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Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. Bangkok is Thailand's capital. The city has more than eight million inhabitants which makes it also the largest city of the country. Lots of people are milling about. Those who are not discouraged by the vast amount of people and the bustle that comes along with it, can spend their days visiting the royal palace, various temples and China Town.
Outside the city the long coastal area provides many opportunities to enjoy the sun, sea and the beach. The palm trees along the white beaches form a marvelous scene. Phuket is one of the most popular places for a beach holiday. The tropical peninsula rightfully owns its nickname 'Pearl of the South'. Those who travel to Thailand can relax on the beach, but can also wander around in the big city of Bangkok, visit many sites and gape at a magnificent nature in a tropical climate. The Wat Doi Suthep temple for example, is located on a mountain near Chiang Mai, and on the island Ko Chang there is a rainforest in which nature lovers can have the time of their life.
Not surprisingly, the Thai economy depends for a large part on the tourist sector. At the same time, the fast growing economy is causing big changes. Globalization is leaving its marks in Thai society. The typical spices and flavors from the Thai cuisine have already penetrated many Western households.
The region that is now part of Thailand was already inhabited five hundred thousand years ago. Most of the prehistoric sites in Thailand are in Ban Chiang. The objects that were found here date from 1500 BC. These people already cultivated rice, a crop that grows on the rice fields everywhere in Thailand.
Thailand's history starts when the Thai migrate from China to Southeast Asia. This migration took place around the tenth century AD. During the period preceding this event, the Mon, the Khmer and the Malay inhabited the area. Their kingdoms threatened the new Thai' state continuously, but would never let the Thai' power disappear.
The first two empires were the Sukhothai' and the Ayutthayan empires. The empire of the Sukhothai existed from 1238 till 1438. The old capital was located some twelve kilometers outside the present day city of New Sukhothai and still awaits its admirers. Today, the ruins form a historic park and a tourist attraction.
The Ayutthayan kingdom existed during the period between 1351 and 1767. The capital Ayutthaya made the dilapidated Sukhothai disappear into the shadows. The empire extended over a period of four centuries and formed a new state Siam. Present day Thailand has roughly the same borders as the old Siam.
The king of that time, Ramathibodi wanted to create unity in his empire and took several measures to accomplish this mission. In 1350 he made the Theravada Buddhism the state religion and he let monks come from Ceylon to spread the new religion among his subjects. Besides this, he founded new laws on the basis of legislative Hindu texts. These laws were operative until the end of the nineteenth century. At the end of the fourteenth century the empire had become the most powerful in Indochina. Despite the efforts to create uniformity, the Thai kingdom remained divided in provinces with their own lords and administrations. It took the king considerable effort to keep the empire together.
In 1767 Burma invaded Ayuttaya. The government was forced to withdraw to Thon Buri close to present day Bangkok. The old capital was looted and most of it didn't survive the invasion.
One of the generals of that time, General Taksin, reunited the Thai empire in 1769. He crowned himself king, but his kingship would not last long. He became mentally deranged was captured and eventually killed in 1782.
During that same year, General Chakri succeeded the executed Taksin and became King Rama I. This is how the Chakri dynasty came into existence. Rama I founded his new capital Bangkok at the river Chao Phraya. The name of the city was changed into Krung Thep. In the West however, the old name persisted. After that, King Rama I chased the Burmese occupiers away.
Rama's successors were primarily concerned with the European colonists; because they had seen neighboring countries lose out to the Western rule. Siam would eventually remain the only country that was never occupied by European colonists. In 1939 it was renamed Thailand, which means 'free state'.
In 1932 a coup was staged in the empire. Because of this, the absolute monarchy was changed into a constitutional monarchy. From that moment on until 2006 a number of military regimes followed which governed the country. The king kept his throne, but fulfilled hardly any role.
In 1941 Thailand invaded French Indochina. This was the beginning of the French Thai War in which Thailand wanted to reconquer land it had once owned. Then Japan interfered with the conflict and made France eventually give up its claim to the region.
When the Second World War broke out, Thailand decided to support Japan. Together they fought against the Allied forces. After the war Thailand agreed to return the conquered regions to France in exchange for a membership of the United Nations.
From the sixties to well in the eighties, communist guerillas were active in Thailand. Its neighboring countries fell one by one into the hands of the communists, but Thailand resisted this new ideology.
After 1973 the power of the Thai' military regime declined. The last junta was overthrown in 2006. Since then Thailand has a democratic government.
The Thai population consists of over 65 million people. In the county lives a fairly large number of Chinese. Many of them merged into society over time. Other important ethnic communities are the Malaysian, the Mon and the Khmer. The Malaysian live in the south. In the hills live also some other tribes.
Thai society has a distinct social hierarchy. Respect for the elderly is very important. The worshipping of ancestors is also widely distributed among the population. The inhabitants of Thailand are also known for their great hospitality and generosity.
Thai culture undergoes rapid changes because of the globalization of the world. Some of the typical taboos still apply however. Touching someone's head, pointing at something with the foot or stepping over food or persons, are some examples of Thai' taboos. The feet are considered to be very unclean and this is how these taboos came into being.
The Thai language can be roughly divided into four groups based on the region of origin. Central Thai, Northern Thai, Southern Thai and Northeastern Thai are the languages spoken. The last language is also called Isan. The Central Thai language is nowadays spoken by many, alongside the various dialects. Thai has its own alphabet. English is the second language and is taught everywhere in schools. However, not every Thai knows English.
Approximately 95 percent of the Thai people is Theravada Buddhist. Nearly all of the remaining five percent are Muslim. The Muslims often live in separate communities together. The largest concentration of Muslims is found in the south, among the Malaysians. Slightly over 0.5 percent of the Thai is Christian. Besides this, there are also small communities of Sikhs and a handful of Hindus. Since the seventeenth century, a small group of Jews lives in the country.
Thailand has a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The head of state is King Rama IX. He is one of the kings from the Chakri dynasty. Their kings have ruled since 1782. King Rama IX is very much loved by the Thai population. Some Thai practically worship their king.
The leader of the government is Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Since February 2008 he leads the government which consists of six parties. Samak Sundaravej is also the leader of the largest party of Thailand, the Peoples Power party (PPP).
Since 1932 Thailand has universal suffrage. Thailand is a member of the United Nations.
Thailand is a 'Newly Industrialized Country'. The NCI's are the fast growing economies of Asia. The country has a free market economy. Important export products are rice, textiles and jewelery. More than half of the country cultivates rice. Other important agricultural products are sugar cane, cotton and soy beans. Nearly half of the population finds employment in fishery and agriculture.
The most important sector of the economy is the private sector. Tourism is growing fast in Thailand and more and more people earn their money directly or indirectly from the many visitors.
The Thai currency is the Baht.
Thailand is 514 thousand square kilometers large. The country borders on Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar. The coastal area is very extensive. The Gulf of Thailand, The Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean surround the country. In the seas off the coast of Thailand are many small islands.
In the north of Thailand you will find a large mountain range with many forests. The highest peak of Thailand is the Doi Inthanon. It is 2,590 meters high. Several tribes live in the mountains.
The Khorat Plateau is in the Northeast, 250 meters above the sea. The plateau is also called the Weeping Plain, as parts of it are very arid.
More to the south lies a region with various rivers. Bangkok is located near one of these rivers, which flows out into the Gulf of Thailand. It is called the Chao Phraya.
The southern tip of the country lies on the peninsula of Malakka. This small strip of land consists of mountain ranges overgrown with tropical rain forests.
Thailand has a monsoon climate. This is a tropical climate with wet and dry periods. The wet season is called monsoon. From mid-May to September the weather is rainy, warm and cloudy in Thailand. From November to mid-March the northeastern wind brings dry and cool air to the country.
The Thai drive on the left side of the road. The condition of the roads varies strongly from region to region. There are four main highways in the country. They lead to the North, the East, the Northeast and the South. All roads lead to Bangkok. On some toll is levied.
The speed limit in built-up areas is sixty km/h. Outside the built-up areas one may drive eighty km/h. On elevated 'sky' highways the speed limit is 100 km/h.
Buses are fast, efficient and reliable.
Travelling by train in Thailand is very comfortable, apart from the fact that the trains go very slowly. The train gives travelers an excellent opportunity to observe the country side. The trains have a first, second and third class. The main rail roads lead from North to South and from the Northeast to the East.
Those who would like to travel on the rivers can take the reua haang yao: the long-tailed boat. They can sail pretty fast and are fun to travel with.
From Bangkok International Airport, thirty kilometers east of the capital, one can fly to international destinations. Other destinations are Chiang Mai Airport, Samui Island Airport, near the city of Ko Samui and Phuket Airport. From these cities it is also possible to take domestic flights.
Nowadays, Thai cuisine is known throughout the entire Western world. The dishes combine sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty flavors. Essential ingredients are garlic, lemon grass and fish sauce. The typical Thai' taste is derived from the use of curries in the food. Curries are a mix of several spices. Many Thai dishes are prepared in the wok. It takes little time to prepare the food in this way and vegetables keep their taste and stay crisp.
Rice is the basis of many Thai dishes. Noodles can also substitute the rice.
'Mehkong', the Thai version of whiskey is also made of rice. Thai drink Mehkong at dinner.
The Thai' time is set on GMT/UTC +7.
In the tourist areas and the big cities one can find luxurious hotels. The Chinese Thai often run decent hotels that are in general not very atmospheric, but nevertheless very comfortable.
Travelers can also spend the night in guesthouses and hostels. These can be very cozy. Larger cities offer this type of accommodation.
Even campers can find spots in Thailand. In National Parks tents can also be rented. There are no real camp sites outside these parks because camping is very unusual.
For more information about Thailand we recommend Google and the following sources: