Thailand in Brief
For centuries known by outsiders as Siam, Thailand has been something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural and religious cross-roads. With an area of some 510,000 sq.km. and a population of some 66 million, Thailand is approximately the same size as France.
Thailand shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the north-east, Cambodia to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Geographically speaking, Thailand is divided into six major regions: the mountainous north where winter temperatures are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches; the sprawling north-east plateau, largely bordered by the Mekong River, where the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilisation flourished some 5,000 years ago; the central plain, one of the world’s most fertile rice and fruit-growing areas; the Eastern coastal plain, where fine sandy beaches support the growth of summer resorts while industrial estates mushroom to take advantage of deep seaports; western mountains and valleys: and the peninsular south where arresting scenic beauty complements economically vital tin mining, rubber cultivation and fishing.
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with 3 distinct seasons - summer from March through May, rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to September and cool from October through February. The average annual temperature is 28oC (83oF), ranging in Bangkok, for example, from 30oC in April to 25oC in December.
Time in Thailand is 17 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GTM+7).
Throughout her long history, Thailand has gently absorbed immigrants. Many were skilled as writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and architects, and helped enrich indigenous culture. People inhabiting Thailand today share rich ethnic diversitymainly Thai, Mon, Khmer, Laotian, Chinese, Malay, Persian and Indian stock with the result that there is no typically Thai physiognomy or physique. There are petite Thais, statuesque Thais, round-faced Thais, dark-skinned Thais and light-skinned Thais. Some 80% of all Thais are connected in some way with agriculture which, in varying degrees, influences and is influenced by the religious ceremonies and festivals that help make Thailand such a distinctive country.
Spoken and written Thai remain largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in major tourist destinations where it is almost the major commercial language. Thai-English road and street signs are found nation-wide.
Buddhism is the professed religion of more than 90% of all Thais, and casts strong influences on daily life. Having said that Thailand is considered as the land of religious freedom. Thus sizable minorities of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs freely pursue their respective faiths.