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The country is a kingdom, with most recorded reigns in the world. It is a constitutional monarchy with King Rama IX, the ninth king of the House of Chakri, who has reigned since 1946, making him the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king is officially titled Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths.
Thailand is the world's 51st largest country in terms of total area (slightly smaller than Yemen and slightly larger than Spain), with a surface area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), and the 21st most-populous country, with approximately 64 million people. The largest city is Bangkok, the capital, which is also the country's centre of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thai, 14% is of Chinese origin, and 3% is ethnically Malay; the rest belong to minority groups including Mons, Khmers and various hill tribes. The country's official language is Thai. The primary religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of all Thais.
Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. It borders Myanmar (Burma) to the north-west, Laos to the north-east, Cambodia to the south-east and Malaysia to the south.
With great food, a tropical climate, fascinating culture and great beaches, Thailand is a magnet for travellers the world over.
Fast Fact about Thailand:
Capital of Thailand:
Border countries of Thailand:Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma)
Thailand Currency:Thai Baht (฿) (THB)
Guinness World Records:Longest condom chain, most couples married underwater and most Mini Coopers in a convoy (444 cars parked to spell out ‘Long Live the King’)
Area of Thailand:513,120 km2
Thailand Language:Thai (official), English (business)
Thailand Religion:Buddhism (95%), Muslim (4%), others (1%)
Thailand Time:The time in Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 hours GMT).
Thailand Topography:Thailand is divided into 4 natural regions:
- The mountainous North, with its profusion of multi-coloured orchids, fascinating native handicrafts and winter temperatures are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches
- The high Northeast Plateau, which still jealously guards its many archaeological and anthropological mysteries
- The Central Plain, one of the world's most fertile rice and fruit-growing areas with colourful traditional culture and way of life as well as the sandy beaches of the East Coast and vibrant cosmopolitan Bangkok
- The peninsular South where the unspoiled beaches and idyllic islands complement economically vital tin mining, rubber cultivation and fishing.
Highest point in Thailand:Doi Inthanon 2565m
Thailand Region:Buddhism (95%), Muslim (4%), others (1%)
Karaoke Culture:Every major band or singer releases video CDs (VCD) specially formatted for karaoke-style singalongs
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons-hot and dry from February to May (average temperature 34 degrees Celsius and 75% humidity); rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to October (average day temperature 29 degrees Celsius and 87% humidity); and cool from November to January (temperatures range from 32 degrees Celsius to below 20 degrees Celsius with a drop in humidity).
Much lower temperatures are experienced in the North and Northeast during nighttime. The South has a tropical rainforest climate with temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius almost all year round.
Thailand Nightlife:Bangkok's colourful nightlife is generally safe, but avoid seedy bars and live-show joints where drinks may turn out to cost more than one thinks. The Thai Dinner with Classical Dances is a popular evening tour. Large hotels usually offer their own entertainment.
Thailand Photography:International film manufacturers operate photo-finishing services with standard prints ready within an hour. Films are available countrywide at reasonable prices.
Distance between Major Countries to Thailand:
- Sydney, Australia - 4679.57 m. / 7530.84 km
- Tokyo, Japan - 2860.65 m. / 4603.65 km
- Beijing, China - 2294.22 m. / 3692.08 km
- Hong Kong - 1071.22 m. / 1723.91 km
- New Delhi, India - 1811.73 2915.63 km
- Dubai, UAE - 3034.04 m. / 4882.68 km
- Rome, Italy - 4882.68 m. / 8825.12 km
- Madrid, Spain - 6322.51 m. / 10174.82 km
- Paris, France - 5865.21 m. / 9438.89 km
- Berlin, Germany - 5343.29 m. / 8598.95 km
- Stockholm, Sweden - 5135 m. / 8263.76 km
- London, UK - 5919.32 m. / 9525.96 km
- Moscow, Russia - 4387.52 m. / 7060.83 km
- New York, USA - 8651.33 m. / 13922.59 km
- Los Angeles, USA - 8260.17 m. / 13293.1 km
- Vancouver, Canada - 7331.48 m. / 11798.55 km
Weather in Thailand:
By Air:Bangkok is one of Asia's largest hubs as well as the busiest airport in Southeast Asia; practically every airline that flies to Asia also flies to Bangkok, meaning competition is stiff and prices are low.
There are also international flights directly to/from Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Phuket, Krabi, Hat Yai and Udon Thani. Kuala Lumpur Singapore and from Pakistan by Pakistan International Airlines are excellent for catching flights into Thailand, with flights into several of these smaller Thai cities, meaning that you can skip the ever-present touts and queues at Suvarnabhumi.
The national carrier is the well-regarded THAI Airways, with Bangkok Airways filling in some gaps in the nearby region. Bangkok Airways offers free internet access while you wait for boarding to start at your gate.
Chartered flights from and to Thailand from international destinations are operated by Hi Flying group. They fly to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui and Udon Thani.
Major International Airports in Thailand:
- Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) (Old Bangkok Int'l)
- Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) (New Bangkok Int'l)
- Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX)
- Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI)
- Hat Yai International Airport (HDY)
- Phuket International Airport (HKT)
- Krabi International Airport (KBV)
- Samui International Airport (USM)
- Surat Thani International Airport (URT)
- Udon Thani Internaitonal Airport (UTH)
- U-Tapao International Airport (UTP)
- Air People International
- Bangkok Airways
- Business Air
- Crystal Thai Airlines
- Happy Airways
- Kan Air
- K-Mile Air
- Nok Air
- Orient Thai Airlines
- P.C. Air
- SGA Airlines
- Solar Air
- Sunny Airways
- Thai AirAsia
- Thai Airways International
- Thai Smile
By road:Cambodia - six international border crossings. The highway from Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor via Poipet to Aranyaprathet, once the stuff of nightmares, is now merely bad and can usually be covered in less than 3 hours.
Laos - the busiest border crossing is at the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong between Nong Khai and the Lao capital Vientiane. It's also possible to cross the Mekong at Chiang Khong / Huay Xai, Nakhon Phanom / Tha Khaek, Mukdahan / Savannakhet, and elsewhere.
- Vientiane / Udon Thani - A bus service runs from the Morning Market bus station in Vientiane to the bus station in Udon Thani. The Udon Thani airport is 30 minutes by Tuk Tuk from the bus station and is served by Thai Airways, Nok Air and Air Asia.
Malaysia and Singapore - driving up is entirely possible, although not with a rented vehicle. Main crossings (with name of town on Malaysian side in brackets) between Thailand and Malaysia are Padang Besar (Padang Besar) and Sadao (Bukit Kayu Hitam) in Songkhla province, Betong (Pengkalan Hulu) in Yala province, and Sungai Kolok (Rantau Panjang) inNarathiwat province. There are regular buses from Singapore to the southern hub of Hat Yai.
- Mae Sai / Tachileik - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; onward travel restrictions: since Oct 2009, onward travel by land to Kengtung is only possible if accompanied by an official guide (1000 BTH/day + expenses), exiting Myanmar at Tachilek is only possible for those who entered at his border crossing and were issued a 14-day Entry Permit; to get to Tachileik or Kengtung from the rest of Myanmar, a domestic flight must be taken (eg from Heho).
- Mae Sot / Myawaddy - This border crossing has been closed since about November 2010 and as of June 2011 there are no signs it will re-open soon. When it is open, foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; neither onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) nor overnight stays are possible. No visa needed; instead there's an entry stamp fee - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency.
- Three Pagodas Pass (Sangkhlaburi / Payathonzu) - foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) is not possible; entry/exit stamps are NOT issued here, and foreigners passports are held at the Myanmar checkpoint, where a fee is levied - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency. However, as of November 25, 2008, this crossing is temporarily closed.
- Ranong / Kawthoung - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; no onward travel restrictions (other than those that apply to everyone, no matter how they enter); access to/from Kawthoung is by sea (Mergui/Dawei & Yangon) and air (Mergui & Yangon). If entering without a visa, maximum stay is 3 days / 2 nights, travel beyond Kawthoung is not permitted, and there's an entry stamp fee - USD10 if paid with USD notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency.
While you can't get to Laos or Cambodia by train, you can get very close, with rail terminals just across the border at Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane) and Aranyaprathet (forPoipet, on the road to Siem Reap). A link across to Mekong to Laos is open in March 2009, but service to Cambodia remains on the drawing board.
There are no rail services to Myanmar, but the Thai part of the infamous Burma Death Railway is still operating near Kanchanaburi.
It is possible now to travel by ferries in high season (Nov-May) from Phuket and island hop your way down the coast all the way to Indonesia.
This can now be done without ever touching the mainland, Phuket (Thailand) to Padang (Indonesia).
Islands en route:
- Ko Phi Phi
- Ko Lanta
- Ko Ngai
- Ko Mook
- Ko Bulon
- ko Lipe-Koh lipe being the hub on the boarder between Thailand and Malaysia having a Thai immigration office.
- Langkawi- Malaysian immigration here.
Thai portion can be done in a day.
Ferries cross from Satun in southern Thailand to the Malaysian island of Langkawi, while over in Narathiwat province, a vehicular ferry shuttles between Tak Bai and Pengkalan Kubur, near Kota Bharu in Malaysia's Kelantan state.
There are also occasional cruises from Malaysia and Singapore to Phuket and Bangkok the main operator being Star Cruises, but no scheduled services.
Geographic and Cultural Regions in Thailand:
Thailand can be conveniently divided into five geographic and cultural regions:
Northern Thailand:Chiang Mai, hill tribes, and the Golden Triangle.
Isaan:The great undeveloped north-east - get off the beaten track and discover backcountry Thailand and some magnificent Khmer ruins.
Central Thailand:Bangkok, lowlands and historic Thailand.
Eastern Thailand:Beaches and islands within easy reach of Bangkok, like Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang.
Southern Thailand:Hundreds of kilometers of coastline and countless islands on both the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, plus Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Tao and many more of Thailand's famous beach spots.
- Bangkok — Thailand's bustling, frenetic capital, known among the Thai as Krung Thep
- Ayutthaya — a historical city, UNESCO World Heritage Site and old capital of Siam
- Chiang Mai — de facto capital of Northern Thailand and the heart of Lanna culture
- Chiang Rai — gateway to the Golden Triangle, ethnic minorities and mountain trekkings
- Kanchanaburi — home of the Bridge over the River Kwai and numerous World War II museums
- Nakhon Ratchasima — largest city of the Isaan region
- Pattaya — one of the main tourist destinations, known for its rough nightlife
- Sukhothai — Thailand's first capital, still with amazing ruins
- Surat Thani — home of the Srivijaya Empire, gateway to the Samui archipelago
Other Destinations in Thailand:
- Ko Chang — once a quiet island, now undergoing major tourism development
- Ko Lipe — small island in the middle of Tarutao National Park, amazingly unspoilt with great reefs and beaches
- Ko Pha Ngan — site of the famous Full Moon Party with miles of quiet coastline
- Ko Samet — the nearest island beach escape from Bangkok
- Ko Samui — comfortable, nature, and entertainment hippie mecca gone upmarket
- Khao Sok National Park — one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in Thailand
- Khao Yai National Park — take a night time jeep safari spotting deer or visit the spectacular waterfalls
- Krabi Province — beach and watersports mecca in the south, includes Ao Nang, Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta
- Phuket — the original Thai paradise island, now very developed but still with some beautiful beaches
Thai cuisine has become deservedly famous worldwide with its enthusiastic use of fresh herbs and spices. From an inexpensive plate of delicious Som tam at a simple street stall upcountry to a modern take on Thai cuisine in the gourmet restaurants of Bangkok, it's very difficult not to eat well in Thailand.
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Major Destinations in Thailand:
- Hua Hin
- Ko Chang
- Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai
- Mae Hong Son
- Khao Yai National Park
- Phimai historical park
- Udon Thani
- Ko Samui
- Nakhon Si Thammarat
- Phang Nga
Historical and Cultural Attractions:
The former capitals of Siam, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, make excellent stops for those interested in Thai history. The latter could be combined with a visit to Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, all of which areUNESCO World Heritage Sites. Khmer architecture is mostly found in Isaan, with the historical remains ofPhimai and Phanom Rung being the most significant.
In the northern provinces live unique hill-tribe peoples, often visited as part of a trekking. The six major hill tribes in Thailand are the Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu, each with a distinct language and culture. Chiang Mai makes a good base for arranging these trekkings, and has some cultural sights of its own, such as Wat Doi Suthep.
For those interested in recent history, Kanchanaburi has a lot of sights related to World War II. The Bridge over the River Kwai, popularised by the film of the same name, is the most famous one, but the museums in its vicinity are a lot more moving.
Thailand Beaches and Thailand islands:
Krabi Province has some beautiful spots, including Ao Nang, Rai Leh and the long golden beaches of Ko Lanta. Ko Phi Phi, renowned as a true paradise island, has been undergoing massive development since the release of the film The Beach in 2000. Ko Pha Ngan gives the best of both worlds, with well-developed beaches and empty ones a short ride away.
Ko Chang is a bit like Ko Samui used to be, it has a backpacker vibe, but is fairly laid-back and there is accommodation in all price ranges. If you're looking for unspoiled beaches, Ko Kut is very thinly populated, but also difficult to explore. Ko Samet is the closest island beach to Bangkok, but its northern beaches are quite developed and hotels are pretty much sold out on weekends and public holidays.
Thailand Natural Scenery:
Waterfalls can be found all over Thailand. The Heo Suwat Waterfall in Khao Yai National Park and the 7-tiered Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi are among the most visited, but the Thee Lor Sue Waterfall in Umphang and the 11-tiered Pa La-u Falls in Kaeng Krachan National Park are equally exciting. Finally, the gravity-defying limestone formations of the Phang Nga Bay shouldn't be missed by anyone who stays in the region.
- Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in 3 days — three-day tour through undiscovered Northern Thailand
- Five days in the Golden Triangle — a five-day tour of the Golden Triangle region through Thailand, Laos and Myanmar
- Mae Hong Son Loop — the popular route right through the mountains of Mae Hong Son Province
- One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city
- One weekend in Bangkok — for attractions that only open in weekends
- Rattanakosin Tour — a quick tour along Bangkok's famed historic district
- Yaowarat and Phahurat Tour — a full-day walking tour through this multicultural district
What to do in Thailand:
Traditional Thai massage has a history of more than 2,500 years. Practitioners of Thai massage operate on the belief that many invisible lines of energy run through the body. The masseur uses his or her hands, elbows, feet, heels and knees to exert pressure on these lines, releasing blockages that may exist, allowing a free flow of energy through the body. Many Thais believe that these massages are beneficial for ailing diseases and general well-being. You're supposed to feel both relaxed and energised after a session.
Although spas weren't introduced here until the early 1990s, Thailand has quickly become one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world. Besides traditional Thai massage, there is a phenomenal variety of international treatments, including aromatherapy, Swedish massage and many others. There is usually an option for every budget, varying from extravagant wellness centres in the five star hotels to the ubiquitous little massage shops found on many street corners.
Thailand's a big enough country that you can find a place to practice almost any outdoor sport. Ko Tao is becoming one of Asia's great Scuba diving centres, while the Ang Thong National Marine Park near Ko Samui and the Similan Islands also draw the crowds. One of the newest hot spots for diving is Ko Lipe, a small island that is amazingly unspoilt with great reefs and absolutely stunning beaches. Snorkeling can be done at pretty much at every beach, but coral reefs of the Similan Islands stand out as particularly worthwhile.
While Thailand does not match surf paradises like Bali, surfing does have its place. The waves are generally small, good for longboarding and those wanting to learn to surf. Khao Lak and Phuket's west coast beaches are among the better ones, but the best waves are to be found at the relatively unknown Ko Kradang at the west coast of Trang Province. Other surf-spots include Rayong and Ko Samui, but the waves of the Gulf Coast are less reliable.
Phang Nga Bay's gravity-defying limestone formations are usually seen with boat tours, but if you go sea-canoeing, you can get into areas unexplored by the tourist masses. The limestone cliffs of Rai Leh are arguably among the best in the world for rock-climbing.
Golf arrived in Thailand during the reign of King Rama V one hundred years ago. It was first played by nobles and other elitists of high society, but since then, things have certainly changed. Over the past decade or so, the popularity of golf in Thailand has escalated; played both by local Thais and visiting foreign tourists and expatriates.
Meeting to the recent needs of an average of 400,000 foreign golfers coming to Thailand annually, golf in Thailand has turned into a huge local industry with new courses constantly being churned out. Golf alone is annually bringing an income of 8 billion baht into the local economy. Thailand offers over two hundred courses with high standards. Internationally renowned courses can be found in tourist-spots like Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
There are an abundance of reasons why golf in Thailand became so popular. First, if you compare the cost to most golfing countries in the world, membership and course fees are exceptionally low. The general low cost of travel in Thailand itself makes the country ideal for cost-efficiency minded tourists. Also, many of the golf courses in Thailand have been designed by top names in the game such as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.
History of Thailand:
After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artifacts 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 kingdom of Sukhothai, which was founded in 1238.
Ayutthaya's expansion centred along the Menam while in the northern valley the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after the 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 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese, followed by the French, Dutch and English.
After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, King Taksin the Great moved the capital of Thailand 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 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 that has never been colonized. 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 colonized by the two colonizing powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being 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 Malay Peninsula.
The losses initially included Penang and eventually culminated in the loss of four predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's four northern states, under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.
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.
During World War II, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai Army for six to eight hours before Plaek Pibulsonggram ordered an armistice. Shortly thereafter Japan was granted free passage, and on December 21, 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 undertook to 'assist' Japan in its war against the Allies, while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. Approximately 200,000 Asian labourers (mainly romusha) and 60,000 Allied POWs worked on the Thailand–Burma 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 coups d'état as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.
South Thailand insurgency:
Thailand controlled the Malay Peninsula as far as Malacca in the 1400s and held much of the peninsula for the next few centuries, including Tumasek (Singapore) some of the Andaman Islands and a colony on Java, but eventually failed when the British used force to guarantee their suzerainty over the sultanate.
All the states of the Malay Sultanate presented annual gifts to the Thai king in the form of a golden flower, which understood the gesture to be 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 peninsula provinces were infiltrated by the Japanese during World War II, and by the Malayan Communist Party (CPM) from 1942 to 2008, when they decided to sue 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, and the intensification. Most victims since the uprisings have been Buddhist and Muslim bystanders.