The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometers, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the northeast, Kampuchea to the east and Malaysia to the south. Topographically the country is divided into four distinct areas: the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of the Northeast, and the peninsula South distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore islands.
Thailand has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: Hot (March-May), Rainy (June-October) and Cool (November-February). Average temperatures are around 27c.
Thailand has a population of about 60 million. Ethnic Thais form the majority, though the area has historically been a migratory crossroads, and thus strains of Mon, Khmer, Burmese, Lao, Malay, Indian and, most strongly, Chinese stock produce a degree of ethnic diversity.
The national religion is Theravada Buddhism, practised by more than 90 percent of all Thais. The remainder of the population adheres to Muslim, Christian, Hindu and other faiths, all of which are allowed full freedom of expression. Buddhism continues to cast a strong influences on daily life.
The Thai people originated in Southeastern China where, in 650 AD they founded the independent kingdom of Nanchao which thrived for 600 years. However, invasions and an unwillingness to be incorporated into mainstream Chinese society led to waves of migrations southward into what is now Thailand. Eventually several groups of Thai migrants united and established Sukhothai as their capital in the mid 13th century.
Although other civilizations had existed on Thai soil much earlier,Sukhothai was the first sovereign kingdom of Thailand. It flourished for over 100 years during which time the distinctive forms of Thai art, architecture and culture were firmly implanted.
At approximately the same time, King Mengrai, an ally of Sukhothai, was establishing the northern Lannathai Kingdom, centered on Chiang Mai which was founded in 1296.
In the mid 14th century a new and more powerful dynasty arose at Ayutthaya, an island city in the Chao Phraya River 85 kilometers north of present day Bangkok.
Quickly gaining in wealth, military might and prestige, Ayutthaya absorbed the former kingdom of Sukhothai and remained Thailand's capital for 417 years, holding sway over most of the country except the North.
Ayutthaya prospered steadily, reaching the height of its power in the 17th century when diplomatic relations with the West were established and trade agreements made with the leading European powers of the day. Weakened by internal conflicts, Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767.
After fleeing south, the survivors of Ayutthaya were rallied under king Taksin who founded a new capital at Thonburi and eventually succeeded in expelling the Burmese from Thai soil.
On the death of Taksin in 1782 Chao Phraya Chakri was proclaimed king and as Rama I was founder of the present Chakri dynasty. For strategic purposes, he moved his capital across the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok.
Under the Chakri Kings the borders of Thailand were consolidated and other parts of the country were gradually brought under the full control of the central government. Rama VI (King Mongkut, 18511868), secured ties with the West, especially with France and Britain, while at the same time, assuring his country's independence and avoiding the colonial fate of all Thailand's neighbours.
King Mongkut's successor, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910), brought about many social and political reforms that firmly guided Thailand into the 20th century.
The absolute monarchy was to continue through the reign of Rama IV (1910-1925) and into that of Rama VII (1925-1934). But in 1932 a coup d'etat succeeded in bringing about a change to a constitutional monarchy. Rama VII accepted the situation although he abdicated two years after the coup.
The throne passed to the young King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) who was succeeded by his brother King Bhumipol (Rama IX), the present monarch.
One litre of alcoholic beverage and 200 cigarettes, plus reasonable personal effects(such as one still camera, one movie or video camera, personal jewellery etc) may be brought in duty free and taken out on departure.
Narcotics, drugs, pornographic material and firearms are strictly prohibited. Unlimited foreign currency, traveller's cheques, money orders etc may be brought into the country, but any amount over US$10,000 must be declared on entry. Amount taken out of the country may never exceed that declared upon entry.
Most nationalities do not require a visa for a stay of up to 30 days provided they have a ticket for onward travel. Longer visits require a visa obtainable from Thai embassies and consulates. Tourists visas permit stays up to 90 days. For full details, contact your nearest Thai embassy or consulate.
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Travel to Thailand
Most visitors arrive through Bangkok's Don Muang International Airport which is connected by daily flights to Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. Flights, from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Hong Kong, land on a regular basis at Chiangmai, Koh Samui, Phuket and Hat Yai. Charter flights sometimes land in Bangkok, Phuket, and at U-Taphao for Pattaya.
Regular rail services link Singapore and Bangkok intermediary stops include Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth, Penang and major southern Thai towns.
Overland entry to Thailand is restricted to three road crossings on the Thai- Malaysian border, and the bridge spanning the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand at Nong Kai.
There are no regular steamship connection with Thailand. Cargo ships calling at Bangkok's Khlong Toei port sometimes have passenger cabin facilities. Cruise ships, such as Cunard's Queen Elizabeth II, periodically visit Pattaya.
Travel within Thailand
Thai Airways International (THAI) operates a wide domestic network with daily flights linking virtually all major towns with Bangkok. Ground transportation is extremely comprehensive and comparatively inexpensive. There are convenient rail connections with the North, Northeast and South, while air conditioned coach and government bus services are operated from Bangkok to all town throughout the country. Rental cars are also readily available.
See Domestic flight schedule
The Thais have adopted a number of modern forms of recreation such as golf, tennis, ice skating, and bowling. But the local sports of boxing and kite fighting are still very much the preferred spectator sport in Thailand.
Thai Boxing is the most popular and exciting spectator sport in Thailand, as well as a means of self-defense for the Thai people. It also holds the prestige of being the largest spectator "ring sport" in the world. Unlike the Western-style of boxing, Thai Boxers are allowed to use their feet, elbows, legs and shoulders. Bouts are held at the Ratchadamnoen Stadium and Lumpini Stadium. Thai Boxing may also be seen on television every day, usually in the evening. This is truly an unbelievable sport to see in person, yet the squeamish probably should not attend, as it is quite violent.
An ancient local sport played and patronized by the Kings of Thailand for centuries is kite fighting, a contest which is held from March to April at the Sanam Luang in Bangkok. The Thais make kites in hundreds of different forms and colors. Each kite is huge in size and requires a number of people to fly it. Kites are classified as "chulas" (male) or "pukpaos" (female). The object of the contest is to force the opposition's kite to land in your half of the field while thousands of people cheer.
Takraw is another traditional Thai game. It involves the use of a takraw ball, five to six inches in diameter, made of rattan. Using their head, feet, knees or elbows, players hit the ball over a net to another team.
Banks provide standard services nationwide, Monday through Friday, except public and bank holidays, between 10.00 AM. and 3.30 PM. Bank currency exchange centres operate from 7.00 AM. to 9.00 PM, seven days a week including holidays.
Most commercial concerns in Bangkok operate on a five-day week. Government offices are generally open between 8.30 AM and 4.30 PM with a noon to 1.00 PM lunch break, Monday through Friday, except on public holidays Private businesses maintain much the same hours -perhaps 8.00 AM to 5.00 PM with certain exceptions. Many stores open 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
There are also efficient business centres available if you are on a business trip to Thailand for a few days.
The Bangkok Yellow Pages lists local and international automobile rental companies. Self-drive and chauffeur-driven automobiles are widely available. Car hire companies also operate in Pattaya, Hat Yai, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Those possessing valid International Driver Licenses may prefer to hire automobiles.
The baht is divided into 100 satang. "Copper" coins are valued at 25 and 50 satang. Silver coins are in denominations of 1,2 and 5 baht. Bank notes are valued at 10 baht (brown), 20 baht (green), 50 baht (blue), 100 bath (red). 500 baht (purple) and 1000 baht (khaki)
Travellers cheques / credit cards
US dollar travellers cheques can be conveniently cashed at all provincial banks and authorized money changers. Travellers cheques in other currencies are best changed in Bangkok where better rates prevail.
Major international credit cards, such as American Express, Diners Club and VISA are accepted by major banks, restaurants, hotels and shops.
Exchange facilities for cash and traveller' cheque are available in banks, hotels, and foreign exchange booths located in tourists areas.
Outgoing passengers on international flights from Bangkok's Don Muang airport must pay 500 baht. 30 baht per person is collected for domestic flights.
Hotel taxis have fixed tariffs. Taxis cruising the streets of Bangkok have meters.
Telephone & Fax
In Thailand, you can contact virtually any city in the world without any difficulty. International phone calls, telegraph, telex, and bureau fax services are available at International Telecommunication Services Center, near Bangkok's Central Post Central as well as in most hotels.
It is customary to tip hotel personnel who have given good personal service. A 10% tip is appreciated in restaurants, particularly where service charge is waived.
No inoculations or vaccinations are required unless you are coming from or passing through contaminated areas.
Light, loose cotton clothing is best. Nylon should be avoided. Sweaters are needed during cool season evenings or if visiting mountainous areas and remote national parks.
Thailand operates exclusively on 220 volt, 50 cycle AC power
To send letters or packages to any desired destinations is very convenient for visitors to Thailand. Post offices as well as most hotels offer good postal services.