ministry of Public Health blames the discrepancies on iodine deficiency and steps are being taken to require that iodine be added to table salt, a practice common in many Western countries.
In 2013, the Ministry of ICT announced that 27,231 schools would receive classroom-level access to high-speed internet.
Internet - In Bangkok, there are 23,000 free wi-fi internet hotspots provided to the public. The Internet in Thailand also consists of 10Gbit/s high speed fiber-optic lines that can be leased and ISP's such as KIRZ that provide residential internet services.
The internet is censored by the Thai government, making some sites unreachable. Organisations involved are the Royal Thai Police, the Communications Authority of Thailand, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT).
Economy - Thailand is an emerging economy and considered as a newly industrialized country. After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1996 – averaging 12.4% annually – increased pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997, the year in which the economy contracted by 1.9% led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the Chavalit Yongchaiyudh administration to float the currency, however, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was forced to resign after his cabinet came under fire for its slow response to the crisis. The baht was pegged at 25 to the US dollar from 1978 to 1997, however, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.8% that year. This collapse prompted the Asian financial crisis.
Thailand's economy started to recover in 1999, expanding 4.2% and 4.4% in 2000, thanks largely to strong exports. Growth (2.2%) was dampened by the softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years owing to strong growth in Asia, a relatively weak baht encouraging exports and increasing domestic spending as a result of several mega projects and incentives of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004 was 5–7% annually. Growth in 2005, 2006 and 2007 hovered around 4–5%. Due both to the weakening of the US dollar and an increasingly strong Thai currency, by March 2008, the dollar was hovering around the 33 baht mark.
Thailand exports an increasing value of over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually. Major exports include Thai rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewellery, cars, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world's no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percentage of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the arable land area is used for rice production.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and cars, while tourism in Thailand makes up about 6% of the economy. Prostitution in Thailand and sex tourism also form a de facto part of the economy. Cultural milieu combined with poverty and the lure of money have caused prostitution and sex tourism in particular to flourish in Thailand. One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$4.3 billion per year or about 3% of the Thai economy. According to research by Chulalongkorn University on the Thai illegal economy, prostitution in Thailand in the period between 1993 and 1995, made up around 2.7% of the GDP. It is believed that at least 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade.
The economy of Thailand is an emerging economy which is heavily export-dependent, with exports accounting for more than two thirds of gross domestic product (GDP) The exchange rate is Baht 30.90/USD as of 26 April 2012.
Thailand has a GDP worth US$602 billion (on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis). This classifies Thailand as the 2nd largest economy in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia. Despite this, Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.
It functions as an anchor economy for the neighboring developing economies of Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. Thailand's recovery from the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis depended mainly on exports, among various other factors. Thailand ranks high among the world's automotive export industries along with manufacturing of electronic goods.
Between 1997 and 2010, 4,306 mergers & acquisitions with a total known value of USD$81 billion with the involvement of Thai firms have been announced. The year 2010 was a new record in terms of value with USD$12 billion of transactions. The largest transaction with involvement of Thai companies has been: PTT Chemical PCL merged with PTT Aromatics and Refining PCL valued at USD$3.8 billion in 2011.
Forty-nine percent of Thailand's labor force is employed in agriculture, however this is less than the 70% employed in 1980. Agriculture has been experiencing a transition from labour intensive and transitional methods into a more industrialised and competitive sector. Between 1962 and 1983, the agricultural sector grew by 4.1% on average a year and continued to grow at 2.2% between 1983 and 2007. However, the relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased. As of December 2011, the unemployment rate in Thailand stands at 0.4%.
With the instability surrounding the recent coup and the military rule, however, the GDP growth of Thailand has settled at around 4–5% from previous highs of 5–7% under the previous civilian administration, as investor and consumer confidence has been degraded somewhat due to political uncertainty. The IMF has predicted that the Thai economy will rebound strongly from the low 0.1% GDP growth in 2011 to 5.5% in 2012, 7.5% in 2013 thanks to the accommodative monetary policy of the Bank of Thailand and a package of fiscal stimulus measures by the incumbent Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Thailand generally uses the metric system but traditional units of measurement for land area are used, and imperial measure (feet, inches etc.) are occasionally used with building materials such as wood and plumbing sizes. Years are numbered as B.E. (Buddhist Era) in education, the civil service, government, and on contracts and newspaper datelines; in banking, however, and increasingly in industry and commerce, standard Western year (Christian or Common Era) counting prevails.
Language - The official language of Thailand is Thai, a Tai–Kadai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Burma, 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 script. 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 Lannathai.
Thailand is also host to several other minority languages, the largest of which is the Lao dialect of Isan spoken in the northeastern provinces. Although sometimes considered a Thai dialect, it is a Lao dialect, and the region in where it is traditionally spoken was historically part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In the far south, Yawi, a dialect of Malay, is the primary language of the Malay Muslims. Varieties of Chinese are also spoken by the large Chinese population, with Teochew being best represented.
Religion - The most common religion is Theravada Buddhism. Thai Buddhism ranks amongst the highest in the world. According to the last census (2000) 94.6% of the total population are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Thailand's southernmost provinces – Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnically Malay, and most Malays are Sunni Muslims. Christians represent 0.7% of the population. A small community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country's cities. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century.
Culture - 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 important to modern Thai identity. Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism as well as ancestor worship. The official calendar in Thailand is based on the Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2012 is 2555 BE in Thailand.
Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Burma, 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 their face to the hands, usually coinciding with the spoken word "Sawasdee khrap" for male speakers, and "Sawasdee ka" for females. The elder then is to respond afterwards 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 to wai to their parents to represent their respect for them. The wai is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting of India and Nepal.
Association football, however, has possibly overtaken Muay Thai's position as most widely viewed and liked sport in contemporary Thai society and it is not uncommon to see Thais cheering their favourite English Premier League teams on television and walking around in replica kits. Another widely enjoyed pastime, and once a competitive sport, is kite flying.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as Hom Mali rice) which is included in almost every meal. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year. Over 5000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. The king of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.
Like most 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 an important concept 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 dirtiest part of the body. Thai society has been influenced in recent years by its widely available multi-language press and media. There are some English and numerous Thai and Chinese newspapers in circulation; most Thai popular magazines use English headlines as a chic glamor factor. Many large businesses in Bangkok operate in English as well as other languages.
Thailand is the largest newspaper market in Southeast Asia with an estimated circulation of over 13 million copies daily in 2003. Even upcountry, out of Bangkok, media flourishes. For example, according to Thailand's Public Relations Department Media Directory 2003–2004, the nineteen provinces of Isan, Thailand's northeastern region, hosted 116 newspapers along with radio, TV and cable.
Sports - Muay Thai is a native form of kickboxing and Thailand's national sport. It incorporates kicks, punches, knees and elbow strikes in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing and this has led to Thailand gaining medals at the Olympic Games in boxing.
Takraw is a sport native to Thailand, which the players hit a rattan ball and only be allowed to use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball. Sepak takraw is a form of this sport which appears in volleyball style, the players must volley a ball over a net and force it to hit the ground on opponent's side. It is a popular in other countries in Southeast Asia also. A rather similar game but played only with the feet is Buka ball.
Rugby is also a growing sport in Thailand with the Thailand national rugby union team rising to be ranked 61st in the world. Thailand became the first country in the world to host an international 80 kg welterweight rugby tournament in 2005. The national domestic Thailand Rugby Union (TRU) competition includes several universities and services teams such as Chulalongkorn University, Mahasarakham University, Kasetsart University, Prince of Songkla University, Thammasat University, Rangsit University, the Thai Police, the Thai Army, the Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force. Local sports clubs which also compete in the TRU include the British Club of Bangkok, the Southerners Sports Club (Bangkok) and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
Thailand has been called the Golf Capital of Asia as it is a popular destination for golf. The country attracts a large number of golfers from Japan, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Western countries who come to play golf in Thailand every year. The growing popularity of golf, especially among the middle classes and expats, is evident since there are more than 200 world-class golf courses nationwide and some of them are chosen to host PGA and LPGA tournaments, such as Amata Spring Country Club, Alpine Golf & Sports Club, Thai Country Club and Black Mountain Golf Club.
Basketball is also a growing sport in Thailand, especially on the professional sports club level. The Chang Thailand Slammers won the 2011 Asean Basketball League Championship. The Thailand national basketball team had its most successful year at the 1966 Asian Games where it won the silver medal.
Thammasat Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. It is currently used mostly for football matches. The stadium holds 25,000. It is located in Thammasat University's Rangsit campus. It was built for the 1998 Asian Games by construction firm Christiani and Nielsen, the same company that constructed the Democracy Monument in Bangkok.
Rajamangala National Stadium is the biggest sporting arena in Thailand. It currently has a capacity of 65,000. It is located in Bang Kapi, Bangkok. The stadium was built in 1998 for the 1998 Asian Games and is the home stadium of Thailand national football team up to present.
Other sports in Thailand are slowly growing as the country develops its sporting infrastructure. The success in sports like weightlifting and Taekwondo at the last two Summer Olympic Games has demonstrated that boxing is no longer the only medal chance for Thailand.