Thailand: A Country Overview

Information on Thailand; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Thailand...

Geography

Thailand is the world's 50th largest country with a landmass of approximately 513,000 square kilometres.

It borders Myanmar (Burma) to the north and west, Laos in the north and the east, Cambodia in the east and Malaysia to the south. It has further sea borders with Vietnam, India and Indonesia.

History

Little is known about the area known as Thailand prior to the 13th century. The area was home to a number of Malay and Mon-Khmer civilizations but knowledge and information about their existence has had to be gathered primarily from archaeological sources.

Thailand, as we know it, began in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the kingdoms of Lan Na and Sukhothai developed societies in the northern and central regions of the country. This was before the kingdom of Ayutthaya conquered the central region of Thailand.

Ayutthaya flourished over the next few centuries and became an important trading centre in South-East Asia. As a result, European traders soon arrived in Thailand.

In the 18th century, Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese. This forced the Thai kingdom to relocate and move its capital further south, near to where Bangkok stands today. After the Thon Buri Period (1767-1772), the capital was moved across the Chao Phraya River and the modern day city of Bangkok was founded in 1782 by the first of the current line of Kings, Rama I.

Although never colonised, western influences and imperialism in the 19th century saw Thailand lose territory on the east to the French and to the British in the north.

The 20th century saw turbulent times in Thailand. In 1932 a revolution by military and civilian officials resulted in the creation of a constitution for the people and a transition of power from an absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.

Thailand reached an armistice with Japan during World War II and granted the Imperial Japanese army free passage through the country, in exchange for the territories previously lost to Britain and France.

After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the west alongside many other developing nations. However, it was beset with political instability, with the period being characterised by one coup d'etat after another. This uncertainty has resulted in the residing king witnessing five coups, 16 constitutions, and 27 changes of prime minister during his period of rule.

Since 2006 Thailand has been in political crisis. Following allegations of vote-buying in the 2005 general election, a military junta overthrew the government and declared martial law.

Following the new constitution in 2007 the People's Power Party (led by Sundaravej) formed a coalition with five other smaller parties but was forced to end his time in office after scandals and court cases. Later in 2008, the party was dissolved after being found guilty of electoral fraud.

April 2010 saw a set of violent protests by the Red Shirt opposition and clashes against the army that resulted in 87 deaths. Bombing campaigns have since been directed at government buildings and homes of government officials.

Politics and Government

The country is divided into 75 provinces that are grouped into six regions. The capital, Bangkok, is known as the 76th province as it is administered independently.

Thailand operates as a Constitutional Monarchy under the current King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is currently the world's longest-serving head of state, having been on the throne since 1946. The king's title is officially Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths.

The country is run according to the 2007 Permanent Constitution for the Kingdom of Thailand, which is jointly run by a proportionally represented elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate.

Economy

Thailand experienced a rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1995, with tourism and exports contributing significantly to the boom.

The country's exported goods and services are estimated over $105 billion every year. Thailand is the world's biggest exporter of rice, while textiles, footwear, electrical goods, cars, computers, rubber and jewellery contribute significantly.

Relying heavily on exports, Thailand has a Gross Domestic Product of $627 billion per annum, classifying it as the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.

Thailand has an estimated labour force of 39 million, with the vast majority working in the agricultural and tourism sectors.

Climate

With an average national temperature of 27.7 °C, Thailand has a tropical climate that is characterised by heat, humidity and rainy seasons. Traditionally, the cool dry winter runs from November to February, the dry hot season runs from March to June and the rainy hot season from July to October.

March to May are the hottest and most humid time of the year, where maximum temperatures can range between 33°C in Phuket in the south, to 43°C in Bangkok, in the centre of the country.

  • For a temperature and rain chart for Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok: Click here

Security

Due to ongoing political unrest, governments have issued travel warnings about certain areas of Thailand. Up to date information about hostile and potentially dangerous situations can be found on government websites:

Immigration

Traditionally Thailand has been a prime destination for migrant workers due to the growing economy. Officially Thailand has an immigrant population of just over one million people. However, it is estimated that over 500,000 more people could be working in the country illegally.

Thailand has also seen a significant number of asylum seekers and refugees settle in the country.

Tourism

Tourism in Thailand makes up about six percent of the economy. In 2007 Thailand was the world's 18th most visited country, with 14.5 million visitors spending an average of just over nine days in the country, and contributing approximately €11 billion to the economy.

Well-known tourist destinations such as Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui have all contributed to attracting foreign visitors to the country.