The Kingdom of Thailand, previously known as Siam, is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia with Bangkok as the capital city. It shares a border with Cambodia to the east, Laos to the northeast, Myanmar to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand, with its shape resembling a head of an elephant, is around 198,114 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Texas. The Kingdom borders two bodies of water — the Gulf of Thailand to the south and the Indian Ocean to the west.
Thailand is divided into four natural regions: the north, northeast, the central plain, and the south. The north is a mountainous region comprised of ridges, natural forest, and deep, narrow alluvial valleys. The northeast is an arid region characterized by a rolling surface and undulating hills. Central Thailand is a lush, fertile valley and possesses the richest and most extensive rice-producing area in the country. The south is hilly with thick forests and rich deposits of minerals and iron ores. The southern region is also the center for rubber production and the cultivation of other topical crops.
Thailand has a warm, tropical climate affected by a seasonal monsoon. Thailand experiences a rainy season from June to October and a dry season for the rest of the year. Temperatures average 75 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with the highest temperatures occurring from March to May and the lowest appearing in December and January.
There are conflicting opinions of the origins of the Thais. For several decades, Thais were presumed to have migrated 4,500 years ago, from what is now the southern part of China. Recently, however, new pre-historic artifacts from the Ban Chiang era were discovered in northeast Thailand, questioning the previous theory. These artifacts include evidence of bronze metallurgy dating over 3,500 years, as well as other indications of a far more sophisticated culture than any previously founded.
As of 2003, the population of Thailand stood at around 64.2 million, about 8 million of whom live in the capital city of Bangkok. The largest ethnic minority is the Chinese. Other ethnic groups present in Thailand include Malays, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Indians. The official language, spoken by almost 100 percent of the population, is Thai. Thai is a tonal, uninflected, and predominantly monosyllabic language borrowed from Khmer, Pali, and Sanskrit. Chinese and Malay are also spoken in some areas, while local dialects are common in rural communities. English is widely spoken in Bangkok and other major metropolitan areas.
Buddhism is the faith of approximately 95 percent of the population. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and other faiths are also openly practiced and protected under the Constitution.
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized. Its government structure has undergone gradual and practical evolution in response to the changing environment. Since 1932, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy, with a king as head of state and a parliamentarian form of government. The bicameral parliament is composed of 500 representatives and 200 senators. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the House of Representatives. Furthermore, Thailand is divided into 76 provinces, each administered by appointed governors. Appointed governors administer 75 of Thailand's 76 provinces. Bangkok, the 76th province, is administered by an elected governor.
Prior to 1932, Thailand’s political history can be summarized into three chronological kingdoms: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Rattanakosin. The Kingdom of Sukhothai (1257-1378) adopted the paternalistic system of government, where the King had absolute power and reigned over his subjects, paying close attention to their well-being. The succeeding Ayutthaya Kingdom during the 1300-1700’s inherited extensive Khmer traditions and customs, including a system of government based on the concept of divine rights. The Ayutthaya period also brought a strong centralized government characterized by a clear division between civil and military administration. The final RattanakosinKingdom was established in 1767 with Bangkok as the capital. The Rattanakosin Kingdom adopted the Ayutthaya system of governance. Three centuries later, King Rama V, who reigned in the late 19th century during the threat of colonialism in Southeast Asia, reorganized the central, regional and local administrations. This restructuring formed the basis of Thailand's present governing system.
There are three key components of the Thai governmental structure. The first and foremost is that His Majesty the King is the head of the armed forces and upholder of Buddhism and all other religions. The constitution provides that His Majesty the King is a sacred and inviolable person. His sovereign power emanates from the people. Furthermore, His Majesty the King exercises his legislative power through the parliament, executive power through the cabinet headed by a prime minister, and judicial power through the country. The monarch is empowered with the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to admonish warnings whenever the government fails to administer state affairs for the good of the people.
The second component relates to the legislative branch. The first constitution was a cautious document that created a bicameral National Assembly with two categories of members: the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the Senate (the upper house). Under the Constitution, the Prime Minister is the head of government and the chief executive.
During the 57 years of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's reign, Thailand has enjoyed enviable economic growth. With a predominantly agrarian base and a sophisticated and a growing manufacturing sector, Thailand’s economy is well-diversified. Thailand possesses a developed tourism, agricultural, manufacturing, minerals, and telecommunications industry. It also embraces the latest technologies.
Another reason for Thailand's successful economic recovery is the increase demand for Thai export, which rose by 16 per cent in 2003. To meet this figure, the Kingdom has actively sought new markets for its exports while strengthening its traditional markets in the United States, Europe and Japan. Furthermore, the Government has been pursuing free trade agreements (FTA) with several countries, including Australia, Bahrain, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, and the United States.
In conclusion, the Kingdom of Thailand is a country blessed with political stability and economic prosperity. The Kingdom, a society that is also free, cohesive, and open, remains one of the most attractive places in the world to visit and conduct business.