The Kingdom of Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia, bordering Laos and Cambodia to the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the south, and the Andaman Sea and Myanmar to the west. Thailand is also known as Siam, which was the country's official name until May 11, 1949. The word Thai (ไทย) means "free" in the Thai language. It is also the name of the Thai people - leading some inhabitants, particularly the sizeable Chinese minority, to continue to use the name Siam.
Main article: History of Thailand
Thailand's origin is traditionally tied to the short-lived kingdom of Sukhothai founded in 1238, after which the larger kingdom of Ayutthaya was established in the mid-14th century. Thai culture was greatly influenced by both China and India. Contact with various European powers began in the 16th century but, despite continued pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power, though Western influence, including the threat of force, led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British mercantile interests (as such many historians include Thailand in the "informal British Empire").
A mostly bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. Known previously as Siam, the country first changed its name to Thailand in 1939, and definitively in 1949 after reverting to the old name post-World War II. During that conflict Thailand was in a loose alliance with Japan; following its conclusion Thailand became an ally of the United States. Thailand then saw a series of military coups d'état, but progressed towards democracy from the 1980s onward.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the western calendar. For example, the year 2000 AD is equal to the year 2543 BE.
On 26 December 2004 the west coast of Thailand was devastated by a 10 metre high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, claiming more than 5,000 casualties in Thailand, half of them tourists.
Main article: Politics of Thailand
The king has little direct power under the constitution but is the anointed protector of Thai Buddhism and a symbol of national identity and unity. The present monarch enjoys a great deal of popular respect and moral authority, which has on occasion been used to resolve political crises. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the king from among the members of the lower house of parliament, usually the leader of the party that can organise a majority coalition government.
The bicameral Thai parliament is the National Assembly or Rathasapha - รัฐสภา, which consists of a House of Representatives (the Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon - สภาผู้แทนราษฎร) of 500 seats and a Senate (the Wuthisapha - วุฒิสภา) of 200 seats. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote. Members of House of Representatives serve four-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court or Sandika - ศาลฎีกา, whose judges are appointed by the monarch. Thailand is an active member of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Main article: Provinces of Thailand
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (changwat, singular and plural), which are grouped into 5 groups of provinces. Each province is divided into smaller districts - as of 2000 there are 795 districts (Amphoe), 81 sub-districts (King Amphoe) and 50 districts of Bangkok (khet). However, some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are referred to as Greater Bangkok (Prari Monthon). These Provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon. The name of each capital city (mueang) is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is amphoe mueang Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Chiang Rai Kamphaeng Phet Lampang Lamphun Mae Hong Son Nakhon Sawan Nan Phayao Phetchabun Phichit Phitsanulok Phrae Sukhothai Tak Uthai Thani Uttaradit
Chachoengsao Chanthaburi Chonburi Rayong Prachinburi Sa Kaeo Trat
Chumphon Krabi Nakhon Si Thammarat Narathiwat Pattani Phang Nga Phattalung Phuket Ranong Satun Songkhla Surat Thani Trang Yala
Amnat Charoen Buriram Chaiyaphum Kalasin Khon Kaen Loei Maha Sarakham Mukdahan Nakhon Phanom Nakhon Ratchasima Nongbua Lamphu Nong Khai Roi Et Sakon Nakhon Sisaket Surin Ubon Ratchathani Udon Thani Yasothon
Ang Thong Ayutthaya Bangkok Chainat Kanchanaburi Lopburi Nakhon Nayok Nakhon Pathom Nonthaburi Pathum Thani Phetchaburi Prachuap Khiri Khan Ratchaburi Samut Prakan Samut Sakhon Samut Songkhram Saraburi Sing Buri Suphanburi
See also: List of cities in Thailand
Main article: Geography of Thailand
Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being the Doi Inthanon at 2,576 m. The northeast consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong river. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.
The local climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. Major cities beside the capital Bangkok include Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, and Songkhla.
See also: List of islands of Thailand
Main article: Economy of Thailand
After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 - averaging almost 9% annually - increased speculative pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997 led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the government to float the currency. Long pegged at 25 to the US dollar, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.2% that same year. The crisis spread to the Asian financial crisis.
Thailand entered a recovery stage in 1999, expanding 4.2% and grew 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports - which increased about 20% in 2000. Growth was damped by softening of global economy in 2001, but picking up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in China and various domestic stimulation programs along the Dual-Track Policies promoted by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Growth in 2003 is estimated to be around 6.3%, and projected at 8% and 10% in 2004 and 2005.
Tourism contributes significantly to the Thai economy, and the industry has benefited from the Thai baht's depreciation and Thailand's stability. Tourist arrivals in 2002 (10.9 million) reflected a 7.3% increase from the previous year (10.1 million). Thailand is also a major destination for sex tourism, and there is particular concern over child sex and forced prostitution.
Main article: Demographics of Thailand
Thailand's population is dominated by ethnic Thai and Lao, the latter concentrated in the northeastern Isan region and making up around one third of the population. There is also a large community of Thai Chinese, who have historically played a disproportionately significant role in the economy. Other ethnic groups include Malays in the south, Mon, Khmer and various indigenous hill tribes.
Around 95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition, but in the south of the country there are some Muslim areas, and small minorities of Christians and Hindus also exist. The Thai language is Thailand's national language, written in its own alphabet, but many ethnic and regional dialects exist as well as areas where people speak predominantly Lao or Khmer. Although English is widely taught in schools, proficiency is low.
Main article: Culture of Thailand
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is the national sport in Thailand and its native martial art. It reached popularity all over the world in the 1990s. Similar martial art styles exist in other southeast Asian countries.
The standard greeting in Thailand is a prayer-like gesture called the wai. Taboos include touching someone's head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the highest and the foot the lowest part of the body.
Thai cuisine blends four fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour and salty.