The kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a natural gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. The Thais often compare their land to the shape of an elephant’s head, seen in profile, facing west. Thailand is roughly equidistant from China and India. Centuries of migration from southern China and trade contacts with India brought tremendous influences from each of these Asian centers. Thailand embraces a rich diversity of cultures and traditions. With its proud history, tropical climate and renowned hospitality, the Kingdom is a never-ending source of fascination and pleasure for international visitors.
Located in the center of Indochina, Thailand borders Myanmar to the North and West, Laos to the Northeast, Cambodia to the East, and Malaysia to the south. Its southwestern coast stretches along the Andaman Sea, and its Southern and Southeastern coastlines border the Gulf of Thailand. Its shape and geography divide into four natural regions : the mountains and forests of the North; the vast rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the tropical islands and long coastline of the peninsula South. At 514,000 km² Thailand is the world’s 50th largest country in land mass, whilst it is the world’s 20th largest country in terms of population. It is comparable in population to countries such as France and United Kingdom, and is similar in land size to France and California in the US; it is just over twice the size of the entire United Kingdom, and 1.4 times the size of Germany.
The capital and largest city of Thailand is Bangkok. It is also the country’s centre of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. Bangkok is known in Thai as “Krung Thep Mahanakorn,” or, more colloquially, “Krung Thep.” It is also the seat of Thailand’s revered Royal Family, with His Majesty the King recognised as Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Upholder of the Buddhist religion and Upholder of all religions.
Thailand is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy with His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, or King Rama X, the tenth king of the Chakri Dynasty, the present king.
Administration: The country comprises 76 provinces (changwat) that are further divided into districts (amphoe), sub-districts (tambon) and villages (moobaan).
Thailand is an emerging economy. Thailand exports an increasing value of over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually. Major exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, 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 percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production. Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism contributes about 5% to Thailand’s GDP.
Thais are well-known for their friendliness and hospitality. A large majority of over 62 million citizens of Thailand are ethnic Thai (80%), followed by Chinese (10%), Malay (3%), and the rest are minorities (Mon, Khmer, hill tribes). About 7 (inofficial 13) million people reside in Bangkok.
Thailand is one of the most strongly Buddhist countries in the world. The national religion is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by more than 95% of all Thais (2002). The cultures and traditions in Thailand are significantly influenced by those of India, China, Cambodia, as well as various countries in Southeast Asia. As a result, seniority plays an important role in the country’s cultures. Respect for the elders is essential to Thai’s spiritual practices as well as daily lifestyles. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country’s cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century.
The official language of Thailand is Thai. It is the principal language of education and administration 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. Spoken and written Thai is largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. English and some European Languages are spoken in most hotels, shops and restaurants in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nationwide.
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons:
Hot Season: March – May
Rainy Season: June – October
Cool Season: November – February
Thailand is an all-year travelling destination. For those who prefer cooler temperatures the period from November to February (cool season) is recommended. From May to October (green season) there are less visitors and the hotels offer excellent rates. The average annual temperature is about 28° C. The northern region can be a bit cold during the cool season. Be sure to bring along a sweater or a light jacket if you intend to visit this region around that time of the year. During the rainy season, downpours hardly last more than a couple of hours.