Thailand | Introduction

AsiaThailandThailand | Introduction

Thailand, administratively the Kingdom of Thailand, previously called Siam, is a country in the center of the Indo-Chinese peninsula in Southeast Asia. Thailand is the 51st largest country in the world with a total area of about 513,000 km2. With about 66 million inhabitants it is the 20th most populous country in the world. Bangkok is the national capital and the largest city of Thailand.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy which was a parliamentary democracy until a coup that was carried out in May 2014 by the National Council for Peace and Order. It borders Myanmar and Laos to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the south and the Andaman Sea and the southern end of Myanmar to the west. Sea borders include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

The Thai economy is the 20th largest in the world by nominal GDP and the 27th largest by GDP in PPP. In the 1990s it became an emerging market and a major exporter. Production, agriculture and tourism are leading economic sectors.It is regarded as a medium-sized power in the region and throughout the world.

Thailand is the most visited country in Southeast Asia for a good reason. Exotic yet safe; Affordable yet equipped with all modern conveniences, there is something for every interest and price range, from backpacker bungalows on the beach to some of the best luxury accommodations in the world. And despite the heavy tourist traffic, Thailand retains its basic identity with its own culture and history and carefree people known for their smiles and fun Sanuk lifestyle. Many travelers come to Thailand and extend their stay far beyond their original plans, others find no reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea may be, these people know how to make it.

This does not mean that Thailand has no drawbacks, including the significant growth problems of an economy where a farm worker is lucky enough to earn 100 baht a day, meanwhile the wealth of Art Nouveau driving his BMWs. In heavily frequented areas, a few lowlifes, both Thai and Farang, have turned tourist cheating into an art form.

Geography of Thailand

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With 513,120 square kilometers, Thailand is the 51st largest country in the world in terms of total area. Thailand is only slightly smaller than Yemen and slightly bigger than Spain.

Thailand comprises several different geographical regions, some of which correspond to the provincial groups. The northern part of Thailand is the mountainous area of the Thai highlands, with the highest point at Doi Inthanon in the Thanon Thong Chai Range at an altitude of 2,565 meters over sea level. The northeast, Isan, consists of the Khorat Plateau, which is bordered by the Mekong in the east. The country’s center is mainly characterized by the mostly shallow Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand.

Southern Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmusthat, which widens into the Malay Peninsula. Politically, there are six geographical regions that differ from each other in terms of population, basic resources, natural features and social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is the most distinctive feature of Thailand’s physical environment.

The Chao Phraya and the Mekong are the indispensable waterways in rural Thailand. The industrial production of plants uses both rivers and their tributaries. Covering 320,000 square kilometers, the Gulf of Thailand is nourished by the Chao Phraya, Mae Klong, Bang Pakong and Tapi rivers. It contributes to the tourism sector due to its clear shallow waters along the coasts in the southern region and the Kra-Landenge. The eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand is an industrial center of Thailand with the Kingdom’s main deep water port at Sattahip and its busiest commercial port, Laem Chabang.

The Andaman Sea is a valuable natural resource as it is home to the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang and its islands are all situated on the coasts of the Andaman Sea and despite of the 2004 tsunami, they have been a tourist magnet to visitors from around the world.

Plans for a channel connecting the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand have reappeared, analogous to the Suez and Panama Canals. The idea was positively received by Thai politicians as it would lower the fees of Singapore’s ports, improve relations with China and India, shorten shipping times, eliminate pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca and support the Thai government’s policy of making the logistic center for Southeast Asia a reality. The canal would allegedly improve economic conditions in southern Thailand, which is heavily dependent on tourism income, and it would also change the structure of the Thai economy by making it a logistical center for Asia. The canal would be a major engineering project and would probably cost $20 to $30 billion.

Wildlife in Thailand

Elephant – the national symbol of Thailand. Although there were 100,000 domestic elephants in Thailand in 1850, the population of elephants fell to about 2000. Poachers have long hunted elephants in search of ivory, meat and hides. The young elephants are commonly caught for their use in tourist attractions or as work animals, however their use has decreased since 1989 when the government banned logging. There are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild, and environmental activists claim that elephants in captivity were often mistreated.

Poaching protected species remains a serious problem. Hunters have exterminated populations of tigers, leopards and other large cats because of their valuable skins. Many animals (including tigers, bears, crocodiles and royal cobras) are bred or hunted because of their meat, which is considered to be a delicacy, and their supposed curative properties. Although this trade is illegal, Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak market is still known for selling endangered species.

Keeping wild animals as pets is a practice that threatens several species. The cubs are usually caught and sold, which often requires killing the mother. Once in captivity and outside their natural habitat, many pets die or stop breeding. Affected populations include Asian black bear, Malay sun bear, Belarusian lar, crested gibbon and binturong.

Culture of Thailand

The Thai mainland culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism. In contrast to the Buddhist countries of East Asia, however, Thai Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is probably closer to their Indian roots and places a stronger emphasis on monasticism. The Thai temples, known as Wats, which shine in gold and are easy to identify with their ornate, multicolored, pointed roofs, are omnipresent. For a short time, usually the three month rainy season, becoming a monk in orange robes is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.

A pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the haunted house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually located at the corner of a house or store, where ghosts are kept so that they do not enter the house and cause trouble. The bigger the building, the bigger the haunted house, and buildings that are in particularly inconvenient places can house very large ghosts. Perhaps Thailand’s most famous haunted house is Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan), built in 1956 on a former execution site and now one of the city’s busiest and most popular shrines.

Popular traditional arts in Thailand include traditional Thai dance and music based on religious rituals and court entertainment. The notorious brutal Thai boxing (Muay Thai), which has its roots in the military training of Thai soldiers, is unquestionably the most famous indigenous sport in the country.

In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand, including those of the “hill tribes” in the mountainous regions of northern Thailand (e.g. Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), Muslims in the south and the indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.  The ethnic Chinese population has been largely assimilated into Thai culture, although remnants of their Chinese heritage can still be found in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Calendar in Thailand

In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai Sun Calendar, the Thai version of the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the Common Era calendar. Thus, the Thai year 2556 corresponds to the western year 2013. In English, Thai dates are often written in B.E., an abbreviation of “Buddhist Era”.
Some Thai public holidays are based on the Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.

Demographics of Thailand

In 2013, Thailand had a population of 66,720,153. The population of Thailand is predominantly rural, mainly located in the rice-growing areas in the central, north-eastern and northern regions. Thailand had an urban population of 45.7 per cent in 2010, mainly concentrated in and around the Bangkok metropolitan area.

The Thai government-sponsored family planning programme has led to a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1 per cent in 1960 to about 0.4 per cent today. In 1970, an average of 5.7 people lived in Thai households. At the time of the 2010 census, the average size of Thai households was 3.2 persons.

Ethnic groups

The majority of the population in Thailand is Thai nationals, 95.9% , with the remaining 4.1% of the population being Burmese (2.0%), others 1.3% and unspecified 0.9%.

According to the 2011 Country Report of the Royal Thai Government to the UN Committee on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, available from the Department for the Promotion of Rights and Freedoms of the Thai Ministry of Justice,62 ethnic communities in Thailand are officially recognized. Twenty million central Thai (with about 650,000 Thai khorat) represent about 20,650,000 million (34.1 %) of the population of the country, which had a population of 60,544,937 at the time of completion of the data of the ethnolinguistic maps of Thailand by Mahidol University (1997).

The 2011 country report for Thailand includes population figures for hill tribes and ethnic communities in the northeast of the country and explicitly states that it is based primarily on data from Mahidol University’s Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand. Thus, although over 3.288 million people in the northeast alone could not be categorized, the population and percentages of other ethnic communities around 1997 are known for the whole of Thailand and represent a minimum population.  Thai-Chinese, who have a strong Chinese heritage, make up 14 % of the population, while Thais of partial Chinese descent make up up 40 % of the population. Thai Malays make up 3% of the population, while the rest are Mons, Khmer and various “hill tribes”. Official language of the country is Thai and the predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, being practiced by approximately 95% of the population.

The increasing number of migrants from neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, as well as from Nepal and India, has brought the total number of foreign residents to about 3.5 million by 2009, up from an estimated 2 million in 2008 and about 1.3 million in 2000. About 41,000 British people live in Thailand.

Religion in Thailand

The predominant religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism, which is an integral part of Thai identity and culture. Active participation in Buddhism is one of the highest in the world. According to the 2000 census, 94.6% of the country’s population identified themselves as Theravada Buddhists. Muslims form the second largest religious group in Thailand with 4.6% of the population.

The majority of Muslims are located in the most southern regions of the country: Pattani, Yala, Satun, Narathiwat as well as part of Songkhla Chumphon, who are predominantly Malay, and most of them are Sunni Muslims. Christians make up 0.9% of the population, the rest being made up of Sikhs and Hindus, who live mainly in the country’s cities. There is also a small but historically significant Jewish community in Thailand, which dates back to the 17th century.

Economy of Thailand

Thailand is an emerging economy and is considered an emerging market. Thailand had a GDP of 673 billion US dollars in 2013 (based on purchasing power parity [PPP]). After Indonesia, Thailand is the 2nd largest economy in South East Asia. Thailand is in the middle of the wealth distribution in Southeast Asia, being the fourth richest nation in terms of GDP per capita after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.

Thailand serves as an anchor for neighboring developing countries Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. According to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the unemployment rate in Thailand was 0.84% in the third quarter of 2014.