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IINTRODUCTION Thailand, formerly Siam, officially Kingdom of Thailand, kingdom in Southeast Asia, bounded by Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on the north and west, by Laos on the northeast, by Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand (Siam) on the southeast, by Malaysia on the south, and by the Andaman Sea and Myanmar on the southwest. The total area of Thailand is 513,115 sq km (198,115 sq mi). Bangkok is the capital and largest city.
IILAND AND RESOURCES Thailand lies within the Indochinese Peninsula (see Indochina), except for the southern extremity, which occupies a portion of the Malay Peninsula. The country’s extreme dimensions are about 1770 km (about 1100 mi) from north to south and about 800 km (about 500 mi) from east to west. The physiography is highly diversified, but the mountain systems are the predominant feature of the terrain. A series of parallel ranges, with a north-south trend, occupy the northern and western portions of the country. Extreme elevations occur in the westernmost ranges, which extend along the Myanmar frontier and rise to 2595 m (8514 ft) atop Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand. The peninsular area, which is bordered by narrow coastal plains, reaches a high point of 1790 m (5860 ft) atop Khao Luang. Another mountain system projects, in a northern and southern direction, through central Thailand. At its southern extremity, the system assumes an east-west trend and extends to the eastern frontier. Doi Pia Fai (1270 m/4167 ft) is its highest peak. The region to the north and east of this system consists largely of a low, barren plateau, called the Khorat Plateau. Making up about one-third of the country, the plateau is bordered by the Mekong River valley. Between the central and western mountains is a vast alluvial plain traversed by the Chao Phraya, the chief river of Thailand. This central plain, together with the fertile delta formed by the Chao Phraya near Bangkok, is the richest agricultural and most densely populated section of the kingdom.
AClimate Thailand has a moist, tropical climate, influenced chiefly by monsoon winds that vary in direction according to the season. From April to October the winds are mainly from the southwest and are moisture laden; during the rest of the year they blow from the northeast. Temperatures are higher, ranging from about 26? to 37? C (about 78? to 98? F), while the country is under the influence of the southwestern winds. During the remainder of the year the range is from about 13? to 33? C (about 56? to 92? F). Temperatures are somewhat higher inland than they are along the coast, except at points of great elevation.
Annual rainfall is about 1520 mm (about 60 in) in the northern, western, and central regions, about 2540 mm (about 100 in) or more on the Thai portion of the Malay Peninsula, and about 1270 mm (about 50 in) or less on the Khorat Plateau. Most rain falls in summer (June through October).
BNatural Resources. Thailand is rich in natural resources. Among the known mineral deposits are coal, gold, lead, tin, tungsten, manganese, zinc, and precious stones. The rich alluvial soil along the Chao Phraya and other rivers constitutes another important resource. Natural gas deposits were discovered offshore in the 1970s, reducing Thailand’s reliance on imported petroleum.
CPlants and Animals Jungles and swamps, scattered through the coastal areas of Thailand, have extensive tracts of tropical trees, including mangrove, rattan, ironwood, sappanwood, ebony, and rosewood. The upland areas are also heavily wooded, the most valuable species being teak, agalloch, and oak. In addition, a wide variety of tropical plants and fruit trees, including orchid, gardenia, hibiscus, banana, mango, and coconut, occur in Thailand. Many species of animal inhabit the jungles and forests. Elephants, widely used as beasts of burden, are abundant. Other large animals include the rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, gaur, water buffalo, and gibbon. The Siamese cat is, as its name implies, indigenous to Thailand. Thailand has more than 50 species of snakes, including several poisonous varieties. Crocodiles are numerous, as are various species of fishes and birds.
IIIPOPULATION About 75 percent of the inhabitants of Thailand are Thai. The largest minority group consists of the Chinese, who make up about 14 percent of the total population, and most are Thai nationals. Other minority groups include the Malay-speaking Muslims in the south, the hill tribes in the north, and Cambodian (Khmer) and Vietnamese refugees in the east. The population of Thailand is 80 percent rural.
APopulation Characteristics The population of Thailand is about 59,450,818 (1997 estimate), yielding an overall population density of 116 persons per sq km (300 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, with the greatest concentration of people in the central region.
BPolitical Divisions Thailand is divided into 76 provinces ( changwats). The provinces are further subdivided into districts (amphurs), subdistricts (king amphurs), communes (tambons), villages ( moobans), municipalities (tesabans), and sanitation districts (sukhaphibans).
CPrincipal Cities Bangkok is the capital, chief seaport, and largest city (population, 1992 estimate, Bangkok Metropolis, 5,562,141). Other important towns include Chiang Mai (170,269), the largest in northern Thailand; Songkhla (80,881), on the Malay Peninsula; and Nakhon Si Thammarat (79,447), also on the Malay Peninsula.
DReligion Buddhism is the prevailing religion of Thailand. About 95 percent of all Thai are Buddhist, and the country has approximately 18,000 Buddhist temples and 140,000 Buddhist priests. Nearly all Buddhist men in Thailand enter a wat (monastery) for at least a few days or months. Muslims, the majority of whom live in the area just north of Malaysia, constitute approximately 4 percent of the population, and the country also has some small Christian and Hindu communities.
ELanguage Thai, a member of the Tai language family, is the chief language. Four regional dialects are in use. Lao, Chinese, Malay, and Mon-Khmer are also spoken in Thailand. English is taught in secondary schools and colleges and is also used in commerce and government.
FEducation Education in Thailand is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 12, and 87 percent of the children are enrolled in either public primary schools or those operated by Buddhist monasteries. Only 55 percent of all eligible children attend secondary schools. Children are officially required to receive six years of education, and the government has announced its intention to increase that number to nine years. The literacy rate is 94 percent, higher than that of most other countries of Southeast Asia.
F1Elementary and Secondary Schools In the 1995-1996 school year 6.0 million students received primary education. Some 3.8 million students attended either lower- or upper-level secondary schools.
F2Universities and Colleges In the early 1990s there were more than 600,000 students enrolled in institutions of higher education in Thailand, including more than 300,000 students enrolled at two open universities. Thailand has 17 universities, the largest of which include Chulalongkorn University (1917) in Bangkok and Chiang Mai University (1964) in the north. In addition, the Asian Institute of Technology (1959), in Bangkok, offers graduate degrees. In the early 1990s about 38,500 students attended 36 teacher-training colleges, which also offer four-year degree programs.
GCulture Thailand is unique in Southeast Asia in that the country has never been a dependency of another nation. Another notable difference is that Thai women, unlike women of some other East Asian countries, are active in business affairs, the professions, and the arts. No single culture has ever dominated the entire area. The first time a national identity is thought to have been developed was during the Sukhothai kingdom. Formed in the first half of the 13th century when several Thai municipalities united, the kingdom survived until the late 14th to early 15th century, when it was absorbed by the Ayutthaya kings. During its short existence, however, the Sukhothai kingdom established a new Thai alphabet, which became the basis for modern Thai, and codified the Thai form of Theravada Buddhism.
HLibraries and Museums The largest library in Thailand is the National Library in Bangkok. In addition, important technical collections are maintained in Bangkok at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Institute of Technology Library, and the Thai National Documentation Center. Thailand has a National Museum in Bangkok, which houses a large collection of ancient artifacts illustrating the development of Thai culture. Another important collection of Thai art was assembled by Jim Thompson, an American businessman who lived in Bangkok from the late 1940s to the 1960s. His reconstructed Thai house, filled with art, furniture, and ceramics, is now a museum.
ILiterature Classic Thai literature is based on tradition and history. The Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, is the leading classic on which Thai art and music are based. The main theme remains the same in the Thai version, although the Ramakien is about 25 percent longer than the original Hindu version. Modern writing is more Western in style. Thailand has many women among its authors of popular writing. Kukrit Pramoj is one of Thailand’s most famous novelists. In addition to his career as a writer, he was Thailand’s prime minister in 1975.
JArt Among the most celebrated works of architecture in Thailand are the wats in Bangkok. Thai sculpture, dating from the 14th century, is a mixture of Chinese, Myanmar, Hindu, and Khmer influences and is best seen in the temples and representations of Buddha. Thai religious paintings have been less well preserved; paintings are rarely older than 150 years. Thailand is known for producing beautiful silk textiles.
KMusic and Dance Thai music is very intricate and is a usual accompaniment of Thai drama. The instruments, primarily woodwind and percussion, are usually grouped in five- or ten-piece ensembles. Musicians sit on the floor to play, and generally play by ear. The dance in Thailand is equally intricate, following or deriving from Indian dancing and involving a series of gestures and swaying that interpret a story. Even the smallest movements reflect important story threads, carefully woven by performers dressed in elaborate costumes and headgear.
IVECONOMY The cultivation, processing, and export of agricultural products, especially rice, was traditionally the mainstay of the Thai economy. Although Thailand has long been among the most prosperous of the Asian nations, its dependence on a single crop rendered it exceedingly vulnerable to fluctuations in the world price of rice and to variations in the harvest. The government has diminished this vulnerability by instituting a number of development programs aimed at diversifying the economy and by promoting scientific methods of farming, particularly controlled flooding of the rice fields, so that the rice harvest might remain stable even in years of scant rainfall. Spurred largely by Japanese investment, Thailand industrialized rapidly during the 1980s and early 1990s; however, the economy experienced a downturn in the mid-1990s that worried both investors and the Thai people. The estimated national budget in 1995 included revenue of $31.3 billion and expenditure of $26.6 billion.
In 1997 Thailand suffered an economic crisis when it became clear that a number of the country’s financial institutions were near bankruptcy. Many had acquired bad debts during the economic boom years of the 1980s and early 1990s. Investors lost confidence in the value of the baht (the Thai currency), which began to fall sharply against the United States dollar. As the crisis developed, many businesses failed, unemployment rose, and the currencies and stock markets of other Southeast Asian nations were affected. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided an aid package of loans to help Thailand weather the crisis. To obtain the loans, Thailand agreed to take steps to stabilize its economy, including making budget cuts, raising taxes, and closing unstable financial institutions.
AAgriculture Thailand is one of the world’s leading producers of rice, despite the fact that the yield per hectare is low. In 1997 Thailand produced 21.8 million metric tons of rice, up from about 11.3 million metric tons per year in the 1960s. The second most important crop in value is rubber, which is raised mainly on plantations on the Malay Peninsula. Thailand produced 2.3 million metric tons of natural rubber in 1997. Other important crops included cassava (17.2 million metric tons), sugarcane (60.0 million), maize (4.4 million), and fruits such as pineapples and coconuts (6.9 million). Thailand is also a significant producer of kenaf, a fiber used in making canvas. Livestock totaled 8.0 million cattle, 4.8 million buffalo, 4.0 million pigs, and 131 million poultry.
BForestry and Fishing Forests cover 23 percent of Thailand’s total land area. The most valuable forest product is hardwood. The timber harvest in 1995 totaled 39.3 million cu m (1.4 billion cu ft), nearly all of which was burned for fuel. Thailand was a major exporter of teak until a ban on uncontrolled logging was instituted in 1989, following severe flooding as a result of deforestation.
Fishing is rapidly growing in importance to the Thai economy. In 1995 the annual catch included 3.3 million metric tons of prawns, fish, and shellfish. In the early 1990s exports of ocean products, particularly prawns, accounted for about 10 percent of export earnings.
CMining The development of extensive natural gas reserves has decreased Thailand’s dependence on energy imports. Production in 1996 was 13.2 billion cu m (468 billion cu ft), 5 percent of the proven reserves. Gemstones, particularly diamonds, are the principal mineral export of Thailand, producing 3.3 percent of export revenues. The country’s chief mineral products included (with annual output in the early 1990s) lignite (14.5 million metric tons), zinc ore (496,000), lead concentrates (65,500), tin (14,200), gypsum (7.2 million) and iron ore (240,100).
DManufacturing Thailand’s increasingly diversified manufacturing sector is a central component of the nation’s economic expansion, growing by 9.4 percent annually during the 1980s and early 1990s. Industry, which includes manufacturing, construction, and mining, employs 14 percent of the labor force. Food-processing industries, especially rice milling and sugar refining; textile and clothing manufacture; and the electronics industry predominate. Other important manufactured goods included cement (18 million metric tons), motor vehicles (318,000 units), cigarettes (38.3 billion units), and various chemicals and petroleum products.
EEnergy In 1996 Thailand produced 82 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, up from about 3 billion kilowatt-hours in 1968. Generating plants fueled by hydrocarbons produced 91 of the electricity.
FCurrency and Banking The basic unit of currency of Thailand is the baht, which is divided into 100 satang. In 1996 25.34 baht equaled U.S.$1 . After the onset of the 1997 economic crisis, the baht fell against the dollar by as much as 25 percent before making a partial recovery in the first quarter of 1998. The Bank of Thailand, established in 1942, issues all currency. Thailand also has many commercial bank branches, as well as several foreign banks.
GForeign Trade and Tourism In 1995 Thai exports were valued at $56.4 billion, and imports were valued at $73.7 billion. Principal exports were agricultural products, electronics, clothing and footwear, and rubber. Thailand’s primary trading partners were Japan, the United States, Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Tourism is Thailand’s chief source of foreign capital.
HTransportation The Thai railroad system, which totals 3870 km (2405 mi) of track, is owned and operated by the state. Consisting of a network of lines radiating from Bangkok, the system extends as far north as Chiang Mai, southward to the frontier of Malaysia, eastward to Ubon Ratchathani, and northeastward through Udon Thani to Nong Khai near the Laos border. Another line extends northwestward to the Myanmar frontier. The Chao Phraya, navigable for about 80 km (about 50 mi) from its mouth, is an important inland waterway. The highway system was improved in the 1970s and now includes 64,600 km (40,100 mi) of roads. Thai Airways operates both domestic and international services. Don Muang International Airport in northern metropolitan Bangkok is the largest airport. In addition, there are more than 20 smaller airports located throughout the country. Thailand is also planning a second international airport for the Bangkok area; it is expected to be completed around 2000. The port of Bangkok, one of the most modern in Southeast Asia, also serves neighboring landlocked Laos.
ICommunications In 1995 Thailand had 189 radio receivers and 189 television sets for every 1000 residents. Bangkok has 19 daily newspapers, including 2 in English and 5 in Chinese, which have a combined circulation of more than 2.9 million. Periodicals are published in Thai, English, and Chinese, and several weekly papers serve the provinces. A press censorship law was repealed in Thailand in 1991.
JLabor In 1996 the labor force totaled 34.7 million. Agriculture engaged 64 percent of the workers. Organized labor is represented by more than 530 unions with a combined total of nearly 300,000 members.
VGOVERNMENT A revolution in 1932 transformed Thailand into a constitutional monarchy after centuries of rule by absolute monarchs, but until recently the country was largely controlled by the military. Although King Phumiphon Adunyadet has little direct power, he exercises considerable influence on political leaders. The nation’s 16th constitution took effect in 1997. It is the first of Thailand’s constitutions to be drafted by a process involving public debate, and the first to include a bill of rights guaranteeing equality to all citizens.
AExecutive Under the constitution the king is Thailand’s head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. A cabinet is headed by a prime minister, who is the country’s chief executive official.
BLegislature Legislative power in Thailand is vested in the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of a 500-member House of Representatives and a 245-member Senate. Representatives are directly elected to four-year terms. Prior to the 1997 constitution, senators were appointed by the military; however, under the new constitution they too will be directly elected to four-year terms.
CJudiciary Thai citizens are guaranteed due process and equal justice under the law. The highest court is the Sarn Dika (Supreme Court), sitting in Bangkok, which is the court of final appeal in all civil, criminal, and bankruptcy cases. A single court of appeals (Sarn Uthorn) has appellate jurisdiction in all cases. Courts of first instance include magistrates’ courts with limited civil and criminal jurisdiction, provincial courts with unlimited jurisdiction, and civil and criminal courts with exclusive jurisdiction in Bangkok proper and Thon Buri. Thailand’s constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary.
DLocal Government Each of Thailand’s 76 provinces, called changwats, are under the control of a governor appointed by the Ministry of Interior, except Bangkok Metropolis, where the governor is elected by popular vote. District (amphur) officials are also appointed. Larger towns are governed by elected and appointed officials, and elected heads hold power at local levels.
EHealth and Welfare The Ministry of Public Health is charged with disaster relief, child welfare, protection of the disabled and destitute, and development programs for northern hill tribes. Special programs were initiated in the 1980s to assist refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia in the east. The spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), is a serious public health problem in Thailand. According to the Thai Ministry of Public Health, the number of estimated HIV-infected people in Thailand was about 600,000 in 1994. Thailand’s anti-AIDS campaign, launched in 1991, was among the first in Southeast Asia. The campaign includes AIDS awareness programs, encouraging Thai to avoid brothels and use condoms. Clinics offer anonymous testing for HIV infection. Thailand has one physician for every 4288 residents and one hospital bed for every 586 people.
FDefense Military service is compulsory for two years for all able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30. In 1997 the armed forces included an army of 150,000 members, an air force of 43,000, and a navy of 73,000.
VIHISTORY Present-day Thai are believed to be the descendants of Tai-speaking people who lived in the Black River (S?ng D?) valley of northern Vietnam, the extreme northeastern section of Laos, and neighboring sections of China around the 5th to 8th century AD. These Tai people may have spread into Thailand between the 7th to 13th century. By the end of the 13th century the Tai had formed a political entity and emerged as a nation afterward known as the Thai. In 1350 a unified Thai kingdom was established by a ruler known posthumously as Rama Tibodi. He founded the kingdom of Ayutthaya and made the city of Ayutthaya his capital. Despite intermittent warfare with the Cambodians and the Burmans, the Ayutthaya kingdom flourished during the next four centuries, conquering Cambodia and the surviving states in the north. Meanwhile, the Thai had come into contact that was not always friendly with various European and Asian nations, including Portugal, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and China.
ASovereignty Embattled In 1767, following a two-year siege, Myanmar troops captured and destroyed Ayutthaya. The rule of Myanmar overlords in Thailand was shortly terminated when General Pya Taksin proclaimed himself king. When Taksin was executed by his ministers, the crown passed to General Pya Chakri, founder of the present dynasty of Thai kings, who ruled from 1782 to 1809 as Rama I. The British and Thai governments concluded a commercial treaty in 1826. Because of the rights and privileges obtained by this agreement, British influence increased in Thailand throughout the remainder of the 19th century.
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