Thailand Country Guide
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Thailand is located in a fertile monsoon belt midway between India and China, the
two civilisations that have moulded South East Asia. But the Thais have long delighted
in their distinctive culture.
For instance, though the Tai (rather than Thai) ethnic group probably originated
in Southern China sometime in the first millennium AD, their tonal language is quite
unlike any form of Chinese. Moreover, the elegant Thai script, though derived from
that of ancient Southern India, is distinct.
Today, Thailand is a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN),
though Thais still take pride in a long tradition of independence. Unlike all her
immediate neighbours, Burma (Myanmar), Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, the country
never fell to a European colonial power.
More fundamentally, though, the Thai
sense of identity is allied with Theravada Buddhism and the monarchy. Both have
been dignified institutions since the Sukhothai period (13th-14th century), an era
when the first real Thai kingdom flourished. Indeed, the colours of the modern Thai
flag (thong trai rong) symbolise the three forces of Buddhism (white), the monarchy
(blue) and the nation (red).
Today, the great majority of Thailand's 60 million inhabitants regard themselves
as Thai. Hill tribes are the most obvious ethnic minority groups, but it is the
Chinese who form the largest (and most integrated) group. The various peoples live
relatively peaceably nowadays, though in 1939, in a wave of nationalism encouraged
by Prime Minister Phibun Songkram, the country's name was changed from Siam to Prathet
Thai (Thailand), or "land of the peoples and dialects of the Central Plains,
North, Northeast and South. Each region also has its own topographical identity.
The North is an area of forested mountains, where hill-tribe minorities co-exist
with main stream society. In the South, the narrow Kra Peninsula presents a 2,500km
(1,500-mile) coast-line with a hilly interior of rain forests and rubber plantations.
Malay-Muslim culture is a major influence here.
Between these two extremes are the Central Plains, the cradle of Thai civilisatiion
and a fertile, rice-growing region. Near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, the
capital, Bangkok, sprawls ever further each year. Though its 200 year old palatial
splendour can still be discerned, the city is among the world's most congested and
Different again is North East Thailand (also widely known as Isan), the poorest
part of the country occupying the Khorat Plateau, its eastern border with Laos defined
by the Mekhong River. In this semi-arid region traditional farming communities,
many of them Thai-Lao, eke out a subsistence living.
Region Information - Bangkok
| Cha-am |
Hua Hin | Patong Beach
| Pattaya | Phuket