Thailand

ราชอาณาจักรไทย
Ratcha Anachak Thai

Kingdom of Thailand
Flag of Thailand Coat of arms of Thailand
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Phleng Chat
Royal anthem: Phleng Sansoen Phra Barami
Location of Thailand
Capital Bangkok (Krung Thep)
Largest city Bangkok
Official language Thai
Government Military junta under Constitutional Monarchy
 - King HM The King Bhumibol Adulyadej
 - Prime Minister General Surayud Chulanont
 - President of the Council of National Security General Sonthi Boonyaratglin
Independence  
 - Sukhothai kingdom 1238–1368 
 - Ayutthaya kingdom 1350–1767 
 - Thonburi kingdom 1767 to April 7 1782 
 - Ratanakosin kingdom April 7 1782 to date 
Area
 - Total 514,000 km² (49th)
198,000 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 0.4
Population
 - July 2006 estimate 64,631, 5951 (19th)
 - 2000 census 60,916,441
 - Density 126/km² (80th2)
/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $560.7 billion (21st)
 - Per capita $8,300 (69th)
HDI  (2004) 0.784 (medium) (72nd)
Currency Baht (฿) (THB)
Time zone (UTC+7)
 - Summer (DST) (UTC+7)
Internet TLD .th
Calling code +66
1 Estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.
2 Based on July 2005 figures.

The Kingdom of Thailand lies in Southeast Asia, with Laos and Cambodia to its east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to its south, and the Andaman Sea and Myanmar to its west. The country's official name was Siam (Thai: สยาม; IPA: [saˈjaːm], RTGS: Sayam), until 24 June 1939. [1] It was again called Siam between 1945 and May 11, 1949, when it was again changed by official proclamation. The word Thai (ไทย) means "freedom" in the Thai language and is also the name of the majority ethnic group.

Contents

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History

Due to its geographical location, Thai culture has always been greatly influenced by China and India. However, different indigenous cultures have also existed in Thailand since the Ban Chiang culture.

The first Siamese/Thai state is traditionally considered the Buddhist kingdom Sukhothai founded in 1238, following the decline and fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th - 15th century.

A century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the larger Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century. After Ayutthaya sacked Angkor itself in 1431, much of the Khmer court and its Hindu customs were brought to Ayuthaya, and Khmer customs and rituals were adopted into the courtly culture of Siam.

After Ayuthaya fell in 1767, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great, until a coup d'etat in 1782. The current (Ratthanakosin) era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.

European powers began traveling to Thailand in the 16th century. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to have never been colonized by a European power. The two main reasons for this is that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to utilise the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British trading interests. This included the loss of the three southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states.

In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During the war, Thailand was allied with Japan. Yet after the war, it became an ally of the United States. Thailand, holding an unstable government, went through a series of coups d'état, but eventually progressed towards democracy after the 1980s.

In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht was soon worth 56 baht to the US Dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then the baht has regained some strength and currently trades around 36-38 baht to the dollar.

The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2007 is called 2550 BE in Thailand.

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Government

Almost a million people awaiting Bhumibol's arrival at ceremonies marking his 60th anniversary as King, June 9, 2006
Almost a million people awaiting Bhumibol's arrival at ceremonies marking his 60th anniversary as King, June 9, 2006

Thailand was a representative democratic constitutional monarchy until the sudden coup on September 19, 2006. The King is well respected and in some segments of society revered and it is a crime to insult any of the Royal Family. The Thai King recently celebrated 60 years on the throne and millions of Thai citizens commemorated the event and showed their reverence by donning yellow t-shirts and/or by wearing yellow wrist bands - the official royal color. The government is now a military junta headed by Sonthi Boonyaratglin (RTGS: Sonthi Bunyaratkalin). On 1 October 2006, the junta named Surayud Chulanont (RTGS: Surayut Chulanon) as the prime minister of the interim government.

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September 2006 coup d'état

On September 19, 2006, the Royal Thai Army led by Army Commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin seized control of key government buildings and television stations in Bangkok when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (RTGS: Thaksin Chinawat) was in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Later, the Thai armed forces and police force declared the creation of the Council for Democratic Reform of the Constitutional Monarchy, and announced that it had taken control of Bangkok. The military declared martial law, abrogated the Thai Constitution, and suspended Parliament. The Thai public, however, appear to be largely unaffected by this reform, as the change is constitutional, not physical. A new Prime Minister was sworn in on 1 October 2006, and Thailand's king swore in a post-coup cabinet, chosen by new Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont on 9 October 2006.

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Politics

Democracy Monument and pupils in Bangkok.
Democracy Monument and pupils in Bangkok.

The king has little direct power under the constitution; however, as a king, he is a sign of national identity and is the chosen protector of Buddhism in Thailand. The present monarch enjoys a great deal of popular respect and moral authority, which has on occasion been used to resolve political crises. It is considered a crime to mock or criticize the King and in doing, one can expect charges of lese majesty.

The head of government is the Prime Minister, and is appointed by the king from among the members of the lower house of parliament, usually the leader of the party that can organise a majority coalition government. The Prime Minister usually appoints a Cabinet.

The parliament is called the National Assembly (รัฐสภา, rathasapha) and is bicameral: it consists of a House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร, sapha phuthaen ratsadon) of 500 seats and a Senate (วุฒิสภา, wuthisapha) of 200 seats. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote. The House of Representatives is elected by the first-past-the-post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority will be elected in one constituency. The Senate is elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one Senator depending on its population size. Members of House of Representatives serve four-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms. The court system (ศาล, saan) has three layers, the highest judiciary body being the Supreme Court (ศาลฎีกา, sandika).

Thailand is an active member of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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Administrative divisions

Map of Thailand
Map of Thailand

Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (จังหวัด, changwat), which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon in Thai) and Pattaya, of which Bangkok is also at a provincial level, while Pattaya is part of Chon Buri Province. Some Thai people still count Bangkok as a province, making Thailand a 76-province country.

Each province is divided into smaller districts. As of 2000 there are 796 districts (อำเภอ, amphoe), 81 minor districts (กิ่งอำเภอ, king amphoe) and the 50 districts of Bangkok (เขต, khet). Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok (ปริมณฑล, pari monthon). These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city (เมือง, mueang) is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai. The 76 provinces are as follows:

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Central

  1. Ang Thong
  2. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
  3. Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon), Special Governed District of [1]
  4. Chai Nat
  5. Kanchanaburi [2]
  6. Lop Buri
  7. Nakhon Nayok
  8. Nakhon Pathom [1]
  9. Nonthaburi [1]
  10. Pathum Thani [1]
  11. Phetchaburi [2]
  12. Prachuap Khiri Khan [2]
  13. Ratchaburi [2]
  14. Samut Prakan [1]
  15. Samut Sakhon [1]
  16. Samut Songkhram [2]
  17. Saraburi
  18. Sing Buri
  19. Suphan Buri [2]
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East

  1. Chachoengsao
  2. Chanthaburi
  3. Chon Buri
  4. Prachin Buri
  5. Rayong
  6. Sa Kaeo
  7. Trat
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North

  1. Chiang Mai
  2. Chiang Rai
  3. Kamphaeng Phet
  4. Lampang
  5. Lamphun
  6. Mae Hong Son
  7. Nakhon Sawan
  8. Nan
  9. Phayao
  10. Phetchabun
  11. Phichit
  12. Phitsanulok
  13. Phrae
  14. Sukhothai
  15. Tak
  16. Uthai Thani
  17. Uttaradit
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Northeast

  1. Amnat Charoen
  2. Buri Ram
  3. Chaiyaphum
  4. Kalasin
  5. Khon Kaen
  6. Loei
  7. Maha Sarakham
  8. Mukdahan
  9. Nakhon Phanom
  10. Nakhon Ratchasima
  11. Nong Bua Lamphu
  12. Nong Khai
  13. Roi Et
  14. Sakon Nakhon
  15. Si Sa Ket
  16. Surin
  17. Ubon Ratchathani
  18. Udon Thani
  19. Yasothon
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South

  1. Chumphon
  2. Krabi
  3. Nakhon Si Thammarat
  4. Narathiwat
  5. Pattani
  6. Phang Nga
  7. Phatthalung
  8. Phuket
  9. Ranong
  10. Satun
  11. Songkhla
  12. Surat Thani
  13. Trang
  14. Yala

NOTE: In italics [1], that province represents the Greater Bangonk sub-region; in italics [2], that province represents the West sub-region.

See also: List of cities in Thailand, List of cities in Thailand by population

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Geography

A waterfall in Sai Yok National Park.
A waterfall in Sai Yok National Park.

At 513,000 km² (198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 49th-largest country. It is comparable in size to Spain, and somewhat larger than the US state of California.

Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,576 metres (8,451 ft). The northeast 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. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.

The local climate is tropical and characterised 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. Major cities beside the capital Bangkok include Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Phuket and Hat Yai (Songkhla Province).

See also: List of islands of Thailand

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Economy

A market in Bangkok.
A market in Bangkok.

After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 - averaging almost 9% annually - increased pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997 led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the government to float the currency. Long pegged at 25 to the US dollar, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.2% that same year. The collapse prompted a wider Asian financial crisis.

Thailand entered a recovery stage in 1998, expanding 4.2% and grew 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports - which increased about 20% in 2000. Growth was dampened by a softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in China and the various domestic stimulation programs of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, popularly known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2003 and 2004 was over 6% annually.[2]

Thailand exports over $105 billion worth of products annually [2]. 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 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 [3]. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production [4].

Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism contributes about 5% of the Thai economy's GDP. Long stay foreign residents also contribute heavily to GDP.

The main natural resources of Thailand are tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, and arable land.

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Demographics

Thailand's population is dominated by various Tai-speaking peoples. Among these, the most numerous are the Central Thai, the Northeastern Thai or Isan or Lao, the Northern Thai, and the Southern Thai. The Central Thai have long dominated the nation politically, economically, and culturally, even though they make up only about one-third of Thailand's population and are slightly outnumbered by the Northeastern Thai. Due to education system and the forging of a national identity, many people are now able to speak Central Thai as well as their own local dialects.

The largest group of non-Tai people are the Chinese who have historically played a disproportionately significant role in the economy. Most have integrated completely into mainstream Thai society, and do not live in Bangkok's Chinatown on Yaowarat Road. Other ethnic groups include Malays in the south, Mon, Khmer and various hill tribes. After the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese refugees settled in Thailand, mainly in the northeastern regions.

According to the last census (2000) 94.6% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Some provinces and towns south of Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, including many ethnic Thai.[verification needed] Often Muslims live in separate communities from non-Muslims. The southern tip of Thailand are mostly ethnic Malays and they are mostly concentrated in the south, where they form a strong majority in four provinces. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs and some Hindus also live in the country's cities.

The Thai language is Thailand's national language, written in its own alphabet, but many ethnic and regional dialects exist as well as areas where people speak predominantly Isan or Mon-Khmer languages. Although English is widely taught in schools, proficiency is low.

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Culture

Theravada Buddhism is highly respected in Thailand.
Theravada Buddhism is highly respected in Thailand.

Theravada Buddhism is central to modern Thai identity and belief, though in practice it has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from animism as well as ancestor worship. In areas in the southernmost parts of Thailand, Islam is prevalent. Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and have maintained a distinctly traditional way-of-life despite strong Thai cultural influence. Ethnic 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, the most noteworthy of these being the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who held power from 2001 until September 19, 2006 when he was ousted by a military coup d'état.

Like most Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generousity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture. Thais will bow to their feet of their parents or grandparents to honor them. In addition, the elders always rule in family decisions or ceremonies.

Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is the national sport in Thailand and its native martial art. It reached popularity all over the world in the 1990s. Although similar martial art styles exist in other southeast Asian countries, few enjoy the recognition that Muay Thai has received with its full-contact rules allowing strikes including elbows, throws and knees. 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 round in replica kits. Another widely enjoyed pastime, while not a sport per se, is kite flying.

The standard greeting in Thailand is a prayer-like gesture called the wai (see namaste). Taboos 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. Stepping over someone, or over food, is considered insulting. However, Thai culture as in many other Asian cultures, is succumbing to the influence of westernization and some of the traditional taboos are slowly fading away with time.

Books and other documents are the most revered of secular objects - therefore one should not slide a book across a table or place it on the floor.

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 [4]. Clearly, rice is an important part of Thai culture. 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[5].

Thai culture has been greatly shaped in recent years by its vibrant and free press. There are numerous English, Thai and Chinese papers in circulation and Thailand is the largest newspaper market in South East Asia with an estimated circulation of at least 13 million copies daily in 2003.

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International rankings

Organisation Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 71 out of 157
The Economist Worldwide quality-of-life index, 2005 42 out of 111
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide press freedom index 122 out of 167
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 63 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 72 out of 177
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See also

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Notes

  1. "Thailand ( Siam ) History" (overview), CS Mngt, 2005, CSMngt.com webpage: CSMngt-Thai.
  2. 2.0 2.1 CIA world factbook - Thailand
  3. CIA world factbook - Greater Mekong Subregion
  4. 4.0 4.1 IRRI country profile
  5. Cooperation of IRRI and Thailand
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External links

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Official

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Other


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