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Discovering Thailand

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The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is a tropical paradise in South-East Asia that attracts people from all over the world with its warm weather, delicious food, impressive temples, jungle hideaways and idyllic beaches.

Divided into 76 provinces, Thailand covers an area of 513,120km², and shares land borders with Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Its buzzing capital of Bangkok — with its extensive entertainment, shopping, cultural and gastronomic options — is a main attraction, and the city serves as a central travel hub in the region.

Thailand's climate

Thailand has a tropical climate with two main seasons — a dry season and a wet season. However, these can vary depending on which part of the country you are in. The dry season generally lasts from November to May, and it can get extremely hot between March and May. Then the south-west monsoons can be expected from May to October, but the rain tends to fall in heavy, short bursts, so you'll still enjoy sunshine during this period.

However, in most parts of the country at most times of year, it is often hot and humid compared to western climates, although it can be cooler up in the jungles and hills in the north.

Demography

According to the World Bank's DataBank, there were 68.9 milion people living in Thailand at the end of 2016, and the highest population density can be found in Bangkok where there are over 9 million people.

Most people in Thailand practice Buddhism, although the country's southernmost provinces have a population of about 80% Malay-speaking Muslims and there is an ongoing ethnic conflict and separatist insurgency in this region.

The official language of Thailand is a tonal language called Thai — sometimes referred to as Siamese Thai, Central Thai or even Bangkok Thai — and is taught in most schools. While almost everyone will understand this, many different ethnic and regional dialects are also still spoken. These are of particular note in the north, north-east and south of the country.

Written Thai is based on an alphabet adopted from the Khmers in Cambodia, which is said to have been standardised during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng. Fortunately for tourists, however, roadsigns tend to be written in both Thai and Engish.

English is also considered to be a second language to many citizens, especially those living in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and on the islands, as a result of the booming tourism industry in these places. Words and expressions of a Thai-English hybrid have started to emerge amongst the younger generation, and this way of speaking is referred to as Tinglish or Thaiglish.

Politics in Thailand

The end of the absolute monarchy in Thailand was in 1932 when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, whereby the King's legal authority was largely curtailed to that of Head of State. Since this date, the prime minister has been responsible for managing government affairs, but the monarchy still remains a deeply revered institution.

Thai politics have been highly polarised and there have been various clashes and shifts between representative government and authoritarian rule since 1932. Many people argue that, in spite of frequent changes in government, coups and mass uprisings, the monarchy — which was the moral authority of the nation under the much loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej — helped to maintain a degree of peace, unity and stability. King Bhumibol was very popular with his people and held great sway over his seven-decade reign but, after decades of political turmoil, a coup in May 2014 resulted in the military taking control of the government towards the end of his life.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who leads the National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC), seized power in this coup from an elected civilian government, and was appointed Prime Minister by the military-appointed parliament. Thailand's military has seized power 12 times since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

King Bhumibol died in October 2016 at the age of 88 as the world's longest reigning monarch, and his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, known as King Rama X, who is the 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty, was proclaimed King in a ceremony that took place 50 days after his father's death. However, his formal coronation will not happen until after King Bhumibol's cremation, which is set to be in October 2017. The military has also said that a general election will take place after this date.

The constitution has recently been altered at the request of the new king, and the changes restore royal influence over important procedures and at times of severe political crisis. This new charter introduces a different electoral system and, under the new system, experts believe that Thailand is more likely to have fractious coalition governments, and membership of the senate will essentially be determined by the military-elected government and be bound to follow the military's 20-year blueprint for Thailand.

Economy

Thailand's economic growth rate and status among leading powers in the region have arguably slowed as a result of the recent political swing between military and civilian rule, as well as sluggish global and domestic demand. However, it is still South-East Asia's second-largest economy and it is making progress in reducing poverty. In 2013, a new minimum wage policy was introduced, as well as new tax reforms that were designed to lower rates of middle-income earners. There is relatively low inflation and low unemployment, and government spending on infrastructure has helped to give the economy a boost.

Thailand had a GDP of USD406.84 billion in 2016 and the Thai economy is expected to grow by 3.2% in 2017. The country is highly dependent on its industry and service sectors; and exports — including processed foods, electronics, automobiles and parts, and agricultural commodities — account for about two-thirds of its GDP. Tourism and foreign investment also play an invaluable role.

 Useful links

Tourism Authority of Thailand
World Bank Thailand
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand

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