Thailand is the geographical heart
of South-East Asia. The infamous golden triangle, located
at the nation's northernmost point, is where Thailand's
borders meet those of both Laos and Myanmar (Burma). The
border with Myanmar continues to the west and then south
as far as the Malay peninsula, much of which is occupied
by Thailand. On the east, the border with Laos meanders
southeast along the Mekong River until it reaches Cambodia,
which is due east of Bangkok, the Thai Capital. In the
south is the Gulf of Thailand. Roughly the size of France
(200,000 sq. miles), Thailand is composed of four main
regions. The northern mountainous region contains numerous
ruins and temples, the ancient city of Chieng Mai, and
Thailand's highest peak, Doi Inthanon. This region is
also home to the hill tribes of Thailand, distinct ethnic
groups which settled in the area thousands of years ago
after migrating from as far away as Tibet and central
The north-east of Thailand occupies the semi-arid Korat
plateau, the most desolate and least-visited part of the
country. An interesting blend of Thai, Lao, and Khmer
influences characterise the culture of the Korat. Central
Thailand, which consists of the fertile plains surrounding
the Chao Phraya River, is the country's most populous
region and its rice basket. Thailand's alluring and congested
capital city of Bangkok is located along the banks of
the Chao Phraya, near the river's outlet into the Bight
of Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand. The southern region
of Thailand, which stretches for hundreds of miles along
the Malay peninsula, abounds with stunning beaches and
scores of tropical islands.
Thailand can be an extremely hot and soggy place. Its
tropical climate is divided into three seasons: cool in
November to February, hot in March to May, and rainy in
June to October. The seasons are more extreme in the northern
regions, where the dry heat can grow quite intense in
late spring and the cool can become cold in the mountains.
The rainy season is no detriment to travel in Thailand,
as the rains can be cool and refreshing.
History - It is difficult to determine the type
of culture which existed in Thailand before the Christian
era, since no written records or chronologies exist but
archeological excavations in the area north of Nakorn
Ratchasima indicate that there were people living here
over 4000 years ago.
However, by the 6th century AD thriving agricultural communities
were established from as far north as Lamphun to Pattani
in Southern Thailand. Theravada Buddhism was flourishing,
and probably entered the region around the 2nd or 3rd
centuries BC when Indian missionaries were said to have
been sent to a land called "Suvarnabhumi". (An area comprising
Burma, Central Thailand and Cambodia).
The Dvaravati period, a loose collection of city states,
centred around the Nakhon Pathom area, and lasted until
the 11th century when it quickly declined under the political
domination of invading Khmers.
During the 12th century A.D. and is set on top of Phanom
Rung Hill in Ta Pek in the Chaloem Phra Khiat District
of Buri Ram province which is the location of a long extinct
volcano. Phanom Rung is the original name and is mentioned
in stone inscriptions excavated at the area. It is a religious
site dedicated to the God Shiva, the supreme Hindu deity.
It symbolises Mount Kailasa, the heavenly abode of Shiva.
During the 13th century several Thai principalities in
the Mekong valley united and took Haripunchai from the
Mons and the Sukhothai area from the Khmers. The Sukhothai
kingdom declared its independence in 1238 and quickly
began to expand. At its height the kingdom stretched from
Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south to Vientiane in Laos,
and Pegu in Burma. Sukhothai is considered by most Thai
historians to be the first true Thai kingdom. King Rham
Khamhaeng, the second king of the Sukhothai era, organised
a system of writing which became the basis for modern
Thai. He also codified the Thai form of Theravada Buddhism.
During the 14th and 15th centuries the Thai kings of Ayuthaya
became very powerful and began to expand their kingdom
eastward until they took Angkor from the Khmers in 1431.
By the mid-16th century Ayuthaya and the independent kingdom
of Chiang Mai had came under the control of the Burmese,
but the Thais regained control of both areas by the end
of the century.
Burma again invaded Ayuthaya in 1765 and fought a fierce
battle with the Thais for two years before gaining control
of the capital. During the process the Burmese destroyed
large numbers of manuscripts, religious sculptures, and
The Burmese made no further inroads into Thailand and,
in 1769, a new Thai capital was established at Thonburi,
on the banks of the Chao Phraya river opposite Bangkok,
by general Phya Taksin. The Thais quickly regained control
of their country and began to further unite the provinces
in the north and south of the country.
In 1782 king Rama I was crowned. He moved the capital
across the river to Bangkok, and ruled as the first king
of the Chakri dynasty. In 1809 Rama II, son of Rama I,
took the throne and ruled until 1824. King Rama III (1824-1851)
began to develop trade with China and increase domestic
When king Mongkut (Rama IV) took the throne in 1851 he
quickly established diplomatic relations with European
nations, while at the same time astutely avoiding colonisation.
He also began a period of trade reform and modernisation
of the Thai education system. His son, King Chulalongkorn
(Rama V 1868-1910), continued this tradition with the
modernisation of the legal and administrative systems,
and the construction of railways. During his 15 year reign
from 1910 to 1925 king Vajiravudha (Rama VI) introduced
compulsory education and other reforms.
In 1925 the brother of king Vajiravudha, king Prajadhipok
(Rama VII 1925-1935) ascended the throne. Seven years
later a group of Thai students living in Paris mounted
a successful bloodless coup d'etat which led to the establishment
of a constitutional monarchy similar to that which existed
in Britain. A key military leader in the coup, Phibul
Songkhram, took power and maintained control until after
the end or WW II. Rama VIII, Ananda Mahidol, became king
in 1935 but was assassinated in rather mysterious circumstances
in 1946. He was succeeded by his younger brother Bhumipol
Aduldej who became Rama IX. His Majesty King Bhumipol
Adujdej remains on the throne today, and he commands great
respect in both Thailand and throughout the rest of the
world. Today Thailand has a democratic government led
by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawarta. Many changes are
expected over the next few years now the new constitution
has be introduced.
Thailand Religion - About 95% of the Thai population
are Buddhist, which is a religion based on the teachings
of Buddha, "the enlightened".
Born an Indian prince in 560 BC Siddhartha Gautama subjected
himself to many years of severe austerities to arrive
at a vision of the world which is the basis of Buddhism.
Gautama Buddha spoke of four noble truths :
"Existence is suffering" (The truth of suffering).
"Suffering is caused by desire" (The truth of the cause
"Eliminate the cause of suffering and the suffering will
cease to arise" (The truth of cessation of suffering).
"The eight fold path (or middle way) is the way to eliminate
desire" (The truth of the path).
The main theme of Buddhist belief is that of karma, the
evaluation of all life's events and, after ones death,
the rebirth of that karma in a new existence. In this
way everyone has it in his own hands to determine his
next life, for better or worse. The Thai proverb "do good
and receive good, do evil and receive evil" sums up this
Buddhism is ever present in Thai life from the myriad
Buddha images to the saffron-robed monks and many wat
(temples) at which local people worship. As a visitor
to Thailand you are welcome to visit the wat but please
remember to dress respectfully, no shorts or vests. Remove
your shoes before entering any temple building, and never
touch the head of a Buddha image.
People - Thailand is often called the "land of
smiles", and rightly so because you will see more smiling
people here than anywhere else in the world.
The country has a population of about 59 million, with some 6.7 million of these people living in the Bangkok area. Approximately 75% of the citizenry are ethnic Thais, 14% are Chinese, and the remaining 11% are mostly Indian, Malay, Karen, Khmer, or Mon. The literacy rate is high at about 94% and the average life expectancy is 66 for men and 72 for women.
Thai people are friendly and tolerant but there are a few Do's and Don'ts which you should observe. Avoid touching people on the head, and keep your feet on the ground where they belong. Stay calm, smile and enjoy the hospitality of your hosts.
The official language is Thai, but English is widely spoken in all major tourist locations. However if you are travelling around Thailand it is a good idea to buy a phrase book.
Thai Greeting - The Wai is the traditional
Thai greeting which is used instead of a handshake, but
it can also be used as a means of saying sorry, thank
you, or to pay respect. A Thai person will often Wai as
he approaches a temple, Buddha image, or other item of
If you are introduced to a Thai and that person Wais to you then you should return the Wai. Generally the younger person will Wai first, but the Wai of a small child is best return by a big smile. If you receive a thank you Wai from an airline stewardess or after tipping a waitress it is inappropriate to return the Wai, but a smile is always welcome.