Thailand Geography - History

Thailand Geography - History

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Thailand is located in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma.The terrain of Thailand consists of central plain; Khorat Plateau in the east; mountains elsewhere.
The climate of Thailand is ropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid.

Plant and animal life

Thailand is a country of forests, shrub-studded grasslands, and swampy wetlands dotted with lotuses and water lilies. Since the mid-20th century, the total land area covered by forests has declined from more than half to less than one-third. Forest clearing for agriculture (including for tree plantations), excessive logging, and poor management are the main causes of this decline. Forests consist largely of such hardwoods as teak and timber- and resin-producing trees of the Dipterocarpaceae family. As elsewhere in Southeast Asia, bamboo, palms, rattan, and many kinds of ferns are common. Where forests have been logged and not replanted, a secondary growth of grasses and shrubs has sprung up that often limits land use for farming. Lotuses and water lilies dot most ponds and swamps throughout the country.

The Thai people traditionally used water buffalo, oxen, horses, and elephants for plowing and harrowing fields, transporting goods and people, and moving heavy loads. By the 1980s, however, draft animals had been replaced by machines, and, except in remote areas of the country, animals used for transportation had been replaced by motorcycles, trucks, cars, and buses. The demand for work elephants almost completely disappeared after the logging ban in 1989, and domesticated elephants were absorbed into the tourist industry.

Rapid deforestation coupled with a marked rise in demand for exotic animals has been detrimental to wildlife. Rhinoceroses and tapirs, once found in many parts of the country, have all but disappeared, as have herds of wild elephants. A similar fate has befallen gibbons and some species of monkeys and birds. Although serious efforts have been made to prevent the illegal sale of endangered species, they have met with only limited success. Like other conservation legislation, which has a long history in Thailand, the laws have been difficult to implement and enforce.

Thailand’s once abundant freshwater and marine fish have been rapidly depleted by overfishing and disruption of their natural habitats, as have shrimp, prawns, and sea crabs. Many of the shrimp and prawns now sold in both domestic and export markets come from shrimp farms. Snakes, including the king cobra and several species of poisonous water snakes, while still common in the wild, are today more likely to be seen at snake farms. The same is true for crocodiles, although they still exist in the wild in the south.

Mosquitoes, ants, beetles, and other insects—as well as the lizards that eat them—are always in evidence, even in urban environments. The silkworm has contributed much to the silk industry, for which Thailand has become famous.

Provinces of Thailand Map

Thailand (officially, Kingdom of Thailand) is divided into 76 administrative provinces. These provinces are further subdivided into districts and smaller subdivisions. There are two specially governed districts – Bangkok and Pattaya.

76 provinces (changwat, singular and plural) are as follows: Amnat Charoen, Ang Thong, Bueng Kan, Buri Ram, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri, Chumphon, Kalasin, Kamphaeng Phet, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Lampang, Lamphun, Loei, Lop Buri, Mae Hong Son, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Narathiwat, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Pattani, Phangnga, Phatthalung, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phetchaburi, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Phrae, Phuket, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Roi Et, Sa Kaeo, Sakon Nakhon, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Saraburi, Satun, Sing Buri, Si Sa Ket, Songkhla, Sukhothai, Suphan Buri, Surat Thani, Surin, Tak, Trang, Trat, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Yala, Yasothon

With an area of 20,494 sq. km, Nakhon Ratchasima is the largest province and the most populous one as well.

Bangkok (Thai: Krung Thep), the capital and the most populous city, is located in Central Thailand.

The People of Thailand

Type of Government: constitutional monarchy

Languages Spoken: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects

Independence: 1238 (traditional founding date never colonized)

National Holiday: Birthday of King PHUMIPHON, 5 December (1927)

Nationality: Thai (singular and plural)

Religions: Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, other 0.1% (2000 census)

National Symbol: garuda (mythical half-man, half-bird figure) elephant

National Anthem or Song: Phleng Chat Thai (National Anthem of Thailand)

Essay on Thailand: An Outstanding Essay on Thailand

Next to Myanmar, Thailand is the second largest country on the Southeast Asian mainland. Its territory of 198,115 sq. miles (over 513,117 sq. km) shelters a population of over 62 million. Geography and history have conspired to make the country a unique nation. There has been a major Thai state in the present territory of Thai­land for the last six hundred years, and the country is one of the very few in Asia to have escaped European colonialism.

Lying off the major historic sea lanes, it was spared the influences that shaped the mari­time world to the south and east—notably the Muslim religion and the European rule. Thailand has thus acted as a buffer be­tween the conflicting interests of France and England for control of the region, and partly because of this competition suc­ceeded in preserving its independence during the European colonial partition of Southeast Asia.

The monarchy became and remains a potent symbol of the country’s historical continuity and national identity. For over a century, the country has prac­ticed a neutral stance in world affairs, and its post-1950 dependence on the West is a sharp break with tradition.

The non-colonial development of the economy is illustrated by the fact that em­phasis was placed almost entirely on non-estate agriculture except for the rub­ber plantations in the southern peninsula. The great rubber, tea, coffee, coconut, palm, and other plantation estates of Indo­nesia, the Philippines and Indonesia are conspicuously absent in the nation as has been the European and American capital.

It is only in the exploitation in tin extrac­tion in its peninsula region and in the growing manufacturing sector that the American and European involvement has been significant. Thailand, for a long time, remained neglected by the West, partly be­cause the colonial powers were engaged elsewhere, and due in part to Thailand’s lo­cation off the historic routes of maritime trade.

Physical Characteristics:

Thailand’s physical configuration is simple: a south- facing river basin enclosed on the west, north and the southeast by mountains, and a long, slender peninsular finger in the south. The northern and western moun­tains are the southward continuation of the complex mountain system of the Hi­malayas from eastern Tibet curving to the south that, in part, form the boundary be­tween southern Myanmar and Thailand.

These mountains are a series of north- south ranges, rise to nearly 8,000 feet (2,440 meters), and trend southward into Malaysia. To the north are the hills and dissected plateau region of Myanmar that contains caves from which remains of pre­historic humans have been excavated.

The Khorat Plateau in the northeast covers a third of the country that gently tilts to­ward the east, and lies in the drainage of the Mekong. The Plateau is enclosed on the west and south by low, linear hills. Surface elevations on the Khorat range from 650 feet (198 meters) in the north­west to 300 feet in the southeast.

Lying between the northern and western moun­tain ranges and the Khorat Plateau is a sizable Chao Phraya River basin, which is the cultural and economic heartland of the country, known also as the Central Low­lands. This region consists of rolling plains in the north and a low-lying flood plain and delta of the Chao Phraya formed by the large deposits of alluvium brought by the tributaries of the rivers.

The alluvial deposits of the river valleys are the most fertile in Thailand, as these are replenished year after year with river sediments swol­len with annual monsoon rains. The topography of the peninsular arm is roll­ing to mountainous, with little flat land. Higher mountains rise to about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) on the west, off the rugged and indented coast, lie several small is­lands, including the Phuketl Island, which is rich in tin.

The climate of Thailand may be de­scribed as tropical monsoonal. The major influences are the country’s location in the tropics, monsoon zone and the topo­graphic features affect the distribution of rainfall. In early May the southwest mon­soons flow from the Indian Ocean, and bring large amounts of rainfall, which reaches a maximum in September.

The wind system is reversed between Novem­ber and February, when a northeast monsoon brings cool, dry air. Occasion­ally, typhoons may come across the China Sea and bring some rain but fades out across Thailand. The amount of rainfall varies from 40 inches to 120 (1,016 to 3,048 mm) in the various parts of the country.

In the southern peninsular region a dry sea­son seldom occurs and receives as much as 160 inches of precipitation annually, whereas Bangkok gets 55 inches (1,397 mm) and Khorat, sheltered by hills on all sides even less than 30 inches (762 min) and almost the whole of the peninsular region receives over 80 inches distributed throughout the year. Temperatures are, in general, moderate to high, averaging be­tween 77° and 84°F (25° and 29°C).

The season of highest temperatures is in late March, April and early May. In central, peninsular and southeastern Thailand, maximum temperatures seldom reach 100°F (37.7°C), while minimum tempera­tures are lower than 65°F (18.3°C). In northern Thailand, temperature range tends to be much larger.

Soils of the river valleys are fertile, and the most fertile land IS in the flood plains of the lower Chao Phraya basin because it receives large amounts of the rich, alluvial deposits of soil every year. Relatively flat areas else­where and parts of the coast also have fertile soils. Elsewhere, soils tend to be poor, highly leached laterites of the humid tropics.

Cultural Patterns:

Among Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is the most iden­tity-conscious nation. Relatively homo­geneous, the country does not possess the multiplicity of languages found in Indone­sia and the Philippines, nor contains a complex ethnic mix as in Malaysia. Eighty- five percent of the population speaks Thai, which is a member of a large cluster of lan­guages spoken in all bordering countries as well as southern China and northern Viet­nam.

Like the people of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, the Thais are Bud­dhists of the Theravada school. In 1991 ninety-five percent of the population was listed as adhering to Buddhism. The mi­norities include Muslims (who account for four percent of the population), Hindus, Sikhs, and a few Christians, which are con­centrated chiefly around Bangkok. The national government plays down regional loyalties, and the Thai language is taught in schools throughout the country.

Non-Thais number nearly 12 million or 20 percent of the population. The larg­est ethnic minority, comprising over 8 million or 12 percent of the total popula­tion are Chinese, who have been assimilated to a far greater degree than in either Malaysia or Indonesia. There are no barriers to intermarriage, and most have embraced Thailand’s Buddhism.

The next largest minority is that of Malays, who profess the Muslim faith, and are largely concentrated in the southern peninsular neck of the country close to the Malaysian border. In the northern and northwestern part of the country along the Myanmar border are several hill peo­ple—the tribal groups, chief of which are Karens, and Shans (numbering over one million each). Most are shifting cultivators.

Also included among Thailand’s minori­ties are Vietnamese, who moved and settled in the northeastern part of the country in the 1940s and 1950s to escape Indo-China war with the French, and Khmers (Cambodians) who fled their homeland as refugees after the 1979 Viet­namese invasion of Cambodia.

Such border areas inhibited by the minority groups in the north, northwest, northeast and the southern peninsula are imperfectly integrated into the Thai state, and are eco­nomically backward as well. The Thais dominate the lowlands, and there are lay­ers of non-Thai people in the mountainous borderlands.

Economic Activity:

Traditionally, ag­riculture has been the dominant sector of Thailand’s economy. Although through government encouragement to small in­dustry, its contributions to economic growth have declined consistently since 1950. The proportion of the agricultural la­bor force has declined from 88 percent in the 1950s to less than 50 percent.

Agricul­ture’s contribution to the national economy relative to manufacturing has also declined from more than 50 percent in the 1950s to less than 11 percent in the 1999. Despite this shift to manufacturing, agricultural production has continued to expand, and Thai farmers continue to pro­duce enough rice for the country’s needs as well as a surplus for export.

Today, Thailand is the world’s fifth largest producer of rice and its largest ex­porter (exporting one-third to a quarter of rice exports of the world). Agriculture is overwhelmingly associated with rice culti­vation, and close to ninety percent of the country’s cultivable area is given to it, nearly one-half of which lies in the Chao Phraya basin where the flood waters of the river provide irrigation and silt-laden fer­tile soils to the fields.

During the 1960s movement toward crop diversification be­came popular and the farmers began growing such other export crops as maize, sugarcane, pineapples, tobacco, coconuts, and kenaf (a substitute for jute) on a larger scale than before.

These crops have since been slowly acquiring greater prominence. In addition, large quantities of vegetables and fruits are also grown. Cattle breeding are important in the Central plains, and pigs and poultry are widely raised. Fishing is also of considerable importance, and con­stitutes a growing export commodity. Rubber production—introduced into the country during the 19th century—is im­portant in the southern, peninsular section.

Thailand ranks third in the world in natural rubber production. It produces nearly one-sixth of the world’s production of hardwoods—particularly teak. Its major forest products are now exported in small quantities, following a government ban on logging imposed in 1989.

Mining constitutes a small segment of nation’s economy, with only 0.2 of labor- force engaged in it and contributing less than 2 percent to the domestic gross prod­uct. Tin, mined mostly in the peninsula, has long been a valuable mineral resource, and the country has become one of the world’s largest tin producers, producing on the average about one-tenth of the world’s total output. Coal, zinc, gypsum, tungsten, and limestone are some other minerals produced.

The manufacturing sector has dramati­cally grown during the last four decades, representing primarily the large invest­ments made by private firms the larger ones have been financed by foreign and Thai capital. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore have been the major sources of investment for industry that is particu­larly oriented to producing consumer goods such as clothing, canned goods, and electrical products. Japanese capital is in­creasingly invested in the manufacture of textiles and machinery.

At the same time, growth of the traditional, factory-type in­dustry including that of rice milling, sugar and timber, the manufacture of tobacco, jute sacks and cement as the production of textiles (especially based on silk), clothing, furniture, and footwear owned primarily by domestic investors has also registered substantial gains. Factory industry is heav­ily concentrated in the Bangkok area.

Thailand’s imports include electrical machinery, minerals and fuels, iron and steel, vehicles, plastics, and organic chemi­cals—items necessary for its growing industrialization and domestic needs. Its major exports in the mid-1990s in the cate­gory of manufactured items were electric machinery, textiles and apparel, and nu­clear reactors that collectively accounted for nearly forty percent of all exports, whereas the traditional exports of rice, tin, rubber, and teak made up for nearly 22 percent of the nation’s export earnings.

Physical and Economic Regionalism:

Physically, and economically, Thailand is composed of several distinctive natural units, although the key area is the central lowland, the plain of the Chao Phraya, which accounts for about one-fifth of the country’s territory and two-fifths of its population. This is the area of most com­pact Thai settlement and most important agriculture.

Population densities are high­est of any region: over 600 persons per sq. mile (230 persons per sq. km). It was for­merly forested but now consists of unbroken paddy (rice) fields. Soils are ex­tremely fertile, composed of rich alluvium brought by the river. Despite receiving a relatively low total rainfall of a little over 50 inches (1,250 millimeters) a year, it is the country’s agricultural heartland and the rice basket.

Cassava, maize and other crops are also grown here. For most of the nation’s history, the capital has been lo­cated here and the people of the central lowland have been the dominant group in the country. Most of Thailand’s commercial, indus­trial, and service industries are located in the central lowland, focused largely on Bangkok, the capital.

The most important theme of the nation’s modern history has been the steady concentration of political authority and economic power in a cen­tralized government and at a single place: Bangkok, the capital (population 5.6 mil­lion), which has come to concentrate all facets of Thai life to a remarkable degree unsurpassed elsewhere.

In the process, the city grew to be a classic example of a “pri­mate city,” collecting nearly 10 percent of the national population its metropolitan area is nearly 30 times larger than the next biggest city—Nakhon Ratchasima 250 miles to the northeast in the Khorat Pla­teau. Containing more than 300 Buddhist temples, the royal place, and other cultural attractions, it is a tourist Mecca.

Most of the country’s trade passes through its port, and the manufacturing sector is growing rapidly. Chiang Mai (population: 1.6 mil­lion) located in the north, is another tourist center outside the capital. The vast northeastern region, sepa­rated from Laos by the Mekong River, is the plateau area of Khorat. Not blessed with the fertile soils and adequate precipi­tation of the central plains, it is the poorest area of Thailand, and contains about eight million people who are officially desig­nated as living in poverty.

Like the northern region, this area had a history of semi-autonomy until the late 19th century. The people speak a language similar to the Lao, and have often displayed discontent with the central Thai administration, which has recently been trying to bring them into the national fold. The long peninsular tail to the south which joins central Thailand with Malaysia is less fer­tile, but is the country’s major rubber-growing and tin producing region.


Thailand has recorded some of Southeast Asia’s most impressive eco­nomic gains (averaging between 6 and 7 percent a year) during the last three dec­ades. The fastest expansion has been seen in the manufacturing, service and trading sectors. Domestic markets have expanded and production of such commodities as ce­ment, soft drinks and textiles has continued to grow. American military ex­penditure during the 1960s and 1970s and Japanese investments further bolstered the economy.

Between 1950 and 1970 a rapidly grow­ing population particularly in the Central lowlands and around Bangkok had caused great concern, and the administration which had previously supported popula­tion growth reversed its policies. Since 1970s the family planning programs of the government helped to substantially reduce the population growth rates, which now stand at 0.9 percent a year at nearly one- third of those prevailing during the 1960s and 1970s.

The country is now a model for other developing nations seeking to reduce their rates of population increase. How­ever, a third of Thailand’s population belongs to the youthful age group (be­tween 20 and 40) that creates high demands on the nation’s education, hous­ing, health and employment systems, but the government is trying to utilize its highly literate human resource (with a lit­eracy rate of over 90 percent) for economic development.

  • Thailand, officially called the Kingdom of Thailand, is located in the Southeast of Asia.
  • Thailand is bordered by Malaysia to the south, Laos and Cambodia to the east, and Myanmar to the west.
  • Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never colonized by a European country.
  • Thailand received its name on May 11, 1949, before it was called as Shyamadesh or Siam.
  • The total area of ​​Thailand is 513,120 sq km. (198,120 sq mi).
  • Thai is the official language of Thailand.
  • The name of the currency of Thailand is Baht.
  • According to the World Bank, the total population of Thailand in 2016 was 6.89 crore.
  • The religion of most people in Thailand is Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
  • The most important ethnic groups in Thailand are Central Thai, Khon Isan, Khon Mong, Thai Chinese and Southern Thai.
  • The tallest mountain in Thailand is Doi Inthanon, which has an altitude of 2,565 meters.
  • The longest river in Thailand is the Chi River, which has a length of 765 km.
  • Due to the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, up to 30 feet high water was hit on the Thailand Tato, in which about 8000 people died, about 1500 children were orphaned and more than 1.5 lakh people lost their jobs.
  • The mudskipper fish of Thailand is a unique creature because it can walk on the earth and can also climb trees.
  • The famous text in Thailand is Ramakien, which is actually the Thai version of the Ramayana.
    - King Takasin became the king of Thailand and made Thonburi his capital. - King Texin was crowned King of Thailand and established Thonburi as its capital. - Taksin the Great was crowned king of the newly established Thonburi Kingdom in the new capital at Thonburi, present-day Thailand. - Construction began on the Grand Palace of Bangkok, the officialresidence of the King of Thailand. - Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning currentmonarch, ascended to the throne of Thailand. - Thailand became a member of the United Nations. - Syam was renamed as Thailand. Because of this, some people especially Chinese people who live here, even today like to call Thailand by the name of Siamese. The capital of Thailand is Bangkok. - Burkha University was established in Chonburi Province, Thailand. - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailandfounded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. - Indonesian terrorists hijacked a plane in Thailand's capital Bangkok.

Thailand Facts | Thai festivals

Many festivals are celebrated in Thailand throughout the year such as Loi Krathong which is celebrated this year on 31 October (2020).

During the Loi Krathong festival flower floats are used

Thai festivals are usually related to the Buddhist religion. At Loi Krathong the people ask for forgiveness from the Mother of River.

There are also the Candle Festival or the Flower Alms Offering Festival. Some other festivals originated from traditional beliefs to ask for favors from the God of Rain. Popular are also Rice Blessing Ceremonies and long boat racing festivals.


The grouping of Thai provinces into regions follow two major systems, in which Thailand is divided into either four or six regions. In the six-region system, commonly used in geographical studies, central Thailand extends from Sukhothai and Phitsanulok Provinces in the north to the provinces bordering the Gulf of Thailand in the south, excluding the mountainous provinces bordering Myanmar to the west and the coastal provinces of the east. The four-region system includes provinces only as far north as Chai Nat, Sing Buri, and Lopburi, and extends west and east to the borders of Myanmar and Cambodia.
The central region, as defined by Royal Forest Department in 2019, consists of 18 provinces (7 provinces of Greater Bangkok, 8 provinces of South Central Thailand and 3 provinces of Western Thailand). The total area of this central region is 67,473 km 2 (26,051 sq mi), while the total forest area is 22,374 km 2 (8,639 sq mi) or 33.2 percent of this regional area. [1]

The central region is divided into 22 provinces, which includes the following:

Central Thailand, as defined by the four-region system, is divided into 26 provinces. Especially for statistical purposes these are divided into four groups: [2]

The eastern region is sometimes listed as a separate region distinct from central Thailand – sometimes only the four coastal provinces, sometimes the above list excluding Nakhon Nayok. None of these regions are political subdivisions, they are only geographical or statistical groupings.

For economic statistics of central Thailand by National Statistical Office (NSO) the following six provinces are listed: 1.Ang Thong 2.Ayutthaya 3.Chai Nat 4.Lopburi 5.Saraburi 6.Sing Buri
However Nakhon Nayok province is listed by eastern Thailand.
For FY 2018, Central Region had a combined economic output of 863.328 billion baht (US$27.85 billion), or 5.3 percent of Thailand's GDP. Ayutthaya province had an economic output of 412.701 billion baht (US$13.3 billion). This amounts to GPP per capita of 454,953 baht (US$14,676), 40 percent more than Saraburi province, next in the ranking and three times more than for all subsequent provinces in the ranking. [3]

Gross Provincial Product (GPP)
Rank Province GPP
(million baht)
(x 1000)
GPP per capita (baht)
1 Ayutthaya 412,701 907 454,953
2 Saraburi 246,063 758 324,820
3 Sing Buri 27,783 190 145,899
4 Lopburi 110,962 777 142,741
5 Ang Thong 30,539 250 122,159
6 Chai Nat 35,280 294 119,850
Central region 863,328 3,177 271,759

  1. ^"ตารางที่ 2 พี้นที่ป่าไม้ แยกรายจังหวัด พ.ศ.2562" [Table 2 Forest area Separate province year 2019]. Royal Forest Department (in Thai). 2019 . Retrieved 6 April 2021 , information, Forest statistics Year 2019 CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  2. ^ List according to Wolf Donner, Thailand, 3-534-02779-5
  3. ^
  4. Phitsanulok Provincial Statistical Report 2562-2019: Economic Statistics - National Accounts. Phitsanulok Provincial Statistical Office (Report). National Statistical Office (NSO). 2020. p. 93. ISSN1905-8314.

This Thailand location article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


The Kingdom of Thailand is one of the few developing countries never to have been colonized. It is located centrally in Southeast Asia with both extensive Pacific coasts (Gulf of Thailand) and Indian Ocean (Andaman Sea). It shares borders with Myanmar (Burma) to the west and northwest, the Lao PDR to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the south and east, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand occupies an area of 514,000 square kilometers (319,194 square miles). Its population is 61,230,874 (estimated in July 2000), making it the sixteenth largest country in the world.

Though not as culturally diverse as other Southeast Asian countries, such as Myanmar, Laos, or Indonesia, Thailand has, nevertheless, considerable ethnic diversity. The three major groups are ethnic Thais (roughly 45 percent), Thais of Lao-Isan (northeast) ethnicity (roughly 30 percent), and Sino-Thais (roughly 14 percent) who are generally well-assimilated. Among the other three major ethnic groups are diverse hill peoples in the north and west such as the Hmong and Karen, Islamic Malay peoples in the southernmost four provinces of Thailand, and Khmer-Thais in the lower part of the northeast.

Prior to 1939 and from 1945-1949 the country was known as Siam. In 1949, the name reverted to Thailand, literally meaning land of the free. The country's origin dates back to 1238 when the Sukhothai Kingdom was established (1238-1378). The Sukhotahai Kingdom was followed by the Ayuthaya Kingdom (1350-1767), Thonburi Kingdom (1768-1781), and the current Chakri Dynasty-Bangkok Period (1782 to present). The country has had a literate culture from its beginning. Its phonetic alphabet was invented by King Ramkhamhaeng in 1283 and was derived originally from a form of the Brahmi script of Southern Indian called Grantha (Pongsak 2001).

Traditionally, education took place in Buddhist temples (wat). Teachers were Buddhist priests who were considered the learned members of the community and they provided both moral training and the basics of a literary culture. This system prevailed from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. A lasting influence of this system can be seen today in what are known as "temple schools" located on the grounds of Buddhist monasteries (approximately 20 percent).

In the late nineteenth century under the visionary leadership of its modernizing monarch, King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) (1868-1910), Siam established a modern secular system of education. The introduction of a modern printing press by Western missionaries in the mid-1800s made it possible to print books in the Thai language, an extremely important development for the future of Thai education. In 1858, King Mongkut (Rama IV) had the first government printing press established.

___ History of Thailand

Prehistory The earliest known inhabitation of present-day Thailand dates to the Paleolithic period, about 20,000 years ago. Archaeology has revealed evidence in the Khorat Plateau in the northeast of prehistoric inhabitants who may have forged bronze implements as early as 3000 B.C. and cultivated rice during the fourth millennium B.C.

Early History In the ninth century B.C., Mon and Khmer people established kingdoms that included large areas of what is now Thailand. Much of what these people absorbed from contacts with South Asian peoples&mdashreligious, social, political, and cultural ideas and institutions&mdashlater influenced the development of Thailand&rsquos culture and national identity. In the second century B.C., the Hindu-led state of Funan in present-day Cambodia and central Thailand had close commercial contact with India and was a base for Hindu merchant-missionaries. In the southern Isthmus of Kra, Malay city-states controlled routes used by traders and travelers journeying between India and Indochina (present-day Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam).

Nanchao Period (650&ndash1250) Located on the southwestern border of China&rsquos Tang empire (A.D. 618&ndash907), Nanchao served as a buffer for and later rival to China. The Tai, a people who originally lived in Nanchao, migrated into mainland Southeast Asia over a period of many centuries during the first millennium A.D.

Sukhothai Period (1238&ndash1438) In 1238 a Tai chieftain, Sri Intraditya, declared his independence from Khmer overlords and established a kingdom at Sukhothai in the Chao Phraya Valley in central Thailand. The people of the central plain took the name Thai, which means &ldquofree,&rdquo to distinguish themselves from other Tai people still under foreign rule. The Kingdom of Sukhothai conquered the Isthmus of Kra in the thirteenth century and financed itself with war booty and tribute from vassal states in Burma (today Myanmar), Laos, and the Malay Peninsula. During the reign of Ramkhamhaeng (Rama the Great, r. 1279&ndash98), Sukhothai established diplomatic relations with the Yuan Dynasty (1279&ndash1368) in China and acknowledged China&rsquos emperor as its nominal overlord. After Ramkhamhaeng&rsquos death, the vassal states gradually broke away a politically weakened Sukhothai was forced to submit in 1378 to the rising new Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya and was completely absorbed by 1438.
During and following the Sukhothai period, the Thai-speaking Kingdom of Lan Na flourished in the north near the border with Burma. With its capital at Chiang Mai, the name also sometimes given to this kingdom, Lan Na emerged as an independent city-state in 1296. Later, from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Lan Na came under the control of Burma.

Ayutthaya Period (1350&ndash1767) The city-state of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and established its capital in 1351 on the Chao Phraya River in central Thailand, calling it Ayutthaya, after Ayodhaya, the Indian city of the hero Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana. In 1360 Ramathibodi (r. 1351&ndash69) declared Theravada Buddhism as the official religion and compiled a legal code based on Hindu legal texts and Thai custom that remained in effect until the late nineteenth century. Ayutthaya became the region&rsquos most powerful kingdom, eventually capturing Angkor and forcing the Khmer to submit to Thai suzerainty. Rather than a unified kingdom, Ayutthaya was a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces ruled by members of the royal family who owed allegiance to the king. The king, however, was an absolute monarch who took on god-like aspects. This belief in a divine kingship continued until the eighteenth century. The kingdom became increasingly sophisticated as new social, political, and economic developments took place.
In 1511 Ayutthaya received its first diplomatic mission from the Portuguese, who earlier that year had conquered the state of Malacca to the south. Ayutthaya concluded trade treaties with Portugal in 1516 and with the Netherlands in 1592 and established commercial ties with Japan and England in the seventeenth century. Thai diplomatic missions also went to Paris and The Hague. When the Dutch used force to extract extraterritorial rights and freer trade access in 1664, Ayutthaya turned to France for assistance in building fortifications. In addition to construction engineers, French missionaries and the first printing press soon arrived. Fear of the threat of foreign religion to Buddhism and the arrival of English warships provoked anti- European reactions in the late seventeenth century and ushered in a 150-year period of conscious isolation from contacts with the West.
After a bloody dynastic struggle in the 1690s, Ayutthaya entered what some historians have called its golden age&mdasha relatively peaceful period in the second quarter of the eighteenth century when art, literature, and learning flourished. The rising power of Burma led to a Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya and the destruction of its capital and culture in 1767. Only a Chinese attack on Burma kept the chaotic Thai polity from Burmese subjugation.

Thon Buri Period (1767&ndash82) The Thai made a quick recovery under the leadership of a half- Chinese military commander, Phraya Taksin. Taksin had escaped from the besieged Ayutthaya and organized resistance to the Burmese invaders, eventually driving them out. Taksin declared himself king and established a new capital at Thon Buri, a fortress town across the river from modern Bangkok. By 1774 Taksin had annexed Lan Na and reunited Ayutthaya in 1776. He was deposed and executed in 1782, however, by his ministers, who invoked interests of the state over Taksin&rsquos claim to divinity.

Early Chakri Period (1782&ndash1868) Another general, Chakri, assumed the throne and took the name Yot Fa (Rama I, r. 1782&ndash1809). Yot Fa established the ruling house that continues to the present. The court moved across the river to the village of Bangkok, the kingdom&rsquos economy revived, and what remained of the artistic heritage of Ayutthaya was restored. The Kingdom of Bangkok consolidated claims to territory in Cambodia and the Malayan state of Kedah while Britain annexed territory in an area that had been contested by the Thai and the Burmese for centuries. Subsequent treaties&mdashin 1826 with Britain and in 1833 with the United States&mdash granted foreign trade concessions in Bangkok. The kingdom&rsquos expansion was halted in all directions by 1851.

The reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV, r. 1851&ndash68) marked a new opening to the Western nations. To avoid the humiliations suffered by China and Burma in their wars with Britain and the resulting unequal treaties, Bangkok negotiated and signed treaties with Britain, the United States, France, and other European countries between 1855 and 1870. As a result, commerce with the West increased and, in turn, revolutionized the Thai economy and connected it to the world monetary system. Foreign demands for extraterritoriality convinced Mongkut that legal and administrative reforms were needed if Siam (as the Thai kingdom was officially known from 1855 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1949 prior to then, the Thai traditionally named their country after the capital city) were to be treated as an equal by the Western powers. Monkut&rsquos death in 1868 postponed further reforms, however.

Reign of Chulalongkorn, Reforms, and War (1868&ndash1932) Real reform occurred during the reign of Chulalongkorn (Rama V, r. 1868&ndash1910). After his formal enthronement in 1873, he announced reforms of the judiciary, state finance, and the political structure. An antireform revolt was suppressed in 1874, after which Chulalongkorn embarked on less radical approaches. In time, he ordered the gradual elimination of slavery and corvée labor. He introduced currency- based taxes and a conscription-based regular army. In 1893 a centralized state administration replaced the semifeudal provincial administration. The regime established European-style schools for children of the royal family and sent government officials, promising civil servants, and military officers to Europe for further education. The first railroad line was opened between Bangkok and Ayutthaya in 1897 and extended farther north in 1901 and 1909. To the south, rail connections were made in 1903, linking with British rail lines in Malaya.
During this time, British and French colonial advances in Southeast Asia posed serious threats to Siam&rsquos independence and forced Siam to relinquish its claims in Cambodia, Laos, and the northern Malay states. Although much diminished in territory by the 1910s, Siam preserved its independence, and the kingdom served as a buffer state between the British and French colonies. During this time, anti-Chinese sentiments came to the fore. About 10 percent of the population was Chinese, and ethnic Chinese largely controlled many government positions, the rice trade, and other enterprises, much to the resentment of the native Thai.
Siam joined the Allies in declaring war against Germany during World War I (1914&ndash18) and sent a small expeditionary force to the European western front. These actions won Siam favorable amendments to its treaties with France and Britain at the end of the war. Siam also gained, as spoils of war, impounded German ships for use in its merchant marine. Siam took part in the Versailles peace conference in 1919 and was a founding member of the League of Nations.

The Emergence of Constitutional Rule (1932&ndash41) A bloodless coup d&rsquoétat in 1932, engineered by a group of Western-oriented and nationalist-minded government officials and army officers, ended the absolute monarchy and ushered in a constitutional regime. The first parliamentary elections were held in November 1933, confirming Minister of Finance Pridi Phanomyong&rsquos popularity, but Luang Plack Phibunsongkhram (Phibun) used his considerable power as minister of defense to assert the superior efficiency of the military administration over the civilian bureaucracy. In 1938 Phibun succeeded as prime minister, with Pridi continuing with the finance portfolio. The Phibun administration promoted nationalism and in 1939 officially changed the nation&rsquos name from Siam to Muang Thai (Land of the Free), or Thailand. Foreign- owned businesses (mostly Chinese-owned) were heavily taxed, and state subsidies were offered to Thai-owned enterprises. The people were encouraged to emulate European-style fashions. Betel chewing was prohibited, and opium addicts were prosecuted. Irridentist claims for lost territories in Cambodia and Laos were revived amidst new anti-French sentiment. Phibun cultivated closer relations with Japan as a model for modernization and a challenge to European power.

Thailand During World War II (1941&ndash44) After World War II broke out in Europe (1939&ndash 45), Japan used its influence with the Vichy regime in France to obtain territorial concessions for Thailand in Laos and Cambodia. The war for Thailand began in earnest on December 8, 1941, when Thai and Japanese troops clashed on the Isthmus of Kra. Bangkok acceded to Japan&rsquos demands that its troops be permitted to cross the isthmus to invade Burma and Malaya. In January 1942, Phibun signed a mutual defense pact with Japan and declared war against Britain and the United States. Seni Pramoj, the anti-Japanese Thai ambassador to Washington, refused his government&rsquos orders to deliver the declaration of war, and the United States refrained from declaring war on Thailand. Seni organized a Free Thai movement, and, with U.S. government support, Thai personnel were trained for anti-Japanese underground activities. In Thailand, Pridi ran a clandestine movement that, by the end of the war, with Allied aid had armed more than 50,000 Thai to resist the Japanese. During the early war years, Phibun was rewarded for his cooperation with Tokyo with the return of further territory that had once been under Thai control. Japan stationed some 150,000 troops in Thailand and built the infamous &ldquodeath railway&rdquo across the River Kwai and through Thailand using Allied prisoners of war. The Allies bombed Bangkok during the war, and public opinion and the civilian political leaders forced Phibun out of office in June 1944.

Civilian Government (1945&ndash47) Shortly after the war, Seni Pramoj briefly served as prime minister. In May 1946, a new constitution was promulgated. It called for a bicameral legislature with a popularly elected lower house and an upper house elected by the lower house. The name Siam was officially restored. The 1946 elections set the stage for Pridi&rsquos accession to the prime minstership. However, two weeks after the election Pridi was accused of being implicated in the untimely death of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII, r. 1935&ndash46), and he resigned and left the country. The new king, Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946&ndash ), who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1927, had spent the war in Switzerland and returned there after a brief first visit to Thailand in 1945. He did not return to Bangkok to take up his kingly duties until 1951, following a government-engineered coup.

Return to Military Rule (1947&ndash73) The civilian government&rsquos failure eventually led to the restoration of the Phibun military faction. Phibun had been arrested in 1945 as a war criminal but was released soon afterward. A coup in November 1947 ousted the civilian leaders, and Phibun took over as prime minister in April 1948. During his second government (1948&ndash57), Phibun restored the use of the name Thailand, reintroduced legislation to make Thai social behavior conform to Western standards, improved secondary education, and increased military appropriations. Phibun&rsquos traditional anticommunist position led to Thailand&rsquos continued recognition of Taiwan, and he supported the French in their actions against communist insurgents in Indochina. Thailand also provided ground, naval, and air units to the United Nations (UN) forces fighting during the Korean War (1950&ndash53 Thai forces continued to serve in South Korea until 1972). Phibun brought Thailand into the new Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. In 1955 SEATO&rsquos headquarters was established in Bangkok, and Thailand offered the United States the use of Thai military bases. In an attempt to generate popular support for himself, Phibun articulated a policy of democracy, but he was deposed in a bloodless coup in September 1957.
Military-controlled government continued between 1957 and 1967. There was talk under Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat of a &ldquorestoration&rdquo of the king, and a strong popular affection for the monarchy arose. The regime emphasized the kingdom&rsquos Buddhist heritage in an effort to gain support from monks for government programs. Anticommunism continued to influence Thailand&rsquos foreign affairs, and in 1961 Thailand, the Philippines, and newly independent Malaya (since 1963, Malaysia) formed the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). In 1967 Thailand became a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a broader regional cooperative organization that replaced the ASA. At the same time, Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn decided to shorten the timetable for the country&rsquos transition from the military-dominated leadership structure to a popularly elected government.
In June 1968, a new constitution was proclaimed, but martial law, which had been imposed in 1958, remained in effect. Party politics resumed in 1968, and Thanom&rsquos United Thai People&rsquos Party carried the February 1969 National Assembly elections. The new government, however, had to respond to numerous issues: a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, communist guerrillas operating in jungle areas north of the Thai-Malaysian border, the successes of communist forces in Vietnam and Laos, and other regional unrest and protests against the government. In November 1971, Thanom carried out a coup against his own government, thereby ending the three-year experiment in parliamentary democracy. The constitution was suspended, political parties were banned, and the military took full charge in suppressing opposition.

Transition to Democratic Rule (1973&ndash76) The stern moves by the Thanom regime led to popular dissatisfaction among university students and organized labor, accompanied by growing anti-U.S. sentiments. Some feared Thanom would even overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. In a demonstration on October 13, 1973, some 250,000 people pressed their grievances against the government. The following day, troops fired on the demonstrators, killing 75 of them. King Bhumibol took a rare direct role, forcing the cabinet&rsquos resignation Thanom and his close colleagues were allowed to leave the country secretly. Thammasak University president Sanya Dharmasakti was appointed interim prime minister, and it was he who fully credited the student movement with bringing down the military dictatorship. A new constitution went into effect in October 1974, providing for a popularly elected House of Representatives. The elections were inconclusive, and conservative Seni Pramoj eventually formed a government that lasted less than a month. His brother, Kukrit Pramoj, then put together a more acceptable centrist coalition that lasted until January 1976. Seni returned as prime minister but only until October 1976, when violent student demonstrations were suppressed by security forces, and Seni was ousted. A military junta took control of the government, declared martial law, annulled the constitution, banned political parties, and strictly censored the media.

Military Rule and Limited Parliamentary Government (1976&ndash92) The new government, led by Prime Minister Thanin Kraivichien, a strident anticommunist, was more repressive in many ways than the earlier military regimes. Strict censorship continued, and the regime tightly controlled labor unions and purged suspected communists from the civil service and educational institutions. As a result, many students joined the communist insurgency. Thanin was replaced in 1977 by General Kriangsak Chomanand. He promulgated a new constitution in December 1978 with a popularly elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate, but the military controlled cabinet and Senate appointments. Economic instability, however, brought down the Kriangsak government in March 1980. The new prime minster, who was the commander in chief of the army and minister of defense, General Prem Tinsulanonda, came to power by consensus among key politicians. He gave civilians a greater role in government by appointing civilians to his cabinet. A coup attempt in 1981 weakened Prem&rsquos government, and there was continual dissension among the civilian members of the government. Despite student and farmer demonstrations, Prem was reappointed as prime minister in April 1983. He survived a coup attempt in September 1985 and elections in July 1986. Prem was succeeded as prime minister following elections in July 1988 by General Chatichai Choonhavan, the leader of a multiparty coalition. The following years saw a series of military-led governments, efforts to reform, coups, new elections, and coalition party politics. Reforms were introduced in the business sector, the government allowed increased foreign investment, and relations with Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam improved. Charges of corruption and abuse of power abounded, however, and Chatichai was removed from power in a bloodless coup in February 1991.

Multiparty Democracy (1992&ndash2006) In March 1992, with a new constitution in force and new elections held, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, one of the February 1991 coup leaders, became prime minister and leader of a five-party coalition. When those parties withdrew their support, Suchinda resigned in May 1992, and Anand Panyarachun, a civilian who had served as acting prime minister between March 1991 and March 1992, was named prime minister. Anand embarked on new reform measures, but he was replaced after the September 1992 elections by Democratic Party (Phak Prachatipat) leader Chuan Leekpai, the head of a four-party coalition. Chuan&rsquos government pushed through constitutional amendments that provided for more wide- ranging democratic practices, enlarged the House of Representatives, reduced the size of the appointed Senate, lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 years of age, guaranteed equality for women, and established an administrative court. In January 1985, the Thai Nation Party (Phak Chat Thai) won the largest number of House seats, and its leader, Banharn Silapa-Archa, headed the new coalition government. In March 1996, Banharn appointed the members of the new Senate unlike earlier Senates, most members were civilians instead of military officers. The failure of his coalition, however, led to new elections and a new six-party coalition government in November 1996 led by General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, head of the Phak Khwam Wang Mai (New Aspiration Party).
Chavalit made key economic portfolio appointments to his cabinet, but he failed to implement the austere fiscal policies needed to revive a weak economy. In mid-1997 a major financial crisis ensued, the baht&mdashThailand&rsquos currency&mdashwas devalued, the Central Bank governor resigned, and widespread protests took place. The government announced austerity measures, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervened, but the economy continued to deteriorate. Despite a new constitution promulgated in October 1997, confidence in Chavalit continued to slide, and elections in November returned Chuan Leekpai to the prime ministership as head of a seven-party coalition. This transfer of power without military intervention, from one elected leader to another, represented a major breakthrough in the development of democratic processes in Thailand. The baht continued to devalue, however, and social unrest recurred. By the summer of 1998, the economy had become more stable, although investigations into banking practices continued to uncover mismanagement and irregularities. With assistance from the IMF, Thailand gradually regained macroeconomic stability.
The first-ever elections to the Senate were held in 2000, and, in January 2001 one party&mdashthe Phak Thai Rak Thai (Thai Loves Thai Party)&mdashwon an absolute majority in the House of Representatives. Because of widespread allegations of illegal election practices, new polling took place in February in some constituencies. The Thai Rak Thai, having merged with another party since the January election, still won the absolute majority of seats, but a coalition government&mdash with the New Aspiration Party and Chat Thai&mdashwas established. Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Chinnawat became prime minister. The Thai Rak Thai was further strengthened in 2002 when it absorbed many members of the New Aspiration Party.
Thaksin set out to stabilize several problematic areas. One was to launch a major antidrug campaign. Some 2,275 people were killed in a three-month period ending in April 2003, and the government claimed to have eradicated 90 percent of Thailand&rsquos drug problem. In October 2004, the government launched a second antidrug campaign. Another problem confronting the kingdom was terrorist violence, primarily in the south. In 2002 several police officers were killed, bombs were detonated when the minister of interior toured the violence-prone area, and five schools suffered damage from arsonists. The Thai military attributed these actions to a group thought to be an al Qaeda affiliate and arrested suspected members of Jemaah Islamiah (Community of Islam) in June 2003. They confessed to plotting attacks on embassies in Bangkok and tourist sites. Further arsons and bombings occurred, and attacks on police and army bases in 2004 heightened the terrorist threat. In 2004 alone, more than 500 people died as a result of insurgent and terrorist violence in the south. This loss of life was exacerbated when a massive tsunami hit the Andaman coast on December 26, 2004, killing more than 5,300 Thai and foreigners and leaving another 2,900 reported missing.
In February 2005, the Thai Rak Thai won a 75 percent majority in the House of Representatives elections, and, for the first time, a single-party government was formed. The following year, however, there were mass protests calling for Thaksin&rsquos resignation over corruption issues. He called for early parliamentary elections in April 2006 that were boycotted by the major opposition parties and declared unconstitutional in May. Amidst growing protests, Thaksin continued as prime minister until September 19, 2006, when military forces staged a successful coup and set up a military-controlled regime.

Modern Bangkok at night.
Photo © 2009

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