Thailand the Kingdom
“The Land of Smiles” No other place in the world is quite like Thailand. Some of the friendliest people in the world, always smiling, polite and full of fun. Thailand has a rich and colourful culture, which offers a whole host of activities. From sunbathing on the beautiful white sandy beaches of Khu Somui and Phuket to trekking in the mountainous region of Chang Mai, Thailand caters for all types of holidays.
Thailand can best be described as tropical and humid for the majority of the country during most of the year. The area of Thailand north of Bangkok has a climate determined by three seasons whilst the southern peninsular region of Thailand has only two.
In northern Thailand the seasons are clearly defined. Between November and May the weather is mostly dry, however this is broken up into the periods November to February and March to May. The later of these two periods has the higher relative temperatures as although the northeast monsoon does not directly effect the northern area of Thailand, it does cause cooling breezes from November to February. The other northern season is from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in the north is at its heaviest.
The southern region of Thailand really has only two seasons — the wet and the dry. These seasons do not run at the same time on both the east and west side of the peninsular. On the west coast the southwest monsoon brings rain and often heavy storms from April through to October, whilst on the east coast the most rain falls between September and December.
Overall the southern parts of Thailand get by far the most rain with around 2,400 mm every year, compared with the central and northern regions of Thailand, both of which get around 1,400 mm.
Today, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. The Thai monarch reigns, but does not rule. He discharges his roles in accordance with the country’s constitution and remains above partisan politics, while continuing to contribute to the development and well-being of the Kingdom and its people.
Food is possibly the best part of Thailand – the restaurants, the open-air markets, the street food, the immense variety of food found almost everywhere.
Eating out in Thailand can be a fascinating trip on it’s own. However there are some things that those from western countries should be aware of in Thai restaurants is that Thai people are very accommodating to visitors. Restaurants know that many foreigners can find it difficult, sometimes painful to eat spicy food so when they cater for them they have a tendency to calm the food down a little, sometimes to the point of blandness. To really experience eating out in Thailand you should ask for your food to be cooked “Thai Style”, be prepared though for a hot and spicy meal.
Street food is everywhere in Thailand. Sometimes it can seem a bit scarce around the tourist areas, however a short walk to the areas where the locals lurk, in the residential streets, a myriad of street vendors and their cuisine usually can be found. Now the general rule for eating from a street food vendor is look for cleanliness, presentation and popularity. Make sure you see the food cooked in front of you and eat it while it’s still hot. Don’t take it back to the hotel to eat it tomorrow, food goes off very quickly in the heat of tropical Asia. Bad food vendors generally don’t last to long. The competition is fierce here and in this country of so many delights and mysterious ingredients cooking and eating are more than sustenance, they are a form of devotion and taken very seriously.
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.
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.
The vast majority (roughly 80%) of Thailand’s nearly 65 million citizens are ethnically Thai. The remainder consists primarily of peoples of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Mon, Khmer, Burmese, and Lao decent. Of the 7 million citizens who live in the capital city, Bangkok, there is a greater diversity of ethnicities, including a large number of expatriate residents from across the globe. Other geographic distinctions of the population include a Muslim majority in the south near the Malaysian border, and hill tribe ethnic groups, such as the Hmong and Karen, who live in the northern mountains.