The country has always been called Mueang Thai by its citizens. By outsiders prior to 1949, it was usually known by the exonym Siam (Thai: สยาม rtgs: Sayam, pronounced [sajǎːm], also spelled Siem, Syâm, or Syâma). The word Siam has been identified with the Sanskrit Śyāma (श्याम, meaning "dark" or "brown"). The names Shan and A-hom seem to be variants of the same word. The word Śyâma is possibly not its origin, but a learned and artificial distortion. Another theory is the name derives from Chinese: "Ayutthaya emerged as a dominant centre in the late fourteenth century. The Chinese called this region Xian, which the Portuguese converted into Siam." (Baker and Phongpaichit, A History of Thailand, 8)
The signature of King Mongkut (r. 1851 – 1868) reads SPPM (Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha) Mongkut King of the Siamese, giving the name "Siam" official status until 24 June 1939 when it was changed to Thailand. Thailand was renamed Siam from 1945 to 11 May 1949, after which it again reverted to Thailand.
According to George Cœdès, the word Thai (ไทย) means "free man" in the Thai language, "differentiating the Thai from the natives encompassed in Thai society as serfs." A famous Thai scholar argued that Thai (ไท) simply means "people" or "human being", since his investigation shows that in some rural areas the word "Thai" was used instead of the usual Thai word "khon" (คน) for people.
While Thai people will often refer to their country using the polite form prathet Thai (Thai: ประเทศไทย), they most commonly use the more colloquial term mueang Thai (Thai: เมืองไทย) or simply Thai, the word mueang, archaically a city-state, commonly used to refer to a city or town as the centre of a region. Ratcha Anachak Thai (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย) means "kingdom of Thailand" or "kingdom of Thai". Etymologically, its components are: ratcha (Sanskrit raja "king, royal, realm") ; -ana- (Pali āṇā "authority, command, power", itself from an Old Indo-Aryan form ājñā of the same meaning) -chak (from Sanskrit चक्र cakra- "wheel", a symbol of power and rule). The Thai National Anthem (Thai: เพลงชาติ), written by Luang Saranupraphan during the extremely patriotic 1930s, refers to the Thai nation as: prathet Thai (Thai: ประเทศไทย). The first line of the national anthem is: prathet thai ruam lueat nuea chat chuea thai (Thai: ประเทศไทยรวมเลือดเนื้อชาติเชื้อไทย), "Thailand is the unity of Thai flesh and blood."
There is evidence of human habitation in Thailand that has been dated at 40,000 years before the present, with stone artifacts dated to this period at Tham Lod Rockshelter in Mae Hong Son. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE to the Khmer Empire. Thailand in its earliest days was under the rule of the Khmer Empire, which had strong Hindu roots, and the influence among Thais remains even today.
Indian influence on Thai culture was partly the result of direct contact with Indian settlers, but mainly it was brought about indirectly via the Indianized kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya, and Cambodia. E.A. Voretzsch believes that Buddhism must have been flowing into Siam from India in the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire and far on into the first millennium after Christ. Later Thailand was influenced by the south Indian Pallava dynasty and north Indian Gupta Empire.
According to George Cœdès, "The Thai first enter history of Farther India in the eleventh century with the mention of Syam slaves or prisoners of war in" Champa epigraphy, and "in the twelfth century, the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat" where "a group of warriors" are described as Syam. Additionally, "the Mongols, after the seizure of Ta-li on January 7, 1253 and the pacification of Yunnan in 1257, did not look with disfavor on the creation of a series of Thai principalities at the expense of the old Indianized kingdoms." The Menam Basin was originally populated by the Mons, and the location of Dvaravati in the 7th century, followed by the Khmer Empire in the 11th. The History of the Yuan mentions an embassy from the kingdom of Sukhothai in 1282. In 1287, three Thai chiefs, Mangrai, Ngam Muang, and Ram Khamhaeng formed a "strong pact of friendship".
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, established by the various Tai peoples, Mons, Khmers, Chams and Ethnic Malays, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artefacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist Sukhothai Kingdom, which was founded in 1238.
Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th–15th century, the Buddhist Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna, and Lan Xang (now Laos) were on the rise. However, a century later, the power of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the new Kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century in the lower Chao Phraya River or Menam area.
Ayutthaya's expansion centred along the Menam while in the northern valleys the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after Ayutthaya forces invaded the city. Thailand retained a tradition of trade with its neighbouring states, from China to India, Persia, and Arab lands. Ayutthaya became one of the most vibrant trading centres in Asia. European traders arrived in the early 16th century, beginning with the envoy of Portuguese duke Afonso de Albuquerque in 1511, followed by the French, Dutch, and English. The Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767) left Ayutthaya burned and sacked by King Hsinbyushin Konbaung.
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, Taksin moved the capital to Thonburi for approximately 15 years. The current Rattanakosin era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "A quarter to a third of the population of some areas of Thailand and Burma were slaves in the 17th through the 19th centuries."
Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonised. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire. As a result, the country remained a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably the loss of a large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step-by-step absorption by Britain of the Shan and Karen people areas and Malay Peninsula.
As part of the concessions which the Chakri dynasty offered to the British Empire in return for their support, Siam ceded four predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces to the British Empire in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. These four provinces (Kelantan,Tringganu, Kedah, Perlis) would later became Malaysia's four northern states.
In 1917, Siam joined the Allies of World War I and is counted as one of the victors of World War I.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution carried out by the Khana Ratsadon group of military and civilian officials resulted in a transition of power, when King Prajadhipok was forced to grant the people of Siam their first constitution, thereby ending centuries of absolute monarchy.
In 1939, the name of the kingdom, "Siam", was changed to "Thailand".
During World War II, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. The Japanese invasion of Thailand on 8 December 1941 occurred in co-ordination with attacks throughout Asia and engaged the Royal Thai Army for six to eight hours before Plaek Phibunsongkhram ordered an armistice. Shortly thereafter, Japan was granted free passage, and on 21 December 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol, wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French.
Subsequently, Thailand declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom on 25 January 1942, and undertook to "assist" Japan in its war against the Allies, while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese Free Thai Movement. Approximately 200,000 Asian labourers (mainly romusha) and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the Burma Railway, which is commonly known as the "Death Railway".
After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold War, Thailand then went through decades of political instability characterised by a number of coups d'état, as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable, prosperous democracy in the 1980s.
The politics of Thailand is currently conducted within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. The judiciary is supposed to be independent of the executive and the legislative branches, although judicial rulings are suspected of being based on political considerations rather than on existing law.
Since the political reform of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 19 constitutions and charters. Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, but all governments have acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state.
Prior to 1932, the Kingdom of Siam did not possess a legislature, as all legislative powers were vested in the person of the monarch. This had been the case since the foundation of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 12th century as the king was seen as a "Dharmaraja" or "king who rules in accordance with Dharma", (the Buddhist law of righteousness). However, on 24 June 1932 a group of civilians and military officers, calling themselves the Khana Ratsadon (or People's Party) carried out a bloodless revolution in which the 150 years of absolute rule of the Chakri Dynasty ended. In its stead the group advocated a constitutional form of monarchy with an elected legislature.
The "Draft Constitution" of 1932 signed by King Prajadhipok created Thailand's first legislature, a People's Assembly with 70 appointed members. The assembly met for the first time on 28 June 1932, in the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. The Khana Ratsadon decided that the people were not yet ready for an elected assembly. They later changed their minds. By the time the "permanent" constitution came into force in December of that year, elections were scheduled for 15 November 1933. The new constitution changed the composition of the assembly to 78 directly elected and 78 appointed (by the Khana Ratsadon), together totalling 156 members.
The history of Thailand from 1932 to 1973 was dominated by military dictatorships which were in power for much of the period. The main personalities of the period were the dictator Luang Phibunsongkhram (better known as Phibun), who allied the country with Japan during the Second World War, and the civilian politician Pridi Phanomyong, who founded Thammasat University and was briefly the prime minister after the war.
Japan invaded Thailand on 8 December 1941. For events subsequent to the abdication of the king, including the name change of 1939, up to the coup d'état of 1957, see Plaek Pibulsonggram.
A succession of military dictators followed Pridi's ousting — Phibun again, Sarit Dhanarajata and Thanom Kittikachorn — under whom traditional, authoritarian rule was combined with increasing modernisation and westernisation under the influence of the US. The end of the period was marked by Thanom's resignation, following a massacre of pro-democracy protesters led by Thammasat students. Thanom misread the situation as a coup d'état, and fled, leaving the country leaderless. HM appointed Thammasat University chancellor Sanya Dharmasakti PM by royal command.
Thailand helped the USA and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War between 1965–1971. The USAF based F-4 Phantom fighters at Udon and Ubon Air Base, and stationed B-52s at U-Tapao. Thai forces also saw heavy action in the covert war in Laos that occurred from 1964 to 1972.
In 1973, there was a popular uprising which resulted in the end of the ruling military dictatorship of anti-communist Thanom Kittikachorn and altered the Thai political system. Notably, it highlighted the growing influence of Thai university students in politics.
The National Student Center of Thailand (NSCT) led by Thirayuth Boonmee had begun a campaign to boycott Japanese goods in 1972. When this succeeded, the NSCT organised an all-night sit-in at Thammasat University and a march from there to Chulalongkorn University, in December 1972, to protest against the government's National Executive Council Decree No. 299. A protest rally was also held at Chiang Mai University. Finally, in June 1973, several university students from Ramkhamhaeng University were expelled for publishing a satire on the ruling government. The NSCT reacted by organising rallies to call for the reinstatement of the students. Subsequently, the government decided to close the universities which caused the rallies to grow in size, reaching 50,000. Eventually, the government relented and reinstated the students, and the rector of the university was forced to resign.
In October 1973, Thirayuth Boonmee and ten other political activists were arrested for distributing leaflets in crowded places in Bangkok and one other person accused of being a member of a group advocating early promulgation of the permanent constitution was arrested. More than 2,000 students from Thammasat University demonstrated at an anti-government rally. Violence broke out and continued on 15 October around the police headquarters, with students demanding that Thanom be removed as head of the armed forces. Only when it was announced that Thanom, Praphas, and Thanom's son, Colonel Narong Kittikachorn, who was married to Praphas' daughter, had fled the country did calm return to Bangkok. The end had come as quickly and unexpectedly as the violence had begun.
The leaders of the junta were forced to step down; they took refuge in the United States or Taiwan. However, the January 1975 elections failed to produce a stable party majority, and fresh elections in April 1976 produced the same result.
By late 1976 moderate middle class opinion had turned away from the activism of the students, who had moved increasingly to the left. The army and the right-wing parties began a propaganda war against student liberalism by accusing student activists of being 'communists' and through formal paramilitary organizations such the Village Scouts and the Red Gaurs many of those students were killed. Matters came to a head in October when Thanom returned to Thailand to enter a royal monastery, Wat Bovorn.
In 1976, students protesters occupied the Thammasat University campus and held protests over the violent deaths of the workers and staged a mock hanging of the victims, one of whom allegedly bore a resemblance to the Crown Prince. Some newspapers the following day, including the Bangkok Post, published an altered version of a photo of the event, which suggested the protestors had committed lese majeste. Rightist and ultra-conservative icons such as Samak Sundaravej blasted the protestors, instigating violent means to suppress them, culminating in the 6 October 1976 Massacre. The army unleashed the paramilitaries and mob violence followed, in which many were killed.
The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution to be drafted by popularly elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, and was popularly called the "people's constitution". The 1997 Constitution created a bicameral legislature consisting of a 500-seat House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร, sapha phu thaen ratsadon) and a 200-seat Senate (วุฒิสภา, wutthisapha). For the first time in Thai history, both houses were directly elected.
Many human rights were explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments. The House was elected by the first past the post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority could be elected in one constituency. The Senate was elected based on the provincial system, where one province could return more than one senator depending on its population size.
The two houses of the National Assembly have two different terms. In accordance with the constitution the Senate is elected to a six-year term, while the House is elected to a four-year term. Overall the term of the National Assembly is based on that of the House. The National Assembly each year will sit in two sessions: an "ordinary session" and a "legislative session". The first session of the National Assembly must take place within thirty days after the general election of the House of Representatives. The first session must be opened by the king in person by reading a Speech from the Throne; this ceremony is held in the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. He may also appoint the crown prince or a representative to carry out this duty. It is also the duty of the king to prorogue sessions through a royal decree when the House term expires. The king also has the prerogative to call extraordinary sessions and prolong sessions upon advice of the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly may host a "joint-sitting" of both Houses under several circumstances. These include: The appointment of a regent, any alteration to the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, the opening of the first session, the announcement of policies by the Cabinet of Thailand, the approval of the declaration of war, the hearing of explanations and approval of a treaty and the amendment of the Constitution.
Members of the House of Representatives served four-year terms, while senators served six-year terms. The 1997 People's Constitution also promoted human rights more than any other constitution. The court system (ศาล, san) included a constitutional court with jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, royal decrees, and political matters.
The January 2001 general election, the first election under the 1997 Constitution, was called the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history. Thai Rak Thai Party, led by Thaksin Shinawatra won the election. The Thaksin government was the first in Thai history to complete a four-year term. The 2005 election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history, and Thai Rak Thai Party won an absolute majority. However, despite efforts to clean up the system, vote buying and electoral violence remained electoral problems in 2005.
The PollWatch Foundation, Thailand's most prominent election watchdog, declared that vote buying in this election, specifically in the north and the northeast, was more serious than in the 2001 election. The organisation also accused the government of violating the election law by abusing state power in presenting new projects in a bid to seek votes.
Without meeting much resistance, a military junta overthrew the interim government of Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006. The junta abrogated the constitution, dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court, detained and later removed several members of the government, declared martial law, and appointed one of the king's Privy Counselors, General Surayud Chulanont, as the Prime Minister. The junta later wrote a highly abbreviated interim constitution and appointed a panel to draft a new permanent constitution. The junta also appointed a 250-member legislature, called by some critics a "chamber of generals" while others claimed that it lacks representatives from the poor majority.
In this interim constitution draft, the head of the junta was allowed to remove the prime minister at any time. The legislature was not allowed to hold a vote of confidence against the cabinet and the public was not allowed to file comments on bills. This interim constitution was later surpassed by the permanent constitution on 24 August 2007. Martial law was partially revoked in January 2007. The ban on political activities was lifted in July 2007, following the 30 May dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai party. The new constitution was approved by referendum on 19 August, which led to a return to a democratic general election on 23 December 2007.
The People's Power Party (Thailand), led by Samak Sundaravej, formed a government with five smaller parties. Following several court rulings against him in a variety of scandals, and surviving a vote of no confidence, and protesters blockading government buildings and airports, in September 2008, Sundaravej was found guilty of conflict of interest by the Constitutional Court of Thailand (due to being a host in a TV cooking program), and thus, ended his term in office.
He was replaced by PPP member Somchai Wongsawat. As of October 2008, Wongsawat was unable to gain access to his offices, which were occupied by protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy. On 2 December 2008, Thailand's Constitutional Court in a highly controversial ruling found the Peoples Power Party guilty of electoral fraud, which led to the dissolution of the party according to the law. It was later alleged in media reports that at least one member of the judiciary had a telephone conversation with officials working for the Office of the Privy Council and one other. The phone call was taped and has since circulated on the Internet. In it, the callers discuss finding a way to ensure the ruling PPP party would be disbanded. Accusations of judicial interference were levelled in the media but the recorded call was dismissed as a hoax. However, in June 2010, supporters of the eventually disbanded PPP were charged with tapping a judge's phone.
Immediately following what many media described as a "judicial coup", a senior member of the Armed Forces met with factions of the governing coalition to get their members to join the opposition and the Democrat Party was able to form a government, a first for the party since 2001. The leader of the Democrat party, and former leader of the opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was appointed and sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister, together with the new cabinet on 17 December 2008.
In April 2009, protests by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, or "Red Shirts") forced the cancellation of the Fourth East Asia Summit after protesters stormed the Royal Cliff hotel venue in Pattaya, smashing the glass doors of the venue to gain entry, and a blockade prevented the Chinese premier at the time, Wen Jiabao, from attending. The summit was eventually held in Thailand in October 2009.
About a year later, a set of new "Red Shirts" protests resulted in 87 deaths (mostly civilian and some military) and 1,378 injured. When the army tried to disperse the protesters on 10 April 2010, it was met with automatic gunfire, grenades, and fire bombs from the opposition faction in the army, known as the "watermelon". This resulted in the army returning fire with rubber bullets and some live ammunition. During the time of the "red shirt" protests against the government, there have been numerous grenade and bomb attacks against government offices and the homes of government officials. Gas grenades were fired at "yellow-shirt" protesters, who were protesting against the "red shirts" and in favor of the government, by unknown gunmen killing one pro-government protester; the government stated that the Red Shirts were firing the weapons at civilians. Red shirts continued to hold a position in the business district of Bangkok and it was shut down for several weeks.
On 3 July 2011, the oppositional Pheu Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra (the youngest sister of Thaksin Shinawatra), won the general election by a landslide (265 seats in the House of Representatives, out of 500). She had never previously been involved in politics, Pheu Thai campaigning for her with the slogan 'Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts'. Yingluck is the nation's first female prime minister and her role was officially endorsed in a ceremony presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Pheu Thai Party is a continuation of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.
Protests recommenced in late 2013, as a broad alliance of protestors, led by former opposition deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban, demanded an end to the so-called Thaksin regime. A blanket amnesty for people involved in the 2010 protests, altered at the last minute to include all political crimes – including all convictions against Thaksin – triggered a mass show of discontent, with numbers variously estimated between 98,500 (the police) and 400,000 (an aerial photo survey done by the Bangkok Post), taking to the streets. The Senate was urged to reject the bill to quell the reaction, but the measure failed. A newly named group, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) along with allied groups, escalated the pressure, with the opposition Democrat party resigning en masse to create a parliamentary vacuum. Protesters demands variously evolved as the movement's numbers grew, extending a number of deadlines and demands that became increasingly unreasonable or unrealistic, yet attracting a groundswell of support. They called for the establishment of an indirectly elected “people’s council”—in place of Yingluck's government—that will cleanse Thai politics and eradicate the Thaksin regime.
In response to the intensive protests, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December 2013 and proposed a new election for 2 February 2014, a date that was later approved by the election commission. The PDRC insisted that the prime minister stand down within 24 hours, regardless of her actions, with 160,000 protesters in attendance at Government House on 9 December. Yingluck insisted that she would continue her duties until the scheduled election in February 2014, urging the protesters to accept her proposal: "Now that the government has dissolved parliament, I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections. I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further."
In response to the Electoral Commission (EC)'s registration process for party-list candidates—for the scheduled election in February 2014—anti-government protesters marched to the Thai-Japanese sports stadium, the venue of the registration process, on 22 December 2013. Suthep and the PDRC led the protest, of which security forces claimed that approximately 270,000 protesters joined. Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party reiterated their election plan and anticipate presenting a list of 125 party-list candidates to the EC.
On 7 May 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck would have to step down as the Prime Minister as she was deemed to have abused her power in transferring a high-level government official. On 21 August 2014 she was replaced by army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
On 20 May 2014 the Thai army declared martial law and began to deploy troops in the capital, denying that it was a coup attempt. On 22 May, the army admitted that it was a coup and that it was taking control of the country and suspending the country's constitution. On the same day, the military imposed a curfew between the hours of 22:00–05:00, ordering citizens and visitors to remain indoors during this period. On 21 August 2014 the National Assembly of Thailand elected the army chief, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, as prime minister. Martial law was declared formally ended on 1 April 2015. "Uniformed or ex-military men have led Thailand for 55 of the 83 years since absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932,..." observed one journalist in 2015.
The ruling junta led by Prayuth Chan-o-cha promised to hold new elections, but wants to enact a new constitution before the elections are held. An initial draft constitution was rejected by government officials in 2015. A national referendum, the first since the 2014 coup, on a newly drafted constitution was held on 7 August 2016. There was a 55% turnout of which around 61% voted in favour of the constitution. Under the new constitution an unelected person other than a member of parliament can be appointed as Prime Minister, which would open the post to a military official. The new constitution also gives the National Council for Peace and Order the authority to make all the appointments to the 250-member senate in the next government. The constitutional court will also have final authority in times of crisis, a power previously held by the king. King Maha Vajiralongkorn refused to put the new constitution into effect until amendments were made to the provisions concerning the authority of the constitutional court, appointment of a regent when abroad, and the need for a countersignature on all royal acts.
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (จังหวัด, changwat), which are gathered into five groups of provinces by location. There are also two specially-governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya. Bangkok is at provincial level and thus often counted as a province.
Each province is divided into districts and the districts are further divided into sub-districts (tambons). As of 2006 there were 877 districts (อำเภอ, amphoe) and the 50 districts of Bangkok (เขต, khet). Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok (ปริมณฑล, pari monthon). These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city (เมือง, mueang) is the same as that of the province. For example, the capital of Chiang Mai Province (Changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai or Chiang Mai.
Thailand controlled the Malay Peninsula as far south as Malacca in the 15th century and held much of the peninsula, including Temasek (Singapore), some of the Andaman Islands, and a colony on Java, but eventually contracted when the British used force to guarantee their suzerainty over the sultanate.
Mostly the northern states of the Malay Sultanate presented annual gifts to the Thai king in the form of a golden flower—a gesture of tribute and an acknowledgement of vassalage. The British intervened in the Malay State and with the Anglo-Siamese Treaty tried to build a railway from the south to Bangkok. Thailand relinquished sovereignty over what are now the northern Malay provinces of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Terengganu to the British. Satun and Pattani Provinces were given to Thailand.
The Malay peninsular provinces were occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and infiltrated by the Malayan Communist Party (CPM) from 1942 to 2008, when they sued for peace with the Malaysian and Thai governments after the CPM lost its support from Vietnam and China subsequent to the Cultural Revolution. Recent insurgent uprisings may be a continuation of separatist fighting which started after World War II with Sukarno's support for the PULO. Most victims since the uprisings have been Buddhist and Muslim bystanders.
The foreign relations of Thailand are handled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Thailand participates fully in international and regional organisations. It is a major non-NATO ally and Priority Watch List Special 301 Report of the United States. The country remains an active member of ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Thailand has developed increasingly close ties with other ASEAN members: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, whose foreign and economic ministers hold annual meetings. Regional co-operation is progressing in economic, trade, banking, political, and cultural matters. In 2003, Thailand served as APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) host. Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, currently serves as Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In 2005 Thailand attended the inaugural East Asia Summit.
In recent years, Thailand has taken an increasingly active role on the international stage. When East Timor gained independence from Indonesia, Thailand, for the first time in its history, contributed troops to the international peacekeeping effort. Its troops remain there today as part of a UN peacekeeping force. As part of its effort to increase international ties, Thailand has reached out to such regional organisations as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Thailand has contributed troops to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thaksin initiated negotiations for several free trade agreements with China, Australia, Bahrain, India, and the US. The latter especially was criticised, with claims that uncompetitive Thai industries could be wiped out.
Thaksin also announced that Thailand would forsake foreign aid, and work with donor countries to assist in the development of neighbours in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Thaksin sought to position Thailand as a regional leader, initiating various development projects in poorer neighbouring countries like Laos. More controversially, he established close, friendly ties with the Burmese dictatorship.
Thailand joined the US-led invasion of Iraq, sending a 423-strong humanitarian contingent. It withdrew its troops on 10 September 2004. Two Thai soldiers died in Iraq in an insurgent attack.
Abhisit appointed Peoples Alliance for Democracy leader Kasit Piromya as foreign minister. In April 2009, fighting broke out between Thai and Cambodian troops on territory immediately adjacent to the 900-year-old ruins of Cambodia's Preah Vihear Hindu temple near the border. The Cambodian government claimed its army had killed at least four Thais and captured 10 more, although the Thai government denied that any Thai soldiers were killed or injured. Two Cambodian and three Thai soldiers were killed. Both armies blamed the other for firing first and denied entering the other's territory.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai: กองทัพไทย, Kong Thap Thai) constitute the military of the Kingdom of Thailand. It consists of the Royal Thai Army (กองทัพบกไทย), the Royal Thai Navy (กองทัพเรือไทย), and the Royal Thai Air Force (กองทัพอากาศไทย). It also incorporates various paramilitary forces.
The Thai Armed Forces have a combined manpower of 306,000 active duty personnel and another 245,000 active reserve personnel. The head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย, Chom Thap Thai) is the king, although this position is only nominal. The armed forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence of Thailand, which is headed by the Minister of Defence (a member of the cabinet of Thailand) and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which in turn is headed by the Chief of Defence Forces of Thailand. In 2011, Thailand's known military expenditure totalled approximately US$5.1 billion.
According to the constitution, serving in the armed forces is a duty of all Thai citizens. However, only males over the age of 21, who have not gone through reserve training of the Army Reserve Force Students, are given the option of volunteering for the armed forces, or participating in the random draft. The candidates are subjected to varying lengths of training, from six months to two years of full-time service, depending on their education, whether they have partially completed the reserve training course, and whether they volunteered prior to the draft date (usually 1 April every year).
Candidates with a recognised bachelor's degree serve one year of full-time service if they are conscripted, or six months if they volunteer at their district office (สัสดี, satsadi). Likewise, the training length is also reduced for those who have partially completed the three-year reserve training course (ร.ด., ro do). A person who completed one year out of three will only have to serve full-time for one year. Those who completed two years of reserve training will only have to do six months of full-time training, while those who complete three years or more of reserve training will be exempted entirely.
Royal Thai Armed Forces Day is celebrated on 18 January, commemorating the victory of Naresuan of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in battle against the crown prince of the Taungoo Dynasty in 1593.
Totalling 513,120 square kilometres (198,120 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 50th-largest country by total area. It is slightly smaller than Yemen and 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 Isthmus that 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.
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.
Thailand has a mediocre but improving performance in the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) with an overall ranking of 91 out of 180 countries in 2016. This is also a mediocre rank in the Asia Pacific region specifically, but ahead of countries like Indonesia and China. The EPI was established in 2001 by the World Economic Forum as a global gauge to measure how well individual countries perform in implementing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The environmental areas where Thailand performs worst (i.e. highest ranking) are air quality (167), environmental effects of the agricultural industry (106) and the climate and energy sector (93), the later mainly because of a high CO2 emission per KWh produced. Thailand performs best (i.e. lowest ranking) in water resource management (66), with some major improvements expected for the future too, and sanitation (68).
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.
In 2014 the literacy rate was 93.5%. Education is provided by a well-organized school system of kindergartens, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, numerous vocational colleges, and universities. The private sector of education is well developed and significantly contributes to the overall provision of education which the government would not be able to meet with public establishments. Education is compulsory up to and including age 14, with the government providing free education through to age 17.
Teaching relies heavily on rote learning rather than on student-centred methodology. The establishment of reliable and coherent curricula for its primary and secondary schools is subject to such rapid changes that schools and their teachers are not always sure what they are supposed to be teaching, and authors and publishers of textbooks are unable to write and print new editions quickly enough to keep up with the volatility. Issues concerning university entrance has been in constant upheaval for a number of years. Nevertheless, Thai education has seen its greatest progress in the years since 2001. Most of the present generation of students are computer literate. Thailand was ranked 54th out of 56 countries globally for English proficiency, the second-lowest in Asia.
Students in ethnic minority areas score consistently lower in standardised national and international tests. This is likely due to unequal allocation of educational resources, weak teacher training, poverty, and low Thai language skill, the language of the tests.
Extensive nationwide IQ tests were administered to 72,780 Thai students from December 2010 to January 2011. The average IQ was found to be 98.59, which is higher than previous studies have found. IQ levels were found to be inconsistent throughout the country, with the lowest average of 88.07 found in the southern region of Narathiwat Province and the highest average of 108.91 reported in Nonthaburi Province. The Ministry of Public Health blames the discrepancies on iodine deficiency and steps are being taken to require that iodine be added to table salt, a practice common in many Western countries.
In 2013, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology announced that 27,231 schools would receive classroom-level access to high-speed internet.
The National Science and Technology Development Agency is an agency of the government of Thailand which supports research in science and technology and its application in the Thai economy.
The Synchrotron Light Research Institute (SLRI) is a Thai synchrotron light source for physics, chemistry, material science, and life sciences. It is at the Suranaree University of Technology (SUT), in Nakhon Ratchasima, about 300 kilometres (190 miles) northeast of Bangkok. The institute, financed by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), houses the only large scale synchrotron in Southeast Asia. It was originally built as the SORTEC synchrotron in Japan and later moved to Thailand and modified for 1.2 GeV operation. It provides users with regularly scheduled light.
In Bangkok, there are 23,000 free public Wi-Fi Internet hotspots. The Internet in Thailand includes 10Gbit/s high speed fibre-optic lines that can be leased and ISPs such as KIRZ that provide residential Internet services.
The Internet is censored by the Thai government, making some sites unreachable. The organisations responsible are the Royal Thai Police, the Communications Authority of Thailand, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT).
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).
Thailand experienced the world's highest economic growth rate from 1985 to 1996 – averaging 12.4% annually. In 1997 increased pressure on the baht, a year in which the economy contracted by 1.9%, led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the Chavalit Yongchaiyudh administration to float the currency. Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was forced to resign after his cabinet came under fire for its slow response to the economic crisis. The baht was pegged at 25 to the US dollar from 1978 to 1997. The baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.8% that year, triggering the Asian financial crisis.
Thailand's economy started to recover in 1999, expanding 4.2–4.4% in 2000, thanks largely to strong exports. Growth (2.2%) was dampened by the softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years owing to strong growth in Asia, a relatively weak baht encouraging exports, and increased domestic spending as a result of several mega projects and incentives of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2002, 2003, and 2004 was 5–7% annually.
Growth in 2005, 2006, and 2007 hovered around 4–5%. Due both to the weakening of the US dollar and an increasingly strong Thai currency, by March 2008 the dollar was hovering around the 33 baht mark. While Thaksinomics has received criticism, official economic data reveals that between 2001 and 2011, Isan's GDP per capita more than doubled to US$1,475, while, over the same period, GDP in the Bangkok area increased from US$7,900 to nearly US$13,000.
With the instability surrounding major 2010 protests, the GDP growth of Thailand settled at around 4–5%, from highs of 5–7% under the previous civilian administration. Political uncertainty was identified as the primary cause of a decline in investor and consumer confidence. The IMF predicted that the Thai economy would rebound strongly from the low 0.1% GDP growth in 2011, to 5.5% in 2012 and then 7.5% in 2013, due to the monetary policy of the Bank of Thailand, as well as a package of fiscal stimulus measures introduced by the former Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Following the Thai military coup of 22 May 2014, the AFP global news agency published an article that claimed that the nation was on the verge of recession. The article focused on the departure of nearly 180,000 Cambodians from Thailand due to fears of an immigration clampdown, but concluded with information on the Thai economy's contraction of 2.1% quarter-on-quarter, from January to the end of March 2014.
The economy of Thailand is heavily export-dependent, with exports accounting for more than two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP). Thailand exports over US$105 billion worth of goods and services annually. Major exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewellery, cars, computers, and electrical appliances.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer components, and vehicles. Thailand's recovery from the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis depended mainly on exports, among various other factors. As of 2012, the Thai automotive industry was the largest in Southeast Asia and the 9th largest in the world. The Thailand industry has an annual output of near 1.5 million vehicles, mostly commercial vehicles.
Most of the vehicles built in Thailand are developed and licensed by foreign producers, mainly Japanese and South Korean. The Thai car industry takes advantage of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) to find a market for many of its products. Eight manufacturers, five Japanese, two US, and Tata of India, produce pick-up trucks in Thailand. Thailand is the second largest consumer of pick-up trucks in the world, after the US. In 2014, pick-ups accounted for 42% of all new vehicle sales in Thailand.
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, 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 Yasothon and the "Phi Ta Khon" festival in Dan Sai. Thai cuisine has 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. Campaigns promote Thailand as exotic to attract tourists. 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.
Thailand is at the forefront of the growing practice of sex-reassignment surgery (SRS). Statistic taken from 2014, illustrated the country's medical tourism industry attracting over 2.5 million visitors per year. In 1985-1990, only 5% of foreign transsexual patients visited Thailand for sex-reassignment surgery. In more recent years, 2010-2012, more than 90% of the visitors traveled to Thailand for SRS.
Forty-nine per cent of Thailand's labour force is employed in agriculture. This is down from 70% in 1980. Rice is the most important crop in the country and Thailand had long been the world's leading exporter of rice, until recently falling behind both India and Vietnam. Thailand has the highest percentage of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the arable land area is used for rice production.
Agriculture has been experiencing a transition from labour-intensive and transitional methods to a more industrialised and competitive sector. Between 1962 and 1983, the agricultural sector grew by 4.1% per year on average and continued to grow at 2.2% between 1983 and 2007. The relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased.
75% of Thailand's electrical generation is powered by natural gas in 2014. Coal-fired power plants produce an additional 20% of electricity, with the remainder coming from biomass, hydro, and biogas.
Thailand produces roughly one-third of the oil it consumes. It is the second largest importer of oil in SE Asia. Thailand is a large producer of natural gas, with reserves of at least 10 trillion cubic feet. After Indonesia, it is the largest coal producer in SE Asia, but must import additional coal to meet domestic demand.
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.
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 (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 2000. Some 41,000 Britons live in Thailand.
The official language of Thailand is Thai, a Tai–Kadai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Myanmar, and numerous smaller languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Yunnan south to the Chinese border. It is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet, an abugida script that evolved from the Khmer alphabet. Sixty-two languages were recognised by the Royal Thai Government in the 2011 Country Report to the UN Committee responsible for the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which employed an ethnolinguistic approach and is available from the Department of Rights and Liberties Promotion of the Thai Ministry of Justice. Southern Thai is spoken in the southern provinces, and Northern Thai is spoken in the provinces that were formerly part of the independent kingdom of Lan Na. For the purposes of the national census, which does not recognise all 62 languages recognised by the Royal Thai Government in the 2011 Country Report, four dialects of Thai exist; these partly coincide with regional designations.
The largest of Thailand's minority languages is the Lao dialect of Isan spoken in the northeastern provinces. Although sometimes considered a Thai dialect, it is a Lao dialect, and the region where it is traditionally spoken was historically part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In the far south, Kelantan-Pattani Malay is the primary language of Malay Muslims. Varieties of Chinese are also spoken by the large Thai Chinese population, with the Teochew dialect best-represented.
Numerous tribal languages are also spoken, including many Austroasiatic languages such as Mon, Khmer, Viet, Mlabri and Orang Asli; Austronesian languages such as Cham and Moken; Sino-Tibetan languages like Lawa, Akha, and Karen; and other Tai languages such as Tai Yo, Phu Thai, and Saek. Hmong is a member of the Hmong–Mien languages, which is now regarded as a language family of its own.
English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers remains low, especially outside cities.
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.
Thai culture has been shaped by many influences, including Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian, and Chinese.
Its traditions incorporate a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's national religion, Theravada Buddhism, is central to modern Thai identity. Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism, as well as ancestor worship. The official calendar in Thailand is based on the Eastern version of the Buddhist Era (BE), which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Thus the year 2015 is 2558 BE in Thailand.
Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalised, populate Thailand. Some of these groups spill over into Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia and have mediated change between their traditional local culture, national Thai, and global cultural influences. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has allowed for this group to hold positions of economic and political power. Thai Chinese businesses prosper as part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties.
The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is generally offered first by the younger of the two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch face to fingertips, usually coinciding with the spoken words "sawatdi khrap" for male speakers, and "sawatdi kha" for females. The elder may then respond in the same way. Social status and position, such as in government, will also have an influence on who performs the wai first. For example, although one may be considerably older than a provincial governor, when meeting it is usually the visitor who pays respect first. When children leave to go to school, they are taught to wai their parents to indicate their respect. The wai is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting of India and Nepal.
As with other Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is paramount in Thai culture. Elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies. Older siblings have duties to younger ones.
Taboos in Thailand include touching someone's head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the most sacred and the foot the lowest part of the body.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty. Common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, coriander, galangal, palm sugar, and fish sauce (nam pla). The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as "hom Mali" rice) which forms a part of almost every meal. Thailand was long the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 of milled rice per person per year. Over 5,000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. The king of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.
Thai society has been influenced in recent years by its widely available multi-language press and media. There are some English and numerous Thai and Chinese newspapers in circulation. Most Thai popular magazines use English headlines as a chic glamour factor. Many large businesses in Bangkok operate in English as well as other languages.
Thailand is the largest newspaper market in Southeast Asia with an estimated circulation of over 13 million copies daily in 2003. Even upcountry, out of Bangkok, the media flourish. For example, according to Thailand's Public Relations Department Media Directory 2003–2004, the nineteen provinces of Isan, Thailand's northeastern region, hosted 116 newspapers along with radio, TV, and cable. Since then, another province, Bueng Kan, was incorporated, totalling twenty provinces. In addition, a military coup on 22 May 2014 led to severe state restrictions on all media and forms of expression.
Thailand generally uses the metric system, but traditional units of measurement for land area are used, and imperial units of measurement are occasionally used for building materials, such as wood and plumbing fixtures. Years are numbered as B.E. (Buddhist Era) in educational settings, the civil service, government, and on contracts and newspaper datelines. In banking, and increasingly in industry and commerce, standard Western year (Christian or Common Era) counting is the standard practice.
Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย, RTGS: Muai Thai, [muaj tʰaj], lit. "Thai boxing") is a native form of kickboxing and Thailand's signature sport. It incorporates kicks, punches, knees and elbow strikes in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing and this has led to Thailand gaining medals at the Olympic Games in boxing.
Association football has overtaken muay Thai as the most widely followed sport in contemporary Thai society. Thailand national football team has played the AFC Asian Cup six times and reached the semifinals in 1972. The country has hosted the Asian Cup twice, in 1972 and in 2007. The 2007 edition was co-hosted together with Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. It is not uncommon to see Thais cheering their favourite English Premier League teams on television and walking around in replica kit. Another widely enjoyed pastime, and once a competitive sport, is kite flying.
Volleyball is rapidly growing as one of the most popular sports. The women's team has often participated in the World Championship, World Cup, and World Grand Prix Asian Championship. They have won the Asian Championship twice and Asian Cup once. By the success of the women's team, the men team has been growing as well.
Takraw (Thai: ตะกร้อ) is a sport native to Thailand, in which the players hit a rattan ball and are only allowed to use their feet, knees, chest, and head to touch the ball. Sepak takraw is a form of this sport which is similar to volleyball. The players must volley a ball over a net and force it to hit the ground on the opponent's side. It is also a popular sport in other countries in Southeast Asia. A rather similar game but played only with the feet is buka ball.
Snooker has enjoyed increasing popularity in Thailand in recent years, with interest in the game being stimulated by the success of Thai snooker player James Wattana in the 1990s. Other notable players produced by the country include Ratchayothin Yotharuck, Noppon Saengkham and Dechawat Poomjaeng.
Rugby is also a growing sport in Thailand with the Thailand national rugby union team rising to be ranked 61st in the world. Thailand became the first country in the world to host an international 80 welterweight rugby tournament in 2005. The national domestic Thailand Rugby Union (TRU) competition includes several universities and services teams such as Chulalongkorn University, Mahasarakham University, Kasetsart University, Prince of Songkla University, Thammasat University, Rangsit University, the Thai Police, the Thai Army, the Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force. Local sports clubs which also compete in the TRU include the British Club of Bangkok, the Southerners Sports Club (Bangkok) and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
Thailand has been called the golf capital of Asia as it is a popular destination for golf. The country attracts a large number of golfers from Japan, Korea, Singapore, South Africa, and Western countries who come to play golf in Thailand every year. The growing popularity of golf, especially among the middle classes and immigrants, is evident as there are more than 200 world-class golf courses nationwide, and some of them are chosen to host PGA and LPGA tournaments, such as Amata Spring Country Club, Alpine Golf and Sports Club, Thai Country Club, and Black Mountain Golf Club.
Basketball is a growing sport in Thailand, especially on the professional sports club level. The Chang Thailand Slammers won the 2011 ASEAN Basketball League Championship. The Thailand national basketball team had its most successful year at the 1966 Asian Games where it won the silver medal.
Other sports in Thailand are slowly growing as the country develops its sporting infrastructure. The success in sports like weightlifting and taekwondo at the last two summer Olympic Games has demonstrated that boxing is no longer the only medal option for Thailand.
Thammasat Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Bangkok. It is currently used mostly for football matches. The stadium holds 25,000. It is on Thammasat University's Rangsit campus. It was built for the 1998 Asian Games by construction firm Christiani and Nielsen, the same company that constructed the Democracy Monument in Bangkok.
Rajamangala National Stadium is the biggest sporting arena in Thailand. It currently has a capacity of 65,000. It is in Bang Kapi, Bangkok. The stadium was built in 1998 for the 1998 Asian Games and is the home stadium of the Thailand national football team.
The well-known Lumpini Boxing Stadium will host its final Muay Thai boxing matches on 7 February 2014 after the venue first opened in December 1956. Managed by the Royal Thai Army, the stadium was officially selected for the purpose of muay Thai bouts following a competition that was staged on 15 March 1956. From 11 February 2014, the stadium will relocate to Ram Intra Road, due to the new venue's capacity to accommodate audiences of up to 3,500. Foreigners typically pay between 1,000–2,000 baht to view a match, with prices depending on the location of the seating.Summer Olympics Federations