Thailand is a wondrous kingdom, featuring Buddhist temples, exotic wildlife, and spectacular islands. Along with a fascinating history and a unique culture that includes delectable Thai food and massage, Thailand features a modern capital city, and friendly people who epitomize Thailand’s “land of smiles” reputation.
Located in the center of Southeast Asia, Thailand is truly at the heart of the region. Looking over a map of Thailand will reveal a country whose borders form the rough shape of an elephant’s head: the head and ears forming the mostly landlocked northern and eastern provinces and the trunk extending down the Malaysian peninsula between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
The geography of Thailand features many natural borders with neighboring countries: a mountainous border with Myanmar (Burma) to the north and west; a long stretch of the Mekong River separating Thailand from Laos to the north and east; and the Mekong River and the Dongrak Mountains delineating the border of Cambodia to the east.
Covering an area of approximately 514,000 square kilometers (200,000 sq miles), Thailand is the 50th largest country in the world, most nearly equal in size to Spain. Located just 15 degrees north of the equator, Thailand has a tropical climate and temperatures typically range from 19 to 38 degrees C (66-100 F); monsoon rains fall predominately from May to July and cooler, drier weather occurs around November and December. Despite the geographical boundaries of Thailand all falling within the tropics, Thailand’s four primary regions are each geographically distinct from each other.
Along Thailand’s western border with Myanmar, the forested mountains of Thailand rise higher as they stretch north, peaking at the 2,565 meter (8,415 ft) Doi Inthanon. Thailand’s northern peaks are replete with wildlife and feature Thailand’s coolest winters.
Northeastern Thailand’s geography, where the kingdom borders Laos at the Mekong River, features the Khorat Plateau, which extends south towards the Thai border with Cambodia. The Isan region of Northeastern Thailand is the most populous region of Thailand (with the exception of Bangkok) and features a number of bustling provincial capital cities.
The geography of Thailand’s interior is dominated by the Central Plains, the “Rice Bowl of Asia,” through which the Chao Phraya River feeds expansive rice fields and then enters the bustling capital of Bangkok before spilling into the Gulf of Thailand.
Stretching down the Malaysian peninsula, the slender trunk of the figurative elephant separates the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand, providing Thailand with beaches and islands along opposing shores. Once, the sheltered coves of the narrow Isthmus of Kra were important ports along an ancient, strategic trading route; today the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui are equally important as tourist destinations, though both coasts also contain numerous historical attractions as well as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and spectacular forests, waterfalls, and beaches.
In addition to these natural, geographical regions, Thailand is divided into 76 political provinces, with Bangkok serving as the political, commercial, industrial, educational, and entertainment capital of the country.
History and culture
Dating back to the Neolithic civilization situated at the modern-day UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ban Chiang, the history of Thailand is long, proud, and fairly well documented. Over the early centuries of the Common Era, tribes of Mon, Khmer, and Tai peoples established realms within the borders of modern Thailand; the Mon speaking Buddhist civilization of Dvaravati in the first millennium giving way to the Khmer empire of Angkor by the turn of the second millennium.
However, the history of Thailand as we know it began when the kingdoms of Lan Na (Chiang Rai/Chiang Mai) and Sukhothai, the first truly independent Thai Kingdoms, established highly developed societies in the North and Central regions of Thailand in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which was heavily influenced by the Khmer’s of Angkor, eventually conquered neighboring Sukhothai and dominated the region for the next several hundred years of Thai history. Unfortunately, first Chaing Mai and then Ayutthaya were overrun by Burmese invaders, who occupied the Lan Na capital for several centuries and sacked Ayutthaya, forcing the central Thai kingdom to relocate farther south, establishing a new capital in Thon Buri near Bangkok. After the short lived Thon Buri Period (1767-1772), the capital was moved across the Chao Phraya River, and the first of the current line of Kings, Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty, established the modern capital of Bangkok to commence the Ratanakosin Period of Thai history. The adroit diplomatic leadership of Kings Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-1868) and Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) were responsible for maintaining a remarkable 700 year Thai history during which the kingdom was never officially colonized by foreign powers; a turbulent 20th century witnessed the transition to a system of constitutional monarchy, currently overseen by Head of State, King Bumibol Adulyadej (1946- present), is King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty and a tenuous but functional democracy has existed under the regency of this much beloved king.
While roughly 95% of the Thai people are practitioners of Theravada Buddhism, the official religion of Thailand, religious tolerance is both customary in Thailand and protected by the constitution. By its very nature however, Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of the Buddha, “the enlightened one” (nee Siddhartha Gautama), is a compassionate and tolerant religion, the aim of which is the alleviation of suffering. Consequently, Thai people are very respectful of the religious beliefs of others and are very open toward discussing their Buddhist values with visitors. In fact, there are many opportunities in Thailand to visit Buddhist temples to learn about or study Buddhism and perhaps to learn to meditate.
Religion in Thailand pervades many aspects of Thai life and senior monks are highly revered; it is not uncommon to see their images adorning walls of businesses or homes or upon ornaments inside of taxi cabs. In many towns and villages the neighborhood wat (temple) is the heart of social and religious life. Buddhist holidays occur regularly throughout the year (particularly on days with full moons) and many Thai people go to the wat on these and other important days to pay homage to the Buddha and give alms to monks in order to make merit for themselves.
Meditation, one of the primary practices of Buddhism, is a means of self reflection in order to identify the causes of individual desire and ultimately alleviate ones suffering. Visitors can learn the fundamentals of this practice at a number of wats across the kingdom. Some temples, particularly in Chiang Mai, allow visitors to chat with monks in order to gain general knowledge about Buddhism or to study Buddhism more seriously.
While Theravada Buddhism may technically be considered a philosophy rather than a religion (there is no ‘God’) Thai Buddhism is infused with many spiritual beliefs which are likely the result of lingering animist and Hindu beliefs from centuries earlier. Most Thai homes and places of business feature a ‘spirit house’ just outside the building, where offerings are made to appease spirits that might otherwise inhabit their homes or workplaces. Furthermore, Buddhist monks are often brought to new homes and businesses to ‘bless them’, and Thai people frequently light incense and make prayers to both Buddha images and a host of Hindu gods whose shrines are located throughout Bangkok and the countryside.
The next largest religion in Thailand, Islam, is practiced by only about 4% of the population; the majority of Thai Muslims live in the most southerly provinces near the Malaysian border. Other religions in Thailand include Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity, which are generally practiced by those living in Bangkok, where a multi-cultural population includes citizens of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and European descent.
Thailand is a country with abundant natural resources, including a wide variety of flora and fauna, and distinct ecological zones. There are over 100 Thailand national parks, including more than 20 marine parks, and each park features unique attractions, outstanding facilities, and opportunities to see animals in Thailand. Those interested in trekking, mountain biking, photography, birding, camping, scuba diving, or getting up close to exotic animals in Thailand have many options to choose from.
A visit to a Thailand beach or one of the many Thailand islands is an opportunity for visitors to relax, experience exotic marine life, or even learn to scuba dive. However, across Thailand, whether at a beach, island, or Thailand National Park visitors will discover unique flora and fauna and distinct ecological zones, from the temperate forests of the northern mountains and the plains of central Thailand to the savannahs of the northeast and the mangrove forests of the southern coasts. Animals in Thailand include not only elephants and monkeys but also bears and whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.
The Thailand climate is controlled by tropical monsoons and the weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. While Thailand’s seasons are generally divided into the hot season, cool season, and rainy season, in reality it’s relatively hot most of the year. The weather in central, northern, and northeastern Thailand (the landlocked provinces) is determined by three seasons, whereas the southern, coastal regions of Thailand feature only two, making the weather in Thailand quite easy to understand and plan a trip around.In Thailand’s inland provinces the seasons are clearly defined: Between November and May the weather is mostly dry and the cool season and hot season occur from November to February and March to May respectively. The other inland season, the rainy season, lasts from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in most of Thailand is at its heaviest.
The southern, coastal region of Thailand really has only two seasons – rainy season and dry season. Fortunately, for those planning a beach holiday, Thailand’s two coasts have slightly different rainy seasons, allowing visitors to find sunny beaches nearly year round.
On the Andaman or west coast, where Phuket, Krabi, and the Phi Phi Islands lie, the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October, while on the Gulf of Thailand or east coast, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao lie, the most rain falls between September and December.
While the official Thai language is widely spoken throughout Thailand, many Thais also speak and understand English, though more so in Bangkok and the major tourist areas. As visitors to Thailand also include many Europeans and other Asians, Thai people's language skills often also include these other languages to varying degrees. The Thai language itself is challenging to master, but Thai people are happy to help foreigners learn a few words to help them get around. However, English is typically the common currency for cross-cultural conversation as Thailand hosts visitors from around the world.
With so many visitors, the Thailand communications system has many features that make it very accessible to foreigners. In regards to telephone use, it is possible to get a Thai SIM card at most international airports and both rental mobile phones and SIM cards are readily available in destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. Workers in post offices generally speak some English, and there are internet cafes throughout Thailand that feature Skype headsets specifically to cater to visitors wishing to communicate with friends and family back home. The Thailand communications system is both modern and convenient for visitors to use.
The Thailand government is based on a constitutional monarchy quite similar to that of the United Kingdom, in which a Prime Minister serves as head of a parliamentary government and a hereditary Thai king functions as head of state.
This form of Thailand government has been in place since 1932 following nearly 700 years of outright rule by various lines of Thai kings; the current Thai King, His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej (Rama IX) is the reigning monarch of the Chakri Dynasty that has ruled Thailand since the fall of Ayutthaya and the founding of the Rattakosin Era. The widely revered Thai King serves as spiritual leader of the country as well as head of state, but wields no outright political authority.
The Thailand Government is formed by a coalition of political parties headed by a Prime Minister. While Thailand has undergone numerous coup d’etats since becoming a constitutional monarchy and Thailand politics is a contentious affair, Thai people are politically active and place high value on their arguably tenuous democracy.
Recently, head of army took over the power in Thailand.
Duration: 3 days to 5 days
Duration: 3 days to 10 days
Duration: 7 days
Duration: 6 days
Duration: 5 days
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