info on the land of smiles ...
Thailand, or Siam as it was known until 1939, has never been colonised by a foreign power and as a result still maintains, to this day, a fierce sense of national unity and individualism that is tempered by the "happy go lucky" attitude of its citizens.
Thailand's ancestry can be dated back some 10,000 years through habitation and linguistics. Early settlers have been traced throughout South East Asia, Southern China and Indonesia. The country has developed over the millennia from influences as diverse as Indian - Dvaravati - (in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC) and Khmer (the 7th to 11th centuries).
By the the 1300s and 1400s, the centre of power, culture and influence was found in Sukhothai and this is regarded by many Thais as the first true Thai kingdom. During this period, the first Thai script was developed and there was a merging, through support, of the two main northern tribes based in Chiang Mai and Prayao, known then as La Na Thai and nowadays simply as Lanna. Sukhothai's sphere of influence spread as far south as Nakon Si Thammarat and as far north as Wiang Chan (now known as Vientiane, the capital of Laos).
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the power of the Kings of Ayuthaya became paramount and they spread their influence eastwards as they defeated the Khmers and finally took Angkor. During this time, Ayuthaya was the greatest city in Asia. By comparison, London was a village. Although Ayuthaya and Lanna fell to the Burmese in the mid 16th century, control was regained by the end of it.
During these years, The Kingdom started to welcome European visitors, particularly from Portugal, Holland, England, Denmark and France. The term "farang", meaning a person of European descent, was first coined during these years and it derives from the term "farangset", meaning French. Despite the sacking of Ayuthaya by the Burmese in 1765, the Thais took control again through General Phaya Taksin in 1769 and he moved the capital to Thonburi, south of the Chao Phraya River and opposite modern-day Bangkok.
In 1782, another general, Chao Phaya Chakri was crowned King and he moved the capital over the river to Bangkok. Chao Phaya Chakri became the first King in the Chakri dynasty and was known as King Rama I. The Chakri dynasty survives to this day, with King Bhumibol Adulyadej reigning as Rama IX.
Despite a number of power struggles and coups during the 1990s, Thailand emerged as a fledgling democracy and it will be interesting to see which direction the country takes following the Army's bloodless coup in September 2006 and the recent general election in December 2007. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej wields considerable influence over the Thai Kingdom and it is to be hoped that with his guidance, Thailand will develop further into a fully democratic nation.
Thailand has a land area of 514,000 sq kms and roughly corresponds in size to Spain or Texas in the USA. There are a number of distinct geographical regions which can be broadly split into the "mountainous north" (Thailand's highest point is Doi Inthanon at 2,576m), the Khorat Plateau in the Northeast, the central zone in the flatlands of the Chao Phraya valley and the south that contains the narrow Isthmus of Kra, widening into the Malay Peninsula. The furthest distance, north to south, is approximately 1,860km. There is some 2,710km of coastline along the Gulf of Thailand and The Andaman Sea and depths range from 30-80m in the Gulf and over 100m on the western, Andaman side.
In 2003, the population was 63.36 million of whom around 25% were aged under 15. The workforce numbered approximately 35 million. 95% are Thai speaking Buddhists and there are four distinct dialects spoken in the north, northeast, central and southern sections of the country. The northeastern is very closely related to the Lao language and in the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat the majority of the population is Muslim and speak "Pattani" Thai.
Thailand is split into 76 separate provinces (changwat), with one specially governed district of Bangkok. Each province is subdivided into districts (amphoe) and then into sub-districts (king-amphoe), village groups (tambon), villages (moobahn) and municipalities (tessabahn). Each province has a capital (amphoe muang) and it takes its name from the province it is situated in - hence, "Muang Prachuabkirikhan" is the provincial capital of Prachuabkirikhan, the province Hua Hin is in.
Thailand is a "newly industrialised nation" and it achieved the highest growth rate in the world between 1985-95. An average of 9% per year. Despite triggering off the Asian crash of 1997, when the Thai baht plunged to 56 to the USD, there has been a steady recovery and 2003 and 2004 saw growth of 6% in both years.
The country exports over US $105 billion worth of goods per year, the mainstays being rice, textiles, rubber, jewelry and electrical appliances. It is the largest exporter of rice in the world.
Thailand is alive with its own unique blend of arts and crafts. The main ones you'll encounter are traditional architecture and sculpture, painting, music, theatre and dance, literature and traditional sport such as Muay Thai.
In short, Thailand offers visitors a real adventure and the opportunity to experience a totally different culture that is steeped in history and tradition. Whilst you are enjoying your time here, never forget the Thai people themselves. Their attitude to life is carefully balanced between the traditional and modern and their sense of fun (sanuk), together with the warm welcome everyone receives, is now famed throughout the world. For more information on behaviour and conduct take a look at our culture guide.