Thailand - Country Overview
Thailand is an independent country that lies in the heart of 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.
Thailand is known as ‘The Land of Smiles,’ a country which has an eventful history and is studded with telling ruins, big and small temples and deserted cities. With its distinctive culture, languages, cuisine, customs, traditions, faiths, beliefs and socio-religious values Thailand occupies a distinct place in Southeast Asia , nay, the whole world. Its beautiful beaches, scenic mountains and herds of elephants in forests attract tourists from far and near lands.
Thailand is a country of golden roofed pagodas, Buddhist monks in saffron robes and tonsured heads, busy departmental stores, distinct cultural heritage. All these endow the country with a distinct identity. Bangkok has both modern and traditional architecture which add to its special identity.
With its convenient transport systems, cheap accommodation and delicious and exotic food and inviting night life Thailand is a major tourist attraction. The Thais are also well known for their friendliness and hospitality even to strangers. They are also a very patriotic and valiant race that has struggled for centuries to preserve their national independence and freedom from foreign domination.
Thailand is the only country in South-east Asia that has the distinction of keeping colonial rule at a safe distance.. Buddhism, monarchy the people and the military, all have played important roles at different times to shape the country’s polity and socio-economic structure. In turn the monarchy, the army and the civil administration have ruled the country Thailand’s present administration is run by a democratically elected civil government; but the country was ruled by the armed forces between 1947 and 1992 (to be checked up) – a period marked by coups and attempted coups and popular resentment.
In the 1980s the country witnessed an explosion to its traditional agricultural economy having a significant impact on the Thai society when people in thousands rushed for alternative and more remunerative jobs in emerging industries and services sectors.
The so called ‘Asian Tigers’ fell sick around 1997, and with that the southeast Asian economy collapsed. This had led to public disillusionment with the free-market policies and encouraged the rise of populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In September 2006, the military once again stepped into politics, carrying out a bloodless coup against Prime Minister Thaksin.
By the end of 2007, the military administration had drafted a new constitution followed by a general election following the provisions of the new constitution, and thus paving the way to the transition back to civilian rule.
Thailand has a minority Muslim and ethnic Malay population concentrated in its southern provinces.
Thailand's capital, Bangkok flourished rapidly with the growth of industries, science and technology because of the impact of the’ flying goose’ economy of Asia in the second half of the last century when the number of skilled workers also swelled rapidly. . It is one of Asia's most vibrant and heavily congested cities. The large-scale sex industry which flourishes often at official patronage for considerations of foreign exchange, contributes to the incidence of HIV/AIDS infection. This is a major concern for the government and also the international community. Thailand has taken the lead in the region in distributing cheaper generic drugs for AIDS/HIV sufferers and in building awareness amongst people against HIV/AIDS incidence. The result has been encouraging with reduced number of new infections.
Thailand occupies the western half of the Indochinese peninsula and the northern two-thirds of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its neighbours are Burma (Myanmar) on the north and west, Laos on the north and northeast, Cambodia on the east, and Malaysia on the south. Thailand is about the size of France.
Thailand is composed of four main regions. The northern mountainous region contains numerous ruins and temples, the ancient city of Chiang Mai, and Thailand's highest peak, Doi Inthanon.
Thailand is a hot and moist place. Its tropical climate is divided into three seasons: cool in November to February, hot in March to May, and rainy in June to October. An extreme climate prevails in the northern regions, where there is a severe dry heat in late spring and the cool weather may turn to cold in the mountains. The rainy season is no hindrance to travel in Thailand, as the rains are often cool and refreshing.
Thailand is the world's 50th largest country in terms of territory with a total surface area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 mi2).
Thailand is world’s 21st most-populous country, with approximately 64 million people. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thai, 14% is of Chinese origin, and 3% is ethnically Malay. The rest belong to minority groups including Mons, Khmers and various hill tribes. There are approximately 2.2 million legal and illegal migrants in Thailand.
The history of Thailand begins with the migration of the Tai-Lao speaking people from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Prior to this, the regions were ruled by Indian kingdoms such as the Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms. The Thais established their own states starting with Sukhothai, Chiang Saen and Chiang Mai as Lanna Kingdom and then Ayutthaya kingdom. These states fought with each other and were under constant threat from the Khmers, Burma and Vietnam. Much later, the European colonial powers menacingly threatened the country’s powers in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. But Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state ever free from colonial rule. . After the end of the monarchy in 1932, Thailand remained almost continuously for about sixty years (to be checked up) under military rule before the establishment of a democratically elected government . Since the political reform of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters. Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to elected democracy. But all governments had acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state.
Thailand is often rightly called the "land of smiles", because it is believed that more smiling people are here than anywhere else in the world.
The country has a population of about 59 million, with some 6.7 million of these people living in the capital Bang Kok . Approximately 75% of the citizenry are ethnic Thais, 14% are Chinese, and the remaining 11% are mostly Indian, Malay, Karen, Khmer or Mon. The literacy rate is high at about 94% and the average life expectancy is 66 years for men and 72 years for women.
Thai people are friendly and tolerant; but there are a few must- follow restrictions to be observed. Avoid touching people on the head, and keep your feet on the ground where they should belong. Stay calm, keep smiling and enjoy the hospitality of your hosts. The official language is Thai, but English is widely spoken in all major tourist and business locations.
The’ Wai’ is the traditional Thai greeting which is used instead of a handshake, but it can also be alternately used as a means of saying sorry, thank you, or to show respect. If someone is introduced to a Thai and that person Wais then one should return the Wai. Generally the younger person should ‘Wai’ first, but the ’Wai’ of a small child is best returned by a big smile.
Religion plays a very important role in Thai society. It is considered an essential ingredient of life; it is not only the major moral force of a Thai family and community but also has contributed for many centuries to the shaping of the fundamental character of freedom loving, individualistic, and tolerant people of Thailand.
Theravada or Hiragana Buddhism is the national religion of Thailand; but there is total religious freedom in the country.And Islam, Christianity , Hinduism and other faiths are also practiced freely and protected by the constitution. Buddhism is the faith of 95 percent of the population, 4 percent are Muslims, 0.5 percent Christians, and the remainder Hindus, Sikhs and followers of other religions. In spite of the fact that Buddhism is the faith of the majority, both the king and the government endorse and support all the religions practiced by the people of the land. Amidst rich diversity of culture and belief, people of Thailand always have lived together in peace and harmony.
Thailand is largely tropical ; so it is hot and humid all the year round with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F), However, there are three distinct seasons:
From November to the end of February, it does not rain much during these months and temperatures are at their lowest. This is the most popular time to visit and, especially around Christmas and the English New Year or at Chinese New Year a few weeks later, finding flights and accommodation can be expensive and difficult.
From March to June, Thailand scorches as temperatures are as high as 40°C (104°F). Pleasant enough when sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, but not the best time othe year to go temple-tramping in Bangkok.
From July to October, although it only really gets underway in September, tropical monsoons hit most of the country.
There are local diversions to these general patterns. In particular, the south-east coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) has the rains reversed, with the peak season being May-October and the rainy off season in November-February.
The official language of Thailand is Thai, a Kradai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Burma. It is the principal language of education and official work, and is spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet. Southern Thai is spoken in the southern provinces, and Northern Thai is spoken in the provinces that were formarly 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 and the region 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. Chinese dialects are also spoken by the large Chinese population. Teochew is the dialect best represented.
Numerous tribal languages are also spoken, including those belonging to the Mon-Khmer family, such as Mon, Khmer, Viet, Mlabri; Austronesian family, such as Cham, Moken, and Orang Asli, Sino-Tibetan family such as Lawa, Akhan, and Karen; and other Tai languages such as Nyaw, Phu Thai, and Saek. Hmong is a member of the Hmong-Mien languages, which is now regarded as a language family of its own.
English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers is very small, especially outside the cities.