Thailand, officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย, Racha-anachak Thai), is an independent sovereign state located in Southeast Asia. Thailand Update 09/22/2023
It shares borders with Laos and Myanmar to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the south, and Myanmar and the Andaman Sea to the west.
Thailand’s southeastern territorial waters are adjacent to Vietnam’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Thailand, while its southwestern waters are bordered by Indonesia and India through the Andaman Sea.
Thailand country profile | About Thailand: Map, Postal Codes, Tourist, History Update 09/22/2023
With an area of 508,130 km², Thailand has an estimated population of about 76 million as of 2023. The majority of the population, approximately 75%, consists of ethnic Thai, followed by Thai of Chinese origin at 21% and Malay at 6%. The remainder comprises various ethnic minorities, including Mon, Khmer, and others.
It is estimated that there are around 2.1 million legal and illegal immigrants in Thailand, with the number of undocumented foreign workers exceeding 1 million.
This influx of immigrants has led to increased crime rates and widened social inequality. In terms of religion, Theravada Buddhism is considered the ‘state religion,’ with a follower rate of 90.4%, making Thailand one of the largest Buddhist countries in the world in terms of population.
The 2023 census also indicates that Muslims make up 4% of the population, while Christians account for 2.1%. Thailand operates as a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.
The Mahidol royal family of the Chakri Dynasty serves as the national symbol, and the monarch holds the position of head of state, Commander-in-Chief of the army, and the Buddhist spiritual leader.
The current Thai king is Rama X, who ascended to the throne in 2016 following the passing of his father, Rama IX, in the same year.
Thailand experienced rapid economic growth from 1985 to 1995, but its growth rate has slowed since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The country has particularly developed a strong tourism industry, boasting world-famous destinations such as Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Ko Samui.
In 2019, Thailand welcomed approximately 40 million international visitors, with an average of 14,000 visitors per day. Revenues from tourism, services, and exports significantly contribute to the country’s economy.
Thailand is one of the founding members of ASEAN and holds membership in international organizations such as the United Nations, WTO, APEC, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also a permanent guest of the G-20 Summit.
The country is recognized as a ‘New Asian Tiger’ and a regional power in Southeast Asia, with the potential to become a middle power globally.
Thailand ranks high in the Human Development Index (HDI) and is the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
It holds the 25th position globally in terms of nominal GDP, the 21st position in terms of purchasing power parity, and the 28th position in total national brand value (2020).
Thailand is now considered a newly industrialized country, with key sectors of the economy including manufacturing, electronics, agricultural and fishery product exports, and tourism.
However, Thailand currently faces significant challenges, including economic stagnation since 1997, persistent political instability, lax security management, and issues related to illegal immigration.
These factors have led to widespread crime, illegal gun ownership, a growing wealth gap, and the rise of terrorism by Islamic extremists across the country.
The origin of the Thailand name Update 09/22/2023
The name “Thailand” in Vietnamese is a transliteration derived from the French name “Thaïlande” and the English name “Thailand.” An article titled “Thailand’s economic position in the Far East” was published in the North Central Newspaper Sunday No. 42 on December 22, 1940, which began with the following paragraph:
After resolving border and land disputes through several agreements in 1903, 1904, and 1907, the trade relationship between Thailand and Indochina, two neighboring countries with many common interests on the Indian-Chinese peninsula, remained peaceful and increasingly intimate for over 30 years.
Thailand was previously known as Siam, and this was its official name until June 23, 1940, when it was changed to Thailand. From 1945 to May 11, 1949, the name was changed back to Siam before eventually reverting to its present-day name.
In Thai, there are multiple ways to refer to the country. It is commonly called “ไทย” (Thai) for short, which means “freedom” in the Thai language. The formal name is “ราชอาณาจักรไทย” (Racha Anachakra Thai), consisting of “ราชา” (Racha), meaning “king,” and “อาณาจักร” (Anachakra), meaning “territory” in Sanskrit. The phrase “Racha Anachakra Thai” translates to “Kingdom of the free.” However, a prominent Thai scholar argues that the word “Thai” (ไทย) simply means “person” based on his investigation, as he found that in some rural areas, “Thai” is used instead of the word “khon” (คน), which also means “person.” Therefore, “Thai” is also used to refer to Thai people.
Thai people also refer to their country in a more rustic manner as “เมืองไทย” (Mueang Thai), and the word “Mueang” is commonly used to denote cities and towns. Additionally, the word “ประเทศไทย” (Prathet Thai) is used to call Thailand. Both “Mueang” and “Prathet” carry the same meaning of “country” or “nation.” “Prathet” is derived from the Sanskrit word “प्रदेश” (pradeśa), while “Mueang” is an Old Thai word with the same root as the Lao word “Muang” (ເມືອງ [mɯaŋ˦]), the Shan word “Mong” (မိူင်း [məŋ˦]), and the Zhuang word “mwngh” ([mɯŋ˧]), all originally meaning “rice-growing valley.”
In China, Thailand is known as “泰國” (Tai Guo) or the “Kingdom of Tai” (泰王國). In Vietnamese, Thailand was previously referred to as “Siamese” (暹羅), and the Thais were called “the Siamese.”
History Update 09/22/2023
Since the time of the Baan Chiang Culture, various cultures have existed in the region. However, due to its geographical location, Thai culture has consistently been influenced by Cambodia, India, China, and other neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Interestingly, Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was not invaded by Europeans.
According to Thai historical accounts, the Thai people originated in the Altai Mountains in northeastern Sichuan province, China, approximately 4,500 years ago.
Over time, they gradually migrated to the land that is now Thailand. There are multiple theories regarding the origins of the Thai people. One theory, which suggests a link between the Thai people and the mass migration following the fall of the Dali Kingdom in Yunnan in the 13th century, has been proven incorrect.
Linguistic studies indicate that the ancient Tai people can trace their origins to the present-day Guangxi-Guizhou border, where the Zhuang and Bo Yi ethnic groups still reside. Around the 8th to 10th centuries, they began migrating southward, reaching northern Laos and Chieng Sen (Chiang Saen เชียงแสน) via Muang Then (now Muong Thanh, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam).
From there, they expanded further southward, following the Chao Phraya River Delta. As they settled in their new land, the Thai people displaced indigenous populations such as the Mon, Wa, Khmer, while also assimilating their cultural and religious practices, particularly adopting Indian Buddhism from the indigenous peoples.
Kingdom of Sukhothai
Statue of Buddha at Wat Mahathat – Sukhothai Historical Park. Up until the early 13th century, the Thai people, who had settled in what is now Northern Thailand, were under the dominance of the mighty Khmer Empire.
However, following the demise of King Jayavarman VII, the Khmer Empire began to weaken, resulting in a significant reduction of Khmer influence in the Thai settlement area. Seizing this opportunity, in 1232, Pho Khun Pha Muang, the Thai leader in the Lavo Kingdom, and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, the Thai leader in Banyang (now Nakhonthai), joined forces to defeat the Khmer, declare independence, and establish Sukhothai as their capital city.
Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao became the first king of Sukhothai, adopting the title Pho Khun Si Indrathit (or Intradit), thereby marking the establishment of the Phra Ruang Dynasty as the first dynasty of Sukhothai. This significant event is traditionally regarded as the foundation of the Thai nation.
Inscription of King Ramkhamhaeng. Sukhothai expanded its influence by forming alliances with other Thai kingdoms and promoting Theravada Buddhism as the state religion with the assistance of monks from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).
The throne was passed from Intradit to his son, Pho Khun Ban Muang, and in 1278, his younger brother, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng, succeeded him. Under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, Sukhothai experienced a flourishing golden age. King Ramkhamhaeng is credited with adapting the Khmer alphabet into the Thai alphabet.
At its zenith, the kingdom’s influence extended from Martaban (now in Myanmar) to Luang Prabang (now in Laos), and as far south as Nakhon Si Thammarat on the Malay Peninsula. The geographical scope of this kingdom was much larger than present-day Thailand, although the actual extent of control varied from its sphere of influence.
Following the death of Ramkhamhaeng, the kingdom rapidly declined and returned to its former stature. Meanwhile, Ayutthaya rose in power, and eventually, in 1378, King Thammaracha II of Sukhothai submitted to the new ruling power. Sukhothai became a vassal state of the Ayutthaya kingdom between 1365 and 1378.
In 1412, Ayutthaya established a prefecture, and King Thammaracha IV was crowned by Ayutthaya. Around 1430, Thammaracha relocated the capital to Phitsanulok. Following his death in 1438, the kingdom was reduced to a province under the rule of Ayutthaya.
Kingdom of Ayutthaya
Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya. Constructed in the 17th century, it was later ravaged and plundered by the Burmese army in 1767. Following the reign of King Luethai, the kingdom of Sukhothai began its decline.
Sukhothai’s vassals openly rebelled, and among them was the region of Suphanburi under the rule of U Thong. In 1343, U Thong relocated his center to the Chao Phraya plain and established a new capital known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya on a river island.
In 1360, U Thong declared Theravada Buddhism as the state religion of Ayutthaya and sought to expand his kingdom by conquering other northern kingdoms. By the late 14th century, Ayutthaya had emerged as the dominant power in Southeast Asia.
During the 15th century, Ayutthaya’s focus shifted to the Malay Peninsula, where the prosperous trading hub of Malacca was situated. As vassals, Ayutthaya maintained control over the lucrative trade in the region, attracting numerous Chinese merchants who brought luxury goods desired by the Chinese market.
In 1511, Ayutthaya received a delegation from the Portuguese Empire, marking one of the earliest European visits to the country.
Five years later, Ayutthaya and Portugal signed a treaty permitting Portuguese trade within the kingdom. A similar treaty was established in 1592, granting the Dutch Empire a privileged position in the rice trade.
During the 16th century, the Taungoo Dynasty, led by King Bayinnaung, rose to power and embarked on a series of conquests, including Lan Na and Lan Xang, and launched attacks on Ayutthaya.
In 1569, the Taungoo armies, along with Ayutthaya rebels, including members of the Ayutthaya royal family, captured Ayutthaya and relocated the royal family to Taungoo.
Dhammaraja (1569-1590), a Siamese governor who had previously aided the Burmese army, was installed as a vassal king in Ayutthaya. Independence was eventually restored by his son, King Naresuan (1590-1605), who successfully resisted Taungoo and drove Burma out of Ayutthaya by 1600.
During the reign of King Narai (1657–1688), Ayutthaya showed respect towards foreigners and maintained a cautious stance regarding external influences.
Significant commercial relationships were established with Japan, and trading companies from the British and Dutch Empires were granted permission to establish factories.
Ayutthaya also sent diplomatic missions to Paris and The Hague. By skillfully managing these relationships, the Ayutthaya court tactfully played the Netherlands against Britain and the First French Empire, preventing an excessive Ayutthaya influence.
King Narai oversaw the construction of fortifications, observatories, and a palace in Lopburi. Additionally, French missionaries contributed to education and healthcare, and they introduced the first printing press in the country.
After a period of power struggles, Ayutthaya entered a golden age, flourishing during the final 25 years of the 18th century. Literature, art, and academia thrived.
However, the greatest threat came not from the east but from the western frontier when the newly established Alaungpaya dynasty of Burma launched an invasion, conquering the Shan states along the Thai border. In 1765, Burma launched a massive attack on Ayutthaya.
Thai historical records indicate that Ayutthaya sent troops to resist and fortified the town of Bang Rajan. Despite enduring a prolonged siege by the Burmese, Bang Rajan eventually fell, and the capital city of Ayutthaya was razed to the ground in 1767.
Temples, artworks, and precious treasures, including books containing Thai literature and history, were destroyed in the process.
Following the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom, a Siamese general named Taksin found himself present amidst the chaos. Gathering his loyal supporters and forming an army, he successfully recaptured the city a year later.
However, Taksin soon realized that the extensive damage inflicted upon Ayutthaya made its restoration an overwhelming task. Moreover, the Burmese were well-acquainted with the routes to Ayutthaya, making the city vulnerable to future attacks.
Consequently, Taksin made the strategic decision to establish his capital at Thonburi, a location closer to the sea than Ayutthaya.
This choice not only made it challenging for enemies to infiltrate Thonburi by land but also prevented the accumulation of weapons and military resources by potential contenders for power in the distant uplands along the Chao Phraya River.
Taksin’s ability to lead as a warrior played a crucial role in his victories against formidable opponents. He frequently fought alongside his soldiers on the front lines, instilling bravery and resilience in them. Two individuals associated with Taksin’s destiny would later play significant roles in Thai history.
These were the two sons of an official named Pra Acksonsuntornsmiantra, with the older brother known as Tongduang and the younger brother, Boonma. After the establishment of the Chakri dynasty, Boonma held the second most powerful position in the kingdom.
Under Taksin’s leadership, he conquered vassal states and reclaimed territories in the North from the Burmese. His conquests extended to encompass all Siamese peoples.
In 1774, Taksin launched an attack against the Burmese in the north and captured Chiang Mai in 1776, thus unifying Siam. However, a coup attempt arose to remove Taksin from the throne.
During this time, a general in Co Lac city rebelled, prompting Taksin to order General Phraya San to suppress the rebellion. Unbeknownst to Taksin, Phraya San happened to be the brother of the rebel general, and the two brothers joined forces to return to the capital and stage the coup.
The army in the city opened the gates for Phraya San’s entry, while Taksin sought refuge in a temple but was eventually apprehended. Phraya San sent someone to inform Chakri, who entrusted a small number of soldiers to his brother, So Si. Meanwhile, Chakri led his army secretly to the capital, conspiring to have Taksin executed by an assassin and falsely accusing Phraya San. In the end, Chakri himself killed Phraya San and ascended to the throne.
Kingdom of Rattanakosin
Upon ascending the throne, Chakri assumed the title of Ramathibodi, later known as Rama I. He made the decision to relocate the capital from Thonburi to Bang Makok, which is now known as Bangkok. The palace was established in the Rattanakosin area, surrounded by rivers and canals on all four sides, forming natural defensive moats. Western historians referred to Rama I’s kingdom as the Kingdom of Rattanakosin precisely due to this geographical feature.
In 1851, Rama IV, also known as Mongkut, became the king. Unlike his predecessor, Rama IV displayed a more open attitude towards the West. In 1855, Siam signed a trade treaty with British envoy John Bowring, resulting in a significant reduction of import taxes to a mere 3% and the elimination of economic monopolies. Under pressure from Western powers, Rama IV aimed to reform the domestic political system. However, his efforts faced opposition from the royal family and the bureaucracy, hindering substantial progress. Nonetheless, his initiatives laid the foundation for subsequent reforms.
In 1868, Rama IV passed away, and his eldest son, Chulalongkorn, ascended the throne as Rama V. In 1873, he assumed full reign. During his visits to other countries, Chulalongkorn extensively studied reform policies to modernize his nation.
He modernized the Siamese court by introducing a Cabinet system, and the semi-feudal provincial administrative structure was transformed into provinces (changwat) and districts (amphoe) as they exist today.
Chulalongkorn granted amnesty to all political prisoners and gradually abolished slavery. Thailand’s first railway line, connecting Bangkok with Ayutthaya, was inaugurated in 1896.
He also replaced the lunar calendar with the Western calendar. Moreover, Chulalongkorn declared freedom of religion, allowing Christianity and Islam to be practiced within the Buddhist kingdom.
Pre-Western Colonialism: “Reed Diplomacy”
In its early history, Thailand was a formidable Dai-Thai nation, often surpassing its neighboring countries whenever the opportunity arose. However, by the mid-19th century, Thailand faced the imminent threat of invasion from European colonial powers.
To the west, the British Empire had occupied Burma, while to the east, France had taken control of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Thailand found itself unintentionally positioned as a geographical buffer zone between these two dominant colonial powers of the time, Britain and France. Recognizing the potential for conflict with each other, both Britain and France decided to maintain a policy of restraint and non-aggression towards Thailand.
This stroke of fortune, coupled with Thailand’s astuteness in leveraging the rivalries among the great powers, enabled the country to evade invasion and enjoy a period of relative independence and peace throughout the colonial era and even during the Second World War.
Thailand forged a treaty of friendship and commerce with Britain in 1826 and with the United States in 1833. Furthermore, a border exchange treaty was signed in 1909, delineating the boundaries with the present-day northern provinces of Malaysia, thereby averting the colonial domination of the imperialist nations of that time, who were vying for control over Southeast Asia.
Additionally, Thailand reached an agreement with France to demarcate the border along the Mekong River, effectively avoiding conflicts with French colonialists in the late 19th century.
While Thailand managed to maintain its independence, it did not emerge unscathed from the clutches of European colonial powers.
The country had to make significant concessions and relinquish territories to Britain and France. In 1888 and 1893, Thailand was compelled to sign treaties that resulted in the loss of some eastern lands to Cambodia, which was under French rule.
Further territorial reductions occurred in 1904 and 1907, totaling over 20,000 km², as France acquired additional areas. In 1909, large portions of land in the North were ceded to England, and more than 40,000 km² of land on the Malacca peninsula had to be relinquished to Britain.
Over the past five decades, Thailand has suffered the loss of 352,877 km² of territory, now under the control of Cambodia, Myanmar, and Malaysia.
This territorial shrinkage represents a diminishment to only 60% of Thailand’s pre-1867 extent, with the current land area amounting to 514,000 km² compared to the previous 867,000 km². Many Thai people view this as a humiliation inflicted by the West upon their nation, but the fear of war compelled the Thai government to accept the loss of territorial integrity.
Constitutional Monarchy Update 09/22/2023
Thailand’s political system underwent a significant transformation in 1932 when a group of young officers led a bourgeois revolution, resulting in the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
On December 5, 1932, King Prachadhipok (Rama VII) granted approval to Thailand’s first constitution. Since then, Thailand has experienced numerous constitutional changes, with 16 constitutions adopted over the past 60 years, often accompanied by coups.
Nonetheless, the 1932 Constitution remains the foundation of Thailand’s constitutional framework. In the 1980s, Thailand shifted towards a parliamentary path.
During World War II, Thailand held a loose alliance with Japan, allowing them to pass through Thai territory to attack Malaysia and Myanmar. Exploiting France’s vulnerability (as it was invaded by the Nazis) and possessing a relatively modern naval power, Thailand engaged in conflict with France over the control of Indochina.
Nationalist demonstrations and anti-French rallies took place in Bangkok, while minor skirmishes occurred along the Mekong border. Following France’s fall in 1940, Major General Plaek Pibulsonggram, commonly known as “Phibun,” the Prime Minister of Thailand, perceived an unprecedented opportunity to reclaim territories lost during the reign of King Chulalongkorn.
This led to the Franco-Thai War, where the French forces in Indochina comprised approximately 50,000 troops. The French army faced a notable disadvantage with a scarcity of armored vehicles, having only 20 obsolete tanks to counter the nearly 100 armored vehicles of the Royal Thai Army.
The Royal Thai Air Force conducted daytime bombing raids on Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Sisophon, and Battambang. The French retaliated with their own aircraft, but inflicted less damage on the enemy. Governor General of Indochina, Jean Decoux, begrudgingly acknowledged the Thai Air Force’s proficiency in dive bombing, remarking that the Thai planes were flown by seasoned pilots.
After the decline of the Japanese fascist army towards the end of World War II, a group of Thai troops staged a coup on August 1, 1944, overthrowing the pro-Japanese government. Consequently, Thailand transitioned from being a loose ally of Japan to becoming an ally of the United States, thus preserving its independence and peace.
In the post-war period, Thailand found itself regarded as a rival country by Britain and France, although the United States intervened to alleviate the extent of sanctions.
While Thailand was not occupied by Allied forces, it was required to return the territories that Japan had captured during World War II to Britain and France.
This period also witnessed closer ties between Thailand and the United States, primarily motivated by the desire to safeguard the Thai Royal Family from the potential spread of communism from neighboring countries.
Thailand actively participated in the Vietnam War, assuming a prominent role among America’s allies. It became the third-largest supplier of expeditionary troops to the United States in South Vietnam, aligning itself with the United States due to concerns over the global and domestic spread of communism.
Thailand deployed 40,000 soldiers to the war, with more than 351 recorded fatalities. Thai soldiers generally maintained high morale, taking pride in their role as “protectors of the Thai Royal Family from communism” while adhering to their Buddhist beliefs. They earned respect from their American allies and inflicted significant damage on their Vietnamese adversaries.
Communist guerrilla forces were active in Thailand from the 1960s to 1987, but they never posed a serious threat to the government.
At their peak, the guerrilla ranks numbered around 12,000 individuals. Starting in 1979, following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnam in Cambodia, Thailand allowed the remaining Khmer Rouge factions to establish bases within its territory. This resulted in occasional skirmishes between the Thai and Vietnamese armies along the border until Vietnam withdrew its troops from Cambodia in 1989.
Contemporary History Update 09/22/2023
In recent times, Thailand has actively engaged as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly following the reestablishment of democracy in 1992.
In 1997, Thailand faced the East Asian Financial Crisis, which had a significant impact on the country. The Thai baht rapidly depreciated from 25 baht to 1 dollar to 56 baht to 1 dollar, causing the stock market to plummet by 75% and the economy to contract by over 10% between 1997 and 1999.
It took Thailand six years to recover, and by 2007, the exchange rate between the baht and the dollar stabilized at 33:1. However, Thailand’s economic growth slowed down, with its GDP per capita experiencing an average annual increase of 2% between 2007 and 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the situation, resulting in a contraction of the Thai economy by 7.5-8% in 2020. As of 2022, the country has yet to fully regain its pre-pandemic GDP level.
From 2010 to 2012, there were several military clashes between Thailand and Cambodia over a territorial dispute concerning the area surrounding the Khmer temple of Preah Vihear. The International Court of Justice had previously ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, resolving the conflict.
Thailand follows the Buddhist calendar as its official calendar, which is an Eastern calendar system that is 543 years ahead of the Western calendar. In Thailand, the year 2018 corresponds to the 2561st year of the Buddhist calendar.
In 2020, Thailand witnessed significant public protests against the power of the Royal Family, marking the first such demonstrations since 1931.
Protesters demanded curbs on the monarch’s authority, asserting that the country belongs to the people and not solely to King Rama X.
These demonstrations openly challenged the Thai royal family, despite the fact that insulting the royal family, particularly the monarch, is considered a felony in Thailand. The protesters became increasingly audacious, with some even chanting slogans like “Down with feudalism, long live the people.”
Geography of Thailand Update 09/22/2023
Thailand is categorized into six distinct geographical regions by the National Research Council, based on natural characteristics such as topography, water flows, and cultural patterns.
These regions are the Northern, Northeastern, Central, Eastern, Western, and Southern regions. While Bangkok is situated within the Central Plains geographically, it can be considered a separate region due to its status as the capital and largest city.
Each of these six regions possesses unique attributes in terms of population, available resources, natural features, and socioeconomic development. The diversity among these regions stands out as a significant aspect of Thailand’s geological landscape.
Topography Update 09/22/2023
Covering an area of 512,302 km² (comparable to the combined size of Vietnam and Laos), Thailand ranks 50th globally in terms of land area and is the third-largest country in Southeast Asia, following Indonesia and Myanmar.
Thailand exhibits diverse topographic features that correspond to distinct economic zones. Notable characteristics of Thailand’s landscape include towering mountains, a central plain, and a highland region. The northern part of Thailand is predominantly occupied by mountain ranges that extend along the border with Myanmar, continuing across the Kra Strait and the Malay Peninsula.
These mountainous areas encompass a significant portion of northern Thailand. Situated in the heart of the country, the central plain is a low-lying expanse shaped by the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries. Serving as the primary river system in Thailand, it flows into the delta at the mouth of Bangkok Bay. The Chao Phraya River system covers about one-third of the nation’s territory.
Towards the northeastern part of Thailand lies the Khorat Plateau, a gently undulating region characterized by low hills and shallow lakes. It contributes to the Mekong River through the Mun River. The southern part of Thailand is defined by the network of canals and dams forming the Me River system, which flows into the South China Sea.
The combined influence of the Chao Phraya and Mekong river systems plays a vital role in sustaining Thai agriculture by facilitating rice cultivation and serving as crucial waterways for transportation. In contrast, the distinguishing natural features of peninsular Thailand are its extensive coastline, offshore islands, and notable mangrove swamps.
Climate Update 09/22/2023
Thailand’s climate is shaped by seasonal monsoons, with distinct characteristics during the southwest and northeast monsoon periods.
From April to September, the southwest monsoon brings warm and humid air from the Indian Ocean, resulting in abundant rainfall across the country.
This period marks the rainy season, with August and September being the wettest months. In contrast, the northeast monsoon prevails from October to February, ushering in cooler and drier air from China.
In southern Thailand, the northeast monsoon brings warm weather and substantial rainfall to the east coast. Much of Thailand experiences a tropical humid and dry climate, classified as a savanna climate or steppe climate, while the southern and eastern regions exhibit a tropical monsoon climate.
Thailand can be divided into three seasons. The rainy season dominates most of the country from mid-April to mid-September. During this time, heavy rainfall occurs, particularly in August and September, often leading to flooding.
In addition to the southwest monsoon, rainfall is influenced by convergence bands, such as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), and tropical cyclones.
However, dry spells of 1-2 weeks are common in June and July when the convergence band moves northward towards southern China.
Winter extends from early October to mid-March and is characterized by dry weather and mild temperatures across most of Thailand. The exception is the southern region, where heavy rainfall occurs, especially in October and November. The two summer months, from mid-March to mid-April, bring warmer weather.
Due to the inland location and latitude, the northern, northeastern, central, and eastern parts of Thailand experience an extended period of hot weather.
Temperatures during the hottest months (March to April) can reach 40 °C (104 °F) or higher, although coastal areas benefit from mild temperatures due to sea breezes.
Conversely, cold air outbreaks from China may cause temperatures to drop near or below 0 °C (32 °F) in some areas, particularly in the north and east.
Southern Thailand enjoys mild and relatively consistent temperatures year-round, influenced by the moderating effect of the sea. The average annual rainfall in most parts of the country ranges from 1,300 to 1,700 mm (51 to 67 in).
Flora and Fauna Update 09/22/2023
Thailand harbors a diverse range of rare animal species, including notable ones like tigers, elephants, and giant gaurs. However, many of these species face the imminent threat of extinction due to rampant poaching and widespread deforestation.
The elephant holds a special place as the national symbol of Thailand. Unfortunately, the elephant population has significantly dwindled due to the illegal hunting of elephants for their ivory, and more recently, for their meat.
The capture of baby elephants for use in tourist attractions was once prevalent, but its prevalence has diminished since the government prohibited such exploitation in 1989.
Astonishingly, there are now more elephants living in captivity than in the wild, leading environmental activists to raise concerns about the mistreatment of captive elephants.
Administration Update 09/22/2023
Thailand is geographically divided into 76 provinces (จังหวัด changwat), with two cities, Bangkok and Pattaya, directly under the central government’s jurisdiction. Bangkok, due to its administrative decentralization at the provincial level, is often referred to as the 76th province of Thailand.
Provinces are further divided into districts (อำเภอ amphoe) or sub-districts (เขต Khet). As of 2017, Thailand has a total of 878 districts, with 50 districts belonging to Bangkok. Certain areas surrounding Bangkok, such as Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, and Samut Sakhon, are commonly grouped together and known as the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. Each province has a provincial capital (อำเภอเมือง amphoe mueang) with the same name. For example, if the province is Phuket, the capital would be Amphoe Mueang Phuket or Phuket. Districts are further divided into sub-districts (ตำบล tambon), while sub-districts are divided into villages (หมู่บ้าน muban).
The municipalities in Thailand are categorized into three levels: city (เทศบาลนคร Thesaban nakhon), town (เทศบาลเมือง Thesaban mueang), and sub-district (เทศบาลตำบล Thesaban tambon). Many cities and towns also serve as provincial capitals. However, a province can have up to two cities and multiple towns.
Politics Update 09/22/2023
The monarch serves as the head of state in Thailand and is considered sacred and inviolable. The King holds the position of the head of state, the Commander-in-Chief of the army, and the patron of Buddhism.
The National Assembly of Thailand operates as a bicameral institution based on the Constitution of 24 August 2007. It consists of the House of Representatives with 480 seats and the Senate with 150 seats. However, following the 2014 coup, the 2007 Constitution was abolished, and the country was governed under a military dictatorship.
The government comprises 36 members, including 3 Deputy Prime Ministers, 21 Ministers, and 11 Deputy Ministers. Additionally, several Government Committees are established to coordinate the implementation of common policies. Since the overthrow of the autocratic monarchy in 1932, Thailand has witnessed the adoption of 17 constitutions and subsequent amendments.
Throughout this process, the country has experienced transitions between military dictatorship and democracy, with all governments recognizing the hereditary monarchy of the Royal Thai Royal Family as the supreme leader of the nation.
Thai politics has been marked by 20 coups or attempted coups by the military between 1932 and 2014. Martial law in the country grants the military significant powers, including the authority to ban gatherings, impose travel restrictions, and make arrests.
Since May 2014, Thailand has been under the rule of a military junta known as the National Council of Peace and Order of Thailand. They partially repealed the 2007 constitution, declared nationwide martial law, implemented curfews, prohibited political meetings, detained political activists opposing the coup, imposed internet censorship, and took control of the media.
The Period 1997-2006
The 1997 Constitution holds significance as it was the first constitution to be drafted by an elected Legislative Assembly and is commonly known as the “People’s Constitution.”
This constitution was established through a bicameral parliament consisting of 500 deputies (known as the “House of Representatives” or สภาผู้แทนราษฎร sapha phutan ratsadon) and 200 senators (referred to as the “Senate” or วุฒิสภา wuthisapha). It marked a historic moment in Thai history as both houses swiftly approved the draft constitution. The 1997 Constitution recognized various human rights, contributing to the stability of the elected government. The House of Representatives was elected through a first-past-the-post electoral system, wherein each district had a single winner determined by a majority vote. The Senate’s composition was based on the provincial administrative system, with each province having one or more senators representing it, proportionate to its population. Senators served a term of 6 years, while members of the lower house had a term of 4 years.
The judicial system (ศาล saan) encompassed the royal court (ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ săan rat-tà-tam-má-nuun), responsible for adjudicating legislative activities of the parliament, royal decrees, and political matters.
In 2001, the first general election under the 1997 Constitution took place, and it is regarded as the most transparent and free from corruption in Thai history. The government elected at that time became the first to complete a four-year term. The 2005 election witnessed measures aimed at reducing vote buying compared to previous elections, and it saw a significant increase in the number of voters participating.
In early 2006, allegations of corruption put immense pressure on Thaksin Shinawatra, leading to his decision to call for midterm elections. However, the opposition boycotted the election, and Thaksin was re-elected. The escalating conflict eventually culminated in a military coup on September 19, 2006.
After the 2006 coup
On September 19, 2006, a military council staged a coup and ousted the Thaksin government. They proceeded to abolish the constitution, dissolve the National Assembly and the Courts, and took control by imposing martial law.
Subsequently, they arrested, dismissed, and supervised several government officials. General Surayud Chulanont, a member of the royal privy council and former commander-in-chief of the Thai army, was appointed as the prime minister.
The Military Council unanimously proposed a provisional constitution and appointed a committee to draft a new constitution. Simultaneously, they selected 250 members for the National Assembly, who were prohibited from disclosing any information against the government, while the public was barred from commenting. The head of the Military Council was granted the power to remove the prime minister at any time.
In January 2007, martial law was lifted by the Military Council, but press censorship continued, and there were allegations of multiple human rights violations. Political activities and meetings were banned until May 2007.
The first democratic prime minister election following the 2006 coup took place on July 3, 2011. The Pheu Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of the ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, secured a decisive victory with 263 seats, surpassing the ruling Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who obtained 161 seats out of the 500 parliamentary seats.
With this triumph, Yingluck Shinawatra became the first female prime minister in Thai history after six male prime ministers amidst a backdrop of significant political instability. However, in 2014, Yingluck was compelled to resign following months of failed attempts to resolve the political crisis. General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order, a military dictatorship, assumed control to govern the country.
In 2020, the Thai military government exerted its power by utilizing the Thai courts to dissolve the second-largest opposition party in the House of Representatives, the New Future Party. The New Future Party, founded in March 2018 by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former Vice President of Thailand Summit Group, and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a legal scholar, advocated for a modern national development policy centered around the concept of a new generation.
Their party held an ideology opposing absolute dictatorship in the country. As a result of this dissolution, 16 members of the New Future Party leadership, including Pannika Wanich, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and Mr. Thanathorn, were banned from participating in politics for a period of 10 years.
The Royal Thai Monarchy
The Thai monarchy underwent a transition to a constitutional monarchy in 1932 following the Siamese Revolution. The Thai king assumes various titles, including Head of State, Marshal of the Royal Armed Forces, and protector of Buddhism and religious leaders.
In October 1973, in response to widespread demonstrations and the loss of many lives among student-led pro-democracy protesters, King Bhumibol took a public stance in politics for the first time. He expressed his support for ending the military regime under Thanom. The king opened the Chitralada Palace to provide sanctuary for students pursued by the authorities and engaged with leaders of the student movement.
Protests against the former dictator escalated in 1976, reaching a climax when two newspapers published manipulated images depicting Thammasat University students hanging an effigy of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.
With King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s tacit approval, an announcer on a military-controlled radio station accused the protesting students of crimes, leading to the mobilization of the king’s militias, including the Village Spies, Nawaphon, and Red Gaur, to “eliminate the communists.” On the evening of October 5, approximately 4,000 members of these militias, along with military and police personnel, gathered outside Thammasat University, where students had been protesting for weeks. These actions set the stage for the ensuing massacre.
At dawn on October 6, 1976, the army, police, and three militias blocked the university’s exits and initiated an assault on the campus using weapons such as M16 rifles, carbines, shotguns, grenade launchers, and even recoilless guns. The students were prevented from leaving the campus or seeking medical assistance.
Despite pleas for a ceasefire, the attacks persisted. Surrendering students were shot dead, and those who attempted to escape by diving into the Chao Phraya River were targeted by naval ships.
Some students were brutally beaten, hanged from trees, or burned. Female students endured rape at the hands of the police and Red Gaur, resulting in loss of life.
The massacre continued for several hours until it halted due to rain at noon. The government reported 46 deaths, 167 injuries, and 3,000 arrests, but many survivors contend that the actual death toll exceeded 100. This tragic event is known as the Thammasat University Massacre.
In 1992, King Bhumibol played a pivotal role in Thailand’s transition to democracy. A military coup on February 23, 1991, brought Thailand under military rule.
Following the 1992 general election, the majority political parties invited General Suchinda Kraprayoon, the coup leader, to assume the position of prime minister.
This decision generated widespread discontent, intensified conflicts, and resulted in casualties when the army was deployed to suppress the protests. The situation grew increasingly dire as neither side showed signs of backing down, leading to a surge in violence.
Amidst the crisis, the king summoned both Suchinda and the pro-democracy movement leader, Major General Chamlong Srimuang, for a televised audience.
The image of these two opposing figures prostrating themselves before the king, in accordance with royal protocol, left a profound impact on the nation. Consequently, Suchinda resigned shortly thereafter. This rare intervention by the king in political disputes helped pave the way for a general election and the eventual restoration of democracy.
The king’s involvement in the political crisis of 2005-2006 in Thailand was notable. In April 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra presided over a significant ceremony at the revered Emerald Buddha Temple, a sacred site in Thai Buddhism. The Phoochatkarn, a Bangkok daily newspaper, alleged that Thaksin had encroached upon the king’s authority by leading the ceremony. Sondhi Limthongkul, the owner of Phoochatkan, utilized pro-royal slogans such as “We love the King,” “We fight for the King,” and “Return power to the King” as tools during the anti-Thaksin protests. In reality, Bhumibol had granted his approval for Thaksin to preside over the ceremony. However, Sondhi persisted in employing pro-royal slogans in anti-Thaksin demonstrations until Thaksin ultimately announced his resignation following a series of meetings with Bhumibol.
In the weeks leading up to the parliamentary elections in April 2006, the anti-Thaksin coalition, comprising the Democratic Party, the People’s Coalition for Democracy, and the Thai Law Association, appealed to the king to appoint an alternative prime minister and cabinet to address the crisis. However, this request faced considerable resistance. In his speech on April 26, Bhumibol responded by stating that “To ask the King to appoint a prime minister is undemocratic. That is, I’m sorry, a mess. It is unreasonable.”
In 2016, Bhumibol, the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, passed away, and his son Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne, assuming the title Rama X.
Thailand strictly prohibits criticism of the royal family and the king (lèse-majesté), and violations can lead to imprisonment. For instance, on December 6, 2016, police visited the BBC’s office in Bangkok to investigate an article allegedly defaming the king. This article had been published on the station’s Thai website the previous Thursday.
Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a prominent dissident, was arrested on the following Saturday for sharing the post on his Facebook page and was accused of defaming the king. He was later released on bail but could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
According to the constitution, the king’s powers are limited, but he remains the head and national symbol of Thailand. As the head of state, the king possesses certain powers and fulfills specific roles in government activities.
The constitution designates the king as the head of the armed forces and requires him to be a Buddhist while serving as the protector of all religious faiths in the country.
The king retains some traditional powers, such as the right to appoint heirs and the ability to grant pardons with royal consent. The Privy Council of Thailand assists the king in his duties.
Although the king lacks legislative authority, parliamentary laws require his approval to be enacted. The monarch also has the power to intervene in government affairs, particularly during times of political crisis.
Although the king’s power in Thailand is primarily symbolic in theory, his voice carries significant influence in politics. The deep-rooted respect and reverence for the king among the Thai people have bestowed upon him unmatched authority.
The king of Thailand must operate within the bounds of constitutional law, but retains full authority to appoint personnel in specific domains, such as the military.
The current monarch of Thailand, King Vajiralongkorn (also known as Rama X), ascended to the throne in October 2016. However, during his reign, the king’s prestige experienced a significant decline due to controversies surrounding his private life and unconventional lifestyle.
In 2020, for the first time since 1932, protests erupted in Thailand, criticizing the royal family and demanding the curtailment of certain privileges enjoyed by the king.
Diplomatic Relations Update 09/22/2023
Thailand actively engages in international and regional organizations, including its status as a non-NATO ally of the United States. The country is a proactive member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and has been fostering closer ties with fellow ASEAN nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. In recent years, Thailand has assumed an increasingly prominent role in addressing global issues. It made history by deploying its troops on an international peacekeeping mission when East Timor achieved independence from Indonesia. Thai troops continue to contribute to the United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor. Furthermore, Thailand has actively participated in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq by deploying its military personnel.
The relationship between Thailand and Cambodia remains a challenge, generating concerns among various countries. In April 2009, a conflict erupted between the Thai and Cambodian armies over the disputed territory adjacent to the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, which is approximately 900 years old and situated near the border of the two countries. The Cambodian government reported the deaths of at least four Thai soldiers and the arrest of ten, while the Thai government denied any Thai soldiers being killed or injured. Both sides experienced casualties, with two Cambodian soldiers and three Thai soldiers losing their lives. Each army refuted allegations of trespassing into the other’s territory and accused the opposing side of initiating the first shots.
Following the military coup in May 2014, Thailand’s global reputation has suffered, as highlighted by Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak from Chulalongkorn University. He emphasized that Thailand’s foreign relations have borne a significant cost under the military government, stating, “By the time of the fourth anniversary of the Thai coup later this month [May 2018], Thailand’s foreign relations will be one of the most expensive prices to be paid. Instead of progressing and expanding its relations with the outside world, Thailand has regressed and stagnated.”
Thailand established diplomatic ties with Vietnam on August 6, 1976.
Economy Update 09/22/2023
Thailand’s economic landscape has evolved significantly over the years. Originally an agrarian society, the country embarked on its first socio-economic development plan in 1960 and has since implemented subsequent plans, currently on its 9th iteration.
In the 1970s, Thailand adopted an “export-oriented” policy, with ASEAN, the United States, Japan, and Europe emerging as its primary export markets. The role of industry and services in the economy has progressively grown, while agriculture’s contribution has diminished. Presently, Thailand is recognized as a newly industrialized country.
As of the end of 2019, Thailand’s gross domestic product reached $529 billion USD, ranking 22nd in the world, 7th in Asia, and 2nd in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
Following a period of impressive growth from 1985 to 1995, averaging 9% annually, Thailand faced mounting pressure to maintain the value of the baht, leading to the financial crisis in 1997.
This crisis spread across the entire East Asia region, necessitating the floatation of the Thai currency. The baht devalued by over half, reaching a low of 56 baht to 1 US dollar in January 1998, causing a contraction in the economy equivalent to 10.2% compared to the previous year.
The Thai stock market index plummeted from 1,280 at the end of 1995 to 372 at the end of 1997, resulting in negative economic growth of 20% in 1997.
Thailand began showing signs of recovery in 1998, achieving an economic growth rate of 4.2%, followed by 4.4% in 2000, largely driven by major exports, which increased by 20%.
However, growth stagnated at 1.8% due to the global economic downturn in 2001. Recovery resumed the following year, propelled by China’s robust development and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s various economic programs, often referred to as “Thaksinomics.”
In 2002, economic growth reached 5.2%, surpassing 6% in both 2003 and 2004. Foreign currency reserves reached a high level of $37-38 billion USD (compared to $800 million USD in August 1997). By 2005, Thailand’s economy had nearly returned to its pre-crisis level, with per capita purchasing power parity (PPP) reaching $8,300 per year, close to the 1997 figure of $8,800.
Growth between 2005 and 2007 fluctuated between 4% and 5%. In 2011, the GDP growth rate was a mere 0.1%, but it rebounded to 5.5% in 2012 and 7.5% in 2013. In 2017, Thailand’s economy experienced growth of 3.3%.
Thailand boasts annual exports exceeding $105 billion USD. Key export products include rice, textiles, footwear, seafood, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, motorcycles, computers, and electronic equipment.
The country ranks second in the world in terms of rice exports, trailing only India, with an annual export volume of 6.5 million tons of refined rice. Rice cultivation occupies a significant portion of Thailand’s arable land, accounting for 55%, and the country’s arable land constitutes 27.25% of the entire Mekong region.
In 2010, the agricultural sector employed 49% of Thailand’s workforce, a decline from 70% in 1980. Major industries encompass consumer electronics, electronic components, computer components, automobiles, and tourism, which contributes approximately 5% to Thailand’s GDP. Long-term investments from foreign residents also contribute significantly to the national income.
The Thai auto industry, boasting a car assembly output of nearly 90%, holds the distinction of being the largest in Southeast Asia and the 9th largest globally. Consequently, Thailand has earned the moniker “Detroit of Southeast Asia.” The industry produces almost 1.5 million vehicles annually, primarily commercial vehicles.
Thailand’s notable natural resources include tin, rubber, gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorspar, and arable land.
While Thailand employs the international standard system of measurement, it also retains the use of the traditional British measurement system (feet, inches), particularly in agriculture and construction materials. In education, civil service, government, and journalism, the numbering of years follows the Buddhist Era (B.E.), whereas the Gregorian calendar is utilized in banking and has gained popularity in industry and commerce.
In 2016, approximately 5.81 million Thais lived in poverty, with an additional 11.6 million people (17.2% of the population) categorized as “near-poor.” Poverty ratios for each region were as follows: 12.96% in the Northeast, 12.35% in the South, and 9.83% in the North. In 2017, 14 million individuals applied for social assistance due to an annual income of less than 100,000฿.
Thailand’s total household debt stood at 11.76 trillion by the end of 2017. In 2010, 3% of households experienced bankruptcy. The country’s estimated homeless population in 2016 was approximately 30,000 individuals. Socio-economic inequality and overreliance on tourism represent significant challenges for Thailand’s economy today.
People of Chinese Descent Update 09/22/2023
The Chinese community plays a significant role in Thailand’s economic landscape. Although comprising only 13% of the population, individuals of Chinese descent contribute nearly 78% of enterprise capital and over 49% of banking industry capital.
In 2000, Thai-Chinese banks and financial companies possessed assets exceeding $22.2 billion, surpassing the combined assets of both the Thai government and the Thai Royal Family, which stood at $21.8 billion.
Chinese descendants have a stronghold across various business sectors in Thailand, ranging from retail trade to major industries. Despite constituting just over 10% of the population, ethnic Chinese control more than four-fifths of the country’s rice, tin, rubber, and timber exports, as well as virtually all of Thailand’s trade, wholesale, and retail activities.
Thailand’s policies in the 1930s aimed at granting more economic rights to the indigenous Thai majority failed to diminish the dominance of ethnic Chinese.
By the end of the 20th century, ethnic Chinese maintained control over more than 70% of retail stores and 80-90% of rice mills in the country.
A survey of approximately 70 influential business groups in Thailand revealed that all but three were of Thai descent. Furthermore, in 1997, ethnic Chinese individuals held over 78% of the publicly listed companies on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
Around 50 Chinese families exert control over the entire business sector of the country, representing 80-87% of the total market capitalization of the Thai economy.
More than 77% of the 40 wealthiest individuals in Thailand are either fully or partially of Chinese descent. During the 1990s, out of the top 10 Thai enterprises in terms of sales, 8 were Chinese-owned, with only Siam Cement being an exception.
Of the five billionaires in Thailand at the end of the 20th century, all had full or partial Chinese heritage. Indigenous Thais face challenges in establishing a foothold in the business sphere, as the private sector is predominantly dominated by individuals of Chinese descent.
Among the top 25 businessmen in Thailand, 23 have Chinese or partial Chinese heritage, while people of Chinese descent account for 96% of the 70 most powerful economic groups in the country. They also control 90% of Thailand’s manufacturing sector and 50% of its service industry.
The substantial power, influence, and status of individuals of Chinese descent in Thailand are apparent. Many Thai individuals with Chinese roots have held prominent positions, including prime ministers such as the Shinawatra brothers, former prime ministers Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chuan Leekpai. People of Chinese descent also constitute a significant proportion of the Thai government apparatus.
Transportation Update 09/22/2023
Transportation in Thailand offers a diverse and often chaotic experience, with various modes of transport coexisting without a clear dominance.
Bus transport is prevalent for long distances and within Bangkok, while motorbikes have become the preferred choice for short trips in rural areas, gradually replacing bicycles. Road transport serves as the primary means of freight transportation in the country.
Traditional slow trains have historically been used for rural long-distance travel, but plans are underway to enhance the railway system by introducing high-speed rail connections to key areas of Thailand.
Domestic air travel, previously dominated by a few major airlines, has witnessed significant growth in recent years, largely due to the expansion of low-cost carriers.
Motorbike taxi services are available in Bangkok, Pattaya, and other major cities, while the abundance of taxis in Bangkok caters to transportation needs across the city.
Since the inauguration of the first high-speed rail in Bangkok in 1999, the daily commuter count on various transit routes has surpassed 800,000, prompting plans for additional rail lines to be proposed and developed.
Private car usage has experienced rapid growth, particularly among tourists, expatriates, and the middle and upper classes, contributing to the notorious traffic congestion in Bangkok over the past two decades.
To alleviate congestion, a network of motorways has been gradually established, with highways reaching Bangkok and most parts of central Thailand.
Areas with abundant waterways offer boat services, while various innovative modes of transport such as tuk-tuks, vanpools, and songthaews (shared taxis) are also available. In rural areas, elephants are even used for transportation.
Thailand follows the British traffic law, driving on the left-hand side of the road.
Tourism Update 09/22/2023
Thailand emerged as the leading tourist destination in Southeast Asia in 2013, as reported by the World Tourism Organization. The tourism industry directly contributes approximately one trillion baht (16% of GDP) to the Thai economy. When factoring in indirect effects, the tourism sector’s revenue accounts for 20.2% (2.4 trillion baht) of Thailand’s GDP .
The capital city of Bangkok, along with its historical, natural, and cultural attractions, remains the primary draw for Asian tourists visiting Thailand. Western visitors, in addition to exploring Bangkok and its surroundings, indulge in trips to the enchanting beaches and islands in the southern region. Northern Thailand offers opportunities for mountain climbing and adventure tourism. To ensure a welcoming environment for international visitors, the Thai government has established a dedicated tourist police department in major tourist areas, equipped with emergency phone numbers.
In 2006, Thailand ranked 18th in the world in terms of tourist arrivals, welcoming around 14 million visitors. In comparison, France, a country similar in size and population to Thailand, topped the list with over 80 million visitors. By 2016, Thailand saw a significant increase, with 32.60 million foreign tourists visiting the country . Bangkok, during the same year, claimed the title of the most visited city globally, surpassing both London and New York City .
Domestic tourism has also experienced rapid growth over the past decade, with revenue generated from domestic travel increasing from 187,898 million baht in 1998 to 380,417 million baht (approximately 7.8 billion euros) in 2007.
Thailand offers a range of appealing experiences for tourists, including scuba diving, sunbathing on sandy beaches, exploring countless tropical islands, vibrant nightlife, visits to archaeological sites, museums, palaces, temples, Buddhist monasteries, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites. Many visitors choose to participate in courses during their stay, with Thai cooking classes, Buddhism, and traditional Thai massage being particularly popular.
Thailand is also renowned for its festivals, including national celebrations such as the Songkran New Year festival (also known as the water festival) and the Thai Lantern Festival (Loy Krathong). Numerous regions in Thailand hold their unique local festivals. Among the most famous are the Elephant Festival in Surin and the “Phi Ta Khon” festival in Dan Sai.
It is important to note that sex tourism has played a significant role in attracting tourists. While prostitution is officially illegal in Thailand, brothel owners often establish connections with government officials and the police, allowing them to operate with impunity. In many cases, officials are bribed by brothel owners to evade legal consequences. It is estimated that prostitution catering to foreigners accounts for 20% of all prostitution cases in Thailand, primarily concentrated in red light districts like Pattaya, Patpong, and Patong Beach .
However, over-reliance on tourism also presents drawbacks, making Thailand’s economy susceptible to external influences. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic compelled Thailand to temporarily close its tourism industry. According to Bloomberg, Thailand’s economic outlook for 2020 was the bleakest in Asia, as the country’s economy heavily relies on exports and tourism, both of which were severely affected by the pandemic.
Population Update 09/22/2023
The population of Thailand primarily consists of Thai speakers, who use the Thai language, a member of the Tai-Kadai language family closely related to Lao, Shan, and various minor language groups in northern Vietnam and the Guangxi region of China’s Yunnan province.
Thai encompasses four main dialects: Central Thai or Siamese, Northeastern Thai or Isan (also known as Lao), Northern Thai or Lan Na (also known as Lao), and Southern Thai or Tai. The standardized form of Thai is based on the central dialect (Siamese), which has its own script and serves as the official language of administration in the country.
Although the central Thai population represents only about one-third of the total population, they have historically exerted significant influence over Thailand’s economy, politics, and culture.
Due to the unified education system, many Thai people are proficient in speaking Siamese as their local language. In addition to the Thai population, the Chinese form the second-largest ethnic minority group and wield significant political and economic influence in the country.
While many Chinese individuals reside in Bangkok’s Chinatown (located on Yaowarat Road), they are fully integrated into Thai society. Other ethnic groups in Thailand include the Malay people in the south, who speak a variant of Malay called Yawi, as well as the Mon, Khmer (the largest ethnic group), Cham, Lawa, Akha, Karen, Hmong, La Hu, Lisu, Lolo, and other Tai groups such as Thai Den in Loei province (known as Tai Dam in Thai), Nyaw, Phu Thai, Shan, Lu, Saek, and more.
Following the Vietnam War, a significant number of Vietnamese refugees sought shelter in Thailand, with the largest concentration settling in the northeast region.
There were also Vietnamese individuals related to the Tay Son Dynasty who sought refuge in Thailand during the Nguyen Dynasty. Additionally, during the French colonial period and the Indochina and Vietnam wars, numerous French colonial refugees sought asylum and settled in Thailand.
Apart from Thai, various dialects, primarily Isan, and other languages belonging to the Mon-Khmer language family are spoken. Moreover, English is widely taught in Thailand, although proficiency levels remain relatively low.
Based on the 2015 census, the majority, 94.63% of the population in Thailand, adhere to Theravada Buddhism, which is considered the national religion.
Islam comes in second place, representing approximately 4% of the population. Certain provinces and cities located south of Chumphon (around 463 km southwest of Bangkok) are predominantly inhabited by Muslims, who often form separate communities from others.
The Malays constitute the largest concentration of Muslims, particularly in the four southernmost provinces of Thailand. Christianity, mainly Roman Catholicism, accounts for 1.02% of the population. Additionally, there are notable communities of Hindus and Sikhs residing in various cities throughout the country.
Culture Update 09/22/2023
Thai culture draws deep influence from Cambodian culture, incorporating Buddhist beliefs as the official religion and embracing a lifestyle intertwined with water-dependent activities. These aspects are prominently reflected in the country’s festive occasions. In terms of cultural behavior, Thai people display piety, respect for the royal family, and reverence for social hierarchy and age.
A distinctive feature of Thai customs is the “wai” gesture, reminiscent of the Indian bow or “namaste.” This gesture is used when greeting, bidding farewell, or expressing agreement, with variations depending on the person’s social standing. Generally, it involves clasping hands together and bowing the head, resembling a ceremonial act.
Public displays of affection are commonly observed among friends, but rarely exhibited by romantic couples. Thus, it is normal to see friends holding hands, whereas couples tend to refrain from such displays unless in westernized environments.
Thai social norms dictate that touching someone’s head is considered impolite. Similarly, it is deemed disrespectful to position one’s foot higher than someone’s head, especially if the other person holds a higher social status. Thais regard the feet as the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, while considering the head as the highest and most honorable. Consequently, Thais typically sit on the floor with their feet tucked inward or backward, avoiding any pointing towards others. Pointing at or touching objects with one’s feet is considered impolite.
In everyday life, Thai people prioritize maintaining a sense of happiness, often referred to as “sanuk.” This concept influences their ease at work and in daily activities. Expressing positive emotions during social interactions is significant in Thai culture, contributing to Thailand’s reputation as the “Land of Smiles.”
Arguing or displaying anger is considered taboo in Thai culture, and facial expressions hold great importance, as in other Asian cultures. Visitors should take care to avoid conflicts, expressions of anger, or actions that might cause a Thai person to alter their facial expression. Disagreements or disputes are best resolved with a smile, without attempting to scold the other person.
Typically, Thai people address disagreements, minor mistakes, or misfortunes with the phrase “Mai pen rai,” meaning “It’s nothing.” The widespread use of this expression in Thailand exemplifies its effectiveness in diffusing conflicts, disagreements, and complaints. When someone says “mai pen rai,” it indicates that the matter is inconsequential and can be considered as a non-issue, without any change in facial expression.
Art in Thailand predominantly revolves around Buddhist themes. Throughout various periods, depictions of Buddha exhibit diverse styles and characteristics. Thai temple architecture and sculpture bear the influence of the Khmer people. Modern Thai art combines traditional elements with contemporary techniques, resulting in a unique blend.
Thai costumes, influenced by Cambodian culture, can be categorized into two types: traditional costumes (including royal and popular attire) and modern costumes. Traditional Thai clothing is characterized by its elegance and close-fitting nature. Rather than being sewn from wide fabric pieces, they are meticulously crafted from narrow silk or cotton strips, skillfully joined, folded, and layered to create a wide array of garments.
The traditional Thai dress, known as “chut thai” (Thai: ชุดไทย), is worn by men, women, and children. Women’s chut thai typically consists of a sarong-like skirt or a chong kraben, a blouse, and a sabai (a sash). In the northern and northeastern regions, women may wear a sinh (a tube skirt) instead of a sarong, paired with a blouse or suea ao dai (a long-sleeved jacket). Men’s chut thai includes a kraben (a type of loincloth) or shorts, a Raj pattern shirt, optional knee-length socks, and a sabai. In formal settings, people may opt for the official Thai national dress.
Contemporary Thai literature draws significant inspiration from Hindu culture in India and Khmer culture in Cambodia. One notable work is the Thai version of the epic Ramayana, called Ramakien, which is an adaptation of the Khmer epic Reamker. It was rewritten by King Rama I and the renowned master Loetla Nabhalai (King Rama II), with poetic contributions from Sunthorn Phu. These literary works showcase the richness of Thai storytelling and their connection to neighboring cultural traditions.
Thai cuisine is renowned for its harmonious blend of five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty. It incorporates a wide array of ingredients, including garlic, chili, lime juice, lemongrass, coriander, galangal, palm sugar, and fish sauce (nam pla).
Rice is a staple in Thailand, particularly fragrant varieties like jasmine rice, known as “hom Mali,” which is used in most meals. Thailand has been the world’s leading exporter of rice for many years, and the country’s rice gene bank, housed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, preserves over 5,000 varieties of Thai rice. The King of Thailand serves as the official patron of IRRI.
In 2017, CNN Travel conducted an online poll of 35,000 people worldwide, ranking “The World’s 50 Best Foods,” and seven Thai dishes made the list, more than any other country. The featured Thai dishes were as follows: tom yum, a spicy and sour soup (ranked 4th), pad Thai, a stir-fried noodle dish (ranked 5th), som tam, a tangy green papaya salad (ranked 6th), Massaman curry (ranked 10th), green curry (ranked 19th), Thai fried rice (ranked 24th), and Som Tum Pu Pla Ra, a unique salad with fermented fish sauce (ranked 36th). These dishes exemplify the culinary excellence and diversity that Thailand has to offer.
Performing Arts Update 09/22/2023
Theater and Dance
Thailand has a rich tradition of performing arts, with dance taking center stage in place of dramatic theater.
Various forms of Thai folk and royal dances have captivated audiences both domestically and internationally. Among them, Khon, Lakhon, and Likay stand out. Khon is a mask dance that demands intricate skills, while Likay enjoys the highest popularity. In rural Thailand, the Lao Kra Top Mai stall dance is a beloved favorite. The South showcases the enchanting Nang drama, a form of Thai shadow puppetry. Additionally, the Ramwong dance (Thai: รำวง; RTGS: ram wong) holds a special place in the performing arts repertoire.
In the past, Thai films were primarily popular within the domestic market, including classics like Insee Daeng (1959), Insee Thong, Mon rak Luk Thung, Banthuk Rak Pimchawee, among others. During the 1970s, Mitr Chaibancha emerged as the most renowned actor of the time.
However, Thai cinema later gained international recognition and captured the attention of global audiences, particularly through martial arts movies such as Ong Bak (2003), Tom Yum Goong, Ong Bak 2, Ong Bak 3, and more. Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong collectively earned over 47 million dollars worldwide.
Thai horror films also gained significant popularity in Asia, with notable titles like Shutter (2004), which was later licensed and remade by 20th Century Fox, along with other successful horror movies like the Phobia series, Alone, and Ladda Land. The comedy-thriller Pee Mak (2013) grossed over $33 million worldwide. Breaking records, Bad Genius (2017) became a sensation, raising Thai cinema to new heights. It garnered worldwide acclaim, numerous prestigious awards, and grossed over $42 million, solidifying its status as the most successful Thai film of all time.
Thai TV series, known as Lakorn, have also gained immense popularity, extending beyond national borders and captivating audiences throughout Asia. Well-received dramas include Khluen Chiwit, U-Prince, Roy Leh Sanae Rai, The Crown Princess, as well as teen dramas like 2gether: The Series, The Gifted, Girl From Nowhere, Hormones: The Series, and more.
The entertainment industry has made a significant economic contribution to Thailand, directly contributing $2.1 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011 and supporting over 86,600 jobs.
Architecture Update 09/22/2023
Thai houses exhibit distinct characteristics influenced by Mon and Khmer architecture, featuring unique roof designs resembling tortoise shells adorned with various styles of crests. The gabled ends remain open and are typically enclosed with railings. Door and window frames showcase decorative forms, adding to the aesthetic appeal. The layout of Thai houses is remarkable, with individual rooms bearing specific names.
The floor is divided into two sections: one for family members’ sleeping quarters and the other for the kitchen and receiving male guests.
Traditional Thai houses are constructed using materials like bamboo, wood, thatched roofs, and palm leaves. The main house features a porch with an odd number of steps, as Thais believe that even steps may invite negative spirits and bad luck. In flood-prone areas, houses are elevated on columns to mitigate the impact, while non-flooded regions still incorporate columns to create space for livestock shelters.
Within the house, a Buddha altar is prominently placed at forehead level, accompanied by a small Buddha statue facing the entrance. Flowers and betel nut are commonly used for Buddha offerings, alongside ritual tools.
This sacred space demands utmost respect, with all family activities expected to show reverence. Children and women are forbidden from passing beneath it, whether sleeping or engaged in conversation. Many families also have a simple shrine, made of thatch or bamboo, at the main entrance, as it is believed to provide protection against tribulations and illnesses.
The main house stands within a fenced yard, accompanied by an annex that houses the kitchen and water tank. Grain storage is typically in a separate location.
The traditional stilt house, elevating the living space above the ground, serves as a means to promote health and avoid diseases caused by humid conditions. These houses feature rectangular floors with covered eaves, and the open space underneath is often used as a workspace, accommodating looms and other activities.
Throughout history, Thai housing has evolved to meet the demands of modern living, resulting in more complex structures capable of meeting contemporary needs.
Muay Thai, a martial art rooted in Bokator Khmer, is not only Thailand’s iconic national martial art but also the most widely watched sport. Additionally, a popular national sport is rattan bridge, resembling volleyball but played with the foot using a lightweight rattan ball. This sport has various versions with distinct rules.
Another notable sporting event is the swan boat race, where teams from different villages compete against each other. International teams are often invited to participate, with races typically taking place in November.
Rolling eggs was once a popular leisure activity, but due to famine and egg shortages in the mid-20th century, the game gradually faded away, mostly in rural areas where traditional customs still thrive.
The Thailand national football team, managed by the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), represents the country in international matches and competitions.
Thailand boasts a strong football background and holds the highest number of titles in Southeast Asia. The team has set its sights on achieving even greater success in the future.
In its seven participations in the Asian Football Cup, Thailand reached the third-place position in the final round in 1972, which was a significant milestone as Thailand served as the host. The team has also secured the regional championship title on seven occasions, with the most recent victory occurring in 2022.