Thailand -- Geography --
Situated in Southeast Asia, Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist kingdom almost equidistant from India and China. Known by outsiders as Siam for centuries, Thailand (the land of smiles), has been something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural, and religious crossroads.
Approximately the size of France, Thailand covers and area of 510,000 sq. km and has a population of 60 million growing at a rate of 1.5% each year. Thailand shares its border with Myanmar in the west and north, Laos in the northeast, Cambodia in the east and Malaysia in the south.
Administratively, the country is divided into 7 regions: The North, Northeast, Central Plains, East, West, and the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Each of which has its own distinctive geographical character.
The central region, encompassing the Bangkok metropolitan region and the central plains, is affectionately known as "Thailand's Rice Bowl". One of the world's most fertile rice and fruit growing areas, this is the economic and cultural heartland of the Thai nation.
The mountainous north is Thailand's largest region. Here, elephants work the forest and winter temperatures are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches.
The second largest and poorest region is the sprawling northeast. Better known as "Isan" or the "Khorat Plateau", it is largely bordered by the Mekong River, where the world's oldest Bronze Age civilization flourished some 5,000 years ago.
Just south of the northeast lies the eastern region. Sandwiched between the sea and the Damrek range, this is where pristine beaches support the growth of summer resorts such as Pattaya.
Despite recent development efforts undertaken by the government in the west, its beautiful mountains, which rise up towards the Burmese border and its lush valleys remain relatively unspoiled. The towns here have a frontier atmosphere.
Last but not least, the peninsular south. Here, arresting scenic beauty complements the economically vital activities of tin mining, rubber cultivation, and fishing.
Thailand -- History --
The history of Thailand begins with the migration of the Thais from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Prior to this, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms ruled the region. The Thais established their own states starting with Sukhothai and then Ayutthaya kingdom. These states fought each other and were under constant threat from the Khmers, Burma and Vietnam. Much later, the European colonial powers threatened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid colonial rule. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand endured sixty years of almost permanent military rule before the establishment of a democratic system.
Thailand -- Economy --
The economy of Thailand is an emerging economy which is heavily export-dependent, with exports accounting for more than two thirds of GDP. The exchange rate is Baht 33.00/usd. Thailand has a GDP worth $8.5 trillion Baht (PPP), or US$ 627 billion (PPP). This classifies Thailand as the 2nd largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Despite this, Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. It functions as an anchor economy for the neighboring developing economies of Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. Thailand's recovery from the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis depended mainly on exports, among various other factors. Thailand ranks high among the world's automotive export industries along with manufacturing of electronic goods. Most of Thailand's labour force is working in agriculture. However, the relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased. Tourism revenues are on the rise. With the instability surrounding the recent coup and the military rule, however, the GDP growth of Thailand has settled at around 4-5% from previous highs of 5-7% under the previous civilian administration, as investor and consumer confidence has been degraded somewhat due to political uncertainty. The incumbent elected civilian administration under Samak Sundaravej in power since January 29, 2008 states that the economy will have grown by 5.5% to 6% by the end of 2008. Due to rising oil and food prices, the annual inflation rate for 2008 shot up to 9.2% in July; a 10-year high, but it will unlikely reach double digit rates later this year as oil and food prices are stabilizing.
Thailand -- Culture --
The Culture of Thailand is heavily influenced by Buddhism. Other influences have included Hinduism, conflict and trade with Southeast Asian neighbors such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, and repeated influxes of Chinese immigrants.
Thailand -- Political system, law and government --
The politics of Thailand currently take place in a framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.
Thailand has been ruled by kings since the thirteenth century. In 1932, the country officially became a constitutional monarchy, though in practice, the government was dominated by the military and the elite bureaucracy. The country's current constitution was promulgated in 2007.
The King of Thailand has little direct power under the constitution but is a symbol of national identity and unity. King Bhumibol — who has been on the throne since 1946 — commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.
On 23 December 2007, a general election was held following a recent military coup by the Council for National Security on 19 September 2006. The People's Power Party, led by Somchai Wongsawat, won the majority of seats in the parliament. A civilian coalition government was formed on 28 January 2008 with five other minor parties leaving the Democrats, led by Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, as the only opposition party.