head3 Thailand In Brief

THAILAND IN BRIEF
LOCATION Thailand In Brief
The Kingdom of Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country located in Southeast Asia, almost equidistant between India and China. Know for centuries by outsiders as "Siam" the Kingdom has long been a migratory, cultural and religious crossroads for many Southeast Asian nations.

Thailand covers an area of 510,000 square kilometers, approximately the same size as France, and has a population of some 60 million. Thailand shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Lao to the northeast and north, Cambodia to the east, 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 Northeast Plateau, largely bordered by the Mekong River, where the world's oldest Bronze Age civilization 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;
    - The 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, rubber cultivation and fishing.

CLIMATE
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: Summer from March through May; Rainy season with plenty of sunshine as well from June through September and Cool season from October through February.

The average annual temperature is 28 C (83 F), ranging, in Bangkok, for example, from 30 C in April to 25 C in December.

ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Unique in South-East Asia because its north-south axis extends some 1800 km from mainland to peninsular South-East Asia, Thailand provides potential habitats for an astounding variety of flora and fauna. As in the rest of tropical Asia, most indigenous vegetation in Thailand is associated with two basic types of tropical forest: monsoon forest (with a distinctive dry season of three months or more) and rainforest (where rain falls more than nine months per year).

As with plan life, variation in the animal kingdom closely affiliates with geographic and climatic differences. Thailand is particularly rich in birdlife, with over 1,000 recorded resident and migrating species-approximately 10% of all world bird species. Coastal and inland waterways of the Southern peninsula are especially important habitats for South-East Asian waterfowl.

Indigenous mammals, mostly found in dwindling numbers within Thailand's national packs or wildlife sanctuaries, such as tigers, leopards, elephants, Asiatic black bears, Malayan sin bears, quaur(Indian bison) etc. Herpetofauna in Thailand numbers around 313 reptiles and 107 amphibians, and includes four sea-turtle species along with numerous snake varieties, of which six are venomous. Insect number some 6,000 species, while the country's rich marine environment counts tens of thousands of other species.

TIME
Time in Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT + 7)

HISTORY
Ayutthaya Thailand In BriefArchaeological discoveries around the northeast village hamlet of Ban Chiang suggest that the world's oldest Bronze Age civilization was flourishing in Thailand some 5,600 years ago.

Successive waves of immigrants, including Mon, Khamer and Thai, gradually entered the land mass now known as Thailand, most slowly travelling along fertile river valleys from southern China, By the early 1200s, the Thai people had established small northern city-states in Lanna, Phayao and Sukhothai. In 1238, two Thai chieftains rebelled against Khmer suzerainty and established the first truly independent Thai kingdom in Sukhothai (literally, "Dawn of Happiness").

The Sukhothai era saw the Thais' gradual expansion throughout the entire Chao Phraya River basin, the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the predominant Thai religion, the creation of the Thai alphabet and the first expression of developing Thai art forms, including paining, sculpture, architecture and literature.

The Sukhothai era declined in the 1300s and eventually because a vassal state of Ayutthaya, a dynamic young kingdom furthers south in the Chao Phraya River valley. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya remained the Thai capital until 1767 when Burmese invaders destroyed it.

During Ayutthaya 's 417 years as the capital, under the rule of 33 kings, the Thais brought their distinctive culture to full fruition, totally riding their lands of Khmer presence and fostering contact with Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and European powers.

Ayutthaya' s destruction was as severe a blow to the Thais as the loss of Paris or London would have been to the French or English. However, a Thai revival occurred within a few month, and the Burmese were expelled by King Taksin who later made Thon Buri his capital. In 1782, the first king of the present Chakri dynasty, Rama I, established his new capital on the site of a riverside village called Bangkok (Village of Wild Plums).

Two Chakri monarchs, Mongkut (Rama IV), who reigned between 1851 and 1868, and his son Chulalongkorn (RamaV), who reigned from 1868 to 1910, saved Thailand from western colonisation through adroit diplomacy and selective modernisation.

Today, Thailand has a constitutional monarchy. Since 1932, Thai kings including the present monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulydej, have exercised their legislative powers through a national assembly, their executive powers through a cabinet headed by a Prime Minister and their judicial power through the law courts.

PEOPLE
Throughout its long history, Thailand has welcomed and gently assimilated immigrants. Many were skilled as writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and architects, and helped enrich the indigenous culture.

People inhabiting Thailand today share a rich ethnic diversity-mainly Thai, Mon, Khmer, Laotion, 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 percent of all Thais are connected in sine 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.

The population of Thailand is about 61 million and currently growing at a rate of 1.5% per annum (as opposed to 2.5% in 1979). Of the total, 9.08% lived in Bangkok.

RELIGION
religion1 Thailand In BriefTheravada Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90 percent of all Thais, and casts strong influences on daily life.

Buddhism first appeared in Thailand during the 3rd Century BC at Nakhon Pathom, site of the world's tallest Buddhist monument, after the Indian Buddhist Emperor Asoka (267-227 BC) dispatched missionaries to Southeast Asia to propagate the newly established faith.

Besides moulding morality, providing social cohesion and offering spiritual support, Buddhism has provided incomparable artistic impetus. In common with medieval European cathedrals, Thailand' s innumerable multi-roofed temples have inspired major artistic creations.

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 temple. It has long been a custom for Buddhist males over the age of 20, at one time in their life, to be ordained for a period ranging from five days to three months. This usually occurs during the annual Rains Retreat, a three-month period during the rainy season when all monks forego travel and remain within their temple.

Besides sustaining monastic communities, Thai temples have traditionally served other purposes-as the village hostelry, village news, employment and information agency, school, hospital, dispensary and community center-which 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.

MONEY
Thai currency is the Baht, divided into 100 Satang. Exchange rate, as at Feb. 1999, approximately 43 Baht to the US$. Thai notes are in denominations of 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10 Baht. Coins are of 10, 5 , 1 Baht and 50 and 25 Satang.

Cash and travellers cheques can be exchanged freely, with banks or money changers giving other rates than hotels. Major international credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops.

More information about exchange service, please see also Visas & Regulations

LANGUAGE
Spoken and written Thai remain largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket where it is an important language in commerce. English and other European languages are spoken in most hotels, shops, restaurants, banks, international offices and car rental services in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nationwide.

How to Speak Thai

GOVERNMENT
Since 1932, the government of the Kingdom of Thailand has nominally been a constitutional monarchy inspired by the bicameral British model with 76 provinces, each sub-divided into amphoe(district), tambon(sub-district) and muban (village) but with myriad subtle differences. Thailand's 15th constitution, enacted on December 1991 by the coup regime's now defunct National Peace-Keeping Council (NPKC), replaced that promulgated in December 1978 and allows for limited public participation in the choosing of government officials. National polls elect the 360 member lower house (House of Representatives) and Prime Minister. In Thailand the Senate is not as powerful as the House of Representatives; the latter writes and approves legislation, while the Senate votes on constitutional changes.

MONARCHYmonachy Thailand In Brief
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty and as of 1988 the longest reigning king in Thai history. 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.

The king and his wife, H.M. Queen Sirikit, have four children: Princess Ubol Ratana(born 1951), Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (1952), Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn (1955) and Princess Chulabhorn(1957).

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.

ECONOMY
During the 1980s, Thailand maintained a steady GNP growth rate which by 1988 had reached 13% per annum. Thailand in the 1990s finds itself on the threshold of attaining the exclusive rank of NIC or 'newly industrialised country'. Soon, economic experts say, Thailand will be joining Asia's 'little -dragons', also known as the Four Tigers- South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore- in becoming a leader in the Pacific Rim economic boom.

Major Agricultural exports are rice, tapioca, rubber, coconuts, sugar, maize, pineapples, cotton and palm oil. Processed food and beverages- especially canned shrimp, tuna and pineapples - also account for significant export earnings. Thailand's Top export markets are the USA, Japan and Singapore.

About 60% of the Thai labour force is engaged in agriculture, 10% each in commerce and services and 20% in manufacturing. Major manufactured exports are textiles, cement, electronics, cars, trucks, gems and jewellery.

The minimum wage in Bangkok and surrounding provinces is 145 Baht (US$5.80) per day; it can be as low as 95 Baht a day in the outer provinces. The incidence of poverty in Thailand has steadily declined, from 30% in 1976 to 6.4% in 1995-96. Conversely the average income has increased to nearly 19 times what it was in 1962-63. Thais rank seventh worldwide, just ahead of the Japanese, for gross saving of GDP income at 37%.

More information about Thai economy, please see also Business in Thailand

Thailand in Brief by Tourism Authority of Thailand