Introduction to Thailand

Thailand, formerly called "Siam", is a country rich in culture and natural beauty. It has been blessed with expansive natural parks, fertile
plains, remote jungles, beaches washed by turquoise waters, and tropical islands bathed in endless sunshine. The country has more visible
historical evidence of its past cultures than any other country in Southeast Asia. Its history is very complex, involving the invasion of many
different peoples, the rule of different kings, the establishment of various kingdoms and the interaction of diverse cultures. The period of
time from the mid 1800's until now is probably the most important in terms of the formation of modern day Thailand. King Mongkut, who
ruled the country from 1851 to 1868, was a well educated, ex-monk who kept Thailand safe from European expansion. His son,
Chulalongkorn, took over in 1868 and continued the enlightenment and modernization of Thailand. King Chulalongkorn made great strides
in improving the country, however he refused to allow his people democratic rights. This finally led to a takeover by Thai intellectuals,
along with military help, in 1932. The name of the country was changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939 by Prime Minister Phibun
Songkhram, mainly because he wanted to disassociate his country from its erratic past. Translated literally, Thailand means "Free Land".
The Thai race was previously believed to have originated somewhere near Mongolia, later moving southward. However, new theories
based on historical discoveries regard the northeastern part of Thailand as the birthplace of the Thai race. Over the years, the country has
become home to many immigrants. The Thai people have managed to preserve the traditions of their unique culture, at the same time
absorbing the practices of modern living. Nevertheless, the combination of cultures and backgrounds of these immigrants make Thailand an
interesting and memorable country to visit.


Thailand means "land of the free", and throughout its 800-year history, Thailand can boast the distinction of being the only country in
Southeast Asia never to have been colonized. Its history is divided into five major periods :

Nanchao Period (650-1250 A.D.) The Thai people founded their kingdom in the southern part of China, which is Yunnan, Kwangsi and Canton
today. A great number of people migrated south as far as the Chao Phraya Basin and settled down over the Central Plain under the
sovereignty of the Khmer Empire, whose culture they probably accepted. The Thai people founded their independent state of Sukhothai
around 1238 A.D., which marks the beginning of the Sukhothai Period.
Sukhothai Period (1238-1378 A.D.) Thais began to emerge as a dominant force
in the region in the13th century, gradually asserting independence from existing Khmer
and Mon kingdoms. Called by its rulers "the dawn of happiness", this is often considered
the golden era of Thai history, an ideal Thai state in a land of plenty governed by paternal
and benevolent kings, the most famous of whom was King Ramkamhaeng the
Great. However in 1350, the mightier state of Ayutthaya exerted its influence over
Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767) The Ayutthaya kings adopted Khmer cultural influences from
the very beginning. No longer the paternal and accessible rulers that the kings of Sukhothai
had been, Ayutthaya's sovereigns were absolute monarchs and assumed the title devaraja
(god-king). The early part of this period saw Ayutthaya extend its sovereignty over
neighboring Thai principalities and come into conflict with its neighbours, During the 17th
century, Siam started diplomatic and commercial relations with western countries. In 1767, a
Burmese invasion succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya. Despite their overwhelming victory, the
Burmese did not retain control of Siam for long. A young general named Phya Taksin and
his followers broke through the Burmese encirclement and escaped to Chantaburi. Seven
months after the fall of Ayutthaya, he and his forces sailed back to the capital and expelled
the Burmese occupation garrison.
Thon Buri Period (1767-1772) General Taksin, as he is popularly known, decided to transfer the capital from Ayutthaya to a site nearer
to the sea which would facilitate foreign trade, ensure the procurement of arms, and make defence and withdrawal easier in case of
a renewed Burmese attack. He established his new capital at Thon Buri on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The rule of
Taksin was not an easy one. The lack of central authority since the fall of Ayutthaya led to the rapid disintegration of the kingdom,
and Taksin's reign was spent reuniting the provinces
Rattanakosin Period (1782 - the Present) After Taksin's death, General Chakri became the first
king of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, ruling from 1782 to 1809. His first action as king was to transfer
the royal capital across the river from Thon Buri to Bangkok and build the Grand Palace. Rama II
(1809-1824) continued the restoration begun by his predecessor. King Nang Klao, Rama III
(1824-1851) reopened relations with Western nations and developed trade with China. King
Mongkut, Rama IV, (1851-1868) of "The King and I" concluded treaties with European countries,
avoided colonialisation and established modern Thailand. He made many social and economic
reforms during his reign . King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1869-1910) continued his father's tradition
of reform, abolishing slavery and improving the public welfare
and administrative system. Compulsory education and other educational reforms were introduced by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI
(1910-1925). During the reign of King Prajadhipok, (1925-1935), Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional
monarchy. The king abdicated in 1933 and was succeeded by his nephew, King Ananda Mahidol (1935-1946). The country's name was
changed from Siam to Thailand with the advent of a democratic government in 1939. Our present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej,
is King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty.
General Information
Geography : The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometres, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly
equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Lao P.D.R. to the north and northeast,
Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south.

Topography : Thailand is divided into four distinct areas : the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of
the Northeast, and the peninsula South, distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore islands.

Climate : Thailand has a humid, tropical climate, and is hot all year round. Summer is from March to May with average temperatures
around 93 F (34 C), but the temperature can reach over 105 F (40 C) for extended periods. Summer monsoons begin as the warm
humid air masses flow towards the north from the Indian Ocean. The monsoons end in the fall when the wind reverses direction with
the dry southwesterlies. The rainy season, with periods of sunshine, lasts from June to September, with temperatures ranging from 80F
to 89 F (27 C to 32 C). The amount of rainfall varies with topography. The northeast receives the least rain, while the south is flooded
during the summer months. The best time to visit Thailand is during the cool season, from October though February, when it is not as
humid as during the summer and rainy seasons. The average temperature is around 65 F to 89 F (18 C to 32 C). During this season, it
can be very chilly in the north, with temperatures dropping to 44 F (7 C) at night.

Population : Thailand has a population of about 60 million. Ethnic Thais form the majority, though the area has historically been a
migratory crossroads, and thus strains of Mon, Khmer, Burmese, Lao, Malay, Indian and most strongly, Chinese stock produce a degree
of ethnic diversity. Integration is such, however, that culturally and socially there is enormous unity.
Religion : Thailand is one of the most strongly Buddhist countries in the world. The national
religion is Theravada Buddhism, a branch of Hinayana Buddhism, practiced by more than 9%
of all Thais. The remainder of the population adheres to lslam, Christianity, Hinduism and
other faiths - all of which are allowed full freedom of expression. Buddhism continues to cast
strong influence on daily life. Senior monks are highly revered. Thus, in towns and villages,
the temple (wat) is the heart of social and religious life. Meditation, one of the most popular
aspects of Buddhism, is practiced regularly by numerous Thai as a means of promoting inner
peace and happiness. Visitors, too, can learn the fundamentals of this practice at several
centers in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country.
People and Culture : Over the years, Thailand has attracted many immigrants. The people of
Thailand share a rich ethnic diversity consisting of Thai, Mon, Khmer, Laotian, Chinese,
Malay, Persian and Indian descendants. As a result, it is not possible to speak of a typical
Thai physique.
The Thais are, on the whole, a group of people who believe that life should be enjoyed, but
no one should infringe on others' rights. The Thais are tolerant and hospitable, and it is easy
to get along with them. Good manners, common sense and a smile are necessities in
Women have considerable influence in Thai society. Although the men's role is usually
accentuated in public, in private, all affairs such as finances and other transactions are
generally managed by women.
Monarchy and religion are sacred in Thailand, and it is against the law to criticize them,
especially in public. Mocking the monarchy, or joking about it, is a serious offense and is
punishable by imprisonment.
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