Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a country in Southeast Asia, located at the center of the Indochinese Peninsula.
It is composed of 76 provinces, and covers an area of 513,120 square kilometers, and has a population of over 66 million people. Thailand is the world’s 50th-largest country by land area, and the 22nd-most-populous country in the world.
Thailand encompasses diverse ecosystems, including the hilly forested areas of the northern frontier, the fertile rice fields of the central plains, the broad plateau of the northeast, and the rugged coasts along the narrow southern peninsula.
Until the second half of the 20th century, Thailand was primarily an agricultural country, but since the 1960’s increasing numbers of people have moved to Bangkok, the capital, and to other cities.
Although the greater Bangkok metropolitan area remains the preeminent urban centre in the country, there are other sizable cities, such as Chiang Mai in the north, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani in the northeast, Pattaya in the southeast, and Hat Yai in the far south.
Siam, as Thailand was officially called until 1939, was never brought under European colonial domination. Independent Siam was ruled by an absolute monarchy until a revolution there in 1932.
Since that time, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy, and all subsequent constitutions have provided for an elected parliament. Political authority, however, has often been held by the military, which has taken power through coups.
During the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, parliamentary democracy steadily gained wider popular support.
Thailand’s landscapes vary from low mountains to fertile alluvial plains dotted with rice paddies to sandy beaches set amid the equatorial latitudes of the Asian monsoons.
Three major rivers in the northern mountains—from west to east, the Ping (and its tributary the Wang), the Yom, and the Nan—flow generally south through narrow valleys to the plains and then merge to form the Chao Phraya, Thailand’s principal river.
The flooding of the flat delta in the wet season is an asset to rice cultivation, although higher ground on the extreme eastern and western edges of the plain requires irrigation.
The entire delta was once part of the Gulf of Thailand, but over time the sediment carried down from the north has filled it in.
Such silting is a continuing obstruction to river navigation, but it also extends the river’s mouth into the gulf by several feet each year.
Between the 1950’s and ’80’s, a number of dams were built, mainly in the north and northeast of the country, that have improved flood control and made it possible to increase the production of hydroelectric power and to expand agricultural areas that can be irrigated.
The Thai people traditionally used water buffalo, oxen, horses, and elephants for plowing and harrowing fields, transporting goods and people, and moving heavy loads.
By the 1980’s, however, draft animals had been replaced by machines, and, except in remote areas of the country, animals used for transportation had been replaced by motorcycles, trucks, cars, and buses.
The demand for work elephants almost completely disappeared after the logging ban in 1989, and domesticated elephants were absorbed into the tourist industry.
Rapid deforestation coupled with a marked rise in demand for exotic animals has been detrimental to wildlife. Rhinoceroses and tapirs, once found in many parts of the country, have all but disappeared, as have herds of wild elephants.
A similar fate has befallen gibbons and some species of monkeys and birds. Although serious efforts have been made to prevent the illegal sale of endangered species, they have met with only limited success.
Thailand’s once abundant freshwater and marine fish have been rapidly depleted by over-fishing and disruption of their natural habitats, as have shrimp, prawns, and sea crabs.
Many of the shrimp and prawns now sold in both domestic and export markets come from shrimp farms. Snakes, including the king cobra and several species of poisonous water snakes, while still common in the wild, are today more likely to be seen at snake farms. The same is true for crocodiles, although they still exist in the wild in the south.
Mosquitoes, ants, beetles, and other insects—as well as the lizards that eat them—are always in evidence, even in urban environments. The silkworm has contributed much to the silk industry, for which Thailand has become famous.
The vast majority of people in Thailand are adherents of Buddhism. The Theravada tradition of Buddhism came to Thailand from Sri Lanka and is shared by peoples in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and parts of southern China and southern Vietnam.
The community of monks (sangha) is central to this tradition. In Thailand almost every settlement has at least one temple-monastery (wat), where monks in their distinctive yellow robes reside and where communal rituals take place.
The country’s main trading partners are Japan, the USA, China, Singapore, and Malaysia. The most important import categories by value are machinery; chemicals and related products; petroleum; iron, steel, and other metals; and raw materials of various types.
Machinery is also an important manufactured export, along with chemicals and chemical products, telecommunications equipment, road vehicles, and clothing and accessories.
The USA is among Thailand’s largest export markets, and Japan is among the country’s biggest sources of imports.
International travelers hoping to visit Thailand will need to wait at least a few more months before packing their bags as the country continues to ban incoming flights due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Britannica / ABC Flash Point News 2020.