|Geography : The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometers, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Lao P.D.R. to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south.
Thailand is a Southeast Asian, predominantly Buddhist kingdom almost equidistant between India and China. For centuries known by outsiders as Siam, Thailand has been something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural and religious cross-roads. With an area of some 510,000 square kilometres and a population of some 57 million, Thailand is approximately the same size as France. Thailand shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the north-east, Kampuchea to the west, and Malaysia to the south.
Geographically speaking, Thailand is divided into six major regions: the mountainous north where elephants work forests and winter temperatures are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches; the sprawling north-east plateau, largely bordered by the Mekong River, where the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilisation flourished some 5,000 years ago; the central plain, one of the world’s most fertile rice and fruit-growing areas; the eastern coastal plain, where fine sandy beaches support the growth of summer resorts; western mountains and valleys, suitable for the development of hydro-electric power: and the peninsular south where arresting scenic beauty complements economically vital tin mining, robber cultivation and fishing.
Thailand is divided into four distinct areas: the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of the Northeast, and the peninsula South, distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore islands.
Thailand lies within the humid tropics and remains hot throughout the year. Average temperatures are about 29oC, ranging in Bangkok from 35oC in April to 17oC in December. There are three seasons: the cool season (November to February), the hot season (April to May), and the rainy season (June to October), though downpours rarely last more than a couple of hours.
Thailand has a population of about 60 million. Ethnic Thais form the majority, though the area has historically been a migratory crossroads, and thus strains of Mon, Khmer, Burmese, Lao, Malay, Indian and most strongly, Chinese stock produce a degree of ethnic diversity. Integration is such, however, that culturally and socially there is enormous unity.
Spoken and written Thai remain largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. English and other European languages are spoken in most hotels,shops and restaurants, in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nation-wide
Throughout her long history, Thailand has gently absorbed immigrants. Many were skilled as writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and architects, and helped enrich indigenous culture. People inhabiting Thailand today share rich ethnic diversity – – mainly Thai, Mon, Khmer, Laotian, Chinese, Malay, Persian and Indian stock – – with the result that there is no typically Thai physiognomy or physique. There are petite Thais, statuesque Thais, round-faced Thais, dark-skinned Thais and light-skinned Thais. Some 80% of all Thais are connected in some way with agriculture which, in varying degrees, influences and is influenced by the religious ceremonies and festivals that help make Thailand such a distinctive country.
Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90% of all Thais, and casts strong influences on daily life. Buddhism first appeared in Thailand during the 3rd Century B.C. at Nakhon Pathom, site of the world’s tallest Buddhist monument, after the Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka (267-227 B.C.) despatched missionaries to Southeast Asia to propagate the newly established faith. Besides moulding morality, providing social cohesion and offering spiritual succour, Buddhism provided incomparable artistic impetus. In common with medieval European cathedrals, Thailand’s innumerable multiroofed temples inspired major artistic creation.
Another reason for Buddhism’s strength is that there are few Thai Buddhist families in which at least one male member has not studied the Buddha’s teachings in a monastery. It has long been a custom for Buddhist males over twenty, once in their lifetimes, to be ordained for a period ranging from s days to a months. This usually occurs daring the annual Rains Retreat, a a-month period during the Rains Season when all monks forego travel and stay inside their monasteries.
Besides sustaining monastic communities, Thai temples have traditionally served other purposes – – as the village hostelry, village news, employment and information agency, a school, hospital, dispensary and community centre – – to give them vital roles in Thai society. The Thais have always subscribed to the ideal of religious freedom. Thus sizeable minorities of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs freely pursue their respective faiths
Time in Thailand is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+ 7).
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty. Born in December 1927, in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA, where his father, Prince Mahidol of Songkhla was studying medicine at Harvard University, H.M. King Bhumibol ascended the throne in 1946 and is already the longest reigning Thai monarch.
As a constitutional monarch, he maintains neutrality in times of crisis. Thai people have a deep and traditional reverence for the Royal Family. To a very large degree, H.M. King Bhumibol’s popularity mirrors his deep interest in his people’s welfare. He concerns himself intimately with every aspect of Thai life. He and his wife, H.M. Queen Sirikit devote much of their time to inspect and improve the welfare of the people.
Thailand means, “land of the free”, and throughout its 800-year history, Thailand can boast the distinction of being the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been colonized. Its history is divided into five major periods: