Thailand

Introduction

Introduction

Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam, is a country at the centre of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia. With a total area of approximately 513,000 km2(198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country. It is the 20th-most-populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and was a parliamentary democracy until the coup in May 2014 by the National Council for Peace and Order. Its capital and most populous city is Bangkok. It is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailandand Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

The Thai economy is the world's 20th largestby nominal GDP and the 27th largest by GDP at PPP. It became a newly industrialised country and a major exporter in the 1990s. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are leading sectors of the economy. It is considered a middle power in the region and around the world. Understand

Thailand is the country in Southeast Asia most visited by tourists, and for good reason. You can find almost anything here: thick jungle as green as can be, crystal blue waters that feel more like a warm bath than a swim in the ocean, and food that can curl your nose hairs while tap dancing across your taste buds. Exotic, yet safe; cheap, yet equipped with every modern amenity you need, there is something for every interest and every price bracket, from beach front backpacker bungalows to some of the best luxury hotels in the world. And despite the heavy flow of tourism, Thailand retains its quintessential identity, with a culture and history all its own and a carefree people famed for their smiles and their fun-seeking sanuk lifestyle. Many travellers come to Thailand and extend their stay well beyond their original plans and others never find a reason to leave. Whatever your cup of tea is, they know how to make it in Thailand.

This is not to say that Thailand doesn't have its downsides, including the considerable growing pains of an economy where an agricultural labourer is lucky to earn 100 baht per day while the nouveaux riches cruise past in their BMWs, Bangkok, the capital, is notorious for its traffic jams and rampant development has wrecked much of once-beautiful Pattaya and Phuket. In heavily touristed areas, some lowlifes, both Thai and farang, have made scamming tourists into an art form.


Tourism

Tourism makes up about 6% of the economy. Thailand was the most visited country in Southeast Asia in 2013, according to the World Tourism Organisation. Estimates of tourism receipts directly contributing to the Thai GDP of 12 trillion baht range from 9 percent (1 trillion baht) (2013) to 16 percent. When including the indirect effects of tourism, it is said to account for 20.2 percent (2.4 trillion baht) of Thailand's GDP.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) uses the slogan "Amazing Thailand" to promote Thailand internationally. In 2015, this was supplemented by a "Discover Thainess" campaign.

Asian tourists primarily visit Thailand for Bangkok and the historical, natural, and cultural sights in its vicinity. Western tourists not only visit Bangkok and surroundings, but in addition many travel to the southern beaches and islands. The north is the chief destination for trekking and adventure travel with its diverse ethnic minority groups and forested mountains. The region hosting the fewest tourists is Isan in the northeast. To accommodate foreign visitors, the Thai government established a separate tourism police with offices in the major tourist areas and its own central emergency telephone number.

Thailand's attractions include diving sites, sandy beaches, hundreds of tropical islands, nightlife, archaeological sites, museums, hill tribes, flora and bird life, palaces, Buddhist temples and several World Heritage sites. Many tourists follow courses during their stay in Thailand. Popular are classes in Thai cooking, Buddhism and traditional Thai massage. Thai national festivals range from Thai New Year Songkran to Loy Krathong. Many localities in Thailand also have their own festivals. Among the best-known are the "Elephant Round-up" in Surin, the "Rocket Festival" in Yasothonand the "Phi Ta Khon" festival in Dan Sai. Thai cuisinehas become famous worldwide with its enthusiastic use of fresh herbs and spices.

Bangkok shopping malls offer a variety of international and local brands. Towards the north of the city, and easily reached by skytrain or underground, is the "Chatuchak Weekend Market". It is possibly the largest market in the world, selling everything from household items to live, and sometimes endangered,  animals. The "Pratunam Market" specialises in fabrics and clothing. The night markets in the Silom area and on Khaosan Road are mainly tourist-oriented, selling items such as T-shirts, handicrafts, counterfeit watches and sunglasses. In the vicinity of Bangkok one can find several floating markets such as the one in Damnoen Saduak. The "Sunday Evening Walking Street Market", held on Rachadamnoen Road inside the old city, is a shopping highlight of a visit to Chiang Mai up in northern Thailand. It attracts many locals as well as foreigners. The "Night Bazaar" is Chiang Mai's more tourist-oriented market, sprawling over several city blocks just east of the old city walls towards the river.

Prostitution in Thailand and sex tourism also form a de facto part of the economy. Cultural milieu combined with poverty and the lure of money have caused prostitution and sex tourism in particular to flourish in Thailand. One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$4.3 billion per year or about 3% of the Thai economy. According to research by Chulalongkorn University on the Thai illegal economy, prostitution in Thailand in the period between 1993 and 1995, made up around 2.7% of the GDP. It is believed that at least 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade.


Geography

Totalling 513,120 square kilometres (198,120 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country by total area. It is slightly smaller than Yemenand slightly larger than Spain.

Thailand comprises several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is the mountainous area of the Thai highlands, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon in the Thanon Thong Chai Range at 2,565 metres (8,415 ft) above sea level. The northeast, Isan, 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.

Southern Thailand consists of the narrow Kra Isthmusthat widens into the Malay Peninsula. Politically, there are six geographical regions which differ from the others in population, basic resources, natural features, and level of social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is the most pronounced attribute of Thailand's physical setting.

The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the indispensable water courses of rural Thailand. Industrial scale production of crops use both rivers and their tributaries. The Gulf of Thailand covers 320,000 square kilometres (124,000 sq mi) and is fed by the Chao Phraya, Mae Klong, Bang Pakong, and Tapi Rivers. It contributes to the tourism sector owing to its clear shallow waters along the coasts in the southern region and the Kra Isthmus. The eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand is an industrial centre of Thailand with the kingdom's premier deepwater port in Sattahip and its busiest commercial port, Laem Chabang.

The Andaman Sea is a precious natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang, and their islands, all lay along the coasts of the Andaman Sea and, despite the 2004 tsunami, they are a tourist magnet for visitors from around the world.

Plans have resurfaced for a canal which would connect the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand, analogous to the Suez and the Panama Canals. The idea has been greeted positively by Thai politicians as it would cut fees charged by the Ports of Singapore, improve ties with China and India, lower shipping times, and eliminate pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca, and support the Thai government's policy of being the logistical hub for Southeast Asia. The canal, it is claimed, would improve economic conditions in the south of Thailand, which relies heavily on tourism income, and it would also change the structure of the Thai economy by making it an Asia logistical hub. The canal would be a major engineering project and has an expected cost of US$20–30 billion.


Climate

Thailand's climate is influenced by monsoon winds that have a seasonal character (the southwest and northeast monsoon). The southwest monsoon, which starts from May until October is characterized by movement of warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean to Thailand, causing abundant rain over most of the country. The northeast monsoon, starting from October until February brings cold and dry air from China over most of Thailand. In southern Thailand, the northeast monsoon brings mild weather and abundant rainfall on the eastern coast of that region. Most of Thailand has a "tropical wet and dry or savanna climate" type (Köppen's Tropical savanna climate). The south and the eastern tip of the east have a tropical monsoon climate.

Thailand is divided into three seasons. The first is the rainy or southwest monsoon season (mid–May to mid–October) which prevails over most of the country. This season is characterized by abundant rain with August and September being the wettest period of the year. This can occasionally lead to floods. In addition to rainfall caused by the southwest monsoon, the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and tropical cyclones also contribute to producing heavy rainfall during the rainy season. Nonetheless, dry spells commonly occur for 1 to 2 weeks from June to early July. This is due to the northward movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone to southern China. Winter or the northeast monsoon starts from mid–October until mid–February. Most of Thailand experiences dry weather during this season with mild temperatures. The exception is the southern parts of Thailand where it receives abundant rainfall, particularly during October to November. Summer or the pre–monsoon season runs from mid–February until mid–May and is characterized by warmer weather.

Due to its inland nature and latitude, the north, northeast, central and eastern parts of Thailand experience a long period of warm weather. During the hottest time of the year (March to May), temperatures usually reach up to 40 °C (104 °F) or more with the exception of coastal areas where sea breezes moderate afternoon temperatures. In contrast, outbreaks of cold air from China can bring colder temperatures; in some cases (particularly the north and northeast) close to or below 0 °C (32 °F). Southern Thailand is characterized by mild weather year round with less diurnal and seasonal variations in temperatures due to maritime influences.

Most of the country receives a mean annual rainfall of 1,200 to 1,600 mm (47 to 63 in). However, certain areas on the windward sides of mountains such as Ranong province in the west coast of southern Thailand and eastern parts of Trat Province receive more than 4,500 mm (180 in) of rainfall per year. The driest areas are on the leeward side in the central valleys and northernmost portion of south Thailand where mean annual rainfall is less than 1,200 mm (47 in). Most of Thailand (north, northeast, central and east) is characterized by dry weather during the northeast monsoon and abundant rainfall during the southwest monsoon. In the southern parts of Thailand, abundant rainfall occurs in both the northeast and southwest monsoon seasons with a peak in September for the western coast and a peak in November–January on the eastern coast.


Wildlife

The elephant is Thailand's national symbol. Although there were 100,000 domesticated elephants in Thailand in 1850, the population of elephants has dropped to an estimated 2,000. Poachers have long hunted elephants for ivory, meat, and hides. Young elephants are often captured for use in tourist attractions or as work animals, although their use has declined since the government banned logging in 1989. There are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild, and environmental activists claim that elephants in captivity are often mistreated.

Poaching of protected species remains a major problem. Hunters have decimated the populations of tigers, leopards, and other large cats for their valuable pelts. Many animals (including tigers, bears, crocodiles, and king cobras) are farmed or hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and for their supposed medicinal properties. Although such trade is illegal, the famous Bangkok market Chatuchak is still known for the sale of endangered species.

The practice of keeping wild animals as pets threatens several species. Baby animals are typically captured and sold, which often requires killing the mother. Once in captivity and out of their natural habitat, many pets die or fail to reproduce. Affected populations include the Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear, white-handed lar, pileated gibbon and binturong.


Culture

Mainland Thai culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand's Buddhists follow the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism. Thai temples known as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable with their ornate, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous. Becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for young Thai boys and men.

One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (ศาลพระภูมิ saan phraphuum), usually found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don't enter the house and cause trouble. The grander the building, the larger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very large ones. Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan), built in 1956 on a former execution ground, and is now one of the busiest and most popular shrines in the city.

Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the military training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country's best known indigenous sport.

In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand including those of the "hill tribes" in the northern mountainous regions of Thailand (e.g., Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), the southern Muslims, and indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea. The ethnic Chinese population has been largely assimmilated into Thai culture, though vestiges of their Chinese heritage can still be found in Bangkok's Chinatown.


Calendar

In addition to the Gregorian calendar, Thailand also uses the Thai solar calendar, the Thai version of the Buddhist calendar, which is 543 years ahead of the common era calendar. Thus, Thai year 2556 corresponds to the Western year 2013. Thai dates in English are often written as B.E., short for "Buddhist Era".

Some Thai holidays are based on the Thai lunar calendar, so their dates change every year.


Demographics

Thailand had a population of 66,720,153 as of 2013. Thailand's population is largely rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. Thailand had an urban population of 45.7% as of 2010, concentrated mostly in and around the Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

Thailand's government-sponsored family planning program resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to around 0.4% today. In 1970, an average of 5.7 people lived in a Thai household. At the time of the 2010 census, the average Thai household size was 3.2 people.

Ethnic groups

Thai nationals make up the majority of Thailand's population, 95.9% in 2010. The remaining 4.1% of the population are Burmese (2.0%), others 1.3%, and unspecified 0.9%.

According to the Royal Thai Government's 2011 Country Report to the UN Committee responsible for the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, available from the Department of Rights and Liberties Promotion of the Thai Ministry of Justice,62 ethnic communities are officially recognised in Thailand. Twenty million Central Thai (together with approximately 650,000 Khorat Thai) make up approximately 20,650,000 million (34.1 percent) of the nation's population of 60,544,937 at the time of completion of the Mahidol University Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand data (1997).

The 2011 Thailand Country Report provides population numbers for mountain peoples ('hill tribes') and ethnic communities in the Northeast and is explicit about its main reliance on the Mahidol University Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand data. Thus, though over 3.288 million people in the Northeast alone could not be categorised, the population and percentages of other ethnic communities circa 1997 are known for all of Thailand and constitute minimum populations. In descending order, the largest (equal to or greater than 400,000) are a) 15,080,000 Lao (24.9 percent) consisting of the Thai Lao (14 million) and other smaller Lao groups, namely the Thai Loei (400-500,000), Lao Lom (350,000), Lao Wiang/Klang (200,000), Lao Khrang (90,000), Lao Ngaew (30,000), and Lao Ti (10,000; b) six million Khon Muang (9.9 percent, also called Northern Thais); c) 4.5 million Pak Tai (7.5 percent, also called Southern Thais); d) 1.4 million Khmer Leu (2.3 percent, also called Northern Khmer); e) 900,000 Malay (1.5%); f) 500,000 Ngaw (0.8 percent); g) 470,000 Phu Thai (0.8 percent); h) 400,000 Kuy/Kuay (also known as Suay) (0.7 percent), and i) 350,000 Karen (0.6 percent). Thai Chinese, those of significant Chinese heritage, are 14% of the population, while Thais with partial Chinese ancestry comprise up to 40% of the population.  Thai Malays represent 3% of the population, with the remainder consisting of Mons, Khmers and various "hill tribes". The country's official language is Thai and the primary religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practised by around 95% of the population.

Increasing numbers of migrants from neighbouring Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as from Nepal and India, have pushed the total number of non-national residents to around 3.5 million as of 2009, up from an estimated 2 million in 2008, and about 1.3 million in the year 2000. Some 41,000 Britons live in Thailand.

Religion

Thailand's prevalent religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is an integral part of Thai identity and culture. Active participation in Buddhism is among the highest in the world. According to the 2000 census, 94.6% of the country's population self-identified as Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims constitute the second largest religious group in Thailand, comprising 4.6% of the population.

Islam is concentrated mostly in the country's southernmost provinces: Pattani, Yala, Satun, Narathiwat, and part of Songkhla Chumphon, which are predominantly Malay, most of whom are Sunni Muslims. Christians represent 0.9% of the population, with the remaining population consisting of Sikhs and Hindus, who live mostly in the country's cities. There is also a small but historically significant Jewish community in Thailand dating back to the 17th century.


Economy

Thailand is an emerging economy and is considered a newly industrialised country. Thailand had a 2013 GDP of US$673 billion (on a purchasing power parity [PPP] basis). Thailand is the 2nd largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia.

Thailand functions as an anchor economy for the neighbouring developing economies of Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. In the third quarter of 2014, the unemployment rate in Thailand stood at 0.84% according to Thailand's National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB).


Cope

Bring an open mind and a sense of humour. Don't come with too many preconceived ideas about what Thailand is like, as media and friends’ experiences have a habit of distorting reality.

If you're sticking to major cities and tourist areas, don't worry too much about under-packing; you can get hold of any essentials you've forgotten. Essentials are a swimming costume, a day pack, an umbrella in rainy season and some warm clothes if travelling in Oct-Dec, as some areas get cool. Some sources say there is no point in bringing a raincoat during the warm rainy season because it is so hot and sticky your raincoat will be uncomfortable.

You will only need a couple of changes of clothes as you can get washing done anywhere cheaply. Sandals for when your hiking shoes are too hot can be bought cheaply in Thailand, although large sizes for women are harder to come by. If female and anything above a size 2 (US), size 6 (UK & IRL), size 36 (rest of EU), busty, or tall, it is often difficult to find clothes that will fit you in any of the Thai shops. If you are male and have a waist more than 38" you will have trouble finding pants. You will largely be limited to backpacker gear (the omnipresent fisherman pants and "Same Same" t-shirts) or Western imports in Bangkok malls, for the same prices as back home or more. While laundry is cheap, it is useful to bring a few changes of clothes, as you may sweat your way through several outfits a day in the Thai weather.

Take enough padlocks for every double zipper to stop wandering hands and lock up your belongings, even in your hotel room. Lock zippers through the lower holes, not the upper ones on the pull tabs — although even this precaution won't help much if you encounter a razor-blade artist.

Take snorkeling gear or buy it on arrival if you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water. Alternatively put up a notice looking for gear from someone who is leaving. A tent for camping if you are a national park buff is a good idea, as is a compass. You might like to bring compact binoculars too if wildlife is your thing. A good map of Thailand is also handy.

Take earplugs for when you're stuck in a noisy room or want to sleep on the bus. Take a mirror for shaving, as often budget places won’t have any. String is very handy for hanging up washing. Cigarette papers can be difficult to find, except in tourist centres. Climbing shoes for rock climbing are useful as Thailand has some of the best cliffs in Southeast Asia.

If you have prescription glasses, it is a good idea to bring a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses plus a copy of your prescription. Bring a book you're prepared to swap. A personal music player is great as a huge range of cheap music is available everywhere.

Into the toiletries bag throw sun screen and insect repellent. Mosquito coils are also a good idea. A small pocket size torch / flashlight will come in handy when the electricity goes out or for investigating caves. Passport photos come in handy for visas.

If you plan to travel long distances by motorbike, purchase a good quality helmet, which you can do in Thailand. Last but not least, pack your stuff in plastic bags to stop them from getting wet, especially when travelling in the rainy season or on boats.

Aside from the above, the following are recommended:

  • Prescriptions for any prescription medications being brought through customs
  • Travel insurance
  • Blood donor/type card
  • Details of your next of kin
  • A second photo ID other than your passport
  • Credit card plus a backup card for a separate account

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