THAILAND - Land of Smiles


thailand Map

Thailand is a country at the centre of the Indochinese peninsula in Mainland Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea to the southwest.

Thailand is governed by the National Council for Peace and Order, a military junta that took power in the May 2014 coup d'etat. Its monarchy is headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946 as Rama IX, as he is the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty. He is currently the world's longest-serving head of state and the country's longest-reigning monarch he has reigned for 69 years, 234 days.

With a total area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country. It is the 20th-most-populous country in the world, with around 66 million people. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is Thailand's political, commercial, industrial, and cultural hub. About 75 - 95% of the population is ethnically Tai, which includes four major regional groups: central Thai, northeastern Thai (Khon [Lao] Isan), northern Thai (Khon Mueang); and southern Thai. Thai Chinese, those of significant Chinese heritage, are 14% of the population,[5] while Thais with partial Chinese ancestry comprise up to 40% of the population. Thai Malays represent 3% of the population, with the remainder consisting of Mons, Khmers and various "hill tribes". The country's official language is Thai and the primary religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is practised by around 95% of the population.

Thailand experienced rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1996, becoming a newly industrialised country and a major exporter. Manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism are leading sectors of the economy. Among the ten ASEAN countries, Thailand ranks third in quality of life. and the country's HDI is rated as "high". Its large population and growing economic influence have made it a middle power in the region and around the world.

History
There is evidence of human habitation in Thailand that has been dated at 40,000 years before the present, with stone artefacts dated to this period at Tham Lod Rockshelter in Mae Hong Son. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the Kingdom of Funan around the 1st century CE to the Khmer Empire.

The ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram at Ayutthaya.
Indian influence on Thai culture was partly the result of direct contact with Indian settlers, but mainly it was brought about indirectly via the Indianized kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya, and Cambodia. E:A Voretzsch believes that Buddhism must have been flowing into Siam from India in the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire and far on into the first millennium after Christ.Later Thailand was influenced by the south Indian Pallava dynasty and north Indian Gupta Empire.

According to George Codes, "The Thai first enter history of Farther India in the eleventh century with the mention of Syam slaves or prisoners of war in" Champa epigraphy, and "in the twelfth century, the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat" where "a group of warriors" are described as Syam. Additionally, "the Mongols, after the seizure of Ta-li on January 7, 1253 and the pacification of Yunnan in 1257, did not look with disfavor on the creation of a series of Thai principalities at the expense of the old Indianized kingdoms." The Menam Basin was originally populated by the Mons, and the location of Dvaravati in the 7th century, followed by the Khmer Empire in the 11th. The History of the Yuan mentions an embassy from the kingdom of Sukhothai in 1282. In 1287, three Thai chiefs, Mangrai, Ngam Muang, and Ram Khamhaeng formed a "strong pact of friendship".

After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, established by the various Tai peoples, Mons, Khmers, Chams and Ethnic Malays, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artefacts 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 Sukhothai Kingdom, which was founded in 1238.

Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th - 15th century, the Buddhist Tai kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna, and Lan Xang (now Laos) were on the rise. However, a century later, the power of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the new Kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century in the lower Chao Phraya River or Menam area.

Stupas, Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Ayutthaya's expansion centred along the Menam while in the northern valleys the Lanna Kingdom and other small Tai city-states ruled the area. In 1431, the Khmer abandoned Angkor after 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. The Burmese - Siamese War (1765-1767) left Ayutthaya burned and sacked by King Hsinbyushin.

After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, Taksin moved the capital 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 the Encyclopaedia 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 to never have been colonised. 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 colonised by the two colonial powers, Great Britain and France. Western influence nevertheless led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably 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 Shan and Karen people areas and Malay Peninsula.

20th century
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.

In 1939, the name of the kingdom, "Siam", was changed to "Thailand".

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