Thailand, known as Siam until 1939, is one of the world’s premier tourist destinations, with over 20 million visitors planning to visit the Kingdom yearly. Most come for the tropical weather and exotic coastline but the country has far more to offer from the bustling capital city of Bangkok to remote highland areas, a fascinating history and culture to all the attractions and entertainment of a modern, cosmopolitan society.
Population and Language
The population of Thailand is approximately 65 million, the vast majority of whom are ethnically Thai. Citizens of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Mon, Khmer, Burmese, and Lao origin make up the remainder of the population to varying degrees and, in the northern mountains, live tribal ethnic groups such as the Hmong and Karen. Approximately 7 million live in Bangkok, including a large number of expatriates from across the globe, though the number varies seasonally and is difficult to accurately count.
The official and main language is Thai, spoken by more than 90% of the population, though there are a variety dialects in both Thai and Chinese. English is used within commerce and education and in the cosmopolitan capital and established tourism destinations, English is widely spoken.
Geography and Climate
Thailand is the world’s 50th largest country, approximately equal in size to France. The country boasts a coastline of over 3000 km and is bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. Just 15 degees north of the equator, Thailand has a typically tropical climate and temperatures, in the most, range from between 20 and 34 degrees centigrade, though the northern mountain areas are usually much cooler. The mean average temperature in Bangkok is around 28C. The months from March to May see the highest temperatures and humidity with June to September being the monsoon season, though there are still plentiful sunny periods. October to February is cooler and dryer, with north east winds and is generally considered the best time to visit the country.
Culture and Religion
With more than 30,000 temples and over 500,000 monks, Buddhism is central to Thai history, culture and the way of life for many Thais. Beautiful shimmering gold temples, impressive Asian statuettes and decorations stand side by side with Bangkok’s modern skyline and life is marked by the great religious ceremonies all over the country. Spiritual offerings and altars are common in almost almost every home, hotel and public building, beautifully decorated with flowers and small wooden animals particularly elephants, symbolising wealth and greatness in Thai history. Visitors should respect the Buddhist faith, the temple Buddha and the monks, by removing shoes when entering temples and asking before taking photographs.
Thai traditions co-exists in harmony with a modern lifestyle and while western influences are embraced it is not at the expense the country’s own culture. The biggest holiday is Song Kran, the Thai New Year celebrated from 12th-14th April, when the country is embraced by a carnival atmosphere and water sprayed in the streets. Loi Kra Tong, upon the full moon at the end of November, is a peaceful ceremony elebrated with singing and beautiful flower arrangements laid into the Chao Praya River or the sea to symbolise happiness for the future.
Thailand is a constitional monarchy and though fully democratic, the Royal family of Thailand has more influence than those of Europe. Today King Bhumiphol – Rama IX is the world’s longets serving monarch, with over 60 years on the throne, and is well loved and respected by the Thai people. The great reverence in which he is he held can be seen everywhere, with his picture displayed in most homes, hotels and public buildings.