THAILANDLOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
FLORA AND FAUNA
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Kingdom of Thailand
CAPITAL: Bangkok (Krung Thep)
FLAG: The national flag, adopted in 1917, consists of five horizontal stripes. The outermost are red (symbolizing the Thai people); those adjacent are white (symbolizing Buddhism); the blue center stripe (representing the monarchy) is twice as high as each of the other four.
ANTHEM: There are three national anthems: Pleng Sansen Phra Barami (Anthem Eulogizing His Majesty); Pleng Chard Thai (Thai National Anthem); and Pleng Maha Chati (Anthem of Great Victory), an instrumental composition.
MONETARY UNIT: The baht (b) is divided into 100 satang. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 stangs and 1, 5, and 10 baht, and notes of 50 satang and 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 60, 100, and 500 baht. b1 = $0.02442 (or $1 = b40.95) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some traditional units also are used.
HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Chakkri Day, 6 April; Songkran Day, mid-April; Coronation Day, 5 May; Queen's Birthday, 12 August; Chulalongkorn Day, 23 October; King's Birthday, 5 December; Constitution Day, 10 December. Movable holidays include Makabuja Day, Plowing Festival, and Visakabuja Day.
TIME: 7 pm = noon GMT.
Comprising an area of 514,000 sq km (198,456 sq mi) in Southeast Asia, Thailand (formerly known as Siam) extends almost two-thirds down the Malay Peninsula, with a length of 1,648 km (1,024 mi) n–s and a width of 780 km (485 mi) e–w. Comparatively, the area occupied by Thailand is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Wyoming. It is bordered on the ne and e by Laos, on the se by Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand (formerly the Gulf of Siam), on the s by Malaysia, on the sw by the Andaman Sea, and on the w and nw by Myanmar, with a total boundary length of 8,082 km (5,022 mi), of which 3,219 km (2000 mi) is coastline.
Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, is located on the Gulf of Thailand coast.
Thailand may be divided into five major physical regions: the central valley, the continental highlands of the north and northwest, the northeast, the southeast coast, and the peninsula. The heartland of the nation is the central valley, fronting the Gulf of Thailand and enclosed on three sides by hills and mountains. This valley, the alluvial plain of the Chao Phraya River and of its many tributaries and distributaries, is 365 km (227 mi) from north to south and has an average width of 160–240 km (100–150 mi). On this plain, and most especially on its flat deltaland bordering the Gulf, are found Thailand's main agricultural wealth and population centers.
The continental highlands lie north and west of the central valley. They include North Thailand, surrounded on three sides by Myanmar (Burma until June 1989) and Laos, which is a region of roughly parallel mountain ranges between which the Nan, Yom, Wang, Ping, and other rivers flow southward to join and create the Chao Phraya in the central valley. In the northernmost tip, drainage is northward to the Mekong River; on the western side, drainage runs westward to the Salween in Myanmar. Most of the people of North Thailand live in small intermontane plains and basins that are generally widenings in the major river valleys. Doi Inthanon (2,576 m/8,451 ft) is the highest point in Thailand. Along the Myanmar border from North Thailand to the peninsula is a sparsely inhabited strip of rugged mountains, deep canyons, and restricted valleys. One of the few natural gaps through this wild mountain country is Three Pagodas Pass along the Thailand-Myanmar boundary, used by the Japanese during World War II for their "death railway" (now dismantled) between Thailand and Myanmar.
The northeast, much of it often called the Khorat, is a low, undulating platform roughly 120 to 210 m (400–700 ft) above sea level in the north and west, gradually declining to about 60 m (200 ft) in the southeast. Hill and mountain ranges and scarps separate the northeast from the central valley on the west and from Cambodia on the south; its northern and much of its eastern boundaries are marked by the Mekong River. Most of the northeast is drained by the Mun River and its major tributary, the Chi, which flow eastward into the Mekong. The northeast, in the rain shadow of the Indochina Cordillera, suffers from shortage of water and from generally thin and poor soils.
The small southeast coast region faces the Gulf of Thailand and is separated from the central valley and Cambodia by hills and mountains that rise in places to over 1,500 m (5,000 ft). This is a well-watered area, and the vegetation is, for the most part, lush and tropical. Most of the people live along the narrow coastal plain and the restricted river valleys that drain southward to the Gulf.
Peninsular Thailand extends almost 960 km (600 mi) from the central valley in the north to the boundary of Malaysia in the south and is anywhere from 16 to 217 km (10–135 mi) wide between the Gulf of Thailand on the east and the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean) and Myanmar on the west. At the Isthmus of Kra, the Peninsula itself is only 24 km (15 mi) wide. A series of north-south ridges, roughly parallel, divide the Peninsula into distinct west and east coast sections. The west coastal plain is narrow—nonexistent in many places—and the coast itself is much indented and often very swampy. The east coastal plain is much wider, up to 32 km (20 mi) in sections, and the coast is smooth, with long beach stretches and few bays. Well-watered (especially the west coast), hot, and densely forested, the Peninsula, unlike most of Thailand, lies within the humid tropical forest zone.
A disastrous tsunami struck southern Thailand and its neighboring Asian countries on 26 December 2004. Stemming from an underwater earthquake about 324 km (180 mi) south of Indonesia's Sumatra island, the tsunami caused more than 5,000 deaths and 4,000 injuries in Thailand. Many of the beaches were severely damaged as well as the island of Phi Phi Lei, which was almost completely leveled.
Thailand has a tropical climate. For much of the country there are three distinct seasons: the hot season, from March through May; the rainy or wet monsoon, June to October; and the cool season, November through February. While continental Thailand receives most of its precipitation from June through October, rain occurs at all seasons in peninsular Thailand, the largest amount along the west coast from May to October, and along the east coast from October to January. For most of Thailand the temperature rarely falls below 13°c (55°f) or rises above 35°c (95°f), with most places averaging between 24°c and 30°c (75°f and 86°f). The annual rainfall ranges from 102 cm (40 in) in the northeast to over 380 cm (150 in) in the peninsula. Bangkok has an average annual temperature of 28°c (82°f); monthly mean temperatures range from a low of around 25°c (77°f) in December to a high of around 30°c (86°f) in May, and annual rainfall is about 150 cm (59 in).
Many distinctive forms of plant and animal life are found. Forestlands support hardwoods (notably teak), pine, bamboos, and betel and coconut palms; in the coastal lowlands, mangroves and rattan abound. There are over 11,600 plant species found in the country. Among the larger mammals are the bear, otter, and civet cat. Climbing animals include the gibbon and many species of monkeys. There are also sheep, goats, oxen, single-horned rhinoceroses, deer, tapirs, wild cattle, wild hogs, and snakes. There are over 285 bird species and over 265 mammal species. Crocodiles, lizards, and turtles are numerous. Fish abound in the rivers and coastal waters.
The Promotion and Enhancement of Environmental Quality Act of 1975 charges the National Environment Board with coordination of environmental protection programs in Thailand. The nation's water supply is at risk due to contamination by industry, farming activity, sewage, and salt water, especially in the Bangkok area. Thailand has 210 cu km of renewable water resources, with 91% of annual withdrawals used for farming activities and 4% for industrial purposes. Only 80% of the rural dwellers have access to improved water sources.
Land use in urban areas is regulated by the City Planning Act of 1975, the Control of Construction of Buildings Act of 1936, and the 1960 Act for Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country. Thailand's cities produce an average of 2.5 million tons of solid waste per year. Watershed regions, undergoing rapid deforestation as a result of increased cultivation of upland areas, have been targeted for protection in the fourth and fifth national plans; overexploitation and pollution of freshwater and marine fisheries have yet to be remedied. Parts of Bangkok have been report as sinking at a rate of 10 cm (4 in) a year because of depletion of the water table. By the 1980s, Thailand had lost about 25% of its original mangrove area.
Urban air and noise pollution is also severe, largely as a result of increasing automobile traffic. In 1992 Thailand was among 50 nations with the world's highest levels of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 112.4 million metric tons, a per capita level of 2.02 metric tons. In 2000, the total of carbon dioxide emissions was at 198.6 million metric tons.
Wildlife is partially protected under the Wild Animals Preservation and Protection Act of 1960, but species have been depleted through illegal hunting and trapping. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 36 types of mammals, 42 species of birds, 19 types of reptiles, 3 species of amphibians, 36 species of fish, 1 type of mollusk, and 84 species of plants. Threatened species in Thailand include the pileated gibbon, tiger, Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, Sumatran rhinoceros, Fea's muntjac, Thailand brow-antlered deer, kouprey, green turtle, hawksbill turtle, olive ridley, leatherback, river terrapin, estuarine crocodile, Siamese crocodile, false gavial, and the Javan rhinoceros. Schomburgk's deer and the redtail shark have become extinct.
The population of Thailand in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 65,002,000, which placed it at number 19 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 7% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 23% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.7%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 70,150,000. The overall population density was 127 per sq km (328 per sq mi), but there are great regional variations in density.
The UN estimated that 31% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.99%. The capital city, Bangkok (Krung Thep), had a population of 6,486,000 in that year. Outside of Bangkok, most major cities are provincial capitals, each generally centered in a changwat (province or county) with the same name as the city.
Immigration to Thailand, except for the Chinese, has traditionally been comparatively small. The decade of the 1920s was a period of large-scale Chinese immigration of 70,000 to 140,000 a year. Strict immigration regulations have all but stopped the legal flow of Chinese into the country, but during the Franco-Indochinese war some 45,000 Vietnamese refugees settled in Thailand. An immigration quota, introduced in 1947, now limits migration from any one country to 100 persons annually.
In 2003, immigration authorities arrested 280,937 illegal foreigners, including 189,486 unauthorized workers; the workers were from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. In 2004, some 1.3 million foreigners, from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, registered as migrant workers in Thailand under a government effort to better regulate their presence. They were further required to re-register in 2005, but to do so they needed a Thai employer. No new immigrants were to be admitted in 2005, and unauthorized migrants were subject to fines and prison.
As of December 1992, the United Nations (UN) estimated that 63,600 refugees were living in Thailand; these represented part of the flood of over four million refugees who had left Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam since the 1970s. Some 370,000 Cambodians on the Thai–Cambodian border were repatriated during 1992–93. The 36,000 Cambodian refugees who fled their country after the political and military events of 1997 were repatriated by 1999, and three border camps were subsequently closed. In 1986, the Thai government began forcibly repatriating many refugees from Laos. The last refugee camp for Vietnamese was closed in February 1997.
In June 1998, the Thai government formally requested increased assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for some 100,000 Karen and Karenni refugees living in 11 camps in Thailand along the Myanmar border. A comprehensive registration of the border population was completed through the joint efforts of the Thai government and UNHCR in 1999. In 2004, there were 121,139 refugees almost entirely from Myanmar, and 1,044 asylum seekers.
The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as zero migrants per 1,000 population. Worker remittances in 2003 were $2.8 billion.
Thailand contains more than 30 ethnic groups varying in history, language, religion, appearance, and patterns of livelihood. However, the Thai, akin to the Lao of Laos, the Shan of Myanmar (Burma); and the Thai groupings of southern China comprise about 75% of the total population of Thailand. The Thai may be divided into three major groups and three minor groups. Major groups are the Central Thai (Siamese) of the Central Valley; the Eastern Thai (Lao) of the Northeast (Khorat); the Northern Thai (Lao) of North Thailand; and the Southern Thain (Chao Pak Thai) of peninsular Thailand. Minor groups are the Phuthai of northeastern Khorat, the Shan of the far northwestern corner of northern Thailand, and the Lue in the northeastern section of northern Thailand. The several branches of Thai are united by a common language.
A major ethnic minority are the Chinese, who account for about 14% of the total population. They are generally engaged in business and commerce throughout the country. Other varied ethnic groups account for the remaining 11% of the population. Malays (3–4%) live in the southern peninsula near the border and, to a lesser extent, along the southeast coast; Khmers (1%) are settled all along the Cambodian border from the Mekong to the Gulf of Thailand and Vietnamese or Annamese are found in the southern Khorat and on the southeast coast. Small numbers of residents from India, Europe, and the United States live mainly in urban areas. Principal tribal groups, mainly hill peoples, include the Kui and Kaleung, in the northeast; the Mons, living mainly on the peninsula along the Burmese border; and the Karens, living along the northern Burmese border. There are, in addition, some 20 other minority groups, including the Akha, Musso, Meo, Kamuk, Tin, Lawa, and So; most of these peoples, primitive and small in number, live by shifting cultivation in rugged, isolated mountain or dense forest terrain.
Many of the hill tribe members, called "highlanders" by some, have faced government restrictions due to lack of legal documentation of nationality and citizenship. Citizenship is not granted automatically to children born of undocumented parents. The government has been working to ease requirements for documentation of highlanders, but progress has been slow; an estimated 500,000 highlanders are still undocumented as citizens, and so do not have the right to own land or to equal protection under labor laws.
The Thai language, with northern, eastern, central (Bangkok or official Thai), and southern dialects, all distantly related to Chinese, prevails throughout the country. Thai, written in a distinctive alphabet, is thought to be part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, although links to Indian languages are also evident. The Thai dialects for the most part are mutually intelligible only with difficulty. Although the ethnic minorities (including the Malays) generally speak their own languages, Thai is widely understood. The Chinese population is largely bilingual. All official documents are in the central Thai language and script, although English, taught in many secondary schools and colleges, is also used in official and commercial circles.
According to government statistics, Theravada Buddhism is the religion of about 94% of the population. However, other nongovernmental agencies and religious groups estimate that the number of Buddhists is only about 85–90%, and in practice, the religious life of Thailand may be described as spirit worship overlaid or mixed in varying degrees with Buddhist and Brahman beliefs imported from India.
While the government estimates that 5% of the population are Muslim, nongovernmental agencies place the number at about 10% of the population, including the Malay ethnic minority. Among the other ethnic minorities, the Chinese practice a traditional mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship. Most Vietnamese are Mahayana Buddhists and most Indians are Hindus (0.1% of the population). Christians have been active in Thailand since the 17th century and account for an estimated 1–2% of the population. Christian churches are primarily Protestant and belong to one of four umbrella organizations in the country, the largest of which is the Evangelical Foundation of Thailand. There are small Baha'i and Jewish communities.
At least six tribal groups which include 500,000–600,000 people; they practice a variety of syncretic customs that draw from animism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Taoism.
Though the constitution does not designate a state religion, Theravada Buddhism is basically practiced as such. The constitution stipulates that the monarch must be a Buddhist and only Buddhists are employed by the government. Religious groups must register under the Religious Affairs Department. Some government subsidies are offered to Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian groups. The government has made efforts to promote interfaith understanding, particularly through regular meetings of the Subcommittee on Religious Affairs, organized through the National Identity Promotion Office.
Thailand's transportation system is not fully developed, but it is growing rapidly. Owned and operated by the government, the railways, consisting in 2004 of 4,071 km (2,530 mi) of track (all of it narrow gauge), radiate from Bangkok to Malaysia in the south, to the Cambodian border in the east, to Ubon Ratchathani and Nong Khai in the northeast, and to Chiang Mai in the north.
The highway system, significantly expanded during the 1960s and 1970s, serves many areas inaccessible to railway. In 2001 there were 64,600 km (40,142 mi) of roadway, including 62,985 km (39,139 mi) of paved road. Modern two-lane highways now connect Bangkok with the rest of the country. In 2003, registered motor vehicles totaled 7,695,000, including 3,115,000 passenger cars and 4,580,000 commercial vehicles.
Waterways, both river and canal, are Thailand's most important means of inland transport. They carry much of the nation's bulk freight over a network of some 4,000 km (2,500 mi). The Chao Phraya River with its tributaries is the main traffic artery, and Bangkok is its focal point. The modern port of Bangkok at Klong Toey is the chief port for international shipping. Lying some 40 km (25 mi) inland from the sea, its harbor is navigable for vessels up to 10,000 tons, but constant dredging of the Chao Phraya is necessary. To relieve the congestion at Klong Toey, a new modern port was being developed at Sattahip, a former US naval base, and new seaports at Laem Chabang and Hap Ta Phut. Phuket Harbor in southern Thailand has been improved to accommodate 15,000-ton cargo ships. An extensive shipping service also exists along the Gulf of Thailand, and a small Thai merchant fleet plies between local and neighboring ports. In 2005, there were 386 oceangoing vessels of more than 1,000 GRT, totaling 2,038,597 GRT.
Since the end of World War II, Bangkok has become an important center of international aviation. In 2004 there were an estimated 109 airports. As of 2005, a total of 65 had paved runways, and there were three heliports. Principal airports include Bangkok International at Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai at Haadyai, and Phuket International at Phuket. The government-owned Thai Airways International and Thai Airways Co. handle international and domestic air traffic, respectively. In 2003, scheduled airline traffic carried about 16.632 million passengers and 1,764 million ton-km of freight.
Archaeological excavations in the 1970s in Ban Chiang, northeastern Thailand, yielded traces of a Bronze Age people, dating as far back as 3600 bc predating Bronze cultures in China and the Middle East. The technical achievements of the Ban Chiang society, as surmised from archaeological evidence, indicate the existence of a settled agrarian people with advanced knowledge of bronze and iron metallurgy. Moreover, the skills demonstrating in their pottery, housing, and printing of silk textiles reflect at least 2,000 years of prior development, a finding that challenges previous concepts of incipient civilization and technology, and Southeast Asia's role in it.
The Thai descended from the ancient Pamir plateau peoples. The Pamir, who are racially related to the Chinese, migrated from southern China to mainland Southeast Asia. While in southern China, the Thai created the powerful Nan-Chao kingdom, but continued pressure from Chinese and Tibetans and the final destruction by Kublai Khan in 1253 forced the Thai southward across the mountain passes into Southeast Asia. After entering the valley of the Chao Phraya River, they defeated and dispersed the Khmer settlers, ancestors of the Cambodians, and established the Kingdom of Thailand.
By the mid-14th century, the Thai expanded and centralized their kingdom at the expense of the Lao, Burmese, and Cambodians. Although Thailand developed trading contacts with the Dutch and Portuguese and with the French and British in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, it remained a feudal state with a powerful court of nobles. During the reigns of Mongkut (1851–68) and his son Chulalongkorn (1868–1910), however, Thailand emerged from feudalism and entered the modern world. A cabinet of foreign advisers was formed; commercial treaties of friendship were signed with the British (1855) and with the United States and France (1856); the power of nobles was curtailed, slavery abolished, and many court practices, such as prostration in the royal presence, were ended.
The Thai government continued as an absolute monarchy despite the progressive policies of Mongkut and Chulalongkorn. In 1932, however, a bloodless revolution of Westernized intellectuals led to a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has experienced multiple constitutions, changes of government, and military coups. With the government in a state of flux, political parties tended to cluster around strong personalities rather than political ideologies. At the start of World War II, Thailand, after annexing Burmese and Malayan territories, signed an alliance with Japan and declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom. From 1932 through the 1940s, political life in Thailand centered around Pridi Banomyong and Marshal Phibul Songgram and thereafter around Marshal Sarit Thanarat, until his death in 1963. Sarit's handpicked heir, Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, subsequently emerged as the country's political leader.
After the war, Thailand became an ally of the United States through their common membership in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), and various other bilateral treaties and agreements. In January 1965, China announced the formation of the Thailand Patriotic Front, whose purpose was "to strive for the national independence" of Thailand. A limited insurgency subsequently developed in the North and Northeast, growing in intensity in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the Southeast Asian conflict raged on Thailand's northern and northeastern borders. As a SEATO member, Thailand took a direct role in the Vietnam war and supplied a small number of troops in support of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Furthermore, it granted US forces the use of air bases in Thailand for massive bombing sorties against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Vietcong. US forces stationed in Thailand increased to as many as 25,000 by the end of 1972. With the termination of the direct US combat role in Vietnam in early 1973, the United States began a gradual withdrawal of military personnel from Thailand. In March 1976, the Thai government ordered the United States to close its remaining military installations in the country and to remove all but a few military aid personnel by July. The communist insurgency continued, with sporadic armed attacks on the government in remote northeastern border provinces.
Internally, Thailand weathered a series of political upheavals in the 1970s. In November 1971, Marshal Thanom, who had been reconfirmed as prime minister in the 1969 general elections, led a bloodless military coup that abrogated the constitution and imposed a state of martial law. In December 1972, an interim constitution that preserved military rule caused student and labor groups to agitate for greater representation in Thai politics. By early October 1973, demonstrations erupted into riots, and on 14 October, Marshal Thanom resigned and quit the country. King Bhumibol Adulyadej stepped into the vacuum and named a national legislative assembly to draft a new constitution. On 7 October 1974, the new constitution—the tenth such document to be promulgated in Thailand since 1932—went into effect. On 26 January 1975, Thailand held its first truly open parliamentary elections since 1957. Some 42 parties competed in the balloting, which produced a coalition government under Seni Pramoj. In March 1975, Seni's government resigned following a no-confidence vote and a right-wing coalition government led by Kukrit Pramoj (Seni's brother) subsequently assumed control, but it too resigned in January 1976. Elections held in April restored Seni Pramoj to power as head of a four-party coalition, but when civil disorder again erupted among students in Bangkok, he was overthrown by the military. The military-led government declared martial law, banned strikes and political parties, and enacted yet another constitution. Promulgation of a subsequent constitution in December 1978 paved the way for elections in 1979, 1983, and 1986. On 9 September 1985, the military swiftly diffused an abortive military coup within several hours. General Prem Tinsulanonda was appointed for a third term as prime minister following the 1986 elections.
Insurgents based in Laos and Cambodia contributed to the nation's political instability by launching guerrilla attacks on the country. Furthermore, an upsurge in the number of refugees from Laos and Cambodia contributed to a humanitarian crisis. In 1979, the government estimated the number of insurgents at 10,000. Following the Vietnamese victory in Cambodia in January 1979, thousands of insurgents took advantage of a government offer of amnesty and surrendered to Thai security forces while others were apprehended subsequently. By the beginning of 1986, fewer than 1,000 Communist insurgents remained active, according to government estimates.
During 1985 and 1986, the Progress Party gained power when cabinet ministers were replaced. A parliamentary defeat over proposed vehicle tax legislation resulted in the dissolution of the House of Representatives. In July 1986 a general election for an enlarged house took place. General Prem formed a coalition government and served as prime minister but opposition parties accused his government of corruption and mismanagement. Additional dissent arose over proposed copyright legislation aimed at controlling counterfeiting of Western products and intellectual property. In 1988 General Prem dissolved summarily the House of Representatives and announced a general election. In the July 1988 election, the Chart Thai gained the largest number of seats. Although its leader, General Chatichai Choonhavan, declared his unsuitability for prime minister, he was appointed to the position. General Chatichai took an active role in foreign affairs and made bold initiatives to improve relations with Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. His support declined as his preoccupation with foreign affairs was considered a detriment to his handling of domestic issues, especially regarding government response in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon in November 1989. In July 1990, accusations of corruption led to a motion of "no confidence" that failed to muster a majority in the House of Representatives. In December of that year, General Chatichai resigned as prime minister, only to be reappointed the next day, enabling him to form a new coalition government.
On 23 February 1991, a bloodless military coup led by the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC) ousted Chatichai's government alleging massive and systemic corruption. The NPKC declared martial law, abrogated the constitution, and dissolved the cabinet. An interim constitution approved by the king was published in March 1991. A former diplomat and business executive, Anand Panyarachun, was appointed prime minister. Despite public protest, a draft constitution presented in November was approved on 7 December 1991.
In March 1992, General Suchinda became prime minister amid continued unrest. Two months later, Major General Chamlong called for the resignation of Suchinda and an amendment to the constitution at a rally attended by 100,000 demonstrators. Chamlong pledged that he would fast to death, but gave the government a one-week grace period to amend the constitution to prohibit the appointment of an unelected prime minister. When it appeared that the government might renege on this agreement, the peaceful demonstrations resumed. On 17 May 1992, about 150,000 demonstrators met at Sanam Luang parade grounds in central Bangkok. Leaders called for the demonstrators to walk toward Government House down Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Demonstrators broke through roadblocks established by the police and set fire to vehicles and a nearby police station. At 4 am on 18 May the demonstrators were counterattacked with armored vehicles and machine-guns. Government forces arrested Chamlong and killed over 100 demonstrators and detained several thousands. Four days of violence ended with intervention by the king. On 24 May, Suchinda resigned after political leaders guaranteed amnesty to military officers that participated in quelling the demonstrations. On 10 June, the national assembly approved the constitutional amendments, including the prohibition of unelected politicians from forming a cabinet. A general election followed on 13 September 1992, and Chuan Leekpai, leader of the winning Democratic Party, became prime minister.
Chuan's policies emphasized four goals: to eradicate corrupt practices, to reduce the powers of the appointed Senate, to decentralize government from Bangkok to the provinces, and to enhance rural development. Beginning in 1993 and into 1994, Chuan's government faced two "no confidence" motions in parliament, but the government emerged stronger after they failed. In 1994, Chamlong and Palang Dharma became more assertive in demands for constitutional reform, decentralization of state power, and progress in solving Bangkok's traffic problems, which are some of the worst in the world—some commutes reportedly taking up to six hours.
Ultimately corruption charges brought Chuan's governing coalition down. In late 1994, the New Aspirations Party (NAP), led by Chavalit Yongchaiyadh, left the ruling coalition over a planned electoral reform. In May 1995, prior to a vote of no confidence, Chuan dissolved parliament and called for new elections. Having served two years of a four-year term as prime minister, Chuan became Thailand's longest serving civilian leader in the modern era.
During the campaigning leading to the July 1995 elections, politicians spent 17 billion baht buying votes, a seemingly intractable problem. However, the otherwise fair balloting was won by the Chart Thai party, which took 92 (of 391) seats. The former PM, Chuan's Democrats secured 86; the NAP took 57; and Palang Dharma lost heavily, going from 47 to 23 seats. Chart Thai selected as its PM Banharn Silpa-archa. In appointing his cabinet, however, Banharn was immediately perceived as favoring the old corrupted elite, especially when he gave important ministerial posts to Montri Pongpanich and Chalerm Yubamroong, both of whom were well known for their ill-gotten wealth. Even the king, who is revered by Thai society, expressed dissatisfied with the caliber of the new ministers.
Not surprisingly, Banharn's government collapsed before the end of 1996 and elections took place on 17 November 1996. Chart Thai went from 96 seats to 39 as the NAP, led by coalition parties, and Minister of Defense Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, emerged victorious. They swept into power going from 57 seats to 125. Placing second in the balloting was the Democratic Party. Chavalit, one of Thailand's more respected politicians, vowed to appoint a cabinet of technocrats (he called them the "dream team") rather than cronies, and to rescue the Thai economy which had been faltering. Despite his pledge, however, 1997 was a disastrous year for the Thai economy. In mid-May, the stock market collapsed and speculative currency trading hammered the baht. The government intervened, but conditions deteriorated so badly that by July the government decided to float the baht, which had been pegged to the US dollar, causing a precipitous drop. In one day, the currency fell more than 17% against the dollar. The floating of the baht caused international headlines as neighboring Asian countries frantically scrambled to protect their own currencies. By September 1997, the crisis had spread to Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Failing to adjust to the crisis, the Minister of Finance Thanong resigned in October 1997 while students demanded the resignation of Chavalit. Despite a reshuffling of the cabinet in an attempt to placate Chart Pattana, Prime Minister Chavalit resigned on November 6. In November, Chuan Leepkai formed a coalition government that included his Democratic Party, Chart Thai, the SAP, Ekkaparb, the Seirtham Party, Palang Dharma, the Thai Party, and a majority of the Prachakorn Thai Party. Despite the perceived integrity of Chuan, the Thai baht continued to experience devaluation. The fragile government survived a no confidence vote in March 1998.
By May 1998, the Thai economy stabilized and began to recover slowly despite the swirling of allegations of corruption that led to the resignation of two ministers. The government accepted a significant International Monetary Fund bailout package and promised to deregulate the economy and adopt transparency. In March 1999, a major privatization bill passed the National Assembly, which allowed government enterprises to become corporate entities without legislative action. On 5 October 1998, Chuan reorganized the government and invited Chart Pattana into the government, extending the coalition's majority in the House of Representatives to 257. In April 1999, the leader of the NAP, Chavalit temporarily resigned as leader of the party in order to prepare for upcoming general elections.
In March 2000, the first ever Senate elections took place in accord with the 1997 constitution. The nonpartisan elections fielded 1,521 candidates who, by law, refrained from campaigning.
In general elections held in January 2001, media tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) Party won a major victory, making him prime minister. The new party took 248 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, and Thaksin formed a coalition government with the Chart Thai (Thai Nation) Party and New Aspiration Party. The elections were marked by voting irregularities. Thaksin promised to help small businessmen and farmers in Thailand, pledging to postpone farmers' debts for three years and allocate credit of approximately us$23,000 each to more than 70,000 villages.
In March, a plane that Thaksin was due to board in Bangkok exploded, in what was regarded as an attempted assassination plot.
During 2001 and 2002, relations between Myanmar and Thailand improved. The two countries held talks in June 2001, attempting to ameliorate disagreements over the drug trade and border tensions. By September, Myanmar pledged to eliminate drug trade in the Golden Triangle by 2005. Thailand committed funds to finance a crop substitution program, and the two countries regarded themselves as good neighbors. However, in May 2002, Myanmar closed its border with Thailand after the Thai army fired shells into Myanmar's territory during a battle between Myanmar's army and ethnic Shan rebels. The border was reopened in October.
On 29 January 2003 riots broke out in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh over comments attributed to a Thai actress that Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex was stolen from Thailand. Thailand initially suspended all economic cooperation and business dealings with Cambodia, and closed the border. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to pay us$46.7 million in compensation for the damage done to Thai businesses. Thailand was due to partially reopen its border with Cambodia on 8 February.
Thailand became a focal point for unrest in January 2004, when a militant movement revived an insurgency in the predominantly Muslim southern part of the country. Southern Thailand is a popular vacation spot for American and European tourists, and the revenue that this region generates for the country is substantial. In an effort to contain the violence, the Thai government imposed emergency powers on the region. This action has had little effect on quelling the insurgency, and as of late 2005, violence related to Islamic insurgent activity had claimed more than 1,000 lives. Although the insurgency did not appear to be drawing support from international Islamic terrorist organizations, fear that such groups would enter the conflict persisted in 2005. In hopes of easing unrest, the Thai government also launched an unusual attempt at peace making when it invited schoolchildren in 2004 to fold origami paper cranes to be dropped by airplane over the troubled province. Nearly 120 million cranes were dropped on 6 December 2004 by 50 warplanes, as a gesture that also honored the 77th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Militants responded to the gesture by attempting to set off a 22-pound bomb near an area where people had gathered to wait for the cranes. The bomb was discovered and safely defused.
Outbreaks of bird flu between 2002 and 2005 posed further threats to Thai tourism and had claimed 13 lives as of October 2005. The Thai Public Health Ministry announced on 25 October that it would send 400,000 health workers and 900,000 volunteers to scour the country's 21 provinces in search of signs of the deadly virus.
On 26 December 2004, the tourism industry suffered an even deeper blow. Catastrophic tsunami waves triggered by a massive earthquake swept the nation's southwestern area, causing devastation at many of its resorts. More than 5,400 people were killed in the disaster, and Thai officials reported in June 2005 that losses to the tourism industry could run as high as $1.2 billion. The economic impact of the tsunami disaster and continuing unrest in southern Thailand made the Thai Rak Thai government's hold on power increasingly fragile in 2005.
Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932. The present king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, ascended to the monarchy in 1946 and became Rama IX on 5 May 1950. Until 1958, Thailand was governed under a constitution originally promulgated in December 1932. In October 1958, however, the constitution was suspended, and three months later the king proclaimed an interim basic law providing for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Nine years in the making, a new constitution was promulgated in June 1968, and the first elections under it were held in 1969. In November 1971, Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn overturned the document despite being chosen by its rules.
A period of martial law under a national executive council ensued, with the military continuing in power through an interim constitution. A new constitution, promulgated in 1974, was suspended and replaced by martial law in 1976 when civil disorder ensued. The 1976 constitution was abrogated after an October 1977 coup and under an interim constitution, the king empowered a legislative assembly to draft a new governing document. This constitution, approved by the legislature on 18 December 1978, lifted the ban on political parties and eased some of the martial law provisions imposed in 1976.
On 23 February 1991, the National Peacekeeping Council (NPKC), led by the supreme commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, General Sundhara Kongsompong, took over the administration of the country. On 9 December 1991, the NPKC promulgated a new constitution. It provided for a national assembly comprised of elected representatives and an appointed senate, and a cabinet headed by an appointed prime minister. This charter was sympathetic to the needs of the military and gave the junta power over the senate. Protests that resulted in the deaths of pro-democracy demonstrators between 17–20 May 1992 quickly led to a constitutional amendment to provide for an elected prime minister and to curb some of the appointed senate's power. This constitutional amendment was approved by the national assembly on 10 June 1992 and required the prime minister to be a member of the house of representatives. In addition, the revised constitution significantly cut back the powers of the senate by ruling that the speaker of the lower house will be president of the parliament (previously it was the speaker of the senate). The senate is also barred from initiating, or taking part in, "no-confidence" motions. The first elections under these reforms were held on 13 September 1992.
Efforts to amend the constitution again came before parliament in April 1994, and the seven government-sponsored amendments were defeated. These amendments sought to reform Thailand's political structure by institutionalizing political parties and increase the role of the legislature. Prolonged debate and political indecision prevented the passage of these amendments until 27 September 1997, when the new constitution passed with the king's endorsement. According to this constitution, the house of representatives would consist of 500 members, with 400 selected by respective constituencies and 100 seats allocated by proportional representation of all parties exceeding the 5% threshold of popular votes. In an attempt to stabilize the political situation and institutionalize parties, the new constitution requires representatives to resign their seat if they renounce or switch their party membership. The senate, to consist of 200 nonpartisan members, requires all members to hold at least a baccalaureate. Members of both the house and senate serve four-year terms.
Constitutional government in Thailand has been hindered by traditional public apathy, and political parties generally have been formed by military personalities rather than around political issues and programs. Military leader Phibul Songgram, who became prime minister in 1938, did not favor political parties. Phibul's immediate postwar successor, the pro-Japanese Pridi Banomyong, encouraged the growth of parties, but these were generally ineffective, primarily because of Thai inexperience with such institutions.
Upon Phibul and other military leaders' return to power in 1947, parties were banned. In a move designed to undercut a growing threat from other soldiers, Phibul reinstated political parties in 1955 in preparation of the elections for 1957. A new coup, led by Marshal Sarit Thanarat, deposed Phibul in 1957 and again banned political parties. Following the promulgation of a new constitution in June 1968, parties were again legalized and hotly contested the 1969 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn's United Thai People's Party won a plurality (76) of the 219 seats in the House of Representatives, giving it a majority in partnership with 72 "independents" supported by Deputy Premier (and army chief) Praphas Charusathien. The Democrat Party, led by civilian politician Seni Pramoj, won 56 seats, becoming the chief opposition party. Following Marshal Thanom's 1971 coup, political activity again subsided in favor of the military. The collapse of military rule in October 1973 led to a resurgence of civilian political groups. In the parliamentary elections of 26 January 1975, 2,193 candidates from 42 political parties contested 269 seats in the House of Representatives. Voter apathy remained a problem, however, as only 47% of the electorate (33% in Bangkok) took part. The conservative Bangkok-based Democrat Party emerged with a meager plurality of 72 seats, thereby failing to secure a majority coalition. On 13 March, Kukrit Pramoj, leader of the Social Action Party (SAP), which held 18 seats, was elected prime minister in a controversial vote; he formed a ruling rightwing coalition with the Social Justice Party (45 seats), the Chart Thai (28 seats), and four smaller groups. The coalition collapsed in January 1975, and in new elections held on 4 April, Seni Pramoj gained the premiership.
In the bloodless military coup of 23 February 1991 by the National Peacekeeping Council (NPKC), General Chatichai's government was turned out. The NPKC promulgated a provisional constitution, and after a brief period paved the way for a civilian interim government headed by Anand Panyarachun. A general election was held 22 March 1992, with 15 parties contesting 360 seats with 2,185 candidates. Persistent vote buying marred an election in which 59.2% of the electorate voted. Results were: Samakkhi Tham (79), Chart Thai (74), New Aspiration Party (72), DP (44), and Palang Dharma (41). A coalition government controlling 195 seats in the House of Representatives was comprised of Samakkhi Tham, Chart Thai, Pratchakorn Thai, the SAP and Rassadorn parties. Narong Wongman was proposed as prime minister until the United States made allegations of Narong's involvement in illegal drug trafficking. In April 1992, General Suchinda was named prime minister. His appointment as an unelected prime minister met with immediate protest. Agreement was reached to amend the constitution to prevent an unelected prime minister, but an apparent change of mind by the government resulted in violent rioting. Suchinda resigned and constitutional amendments were approved by parliament on 10 June. The National Democratic Front, four parties that had opposed the military government, the DP, the New Aspiration Party, Palang Dharma, and Ekkaparb, formed an alliance to contest the elections called for in September 1992.In the wake of the 1976 coup, massive arrests were made of liberal and leftist political elements; political parties were banned, and martial law instituted. Political activity was restored and martial rule partially relaxed under the 1978 constitution. Subsequent elections, held on 22 April 1979, gave no party a clear majority. The SAP won a plurality of 82 seats, and the Thai Nation Party finished second with 38. Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, who became prime minister in March 1980, formed a new coalition government after the April 1983 elections, in which the SAP emerged with a plurality of 92 seats. Several days after the elections, the Thai Nation Party, which had won 73 seats, subsumed the Siam Democratic Party, which controlled 18. In subsequent elections on 27 July 1986, the Bangkok-based Democrat Party improved its position greatly, winning 100 seats. The Thai Nation Party won 63, and the SAP, 51. These three parties, along with the small Rassadorn—or People's—Party which won 18 seats, formed a new coalition, but with Gen. Prem again as prime minister. The election campaign and balloting were marred by scattered incidents of violence.
In the 13 September 1992 general election 12 parties contested 360 seats in the House of Representatives. Voter turnout was 62.1%. Election results were: the DP (79), Chart Thai (77), Chart Pattana (60), New Aspiration Party (51), and SAP (22). The DP formed a coalition party with Palang Dharma (47 seats) and Ekkaparb (Solidarity) for control of 185 of the 360 seats. The SAP was invited to join the coalition. The leader of the DP, Chuan Leekpai, was named prime minister. Chuan served for two years—the longest continuous civilian rule in modern times—before scandal brought his government down in May 1995. Elections were held in July 1995 which were won by Chart Thai, taking 92 of the expanded body's 391 seats. Chuan's Democratic Party was next with 86 seats; the NAP took 57 and Phalang Dharma slipped from 47 to 23 seats. Banharn Silpa-archa was appointed prime minister, and was almost immediately assailed by the press—and even the king—for assembling a government of largely discredited cronies.
Banharn's coalition lasted barely 14 months and new elections were held in November 1996, the results of which were as follows: NAP, 125 seats; Democratic Party, 123; Chart Pattana, 52; Chart Thai, 39; SAP, 20; Prachakorn Thai Party, 18; Solidarity Party, 8; Seritham Party, 4; Muan Chan Party, 2; Phalang Dharma, 1; Thai Party, 1. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh became prime minister in January 1997. He resigned in November, and Chuan Leekpai once again formed a coalition government including his Democratic Party, Chart Thai, the SAP, Ekkaparb, the Sirtham Party, Palang Dharma, the Thai Party, and a majority of the Prachakorn Thai Party. Constitutional changes, promulgated on 11 October 1997 increased party discipline and loyalty. It requires representatives to resign their seat if they switch or renounce their party affiliations.
General elections were held on 6 January 2001, which were won by the new Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") Party, led by Thaksin Shinawatra, who became prime minister. Thaksin, a multi-millionaire telecommunications tycoon, took almost twice as many seats as his rivals, but fell short of an outright majority. Thai Rak Thai took 248 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, and the Democratic Party of outgoing Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai won 128 seats. Thaksin's coaltion included the New Aspiration Party and the Chart Thai Party. The elections were marred by allegations of fraud and vote-buying. The results of 62 constituencies were thrown out because of voting irregularities, more than half of the disqualifications earned by candidates from Thai Rak Thai. Those constituencies held reelections on 29 January. Thaksin was indicted by the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) in December 2000 for failing to report some of his wealth. In August 2001, the Thai constitutional court voted eight to seven to acquit Thaksin of assets concealment.
Thaksin retained a secure grip on power, and was re-appointed prime minister on 11 March 2005 following the Thai Rak Thai's victory in the lower House of Representatives on 6 February 2005. The Thai Rak Thai's showing in the elections was unusual; it marked only the second time in Thailand's 73 years of democratic elections that a single party controlled the country. The election outcome also made Thaksin the first prime minister in Thailand's history to have completed a full four-year term. The Thai Rak Thai leadership is supported by the Machachon Party, with the Democrat and Chart Thai parties comprising the main opposition. Senate elections were scheduled for March 2006, and the next House of Representatives election was to take place in 2009.
Thailand is divided into 76 administrative provinces (changwats ), each under the control of an appointed governor responsible to the Ministry of the Interior. Bangkok is sub-divided into 50 districts or "khets." As of 2001, in addition to the provinces, there were 795 districts, 81 minor districts, 7,255 subdistricts or tambon and 70,865 villages. Numerous changes went into effect with the promulgation of the new constitution in 1997. All local administrators are now elected directly by popular suffrage or by the approval of a local assembly. Furthermore, local government officials are prohibited from holding a permanent national position or receiving additional compensation from government related positions.
The 1997 constitution provided for an independent judiciary and the guarantee of basic civil liberties. Courts of the first instance, juvenile courts, and magistrates' courts exist in Bangkok and in each of the provincial capitals. There are nine regional courts of appeal, and a Court of Appeal, sitting in Bangkok, hears cases for the entire kingdom. The Supreme Court, also in Bangkok, consists of at least three judges and decides only on points of law. Judges in Thailand are appointed (and removed) by the king. All appointments are subject to initial approval by a judicial commission. There is no trial by jury in Thailand.
The constitution also provided for establishment of a constitutional tribunal to adjudicate disputes among the courts. Military courts deal primarily with military justice, but have broader jurisdiction when martial law is in force. There is no appeal of decisions by military courts. Defendants in ordinary criminal courts are afforded a wide range of procedural due process protections. Although there is no right to counsel during the investigative phase of cases, detainees are afforded access to counsel during trial.
Islamic courts hear civil cases concerning members of the Muslim minority, whose comprise approximately 6.4% of the country's population. The legal system is based on civil law with common law influence.
The armed forces of Thailand in 2005 consisted of 306,600 active duty personnel and 200,000 reservists. The Army numbered 190,000 personnel and whose equipment inventory included 333 main battle tanks, 515 light tanks, over 32 reconnaissance vehicles, 950 armored personnel carriers, more than 2,473 artillery pieces and five attack helicopters. The Air Force was estimated to have 46,000 active personnel with 165 combat capable aircraft, that included 87 fighter/fighter ground attack aircraft, plus transport, training, and helicopter units. The Navy had 70,600 active personnel, which included 23,000 Marines and 1,940 naval aviation personnel. Major naval vessels included one aircraft carrier, 12 frigates, five corvettes and 110 patrol/coastal vessels. The naval aviation arm included seven fighter ground attack aircraft, nine maritime patrol aircraft and six antisubmarine warfare helicopters. Paramilitary forces had an estimated manpower of 113,700, which included the 41,000 member Border Patrol Police, the 2,200 member Marine Police and the 45,000 member National Security Volunteer Corps. In 2005, Thailand's defense budget totaled $1.95 billion.
Thailand, a member of the United Nations since 16 December 1946, is the headquarters for ESCAP and belongs to several non-regional specialized agencies, such as UNSECO, UNHCR, the FAO, the World Bank, ILO, IAEA, and the WHO. The country is a member of the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, the Colombo Plan, G-77, and the WTO. Thailand has observer status in the OAS and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and is a partner in the OSCE.
Thailand is identified more closely than most Asian countries with the Western nations largely because of its alliance with the Untied States. The nation is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In 1995 Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to coordinate development in the region. In environmental cooperation, Thailand is the Basel Convention, Ramsar, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.
Thailand's economy more than tripled in the decade after 1986, achieving approximately 9% real growth annually from 1989 to 1996, before it became an epicenter of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, a regional crisis of investor confidence. Thailand's real GDP declined 1.4% in 1997, and then plunged 10.5% in 1998. In early 1997, the Bank of Thailand spent about $30 billion in foreign exchange reserves trying to defend the baht's value in terms of a basket of currencies against speculation against it, and then on 2 July 1997 abandoned the peg, and allowed the currency to float. The subsequent rapid fall in the baht's value—from 25 bahts to 1 US dollar down to a low of about 53 bahts to 1 US dollar by January 1998—was the proximate cause of the financial crisis that left most business in Thailand technically bankrupt. A $17.2 billion international bailout package was quickly arranged through the IMF, which seeded the loans with a stand-by line of credit running from 20 August 1997 to 19 June 2000 of about $2 billion, subject to a program of economic reform conditionals. Moderate growth returned in 1999 and 2000 (4.4% and 4.6%, respectively), but then dropped to an anemic 1.8% in 2001 in the face of the global economic slowdown and the halving of foreign direct investment worldwide following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Nevertheless, by 2002 the economy had recovered to its precrisis level, with a 5.41% GDP growth rate. The GDP growth rate stood at 6.74% in 2003, 6.2% in 2004, and was estimated at 4.6% in 2005. The drop from 2004 to 2005 was caused in part by high oil prices, a drought, the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, unrest in the Muslim south of the country, and a downturn in the global electronics industry. Growth was projected to average 4.7% a year in 2006–07, driven by higher investment demand as the government embarked on an ambitious infrastructure development program, including electricity generation, transportation, housing, irrigation, health, and education.
Structurally the economy has continued to mature. From 1986 to 1996, agriculture employed about 57% of the labor force while agriculture's contribution to the GDP dropped from 16.7% to about 10%. In 2005, agriculture accounted for 9.3% of the GDP, and as of 2000 employed 49% of the labor force. Thailand has developed a mobile labor market in which many workers migrate between agricultural jobs in the country and self-employment and/or light industry jobs in the cities and industrialized zones. Official unemployment was at a low of 1.5% in the last boom years, 1996 and 1997, and then peaked at 4.4% in 1998. Postcrisis, unemployment rates have slowly declined to 4.2% in 1999, 3.6% in 2000, 3.3% in 2001, 2.4% in 2002, 2.2% in 2003, and to 1.4% as of September 2005. The government's decision not to forcibly repatriate a large number of foreign workers, implementing instead its first "amnesty" program in September 2001 (which gave work permits to about 360,000 foreign migrants employed mostly in semiskilled jobs in the fisheries and construction), has helped slow the decline of the unemployment rate. Official figures, moreover, do not adequately reflect the seasonal unemployment of about two million agricultural workers during one third of the year. Overall, the shift of workers out of agriculture continues particularly in the northeast, where agriculture is less productive, providing a steady inflow of workers to Bangkok and other industrialized areas who contribute to Thailand's expanding and diversified manufacturing and construction sectors. Manufacturing grew by 17% in 1995 and accounted for 33% of GDP, up from 22% in 1992. In 2002, manufacturing's share of GDP was up to 36.5%. In all, industrial production in 2002 was at 22% above the level attained in 1995 according to the country's industrial production index. The industrial production growth rate was estimated at 8.2% in 2005.
The Thai manufacturing sector is notable for its wide diversity, with rapid growth in the production of computers and electronics, automobiles, garments, footwear, synthetic fibers, furniture and wood products. In its efforts to recover economic momentum, Thailand faces strong competition from China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where cheap labor diminishes the competitiveness of Thailand's labor-intensive industries.
Inflation appears to be under control. In the last years of the 1986–96 boom, the annual inflation rate averaged between 5% and 6% as measured by the consumer price index (CPI). The rate increased to 8% in 1998, but in 1999 had fallen to a negligible 0.3%. In 2000 and 2001, inflation was less than 2% (1.6% and 1.7%), and was only 0.6% for 2002. By 2005, the inflation rate had risen to an estimated 4.8%, but lower global oil prices from mid-2006 were projected to lead to lower inflation in 2007.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Thailand's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $545.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $8,300. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.6%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 4.8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 9.3% of GDP, industry 45.1%, and services 45.6%.
According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $1.601 billion or about $26 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.1% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to -$966 million or about -$16 per capita and accounted for approximately -0.7% of the gross national income (GNI).
The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Thailand totaled $81.01 billion or about $1,307 per capita based on a GDP of $143.0 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.4%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 23% of household consumption was spent on food, 5% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 13% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 10% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
Thailand's labor force in 2005 was estimated at 35.36 million (compared with 21.7 million in 1981 and 15.1 million in 1967). In 2003, agriculture and related occupations accounted for 44.9% of the workforce, with industry at 19.7%, services at 35.3%, and 0.1% in undefined occupations. In September 2005, unemployment was put at 1.4%.
Because of persisting government opposition to unions, organized labor was not a major factor in Thai life prior to the 1970s. Labor legislation in 1969 delineated certain basic workers' rights, and unions were granted greater freedom to organize under the Labor Relations Act of 1975. The Thai Trade Union Congress is the largest labor federation. As of 2002, only 2% of the labor force (11% of industrial workers) was unionized. Minimum daily wage rates in 2002 ranged from $3.01 to $3.71 depending on the cost of living in different provinces. Legislation regulating hours and conditions of labor, workers' compensation, and welfare also exists, however, these laws are weakly enforced.
While forced labor is prohibited by the Thai constitution, there are reports that workers are physically prevented from leaving some sweatshops, especially ones which employ illegal immigrants from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. These same sweatshops have also been accused of using physical coercion to meet production goals.
The minimum working age was raised to 15 in 1998, but this law has not traditionally been effectively enforced. As of 2002, it was estimated that there were one million children working on family farms. Another 240,000 to 410,000 children were working in urban areas.
With some 17.7 million hectares (43.7 million acres) of farm land, of which about 9.2 million hectares (22.7 million acres) are under rice cultivation, Thailand continues to rely heavily on agriculture, although the country has suffered from declining export prices in recent years. Rice is the major crop grown; Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter. Total rice production amounted to 17.07 million tons in 2004/05. The government has embarked on largescale irrigation projects and introduced higher-yielding varieties of rice in an effort to increase production. In 2004, agricultural products accounted for 12.4% of exports and Thailand's agricultural trade surplus was over $8 billion (8th in the world).
Rubber, also a major export, is grown on the peninsula and, to a lesser extent, on the southeast coast. Total production in 2004 was 3,030,000 tons, the highest in the world and accounting for 31% of all production that year. Demand for natural rubber is growing along with the international concern about AIDS. Sugarcane production reached 67.9 million tons, while output of cassava (tapioca), traditionally important in Thailand, totaled 20.4 million tons. Thailand provides about 95% of the world's cassava exports. Much of the harvest is processed into chips and pellets and exported to the EU for fodder. Higher EU tariffs, however, have caused the Thai government to promote dairy, fruit, rubber, and cashew farming instead. Corn production, which has increased significantly in recent decades, reached 4.09 million tons in 2004. One third of annual corn production is consumed annually as fodder, with the remainder being exported to Europe and Japan. Kenaf, tobacco, cotton, and kapok are cultivated mainly for domestic use, but quantities of jute, cocoa, peanuts, soybeans, and medical plants are exported. Canned pineapple and fresh flowers, especially orchids, are important exports. The Thai government's official policy of encouraging mountain villagers to grow coffee, apples, strawberries, kidney beans, and other temperate crops instead of the lucrative opium poppy and marijuana has had some success; another aim of the project is to discourage deforestation through slash-and-burn cultivation. In 1987, King Bhumibol Adulyedej received a Magsaysay Award for International Understanding for his 20 years of effort in this area.
In the mid-1970s, farmers began to organize to express their discontent over the disparity between farm and nonfarm incomes. To improve farm conditions, the government legitimized squatters' rights to nearly 500,000 hectares (1,236,000 acres) of land classified as forest reserve and established credit and crop insurance programs for farmers. The government Marketing Organization for Farmers, founded in 1975, allows farmers to buy fertilizers, machinery, and equipment at the lowest possible prices and assists in crop marketing. It is also government policy to channel revenues from agricultural export taxes to a welfare fund called the Farmers Assistance Fund.
Cattle, used for plowing and harrowing, are important to rice farming, and most rural households have some cattle as well as hogs, chickens, and ducks. In 2005, Thailand had 5.5 million head of cattle, 1.8 million head of buffalo, 7.2 million hogs, and 50,000 sheep. Other livestock included 260 million chickens and 17 million ducks. Elephants, important as draft animals in rural areas, are used to haul teak. Crocodiles, raised for their skins, are a specialty livestock product; in 2003, 10,987 tons of Siamese crocodile were produced. Production of animal products in 2005 included (in tons): meat, 1,896,859; milk, 900,000; eggs, 694,000; cattle skins, 48,300; and silk, 1,600.
Fish is a major protein element in the Thai diet. Freshwater fish, abundantly found in rivers and canals, and marine fish (from the waters along the lengthy coastline) produced a catch of 3,590,452 tons in 2003 (7th in the world), as compared with 846,600 tons in 1967. Leading marine species in the 2003 harvest included (in tons): sardines, 148,564; anchovies, 157,556; Indian mackerels, 150,800; and threadfin breams, 104,505. Thailand exports cured fish to neighboring countries, and frozen shrimp and prawns mainly to Japan. In 2003, Thailand accounted for 6.1% of the world's exports of fish and fish products, valued at over $3,906 million. Giant tiger prawn, tilapias, hybrid catfish, and green mussels accounted for most of the aquacultural volume.
Thailand's forested area declined from 53% of the nation's land area in 1961 to only 28% by 2000, mainly as a result of the continued use of slash-and-burn practices by farmers. The government's 2002–06 development plan has the objective for forests once again to cover 40% of the land area, of which 25% would be conservation forest and 15% would be for timber. Of Thailand's 17.01 million hectares (42.03 million acres) of forest in 2004, over 50% lies in the north, where teak and pine predominate. About 96% of the forest area is natural forest and the rest is reforestation and secondary growth. Rubber trees, planted mostly in the south, make up 10% of the forest area. The remainder consists of yang (keruing) plantations and rosewood, other species used as fuel, and smaller mangrove forests and conifers. Teak, once a major export, has declined in importance, largely because of government restrictions on cutting and past depletion of the forests through excessive harvesting and inadequate replanting. Yang, pradu, takien, krabak, and krabok are other traditional hardwoods that have suffered severe production declines. Thailand imposed a ban on logging government-owned timber in 1989. Lac, a resinous insect substance found on trees, has always had value for the Thai, but its derivatives—seedlac, sticklac, and shellac—have also found a ready international market. Other important forestry products include charcoal, gums and resins, and kapok fiber and seed.
In 2004 production of roundwood was estimated at 27.8 million cu m (980.9 million cu ft), with 72% used as fuel. Production of tropical hardwood products in 2004 included (in cubic meters): sawn wood, 288,000; veneer, 165,000; and plywood, 100,000. Thailand is a negligible exporter of tropical logs and lumber. However, Thailand now exports primarily value-added wood products (mostly furniture, picture frames, utensils, and other items). Exports of wood products in 2004 totaled $870.9 million. Imports of logs, timber, and wood products in 2004 were valued at $1,033 million.
Thailand in 2004, was one of the world's leading producers of feldspar and gypsum and was a leading exporter of each, as well as of cement. In addition to feldspar and gypsum, tin metal, tantalum powder and zinc metal were leading export minerals for Thailand. The country also had considerable resources of diatomite, dolomite, limestone, potash, rock salt, and a wide variety of other industrial minerals. In 2000, Other important minerals were barite, natural gas, gemstones, lead, crude petroleum, and silica. Except for gypsum, and tin and its by-products (ilmenite, monazite, struverite, tantalum, and zircon), most mineral production was for domestic consumption. Thailand is a net importer of minerals, mainly because of its large import bills for coal, crude petroleum, iron and steel, primary aluminum, refined copper, gold, refined lead, and silver. Thailand's resources of most metallic minerals and fuel minerals are small. The mining and quarrying sector, which accounted for 2.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, grew by 4.9% in that year, and accounted for approximately 3% of the nation's labor forcer.
Tin concentrate production (gross weight) in 2004 totaled 724 metric tons, down from 980 metric tons in 2003. Tin was mined mainly on the southern peninsula, of which 52% was produced from offshore dredging. Tin production has been steadily declining in the face of falling world prices and output curbs. Tungsten concentrate output (gross weight) in 2004 was 337 metric tons. Other metal minerals exploited on a small scale included antimony, cadmium, iron ore, lead, manganese, tantalum, zinc, and zirconium. Iron ore production (gross weight) which totaled 50 metric tons in 2001, leaped to 570,110 metric tons in 2002, fell to 9,675 metric tons in 2003 and then shot upward again in 2004 to 135,580 metric tons. Gold and silver output in 2004 totaled 4,500 kg and 10,700 kg, respectively. There was no production of monazite rare earths from 2000 through 2004.
Among industrial minerals in 2004: feldspar output was 1,001,053 metric tons, up from 824,990 metric tons in 2003; gypsum production was 7.619 million metric tons, up from 7.291 million metric tons in 2003; hydraulic cement production was 35.626 million metric tons, up from 32.530 million metric tons in 2003. Thailand also produced barite, ball clay, kaolin clay, diatomite, metallurgical-grade fluorspar, gemstones, phosphate rock, salt, silica sand (glass), stone (calcite, dolomite, limestone, marble, marl, quartz, and shale), and talc and pyrophyllite. In addition, resources of bentonite and copper have been identified. Exploration in the past five years has focused on copper, gold, and potash. Thailand could soon become an important producer of potash in Asia and the Pacific region. The Somboon deposit was estimated to contain more than 300 million tons of sylvinite ore, with prospects for a two million ton per year potash mine, and the Udon deposit was estimated to contain more resources than the Somboon deposit. One copper deposit, at the Puthep project, near Loei, had ore reserves of 42 million tons of heap-leachable ore at a grade of 0.52% copper.
The government's underlying policy has been to conserve the country's mineral resources and to shift the emphasis to exploration, development, and exploitation of minerals consumed domestically, such as ball clay, feldspar, gypsum, kaolin, silica sand, limestone, lignite, phosphate, potash, rock salt, and zinc, and away from minerals that were predominantly exported, such as antimony, barite, fluorite, tantalum-columbium, tin, and tungsten. Thailand's mining industry consisted of a small mining and mineral-processing sector for ferrous and nonferrous metals, and a large mining and mineral-processing sector for industrial minerals. All mining and mineral-processing businesses except coal, natural gas, and crude petroleum were owned and operated by private companies.
Thailand is a net importer of oil and natural gas. However, ongoing strong economic growth is increasing demand for energy.
Thailand is heavily dependent on imports of foreign oil. As of 1 January 2004, the country's proven oil reserves were estimated at 583 million barrels, with crude oil refining capacity for that date estimated at 703,100 barrels per day. Production of oil in 2003 was estimated to average 259,000 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 96,000 barrels per day. Demand however, for that same year was estimated to average 851,000 barrels per day, thus requiring imports that year estimated to average 592,000 barrels per year.
Thailand's proven reserves of natural gas, as of 1 January 2004, were estimated at 13.3 trillion cu ft. In 2002, natural gas output was estimated at 685 billion cu ft, with demand that same year, estimated at 904 billion cu ft. Much of the natural consumed by Thailand is used to generate electricity.
Thailand also possesses recoverable coal reserves that as of December 31, 1999, stood at 1.4 billion short tons. In 2002, coal production was estimated at 21.8 million short tons, with demand that year estimated at 28.1 billion short tons.
In 2002, Thailand's electric power generating capacity was put at 20.929 million kW, of which 17.992 million kW of capacity consisted of conventional thermal fuel sources. Hydroelectric capacity in 2002 came to 2.936 million kW, with geothermal/other sources accounting for 0.001 million kW. Total national output of electricity in 2002 was 102.866 billion kWh, of which 90.9% came from fossil fuel power plants and hydropower for 7.1%, and other renewable sources for the rest. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 95.992 billion kWh.
Seven government agencies supervise the Thai industrial sector: the Ministries of Finance, Commerce, and Industry, the Board of Investment, the Industrial Finance Corporation, the Bank of Thailand, and the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), are in charge of formulating five year development plans. In 1982, an eighth agency, the Industrial Restructuring Committee, was created to coordinate the other seven and to formulate policy proposals in line with economic development plans. The main protective measures Thailand has used are import tariffs and price controls. Tariffs, low in the 1960s, were increased in the 1970s, some to above 90%, and price controls were pervasive. As part of the fifth economic development plan, 1982–86, the government began to lower tariffs and relax price controls. In the economic boom of the early 1990s, trade liberation was continued particularly as the protection of infant industries became less important for Thailand's industrial growth than reducing the cost of imported capital goods and spare parts for rapidly expanding sectors like the automotive industry and electronics.
Manufacturing grew at an average rate of 12% annually in the 1960s and 10% in the 1970s. However, in the wake of the second oil shock in 1978–79, rising interest rates reduced global demand and falling commodity prices adversely affected manufacturing growth. In the period 1971 to 1985 Thailand continued to import most of its manufactures, although there was impressive growth in some sectors. The production of food products nearly tripled, textiles grew by over 500%, and transportation equipment showed even greater growth.
With the collapse of oil prices in 1986, Thailand was propelled into a decade-long boom led by its industrial sector in which the economy more than tripled, ending in the collapse of the baht in early July 1997. Automobile production increased 750% 1986 to 1996, from 74,162 vehicles to a peak of 559,428. Annual growth for automobile production averaged 42.6% 1986 to 1990, and, after a 7% decline in the global recession of 1991, 15% 1992 to 1996. It was the world's fastest-expanding automotive industry and Thailand also became the world's second-largest producer of motorcycles and pick-up trucks. Thai automobile producers invested in capacity expansion on the expectation that demand would grow to about one million cars a year, but the onset of the Asian financial crisis meant that these expectations were unmet. Production fell 35.6% to 360,303 units in 1997 and then another 56.1% to 158,130 units in 1998. Recovery began in 1999, with a 106.9% increase to 327,101 units, and 2000, with a further 25.9% increase to 411,721 units. By 2002, Thailand was on track to match the precrisis peak, with a projected production of 560,000 (56% of capacity). Similarly, motorcycle production by 2001 and 2002 had recovered to match the one-million-plus record set in 1997. By 2004, Thailand had dubbed itself the "Detroit of Asia," and set a production target of one million automobiles for that year; in fact, Thailand produced 928,091 automotive vehicles in 2004, 24% more than 2003. The automotive and auto parts industry was worth $17.5 billion in 2004, generating the country's second-highest level of export revenue after computer and electronic parts. This represented approximately 12% of GDP. Thailand's automobile sector consists of 17 companies, the four largest being Auto Alliance Thailand, Toyota Motor Thailand, MMC Sittiphol, and Isuzu Motor Thailand, which together account for over 70% of production capacity.
By contrast, the cement industry, dependent more on the recovery of domestic demand, has not achieved precrisis production levels. Construction, one of the three leading growth sectors in the boom (with manufacturing and financial services), was the most severely impacted by the financial crisis. While the overall economy decreased 1.4% in 1997 and 10.5% in 1998, construction fell about 25% in 1997 and then over 38% in 1999, as landscapes that had been dominated by construction cranes were transformed into ones dominated by "For Sale" signs and unfinished buildings. Growth did not return to construction until 2002. Annual cement production, which grew from 18,834,000 metric tons in 1990 to a peak of 36,943,000 metric tons in 1997, was at 28,611,000 metric tons in 2002. Thailand produced 35,626,000 metric tons of cement in 2004.
Textiles and garments remain Thailand's largest industry. This includes synthetic fibers production, which in 1995 was growing at a 25% annual rate, one of the fastest in the economy. About two-thirds of the output are ready-to-wear garments destined for markets in the United States and Western Europe. In 2005, there were an estimated 4,500 textile firms employing more than one million workers. By 2002 precrisis production levels had been achieved and slightly bettered, but with a significant proportion of capacity unutilized. In 2004, Thailand produced 845,820 metric tons of spun textile products, and 893,859 metric tons of synthetic fiber products.
Since 1985, electronics has been Thailand's leading manufacturing export sector, employing about 300,000 workers. Annual growth in electronics production has averaged over 20% over the 1990s, with about 80% of the output exported. In 2000, electronics constituted one-third of all exports. Unlike most other manufacturing sectors, electronics production continued to grow during the financial crisis: the devaluation of the baht only made Thai electronic exports more competitive. Leading products include fully assembled computers, computer accessories, and integrated circuits in addition to a wide range of consumer electronics products. In 2004, Thailand produced 9.8 billion integrated circuits.
Among the ASEAN nations during the decade of boom, Thailand became the largest producer of petrochemicals as well as cement and textiles. Unlike most other industries, the refineries continued running near capacity during the crisis years 1997 to 1999. Refinery outputs reached 777,000 barrels per day in 1997, up 225% from 1990, then fell 4.6% in 1998 before recovering to a new high of 809,000 barrels per day (up 9.2%) in 1999. As of 2005, Thailand had four oil refineries and a total refining capacity of 703,100 barrels per day. The largest refineries are run by Shell Company of Thailand Ltd. at Rayong, Thai Oil Company Ltd. at Sriracha, and Esso Standard Thailand Ltd. at Sriracha. Over a third of refined production is distillate fuel oil, production of which increased 350% 1990 to 1999. Motor gasoline and residual fuel oil each account for about 18% of refined outputs, which grew in triple digits, 186% and 126%, respectively, during the 1990s. Other important refinery outputs include jet fuel and liquefied petroleum gases.
One industry that showed uninterrupted annual increases during the crisis was the production of beer, the output of which grew 6.7% 1997 to 1998, and another 6.2% 1998 to 1999. Across the 1990s beer production increased 370%. In 2004, Thailand produced 1.6 billion liters of beer.
The lack of skilled workers remains a drag on industrial development. Many students seek technical training overseas, and some receive postgraduate education in specialized technical subjects at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok (founded in 1959), which offers advanced degrees in agricultural engineering, human settlements, and computer applications. The institute also operates receiving equipment for LANDSAT transmissions that provide Southeast Asian countries with the aerial surveys vital to agricultural development, forest inventories, and city planning.
Scientific organizations include the Medical Association of Thailand (founded in 1921); the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research (1963), the principle government research agency; and the Science Society of Thailand (1948), all headquartered in Bangkok. National science policy is the responsibility of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy. Research and development (R&D) expenditures in 2002 totaled $1,050.722 million, or 0.24% of GDP. In 2001, there were 289 scientists and engineers, and 116 technicians engaged in research and development per million people. High technology exports in 2002 were valued at $15.234 billion, accounting for 31% of the country's manufactured exports.
In addition to the Asian Institution of Technology, 15 other universities offer courses in basic and applied sciences. In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 18% of college and university enrollments.
Bangkok, the port of entry and distribution point for the whole country, is the commercial center of Thailand; all foreign firms have their main offices there. Other commercially important cities are Chiang Mai (teak, rice, and textiles), Ubon Ratchathani (rice, jute, and leather), Phuket (tin), and Songkhla (rubber).
Many essential commodities are grown and consumed by the producer, or distributed at the local level. Production for the domestic market has continued to increase led by high growth industries such as construction materials, foods and beverages, and electronic appliances. In the greater Bangkok metropolitan area, almost every kind of retail outlet is represented, including specialty shops and over 40 department stores. There are about 250,000 retail outlets within the country, mostly small establishments. Department stores, discount stores, hypermarkets, and convenience stores are all available. Both local and foreign franchise firms have been successful. Rather than shop in traditional "wet markets," a growing number of Thai consumers are utilizing western-style supermarkets. Direct marketing, mail order, and television shopping have all become popular, particularly as credit cards have become more widely accepted. Newspaper, radio, television, and motion picture advertising is available.
Usual business hours are from 8:30 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Shops are open from 9 or 10 am to 8 or 9 pm, and banks from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.
The annual Bangkok fair in December, originally conceived for entertainment, has developed into a trade fair.
Thailand supplies the world with a large proportion of its natural rubber, rice, and seafood exports. Thailand is an exporter of automobiles and auto parts, electronic goods, and textiles and apparel. In 2004, the major exports, in percentage terms, were: machinery and mechanical appliances (13.5% of all exports); electrical apparatus for circuits (13.2%); computers and parts (9.4%); and electrical appliances (8.8%). The major imports were: electrical machinery (14% of all imports); fuel and lubricants (10.8%); non-electronic machinery (10.2%); and base metals (9.8%). Thailand's leading markets in 2004 were: the United States (16.1% of all exports); Japan (14%); China (7.4%); and Singapore (7.3%). The leading suppliers were: Japan (23.8% of all imports); the United States (8.6%); China (7.7%); and Malaysia (5.8%).
In 1996, a weakening economy and a decline in export growth created a current account deficit that amounted to 8% of GDP. Simultaneously, high interest rates and a currency tied to the dollar attracted
|China, Hong Kong SAR||4,326.5||1,074.0||3,252.5|
|Other Asia nes||2,588.9||3,230.3||-641.4|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
|Balance on goods||11,606.0|
|Balance on services||-2,729.0|
|Balance on income||-1,802.0|
|Direct investment abroad||-558.0|
|Direct investment in Thailand||1,866.0|
|Portfolio investment assets||-937.0|
|Portfolio investment liabilities||302.0|
|Other investment assets||-416.0|
|Other investment liabilities||-8,441.0|
|Net Errors and Omissions||736.0|
|Reserves and Related Items||-518.0|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
tracted money to an economy without sufficient productive assets to support the inflow. The government was forced to pursue a high interest-rate policy to protect the currency. When the cost of doing so got too high, the government let the currency float against the dollar, which resulted in a 20% devaluation. By mid-1997, Thailand's short-term debt obligations had reached $23.4 billion, consuming three-quarters of its foreign reserve holdings. In August of 1997, Thailand agreed to an economic restructuring package with the IMF that included $10–20 billion in standby credits. The GDP contracted by 10.8% in 1998, compared with an average growth rate of 8.5% from 1990 to 1996. The economy since the 1997–98 crisis subsequently rebounded, and strong export performance drove economic growth in 1999–2000. Nevertheless, structural reform was still needed, especially in agriculture, education, and small- and medium-sized businesses. Growth declined in 2001, due in part to the global economic downturn, a downturn in export demand, a slow pace of corporate debt restructuring, and a struggling financial sector. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) negatively impacted trade and travel in 2003.
Thailand ran a merchandise trade surplus of $10.6 billion and a current-account surplus of $6.6 billion (equivalent to 4.1% of GDP) in 2004. The country's diversified export base comprises agricultural commodities and manufactures, although 80% of exports now consist of manufactured goods, many of which are dependent upon imported inputs.
The central bank is the Bank of Thailand, established in 1942. It operates as an independent body under government supervision; its entire capital is owned by the government. The Bank issues notes, a function previously handled by the Ministry of Finance.
The financial sector is broad and diverse. In 2002 there were 33 commercial banks operating the Thailand, 13 domestic and 19 foreign owned. The top three Thai banks are Krung Thai Bank, Bangkok Bank, and Thai Farmers Bank. Many of Thailand's domestic banks are owned by a few wealthy Chinese families. Shareholdings in even the largest banks, led by Bangkok Bank and the Thai Farmers Bank, are structured to insure family control. US banks with full branches in Thailand include Citibank, Chase Manhattan Bank, and Bank of America.
In general, Thai banks have suffered management problems in recent years and are having difficulty in complying with capital-adequacy and other requirements set by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). The baht currency crisis dealt a severe blow to the banking industry and has prompted a major restructuring of the banking industry. By mid-2000, nonperforming loans accounted for about a third of total lending, down from a peak of almost 48% mid-1999. Thai banks are being forced to accept big write-offs by selling nonperforming loans for as little as 30% of the loan's face value.
The Thai domestic banking system has been criticized for failing to mobilize adequate domestic savings and for not offering adequate incentives to savers. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $14.4 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds—was $119.3 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 2%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 3.75%.
Thailand's first public stock exchange was opened in Bangkok on 30 April 1975 (the Securities Exchange of Thailand-SET). All of its 30 members were Thai-owned securities firms. The Ministry of Finance encourages companies to go public by reducing income tax for listed companies and also by according favorable tax treatment of dividends. It was not until the late 1980s that the market was taken seriously by the international and domestic financial communities. Because of the Asian financial crisis, the stock exchange lost its appeal as a source of corporate funds. In 1998, however, a four-year downward trend was reversed on news of a strengthened baht. The rally could not be sustained and by years end the SET index was down 4.5%, a substantial improvement over the 55% decline in 1997. In all, the exchange lists 449 companies with a combined market capitalization of just over $36 billion. The turnover ratio is high at over 109%. The SET index was up 12.9% in 2001, at 303.9. As of 2004, at total of 465 companies were listed by the combined SET and the Market for Alternative Investment, which had a market capitalization of $115.400 billion. In that same year, the SET fell 13.5% from the previous year to 668.1. The turnover ratio in that same year was 95.8%.
There is a wide variety of insurance companies doing business in Thailand, including the American International Assurance Co., the Asian Reinsurance Corp., Assets Insurance Co., Bangkok Insurance Public Co., Commercial Union Assurance Co., Guardian Assurance Co., Indara Insurance Public Co., Navakij Insurance Public Co., Paiboon Insurance Co., Phatra Insurance Co., Safety Insurance Co., Samaggi Insurance Co., the Thai Insurance Public Co., the Viriyah Insurance Co., and Wilson Insurance Co. In Thailand, both workers' compensation and third-party automobile liability are compulsory. The government's company, however, holds a monopoly on workers' compensation insurance. As of 2003, foreign investors were only allowed to own 25% of a Thai insurance company, but these regulations were slated to be relaxed within 10 years. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $4.932 billion, of which life insurance premiums accounted for $3.222 billion. For that same year, Thailand's top nonlife insurer was Viriyah, which had gross written nonlife premiums totaling $229.1 million, while the country's leading life insurer, AIA, had gross written life insurance premium of $1,526.8 million.
Only a few utilities—power generation, transportation, and communications—are owned by the government, which is fiscally conservative in what is essentially a free-enterprise system. Following the Asian financial crisis of 1998, the Royal Government of Thailand took strong macroeconomic steps to stimulate the economy. By 2005, it appeared the country was among the few in the region that had recovered.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Thailand's central government took in revenues of approximately $30.6 billion and had expenditures of $31.7 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$1.1 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 35.9% of GDP. Total external debt was $50.63 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were b1,159.4 billion and expenditures were b1,038.6 billion. The value of revenues was us$28 million and expenditures us$25 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = b41.485 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 13.5%; defense, 7.3%; public order and safety, 6.0%; economic affairs, 23.3%; environmental protection, 0.1%; housing and community amenities,
|Revenue and Grants||1,159.4||100.0%|
|General public services||140.2||13.5%|
|Public order and safety||62.8||6.0%|
|Housing and community amenities||39.6||3.8%|
|Recreational, culture, and religion||7.9||0.8%|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
3.8%; health, 10.7%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.8%; education, 22.8%; and social protection, 11.6%.
Thailand, as of 2005, had a progressive personal income tax structure with a top rate of 37%, and that is applied to the person's total income, including dividends from stock and capital gains. Business and individual citizens are also subject to a host of indirect taxes, including customs duties, sales tax, and excise taxes.
Corporate income taxes on net profits are levied at a flat rate of 30%. However, small and medium companies, and those firms newly listed on the national stock exchange, can opt for lower rates. Companies involved in certain types of projects can also qualify for various reliefs and exemptions. In addition, there is a 10% profits remission tax and a 5% tax on gross income if the profits of a nonresident company cannot be determined. Capital gains are treated as ordinary business income and are subject to the corporate rate. Dividends are subject to a 10% withholding tax, but those received by one resident company from another resident company may qualify for a 50% exclusion, although the full amount may be excluded, if certain conditions are met. Generally interest income and royalty income are subject to withholding taxes of 15%.
As of 1 October 2005, Thailand had a value-added tax (VAT) rate of 10% on goods, services and imports. However, exports, international transport are zero-rated. Domestic transport, rents from immovable property and educational and health services are exempt. In addition, a municipal tax is levied on certain businesses.
There are excise taxes on tobacco, petroleum products, alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, and other products. Automobiles are subject to a special tax based on engine size.
Thailand has double taxation treaties with 33 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, and Germany. The US treaty has been in force since January 1998.
Thailand's customs tariff is primarily for revenue, although in a limited fashion it protects local industry. No preferential treatment is afforded any country and all goods are subject to the general rate. Only a few goods require import licenses, including some foods, materials, and industrial products. Products banned from import include aerosol mixtures of vinyl chloride monomers (for health reasons) and products constituting trademark infringement.
The Thai government began to reduce tariffs in 1994, although progress was impeded in 1997 due to a shortfall in government revenue. Still, duties that had ranged between 30% and 60% have been cut to between 1% and 45%, with the total number of tariff bands reduced from 39 to 6. There is a zero rate for essential items like medical equipment and fertilizer. The rate is 30% for certain items designated as needing special protection, like fabrics, clothing, refrigerators, and air conditioners. In addition to tariffs, some imports designated as luxury goods are subject to an excise tax. Import surcharges, designed to deter imports, were imposed in 1981 at rates between 5% and 30% on certain fibers, piston rings, palm oil, and telephones.
Thailand is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). ASEAN members have established the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which promotes reduced tariffs on most processed agricultural and industrial products traded among ASEAN countries. A proposal to link the economies of Australia and New Zealand to AFTA is also under discussion.
Growth of the Thai economy has been directly related to the flow of investments from abroad. In order to stimulate such investment, the government passed the Industrial Promotion Act (1962), which established the Board of Investment for Industry, renamed the Board of Investment (BOI) in 1972. National Executive Council Announcement Number 218, otherwise known as the Alien Business Law of 1972, restricted the participation of non-Thai nationals in certain types of business activities. The BOI, the powers and responsibilities of which were broadened in 1977, grants the following benefits to promoted industries: guarantees against nationalization and competition from government industries; exemption from import duties and business tax on plant, machinery, spare parts, and raw materials; exemption from duty on exports; exemption from tax on corporate income for a specified period; and repatriation of capital and remittance of profits abroad. In the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the Thai government embarked on an IMF-supervised program designed to make the economy more open and transparent for foreign investment. The 1972 Alien Business Law was replaced by the Alien Business Act of 1999, which opened additional business sectors to foreign investors, and raised the maximum ownership in some cases to above the old 49% limit. Limits on foreign ownership are most prominent in the financial sector, although now up to 100% ownership is permitted in Thai financial institutions for up to 10 years. A number of restrictions affect portfolio investments so that Thai authorities can track foreign investment.
In 1999 legislation was passed establishing a new bankruptcy court as well as new bankruptcy and foreclosure procedures, allowing, for instance, creditors to pursue payment from loan guarantors. Restrictions on property ownership were liberalized through amendment to the Land Code, the Condominium Act and the Property Leasing Act. Many of the reforms met political and were only partially and inconsistently implemented. In 2001 in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States there was a world wide contraction in foreign direct investment (FDI) and the government instituted a number of incentives to compete for scarcer investment funds, including tax incentives for firms to locate their regional headquarters in Thailand and several new government-backed investment funds to attract foreign money. To support its industrial exports, Thailand has 11 export processing zones located within industrial estates to which businesses may import raw materials and export finished products duty free. Also, factories may apply to establish bonded warehouses on their premises to which raw materials used exclusively to produce exports may be imported duty free.
According to the BOI, in 1997 the net flow of FDI to Thailand was about $3.3 billion and then more than doubled to $7.4 billion in 1998. Net portfolio investment, by contrast, peaked at $4.6 billion in 1997 and then fell to $0.3 billion in 1998. FDI decreased from $5.7 billion in 1999 to $3.8 billion in 2001 to an estimated $2.7 billion in 2002. The inflow of foreign investment has in any case been insufficient to offset the loan repayments Thailand has been making since the onset of the financial crisis. The balance on its capital and financial account reached a low of -$12.6 billion in 1998, but in 2002 this had moderated to a -$4.2 billion. The major sources of FDI in 2001, excluding bank recapitalization, were Singapore and Malaysia, both the source of direct investment totaling over $1.5 billion, followed by Japan, contributing about $1.3 billion. Industry and services, particularly tourism, were the two major recipients of FDI in 2001. According to the Bank of Thailand, net direct investment from Thailand to other countries was negative in both 2000 and 2001, at -$52 million and -$171 million, respectively.
FDI, including inflows from the banking sector, totaled $610 million in 2004 (January to October), compared with $1.4 billion in 2003 (January to October). Major FDI recipients included metal and nonmetallic processing, petroleum products, and services sectors. Japan was the largest source of FDI in 2004, followed by Germany and the United States.
The Thai government, vulnerable in its financial dependence on a few primary commodities (rice, rubber, tin, and teak), has pursued a policy of economic diversification through industrial development and increased agricultural production. With the beginning of the first development plan in 1961, the government committed itself to the primacy of private enterprise and to a policy of fostering and assisting it. Thailand has also followed a policy of foreign trade and exchange liberalization. Foreign exchange control is nominal.
Thailand's first five-year plan, covering the period 1961–66, aimed to raise the standard of living by means of greater agricultural, industrial, and power production. In the second development plan (1967–71), emphasis was placed on agricultural development, highways, irrigation, education, and industrial development in the private sector. The third development plan (1972–76) placed special emphasis on improvements in the rural infrastructure, growth in the financial and commercial sectors, and further assistance to crop diversification and to import-substitution industries. The government also committed itself to a reduction in the role of state-owned enterprises. The first three plans did much to increase the standard of living and to bring new roads, irrigation schemes, and land reform to the prosperous Bangkok region. But these changes also increased the income gap between rural and urban Thailand and drew increasing numbers of migrants to the city in search of work. Accordingly, the fourth economic plan, covering the years 1977–81, emphasized decentralization of industry and economic growth from the capital region to the provinces. It also ended the policy of encouraging import-substitution industries and began the promotion of export-oriented industries able to benefit from the nation's low wage rates. Plans were made for the establishment of industrial estates under the direction of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand. The first estate, at Bangchan, 30 km (19 mi) from Bangkok, was fully occupied in 1980 by 51 companies, producing a range of industrial products, including automotive and electrical equipment, chemicals, and processed food. Another industrial estate, established in 1979 at Lard Krabang, also in the Bangkok vicinity, includes, in addition to a general industrial area, a duty-free export-processing zone open to manufacturers willing to establish high value-added and labor-intensive industries for export.
The fifth development plan, covering the years 1982–86, stressed reduction of rural poverty and social tensions and expansion of employment opportunities in the poorer regions. To this end, four investment promotion zones were established. After completion in 1981 of the natural gas pipeline from the Gulf of Thailand, investment priority was reassigned to the Eastern Seaboard Development Program. This ambitious program called for the creation of a new urban-industrial complex in the Rayong-Sattahip region that was expected to draw industries from the congested Bangkok area. Heavy industries were to be emphasized, with early construction of a natural gas separator and plants for the manufacture of soda ash, fertilizers, and petrochemicals. The sixth national economic and social development plan (1986–91) stressed continuing export promotion, streamlining of the public sector, and strict monetary and fiscal policies, with growth targeted at only about 5% yearly. Emphasis was placed on the less capital-intensive industries, and more emphasis was given to improved utilization of resources. The plan targeted private sector investment and initiatives. Privatization of state enterprises would proceed in clear-cut phases, and enterprises were required to seek their own revenue. Agricultural production was forecast to grow at 2.9% per year. The development of small-scale industry, particularly in rural areas, was emphasized. In 1993, the Eastern Seaboard Development Plan southeast of Bangkok—begun 10 years before as a $4 billion investment—demonstrated results with the new port, Laem Chabang. This plan extends greater Bangkok, and the next phases include extending all main national arteries into four-lane highways and double-tracking the railway.
The sixth national development plan coincided with the early part of Thailand's ten-year boom, and most of its economic targets were more than met. The actual average annual rate of real GDP growth—10.5%—was more than twice the targeted 5%. In the seventh development plan, 1992 to 1997, coinciding with the second half of the decade of boom, targets had shifted to a stronger emphasis on balanced, sustained development, and less on growth per se. The plan was formally titled the seventh national development and social development plan. The three official emphases were 1) sustained, moderate growth (though with the target set at a rather heady 8.2% annual real growth rate); 2) redistribution of income and decentralization of planning to achieve reductions in the percent in poverty and in the widening gap between rich and poor; and 3) human resource development. To attain the goals, four sets of policy guidelines were stipulated: policies for stable, noninflationary growth; policies of income redistribution; policies for human resource development and policies for environmental protection. The real GDP growth target was met, though with concern that this was through a combination of a explosive industrial sector growing at an above-target average annual rate of 11.4% and a moribund agricultural sector, growing as below-target annual rate of 1.5%. Inflation averaged only 4.13% a year, better than the 5.6% targeted, but goals to eliminate Thailand's large balance of trade and current account deficits were not met. The average annual savings rate of 9.1% also fell below the plan's ambitious target of 12.8%. Poverty reduction, however, was substantial, with the percent of the population living in poverty falling from 32.6% in 1988 to 11.4% in 1996, which would prove to be its lowest point due to the on-set of the Asian financial crisis the next year. Themes for each region guided development. In the north (Chiang-mai, Lamphrun, and Lampang), light and clean industries are encouraged, such as clothing, high-value electronics, and agro-industry. In the south, transport links and natural gas networks developed between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand would attract heavy industry such as petrochemicals, and cross-border development with Malaysia would link with Penang's industrial sector. Development plans for the impoverished northeast included linking with Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam for processing raw materials from those countries, and for providing services involved with investment and manufacturing in those countries.
Thailand's eighth national development and social development plan, emphasizing again the concern with qualitative as well as quantitative growth, coincided with the on-set of the Asian financial crisis and Thailand's struggle back to precrisis levels of economic activity, 1997 to 2001. The Plan, assuming a continuation of economic growth, put priority on two long-range economic development goals: human development and the replacement of top-down administration with bottom-up processes. Virtually none of the goals of the plan were met as the economy was plunged into recession and high inflation with the collapse of baht in July 1997. Whereas about a million people a year had been lifted out of poverty during the decade of boom, from 1997 to 1999 about a million and a half a year were plunged back into poverty, as the estimated number in poverty rose from 6.8 million to 9.8 million (16% of the population). In August 1997 the eighth economic plan was essentially superceded by the IMF-guided international bailout program that involved a three-year, $17.2 billion support package conditioned on a program of economic reforms. The IMF program did provide from the outset for "the protection of vital health and education expenditures in the central government budget," and, in fact, health expenditures rose by 8% 1997/98 even as revenues fell. The government adhered sufficiently close to the reform program to bring down inflation and replenish foreign reserves, undergirding the reforms with a new constitution. Thailand began repaying the IMF in November 2000 and repaying other lenders in 2001. Net capital flows were negative throughout the five-year planning period but by 2001 had improved to a -$4.9 billion balance from -$12.6 billion in 1998.
The introduction of the ninth national development and social development plan, to run 2001 to 2006, took a philosophical turn as the government presented it as embodying the king's concept of "sufficiency economy" as its guiding principle bestowed on the people as a means of helping his subjects overcome the economic crisis. "Sufficiency economy" was explained as based on adherence to the middle path, and involving moderation not just as a guide for economic policies but as a way of life. Balanced development was to be achieved through a combination of patience, perseverance, diligence, wisdom and prudence. The four pillars of the holistic approach of the ninth plan were social protection, competitiveness, governance, and environmental protection. Within this relatively abstract framework, the more specific elements of the Thaksin government's economic policy strategy in 2001 included the following seven elements: 1) farm debt restructuring, including a three year suspension of some debts owed by poor farmers to state banks; 2) village funds financed by grants of one million baht (about $24,000) to each of the country's roughly 70,000 villages to provide locally administered micro-loans; 3) the transfer of nonperforming loans (NPLs) to the newly established Thai Asset Management Corporation (TAMC), required of state-owned operations and voluntary for private ones, to promote more efficient debt restructuring; 4) special attention to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by state-owned lending agencies; 5) promotion of product specialization by village groups, called the "one tambon (group of five or six villages), one product" scheme inspired by a similar Japanese program; 6) the establishment of the People's Bank, administered through the Government Savings Bank (GSB), allowing GBS account-holders to apply for small loans (up to about 30,000 baht or $370) mainly for small retailing or commercial ventures; and 7) a restructuring of the economy away from heavy dependence on imports and towards more reliance on local resources, especially agricultural.
By 2006, the Thaksin government was using expansionary fiscal policy to enhance economic growth. In its first term the focus was on boosting rural incomes and development, but infrastructure development was the priority for Thaksin's second term. From 2006–09, the government planned to invest $41 billion, or 26% of GDP, in infrastructure, spanning electricity generation, transportation, housing, irrigation, health, and education. Thailand was in need of new investment in 2006: transportation costs weighed heavily upon business, and the telecommunications network was outdated, with only one-tenth of the population connected. The government wanted to turn Thailand into a center for regional trade and business, which explains planned new highways to the north into China and stretching as far west as Myanmar and India. Thailand by 2006 had expanded into a few specialist markets with higher, more defensible profits, such as medical tourism (inexpensive but high quality heart bypasses, cancer care, and cosmetic surgery are a few of the services offered to foreigners), long-stay tourism, and a beginning fashion industry.
Other economic policy objectives include the restoration of a solvent banking sector and poverty reduction. In 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin declared Southeast Asia must not look solely to exports to resuscitate its economic fortunes, but should try to revive domestic consumption, which would help insulate the region from the vagaries of the world economy. His policies suspending farmers' debts, instituting inexpensive universal health care, and the granting of loans to villagers, small businesses, and home-buyers were undertaken to this end. The government also subsidized a variety of goods, from computers to cows, to increase Thais' spending power. Nevertheless, exports remain the chief engine of Thailand's growth, from automobiles to integrated circuits to rice.
The threat of an avian flu epidemic in Southeast Asia was present in 2006. Thailand was still rebuilding its areas affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
A 1990 law established a social security system which began paying disability and death benefits in 1991. Old age benefits (pensions) were introduced in 1998. The pension system is funded by employers, employees, and the government. Old age pensions begin at age 55, and employment mush cease at that time. There is a provision for deferred pension. The social security law also provides for sickness and maternity benefits, which are provided to employees of firms with 10 or more workers. Employers are required to provide workers' compensation coverage, including temporary and permanent disability benefits, and medical and survivor benefits. Maternity benefits are available for two childbirths only.
Women have equal legal rights in most areas, but inequities remain in domestic areas, including divorce and child support. Women constitute more than half of university graduates. Discrimination in hiring persists, and there is a gender gap in wages. Domestic abuse and violence remain a huge problem. Many women are trapped into prostitution through a system of debt bondage. Brothels provide a loan to parents of young women, and these women are required to work as prostitutes to pay off the loan. In many cases, this is done without the consent of the woman involved. As of 2004, prostitution thrived and sex tourism was rampant. Human trafficking is also prevalent.
Many Thai minorities, including many of the hill tribe members, lack any type of documentation. As noncitizens, they do not have full access to education and health care. They lack titles to their land, and may not vote in elections. The government has announced its intention to process and document these groups. Human rights are generally well respected, but some abuses occur. Coerced confessions and the torture of suspects are occasionally reported. Overcrowding in prisons has resulted in poor conditions.
In the 1960s, the government, with UN and US assistance, extended free medical treatment, expanded health education activities in schools and rural areas, and built many hospitals. In the private sector, two-thirds of health care funding comes from employers and private households. A national social security scheme is under way, but private insurers are few. Owing largely to success in eradicating malaria and other tropical diseases, as well as to better sanitation and medical care, health conditions have steadily improved in Thailand.
Health care facilities are concentrated in the Bangkok metropolitan area, where about 15% of the population is located. There are 180 private hospitals and more than 11,000 private clinics. Thai hospitals tend to be small in size. In 2000, 80% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 96% had adequate sanitation. About 59% of the population had access to health care services. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 6% of GDP. In 2004, there were an estimated 30 physicians per 100,000 people.
Common diseases are malaria, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Approximately 13% of children under five years of age were considered malnourished. About 7% of births were of low birth weight. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 16.4 and 7.6 per 1,000 people. It was estimated that 72% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used contraception. In 2005, life expectancy was 71.95 years and infant mortality was 20.16 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality was 44 per 100,000 live births.
The HIV epidemic in Thailand is among the best documented in the world. Among brothel sex workers, the HIV infection rose from 3.5% in 1989 to 33% in late 1994. There were 570,000 AIDS cases reported in 2003. Deaths from AIDS in 2004 numbered 58,000. HIV prevalence was 1.50 per 100 adults.
Most families in Thailand live in dwellings that compare favorably with living facilities anywhere in Southeast Asia. The Thai government has stimulated housing and community development by means of a housing plan that provides government mortgages for building, renovation, or purchase of government land and houses. Under a self-help settlement scheme, the government sets up whole new communities, surveys sites, constructs roads and irrigation systems, and provides public utilities and medical care.
In 1973, to house Bangkok residents who had been living in makeshift shelters, the government formed the National Housing Authority (NHA), which undertook overall responsibility for coordination of public and private housing programs. By 1979, the NHA had completed 54,780 housing units. From 1979 to 1984, a total of 1,442,250 housing units were built in Thailand.
According to the results of the 2000 census, there were about 15,349,500 dwelling units serving 15,662,300 households nationwide. The average household had 3.9 people. About 81% of all dwellings were owner occupied. Nearly 80% of all households lived in detached houses. About 67% of all households lived in nonmunicipal areas. Cement, brick, and wood are the main construction material for about 47.9% of all dwelling units; another 44.7% are made of a mixture of permanent and nonpermanent materials. About 39.2% of all households rely on rainwater as their primary source of drinking water; only 18.3% have tap water for drinking inside their dwelling.
Schooling is compulsory for nine years, including six years of primary school and three years of lower secondary school. Three-year upper secondary schools offer general or vocational studies. Both teacher training and technical and vocational training (especially in agriculture) have been stressed in recent development plans. The academic year runs from June to March.
In 2001, about 85% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 86% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 86% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 21:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 25:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 15% of primary school enrollment and 8.8% of secondary enrollment.
In Bangkok, Chulalongkorn University (founded 1917) is Thailand's most eminent university. Also in Bangkok are the University of Thammasart (founded 1933), specializing in social and political sciences, and Kasetsart University (founded 1943) specializing in agriculture. Newer universities established in provincial areas include Chiang Mai University (founded in 1964), Khon Kaen University (founded in the northeast in 1966), and Prince of Songkhla University (founded in 1968). King Mongkut's Institute of Technology was formed in 1971 through the amalgamation of three institutes, and eight colleges of education were combined into Sri Nakharinwirot University in Bangkok in 1974. A correspondence school, the University of Ramkhamhaeng, opened in Bangkok in 1974 and the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University began operations in 1978. In total there are 16 state universities in addition to 26 privately run colleges. There are also a large number of teacher training colleges. In 2003, it was estimated that about 38% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 92.6%.
As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.2% of GDP, or 28.3% of total government expenditures.
The National Library (founded in 1905) contains over 2.4 million books and over 300,000 manuscripts; The National Library maintains a main library site and eight other sites in Bangkok as well as 17 provincial branch locations. Other important libraries in Bangkok include the Asian Institute of Technology (200,000 volumes), Chulalongkorn University (264,700), the University of Thammasat (231,000), Kasetsart University (313,000), and Sri Nakharinwirot University (299,500). The Library of the Department of Science Services maintains a special collection of 450,000 volumes. Outside Bangkok, sizable collections are maintained at the University of Chiang Mai (655,000) and Khon Kaen University (340,000). The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific holds 150,000 volumes. The public library system includes over 70 sites known as Chalermrajgumaree Public Libraries, which were opened with the support of Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn. There are over 70 additional provincial public libraries and over 650 small district libraries.
The National Museum in Bangkok (founded in 1926) has an extensive collection of Thai artifacts, including sculptures, textiles, ceramics, jewels, coins, weapons, and masks. Many of Bangkok's temples and palaces contain excellent examples of Thai frescoes and sculptures. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha has a famous mural of the Ramayana, the Sanskrit epic, and the Marble Temple contains a fine collection of bronze and stone Buddhas. Bangkok also houses the Bhirasi Institute of Modern Art, the Hill Tribes Museum, the Science Museum, and the Sood Sanquichien Prehistoric Museum and Laboratory. The Hall of Opium Museum is near Chiang Rai. There are dozens of other provincial museums throughout the country.
The Ministry of Communications is responsible for Thailand's public postal, telegraph, and telephone services. The postal service, employing both railway and air mail, operates from the central post office in Bangkok and covers the entire country. Thailand is a member of INTELSAT and maintains trans-Pacific and Indian Ocean satellite communications stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 105 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 582,700 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 394 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.
Ownership of broadcasting is both public and private, but the government and military tend to dominate radio and television networks. There are about six government and military radio networks. The first mainland Asian television station was established in Bangkok in 1955. As of 1999, there were 204 AM and 334 FM radio stations, and 5 television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 235 radios and 300 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 39.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 111 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 258 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
The first daily newspaper, the Siam Daily Advertiser, appeared more than a century ago. In 2002 there were at least 35 daily newspapers published in Bangkok, including seven in Chinese and four in English. The provinces have weekly and semiweekly publications, all in Thai, but no daily papers. Bangkok also has a variety of weekly and monthly periodicals, most appearing in Thai. Among Bangkok's leading daily newspapers (with language of publication and estimated 2002 daily circulation) are: Thai Rath (Thai, 800,000), Naew Na (Thai, 200,000), Matichon Daily News (Thai, 180,000), Diao Siam (Thai, 120,000), Khoa Sod Daily News (Thai, 120,000), Siam Rath (Thai, 120,000), Phaya Crut (Thai, 100,000), Srinakorn Daily News, (Chinese, 80,000), Sing Sian Yit Pao, (Chinese, 70,000), and the Daily Mirror (English, 60,000).
Citizens are said to enjoy constitutionally provided freedom of speech and a free press. However, the law prohibits criticism of the royal family, threats to national security, and insults to Buddhism. Libel laws have caused some media sources to practice self-censorship.
Thailand has an extensive cooperative movement. Credit societies are the dominant type of cooperative; consumer cooperatives are the next largest, followed by agricultural marketing and processing cooperatives. Other kinds of cooperatives, mostly formed during and since the 1930s, include colonization and land improvement cooperatives. Trade organizations under the Ministry of Economic Affairs include the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, and several foreign trade associations. There are many organizations for promoting the interests of workers and business owners of particular industries, such as the Thai Silk Association and the Thai Tapioca Trade Association.
Professional associations promoting research and development include the Agricultural Science Society of Thailand, the Medical Association of Thailand, and Science Society of Thailand. There are a number of ASEAN organizations with a base in Thailand, including the ASEAN Institute for Health Development, ASEAN Institute for Physics, and the ASEAN Solar Energy Network.
Cultural organizations include the Royal Institute (founded 1933); the Thai-Bhara Cultural Lodge (founded 1940), which sponsors studies in the fields of linguistics, philosophy, and religion; and the Siam Society (founded 1904), which issues studies on Thai art, literature, and science. The National Culture Commission was established in 1979. The multinational organization of the World Fellowship of Buddhists is based in Bangkok.
National youth organizations include the Student Federation of Thailand, Junior Chamber, Girl Guides, the National Scout Organization of Thailand, and YMCA/YWCA. There are many sports associations promoting competition for amateur athletes of all ages in variety of pastimes, such as squash, golf, rugby, and football (soccer).
Social action groups include the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, and the National Council of Women of Thailand. There is also the Center for the Protection of Children's Rights Foundation and the multinational Committee for Asian Women. There are national chapters of the Red Cross, UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity, and Amnesty International.
Tourism has become a vital industry in Thailand, offering a range of attractions from outdoor activities to museums and cultural events. Most tourists visit Bangkok and its Buddhist temples (wats). Major sports include football (soccer) and baseball. Thai bull, cock, and fish fighting are also popular (though illegal), along with Thai boxing, golf, badminton, and kite fighting. All visitors must have a passport, visa, and proof of sufficient funds for the stay. Precautions are recommended against typhoid, hepatitis, and malaria.
In 2003, about 10,082,000 foreign nationals visited Thailand. There were 320,565 hotel rooms in 2001, with an occupancy rate of 52%. Visitors to Thailand stayed an average of two nights.
In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Bangkok at $182; in Phuket, $253, and in smaller regions, $118.
Many ancient Thai kings enjoy legendary reputations. Rama Khamheng (the Great), a 13th-century monarch, is traditionally regarded as the inventor of the Thai alphabet; Rama Tibodi I in the 14th century promulgated the first-known Thai laws; Trailok instituted lasting governmental reforms in the 15th century; and Phya Tak in the 18th century rebuilt a war-defeated Thailand. Two great monarchs, Mongkut (r.1851–68) and his son Chulalongkorn (r.1868–1910), became famous for introducing Thailand to the modern world. They are, respectively, the king and his young successor in Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam. Further progress toward modernization was accomplished in by three outstanding premiers: Phibul Songgram (1897–1964), Pridi Banomyong (1900–83), and Sarit Thanarat (1900–63). Prince Wan Waithayakon (1891–1976), foreign minister and Thailand's representative to the UN, played a major role in diplomacy following World War II. Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (1911–2004) was leader of Thailand from 1963 until October 1973, when political protests compelled his resignation as prime minister. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (b.US, 1927) ascended the throne in 1946.
Prince Akat Damkoeng was the author in 1940 of the first modern novel written in Thailand, Yellow Race, White Race. Modern styles in painting and sculpture are reflected in the work of Chitr Buabusaya and Paitun Muangsomboon (b.1922), and the traditional manner in the art of Apai Saratani and Vichitr Chaosanket.
Thailand has no territories or colonies.
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"Thailand." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2586700237.html
"Thailand." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2586700237.html
Kingdom of Thailand
LOCATION AND SIZE.
Situated in Southeast Asia, Thailand is adjoined to Laos and Burma (Myanmar) to the north, Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand to the east, Burma and the Andaman Sea to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Its total area, which is about twice the size of Wyoming, measures 514,000 square kilometers (198,455 square miles). The length of its coastline measures 3,219 kilometers (2,000 miles). Its capital city, Bangkok, is the most populated city in Thailand. Located in the central region, Bangkok is the center of Thailand's economic and political activities. Major cities in the north are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan, and Ubon Ratchathani. Meanwhile, major cities in the south are Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla, Surat Thani, and Hat Yai.
The country's population in 2000 stood at 61.2 million, compared to 55.2 million in 1989, according to the CIA World Factbook. The country's population growth rate from 1988 to 1998 has been estimated at an average of 1.05 percent, according to the Asian Economic Survey. The population is expected to increase by 0.93 percent by 2010. The population is predominantly composed of young people, with 70 percent between the ages of 15 and 64, 24 percent below 15 years old, and only 6 percent older than 64 years.
The majority of the population still resides in rural areas. In 2000, the World Bank reported that approximately 40 percent of the country's population, or 25 million Thais, lived in urban areas and estimates that this will increase to 53 percent by 2010. Bangkok hosts about 12 million Thais.
The majority of the Thai population—75 percent— is of the Thai ethnic group, while 14 percent are Chinese and 11 percent are other ethnic groups. Fully 95 percent of the population is Buddhist, while 3.8 percent are Muslims and the remainder represent a variety of religions.
OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY
The Thai economy is one of the most robust in Asia. In the 1960s it was a predominantly agricultural economy largely dependent on its rich produce of crops such as rice, cassava, maize, rubber, and sugar cane, along with its seafood production, primarily of shrimp. Its strategic location and bountiful natural resources has enabled the country to maximize trade opportunities. The 1980s to mid-1990s marked its boom years and its emergence as a diverse, modern, and industrialized economy.
The economy's growth can be attributed to several factors. First, Thailand has pursued a rational approach to industrialization. Prior to its attempt at industrialization, Thailand already had a stable agricultural sector which became the springboard for industrialization. In the 1960s, its first attempt at industrialization was characterized by the strategy of import substitution which centered mainly on food processing. Hence, Thailand used the produce of its agricultural sector to initiate a shift into industrialization. The availability of local laborers, combined with abundant natural produce, enabled the country to increase production and shift to manufacturing or processing products for export purposes. This led to the rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector and a marked increase in exports. This approach enabled Thailand to avoid the usual path taken by newly industrialized economies (NIEs) of pursuing industrialization at the expense of the agricultural sector. The strategy was to gradually build upon existing resources in order to facilitate the development of the economy.
A second important factor was Thailand's diversification of its economy. This is a pervasive trend in the development of the economy, which is rooted in the innate flexibility of the Thai people. This is exemplified by the stages of growth of the industrial sector which began with simple agri-based manufacturing, and steadily progressed to more sophisticated industries through the use of available resources such as rich natural resources and cheap labor. Diversification was also aided by huge inflows of foreign direct investment geared towards a wide range of products, namely electronics, chemicals, property, and processed food. In the 1980s, foreign direct investment totaled US$8 billion, with US$2.5 billion coming from Japan and the rest from Chinese, Korean, and American investors. In fact, 50 percent of the country's industrial output and 20 percent of its industrial workforce are attributable to foreign investors who are attracted by lower manufacturing costs, according to Thailand's Turn.
A third factor in Thailand's growth is government stability. The administration of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, developed a continuity in policies and programs that inspired the confidence of the private sector in both the government and the economy. This translated to a greater willingness to invest in the growing manufacturing industry and support further expansion of export activities.
Fourth, the dynamism of the private sector propelled export production. In 1981, a landmark policy was implemented which facilitated the formation of the Joint Public-Private Consultative Committee on Economic Problems that enabled businesspersons to influence public policy through their associations. This, in turn, led to an increased participation of the private sector in the development of state enterprises. Economic development in the country was largely propelled by the private sector, which invested heavily in industrial growth; the government had a limited role in determining the direction of the economy.
These factors have contributed greatly to the growth of the country's major economic sectors, namely agriculture and fishing, manufacturing and industry, and services, particularly tourism. In 1991, 98.6 percent of all Thai business enterprises were mainly small and medium enterprises, accounting for 90.7 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively. The Ministry of Industry defines small-scale enterprises as those with a maximum of 50 employees with an equity of 10 million baht, while medium-scale enterprises employ 50-200 personnel and have an equity of 10-100 million baht.
The country's inability to produce oil has negatively impacted its growth, particularly during periods of oil crisis such as the world oil crisis between 1970 and 1979. The country's dependence on oil has been reduced with the discovery of its first natural gas field in the Gulf of Thailand in 1981. The country also taps alternative domestic sources of energy such as hydropower, liquefied natural gas, and coal. It is also in the process of studying the use of nuclear power.
At the end of 1990, the country's long-term external debt stood at about US$16 billion. However, annual debt service payments were only equivalent to 10 percent of the total earnings from exports, which means that the debt payments were manageable. The 1997 Asian financial crisis reversed this situation as the combination of US$90.5 billion in debt in 1996-97 and high levels of non-performing loans caused the near collapse of Thai-land's financial sector. The troubles of the financial sector spilled over to the other sectors of the economy which were dependent on the financial sector for credit. Banks had to set aside finances to cover loans which creditors were not able to pay, so they no longer had any money to lend borrowers who were capable of paying. This forced the government to increase its allocation for foreign debt payments to take the pressure away from the financial sector. This resulted in a significant increase in public sector debt, which was only equivalent to 4 percent of GDP in 1996 but rose to 18 percent of GDP by mid-1999.
To alleviate the effects of the crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave Thailand a US$17.2 billion assistance package in August 1997. With the help of these funds, reforms in the financial sector were implemented along with the restructuring of the industrial and agricultural sector to increase productivity. Policy reforms to increase accountability and transparency, as well as social reforms to improve education, social services, and human resource development are also being implemented by the government with assistance from the IMF, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Overseas Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Fund, and the World Bank.
POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION
On 24 June 1932, Thailand's political system changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The king is the head of state and is very much revered by the Thais. Presently, the monarch is King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ascended the throne in 1946. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been specially recognized for bringing the Thai monarchy closer to the people. In 1955, he visited the poorest regions of Thailand in order to see for himself the living conditions of the people. Since then, the king and his family have spent 7 months of every year visiting each of the 76 provinces of Thailand. As a result, the king is very well informed of the distinct needs of each region.
To date, the king has implemented over a thousand projects to improve the living conditions in the remotest rural areas, including the introduction of new crops, water conservation, irrigation, swamp drainage, preservation of national forests, and crop substitution. One of the king's most publicized projects is the Royal Rain-making Project, wherein after years of careful experimentation, 14 different formulae were invented to address the problem of dry spells in Thailand.
The Thai Constitution mandates that the government should be placed under the administrative power of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislature composed of a 253-member appointed Senate and a 500-member, popularly-elected House of Representatives. The prime minister is selected from the majority party in the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives. Since 1932, Thailand has promulgated 16 constitutions, the latest of which was adopted in 1997.
The cabinet is composed of 13 ministries together with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of State Universities. Each ministry is led by a minister who is assisted by one or more deputy ministers. In addition, there are ministers holding the portfolio of "Minister Attached to the Prime Minister's Office." These ministers take charge of the sectors assigned to them and assist the government in the formulation and implementation of national programs. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) is the agency in charge of longer term development planning, which is implemented in 5-year periods. Aside from the NESDB, other important government agencies for economic planning are the Board of Investment (BOI), which provides incentives for investment, the Office of the Technical and Economic Cooperation Department, and the Office of the National Education Commission.
The Ministry of Industry is crucial in assisting the government in all industry and manufacturing-related activities such as formulating policies, licensing of factories, issuing mineral leases, formulating and supervising industrial standards, providing technical assistance to industries, and supervising the Small Industries Finance Office. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce oversees external and internal trade. Specifically, it controls or supervises prices of certain strategic commodities such as rice and provides export promotion services to export companies.
The Thai government believes that the private sector should lead the country in its quest for progress and development. In this endeavor, the government's major contribution to economic growth was to provide economic and social services; provide financial resources for the construction of physical infrastructure like highways, irrigation, and power facilities; and to formulate and offer various incentives and financial assistance to promote private investments, export businesses, and agricultural enterprises.
Since the 1950s, the government followed a clear direction towards private enterprise. International organizations like the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development as well as the United States have strongly encouraged Thailand towards adopting that strategy.
Presently, the Thai government is at the forefront, alongside the business sector, in implementing a wide range of economic reforms to promote Thailand's economic recovery from the 1997 recession . Improvements have also been made in the implementation of economic and social welfare programs. This effort is guided by the new constitution, which promotes a stronger, more accountable, decentralized, and transparent government.
As of 1998, Thailand had at least 11 registered political parties, the biggest of which are the Democratic Party (Prachathipat Party) and Thai Nation Party (Chat Thai Party). The other political parties are the Liberal Democratic Party, Mass Party, National Development Party, New Aspiration Party, Phalang Dharma Party, Social Action Party, Solidarity Party, Thai Citizen's Party, and the Thai Rak Thai Party.
Political parties in Thailand serve as the breeding ground for future leaders and bureaucrats. They provide the venue by which those with political ambitions are able to familiarize themselves with the country's democratic structure and processes and obtain a certain measure of political leadership training. However, the political party system in Thailand is still in a state of evolution and can be best described as fragmented, structurally weak, and vulnerable to corruption. The cost of staging a national campaign is very high and the funds needed to finance such an endeavor are generally only available to those in the business world. Hence, businesspeople dominate most of the political parties in Thailand. Moreover, political parties in Thailand are not mass-based, have no distinct ideological differences, and lack full-time, dedicated, and qualified personnel to formulate and implement the party's programs. Since one Thai political party cannot really be differentiated from the other, switching party loyalties is not unusual in Thailand.
A huge percentage of government revenue comes from taxes which are collected at the national and local level. At the national level, the central government collects an income tax and a profit remittance tax, while the most important indirect tax is the value-added tax (VAT). In September 1997, the government announced an increase in the VAT from 7 percent to 10 percent in order to raise revenue and to meet the conditions of the US$17.2 billion loan extended by the IMF to Thailand. However, businesses making less than US$24,000 per annum were still exempted. The government levies taxes on all personal incomes including income from business, commerce, agriculture, industry, transport, construction, or contracting work. The corporate tax rate is currently 30 percent of net profits for all firms. Other taxes imposed by the central government are customs and excise taxes , and stamp duty . Local governments are authorized to collect different types of taxes such as property and land tax. Tourism and its allied services are the biggest source of revenue of the government, especially in terms of foreign currency earnings.
THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY.
The military has played a large role in Thailand's political history and national development. In less than 3 decades, from 1932 to 1958, Thailand underwent 12 coups d'etat. Since 1958 there have been 6 more coups, half of which were successful in overthrowing the government. Since the transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the country has been led mostly by military leaders.
Against this scenario, it is important to analyze the contribution of military leaders to Thailand's current economic development since they had a hand in crafting most of Thailand's economic strategies. For instance, the rule of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat after a coup in 1957 laid the foundation for Thailand's economic development. One of the most important contributions of his regime was the formulation of a national economic development policy, the first of its kind, which was implemented beginning in 1961. Numerous technocrats were tapped in the crafting of Thailand's economic strategy for development. His other achievements include the establishment of universities in the north, northeast, and southern regions, the enticement of foreign investors to invest in Thailand by offering incentives such as tax holidays , and hastening the completion of infrastructure projects such as dams, roads, and bridges. Succeeding regimes followed Sarit's example and crafted their respective development strategies after his, a key factor in Thailand's present economic progress.
INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS
In the late 1980s, Thailand's infrastructure failed to cope with the rapid expansion of the economy. In fact, many experts believe that the country's economy could have grown more were it not for hindrances caused by inadequate infrastructure, a problem that is more pronounced
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
in the rural areas. Thailand's problem with inadequate transportation infrastructure is so severe that the Bangkok Metropolitan Region has become internationally notorious for its legendary traffic jams. Infrastructure for water, sewerage, and energy are also lagging behind the rate of urbanization and development. Secondary cities and rural areas are suffering because of their inability to attract investors due to poor infrastructure.
To address these problems, the Thai government has formulated a long-term infrastructure plan to meet the demands and requirements of a newly industrialized country. The government has prioritized the improvement of existing infrastructure and construction of new projects to alleviate the problem. Building on the goals of the previous economic plans, the Eighth National Economic Plan (1997-2001) allocated US$7.5 billion for infrastructure development, which is 47 percent more funds than the previous plan. The government also identified priority projects such as expressways, rapid mass transportation, port development, water supply, and telecommunications. At the same time, legal reforms are being instituted to enable the private sector to participate in infrastructure development.
However, the immediate implementation of the projects was stalled due to various reasons, the foremost of which was the onset of the Asian Financial Crisis in July 1997, which caused a serious economic recession. The immediate effect was a lack of adequate funds to continue on-going projects or to start construction of planned projects. Other obstacles were disputes with foreign builders and negotiations with potential operators of toll roads as well as last-minute changes in contract specifications and bureaucratic requirements like land-use permits.
Beginning in 1999 Thailand has slowly recovered from the debilitating effects of the recession. Combining funds from different sources like annual budgets, independent development loans, borrowings, and the private sector, a total of US$78 billion was allotted for infrastructure projects. The government is utilizing different strategies such as the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme to fund construction of expressways and Mass Rapid Transfer (MRT) systems in Bangkok, to the installation of more telephone lines and the construction of privately-owned and operated power generating plants.
Thailand's road networks cover over 170,000 kilometers (105,638 miles). To help alleviate the traffic in Bangkok, an elevated train system was opened in December 1999. An underground subway system is also under construction and is expected to be operational by 2003. A total of US$700 million was allotted for these mass transportation projects. Originating from Bangkok, Thailand's rail network spans 3,981 kilometers (2,474 miles) and transports people to the major regions, namely Chiang Mai, Nong Khai, Ubon Ratchathani, Padang Besar, and Sungai Kolok. The State Railway of Thailand expressed its plans to spend US$4.2 billion between 1997 and 2001 to improve and expand its rail network.
Thailand is working on its goal to become the aviation hub of Southeast Asia. It is expanding its existing international airport to accommodate 36 million people by 2003. At the same time, a second international airport, 30 kilometers east of Bangkok, is currently under construction. Presently, Thailand has a total of 106 airports. Of these, 6 are international airports while 29 are domestic airports, with several more provincial airports in the offing.
There are 8 international deep seaports in different parts of Thailand, with the major ports in Bangkok, Laem Chabang, Phuket, and Songkhla. In order to reduce the traffic in the over-utilized main port in Bangkok's Klong Toey district, the government is upgrading and constructing additional ports, particularly in the Eastern Seaboard and southern region, along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
The importance of the Eastern Seaboard is increasing due to the establishment of industrial parks and export processing zones around the sea port in Laem Chabang. The government foresees that the port areas in the south will grow in importance to equal existing main ports.
As of 1998, there were 5.4 million land lines and 2.3 million mobile phone subscribers in the country. As incorporated in the Telecommunications Master Plan for 1997-2006, Thai authorities have set a goal of increasing the number of telephones per 100 people from 4 in 1993 to 18.2 by 2001. In 1999, the government completed the Rural Long Distance Telephone project and is currently operating a total of 20,732 lines or 47 percent of its target. A number of projects are currently underway, including the Fibre Optic Submarine Cable Network Development and the Telecommunication Satellite Network Development.
As of 1999, Thailand had 204 AM stations, 334 FM stations, and 6 short wave facilities servicing about 13.96 million radios. In addition, 5 television broadcast stations provide service to 15.19 million television sets in all of Thailand as of 1997.
In the past, Thailand was heavily dependent on imported crude oil. After the world oil crisis in the 1970s, however, Thailand began to explore indigenous sources of energy and was rewarded with the discovery of a natural gas field in the Gulf of Thailand in 1981. As of 1996, 20 fields are in operation with daily oil production reaching 2,500 barrels per day, and of gas reaching 1,200 million cubic feet per day.
Due to the continued expansion of industries, the future demand for energy has been forecasted to increase by 7 percent in the period between 2002 and 2006. Demand for petroleum will still lead this increase at 49 percent, followed by imported coal at 12.4 percent. Demand for electricity has been forecasted to double from 10,203 megawatts in 1996 to 20,400 megawatts in 2006, according to the Asia Pacific Economic Compendium (1996).
Thailand continues to explore other sources of energy within its territory and from neighboring countries. In addition, it continues to construct different projects to meet its energy requirements. Among these are the Greater Bangkok Area Transmission System, the Yadana-Ratchaburi Gas Pipeline, the Ratchaburi Power Plant, and the Eighth Power Distribution System Improvement and Expansion Plan.
Thailand's economy has grown steadily by an average of 8 percent for the past decade. There is a wide base for growth, with each sector contributing to the development of the economy. Starting out as an agrarian economy, Thailand's bid for industrialization strengthened its industry sector, while the boom in the tourism industry strengthened the service sector. In the 1990s, manufacturing and tourism are the 2 largest contributors to GDP.
Agriculture has been the traditional backbone of the economy, with Thailand being ranked among the top 5 producers of food in the world. In the 1970s, the country supplied 30 percent to 40 percent of rice in the world market. In the 1990s, it continued to be the leading exporter of rice, tapioca, and frozen shrimp. It is also the world's largest producer of rubber, the demand for which has increased due to the AIDS epidemic, which has increased the demand for condoms. Thailand is also one of the world's biggest suppliers of flowers, particularly orchids, which it exports mainly to Japan and Europe. Despite its output, the agricultural sector is on the decline, and is slowly being overtaken by the industry and service sectors in terms of contribution to GDP.
With the re-orientation of production from import substitution to producing for export, and the drive towards industrialization, the manufacturing industry grew steadily until it exceeded agriculture in terms of contribution to GDP. According to Bank of Thailand statistics reflected in the 2000 Business Monitor International Annual Report, the manufacturing industry accounted for 86.8 percent of the country's total exports in 1999. The country's first step into manufacturing was food processing, effectively building on its strong agricultural sector. Today, it is the world's largest exporter of canned pineapple, with one-third of all the canned pineapple sold in the United States coming from Thailand. It is also Asia's biggest exporter of tuna after Unicord, a local company, purchased Bumble Bee Seafoods, the third largest tuna canner in the United States. It now supplies 20 percent of the world market for canned tuna.
The country's service sector is experiencing steady growth, with the boom in the tourism industry. In 1992, tourism accounted for 10 percent of the GDP, with 600 tourists arriving every hour, or 5,256,000 tourists for the year, spending an average of US$1,000 each, equivalent to about US$5 billion a year. This amount is equal to 50 percent of the country's total exports. In 2000, revenues from tourism were expected to hit 343 billion baht or US$6.86 billion, with a total of 9,438,000 tourists expected to visit the country throughout the year.
Strong local corporations—such as Charoen Pokp-hand, which earns revenue of US$2.5 billion annually; Thai Union Frozen Products, the largest canned seafood exporter; and Boonrawd Brewery—work together with various multinational corporations to energize the manufacturing industry. Forecasts for the year 2000 predicted that multinational corporations which have set up shop in the country—such as Mitsubishi, Isuzu, and Honda for automobiles; Fujitsu, Seagate, IBM, Sony, and Matsushita Electronic for electronics; Heineken and Carlsberg breweries, and Nestle and Kellogg for food processing; and Exxon, Montell, and Bayer for petrochemicals—will expand their operations in the country and pump in more investment.
Traditionally an agrarian economy with rice as its main product, the country's agricultural sector has since expanded to cope with the demands of its newly industrialized state. Thai agriculture has a clear advantage over other newly industrializing economies, namely the large portion of land allocated for cultivation, a climate suited to the growth of a wide variety of crops, and high quality strains of agricultural products.
In 1960, agriculture contributed over 40 percent of the national income. This contribution steadily declined due to the intense and rapid growth of the manufacturing sector. By the end of the 1980s, agriculture merely accounted for 17 percent of GDP, which declined even further to 12 percent until the late 1990s, to below 10 percent in 1999. The same pattern exists in terms of its contribution to exports, which stood at 46.9 percent in 1980 and plummeted to 9 percent by 1998.
However, these figures do not indicate a weakening of the sector's significance to the Thai economy, but more a strengthening of the industry and service sectors. Agriculture still accounts for 4 of the country's top exports— rice, canned fish, frozen or chilled shrimp, and rubber— and continues to serve as the foundation of booming manufacturing ventures such as food processing. Processed food such as canned fruits, vegetables, seafoods, and ready-to-eat meals, also enjoy a healthy domestic market, along with sugar and flour.
The agricultural sector has consistently employed about 50 percent of Thailand's 30 million-strong work-force. In 1993, farm population accounted for about 57 percent of the total workforce. If those indirectly engaged in agribusiness industries were included, the estimate would be even higher. Economists predicted that the 1 to 4 million people left unemployed by the 1997 financial crisis in the late 1990s would be absorbed by the agricultural sector.
Agricultural production is focused on 7 major crops—namely rice, tapioca, rubber, maize, sug-arcane, mung beans, and tobacco leaves—which are grown mostly for export purposes. Fifty percent of the country's cultivated land is devoted to planting rice; Thailand continues to be the world's top exporter of rice, exporting 6.8 million tons of its total production of 23.3 million tons in 1999, worth 7.1 billion baht. Based on Bank of Thailand statistics, exports of rubber amounted to 2 million tons worth 43.9 billion baht, while maize amounted to 80.7 thousand tons worth 528 million baht, according to Business Monitor International. Crop production is expected to increase as genetic research on plants improves yields and as cultivated areas are expanded. However, falling global prices and adverse weather conditions are likely to reduce farm incomes.
The second largest component of agriculture is livestock production, which accounted for 1.3 percent of GDP in 1993. The decline in the prices of field crops and the reduced productivity of land have caused farmers to turn to contract farming of broiler chickens, cows, and pigs. A single broiler contract growing project employs about 145 families who earn an equivalent of US$350 monthly, after paying for the bank loans needed to buy broiler houses and equipment. Research to improve egg production and feed conversion has also been successfully undertaken, making Thailand a leading producer and exporter of frozen chicken. The government also helps this sector by facilitating the improvement of beef and dairy production through cross-breeding and artificial insemination using high-grade breeds imported from the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Australia. Thai beef is exported to Singapore and Hong Kong, and the sector is angling to gain entrance to the Japanese market.
The wood industry relies on the wide variety of hard and softwood available in the country's forests. Among these are tropical evergreens, hill evergreens, mangroves, and other trees which are processed to produce firewood, stick lac, gum benzoin, rattan, and bamboo. Rattan is then manufactured into furniture, while bamboo is used for furniture and paper. Dyes, tanning bark, and medicinal herbs are also harvested. The growth of the output from forestry fell from 2.6 percent in the period between 1967-71 to 0.25 percent in the 1982-86 period due to the massive depletion of the country's forest resources. The devastation is caused mainly by the destructive practice of slash-and-burn agriculture by villagers as well as illegal logging. Uncontrolled logging resulted in the felling of 1.5 percent of the country's total forest acreage every year. After heavy floods in 1988 washed away entire villages, the government banned logging and conducted reforestation efforts. Currently, 23 percent of the country is covered with forests following legislation in the early 1990s which called for the maintenance of a proper percentage of forestland.
The country's 3,000-kilometer (1,864-mile) coastline produces an average of over 3 million metric tons of marine products annually, which amounts to about US$2 million. Its fishing industry, which is one of the largest in Asia, exports frozen shrimp, tuna, squid, and cuttlefish. There is also an abundance of freshwater fish in rivers, lakes, and streams as well as flooded paddy fields where farmers purposely raise them. The Fisheries Department also promotes freshwater aquaculture by farmers in large ponds. Forty-five freshwater fishery stations have been set up by the government to promote freshwater aquaculture. In 1999, fishery products accounted for 3.6 percent of total exports. However, its total contribution to GDP has diminished due to the exhaustion of resources in Thailand's coastal waters.
The country's industry and agriculture sectors were traditionally intertwined. Today, however, industry has eclipsed agriculture in terms of contribution to GDP, contributing 39 percent in 1997. The rapid growth of this sector can be attributed to free market forces, limited government assistance, and the private sector's quick response to shifting market demands. However, the Asian financial crisis from 1997 to 1998 heavily impacted industries and caused the closure of 8,000 businesses. The increasing cost of labor has also led to a departure from labor-intensive ventures. To date, only the manufacturing industry contributes substantially to national income, particularly the 4 sub-sectors of food processing, automobiles, electronics, and petrochemicals.
The initial move into industrialization in the 1960s was characterized by import substitution, which mainly involved the processing of its bountiful agricultural produce. In 1972, a new Industrial Promotion Act signaled the shift in government policy to an export-oriented economy. This new emphasis began the rapid diversification of the industry sector which saw the rise of several industries, including petrochemicals, textiles, transportation equipment, electronics, iron and steel, and minerals.
The manufacturing sector constitutes Thailand's main industry, producing a wide variety of goods such as textiles and garments, plastics, footwear, electronics, integrated circuits, computers and components, automobiles and parts, and cement. Manufacturing facilities are mostly located in Bangkok and on the Eastern Seaboard, which was launched in 1977 as the long-term site for large-scale small, medium, and heavy industries. In 1993, the manufacturing sector employed 10 percent of the entire labor force . By 1998, however, the sector already employed approximately 20 percent of the Thai workforce, who are among the highest paid workers in the country along with those working in the service industry, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Handbook.
The manufacturing sector expanded its contribution to GDP from 16 percent in 1960 to 37 percent in 1993 to 39 percent in 1997. Given that manufactured goods are produced largely for export purposes, its share of export earnings grew steadily from 32 percent in 1980 to 74.7 percent in 1990 to 84.5 percent in 1999. Presently, its top export markets are the United States, Japan, the European Union, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, with the United States and Japan jointly absorbing 36 percent of the country's exports.
Canned foods constitute the main export earner of this sector, and Thailand is the world's leading exporter of canned pineapple and tuna. Its export growth rate increased by 6.8 percent between 1998 and 1999. This sector has shifted from basic refining to value-adding (increasing the value of a good in the process of production), hence, the biggest growth segments include ready-to-eat meals like canned traditional Thai dishes, processed seafood, and snacks. Though still largely patronized by the domestic market, 2 rice dishes—namely khaolam, a rice dessert baked in bamboo trunks, and krayasart, a sticky rice dessert—are already being sold in China and Japan. Production of ready-to-eat halal food is another avenue to be explored, to tap the regional Islamic market.
The government has thrown its support behind agro-processing by promoting the establishment of industrial estates that are located near prime sources of raw material. Several multinational companies have also established their presence in the country, namely the Heineken and Carlsberg breweries; Nestle, whose 8 plants are producing a wide range of products from ice cream to mineral water; and Kellogg, which uses local rice as raw material for its ready-to-eat cereals.
MOTOR INDUSTRIES AND AUTOMOBILE ASSEMBLY.
The country is currently the regional center for vehicle assembly and the manufacturing of motor parts, and is the second leading manufacturer of pick-up trucks in addition to the long-established motorcycle industry. Between 1991 and 1996, vehicle assembly peaked at 560,000 per year, in addition to 1.5 million units of motorcycles. The financial crisis debilitated this sector in 1997 and 1998, but it managed to rebound and produced 327,233 units of vehicles following a sharp increase in export orders in 1999, along with 725,425 units of motorcycles. Shipments in motor vehicles and parts in 1999 amounted to US$1.6 billion. Among the auto companies who have established factories in the Eastern Seaboard are Ford, GM, Mazda, Honda, and Toyota.
This sub-sector produces a wide range of products from low-tech consumer goods , such as TV tubes and computer monitors, to advanced microchips. In 1999, total electronic exports amounted to US$21.4 billion. The government has encouraged its growth by offering official investment incentives to foreign investors. Among the multinational corporations that have been attracted by these incentives are Fujitsu, Seagate, IBM, Sony, and Matsushita Electronics, which produces the National Panasonic brand. However, the sector is undermined by lack of skilled scientific and professional workers and heavy reliance on foreign technology.
Natural gas discovered in the Gulf of Thailand is being tapped for the raw materials upon which to develop a globally competitive petrochemical industry. This sub-sector was greatly affected by the financial crisis due to the massive debts that it accumulated during its development in the early 1990s. However, its performance is picking up with an increase of 2.1 percent in output in 1999, due to higher export demands. Foreign investment is expected to fuel its resurgence with Germany's Phenolchemie, Chevron, Bayer, and Montell pumping in fresh investments.
The services sector is Thailand's fastest growing sector, largely fueled by the boom in tourism. In 1997, services accounted for over 49 percent of GDP and employed over 4.1 million, or 31 percent of, Thai workers.
The beauty of the country attracts millions of tourists annually. Thailand boasts beautiful beaches, cultural attractions such as Buddhist temples, bountiful food, affordable high-quality goods such as textiles, and hospitable people. Beckoned by these attractions, tourists have steadily generated income for the country since 1982, with tourism posting a growth rate of 16 percent per year. In 1994, 6.16 million tourists visited Thailand. In 1998, 7.76 million tourists spent nearly US$8 billion. This was exceeded by the 1999 figure, which posted the arrival of 8.5 million tourists. In 1992, tourism employed 1,693,005 workers (5.1 percent of the total labor force), with 923,822 employed directly and 769,183 employed indirectly. The boom in tourism spurred the growth of related service industries which generated employment. Of the total number of workers in the tourism industry, 37 percent were hired by hotels, 26 percent by restaurants and food shops, 11 percent by leisure and entertainment, and 26 percent by the souvenir industry, travel agencies, and other related enterprises. In recognition of the importance of this industry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand works closely with other agencies to develop tourism resources efficiently by promoting investment in tourist-related facilities.
The continuous expansion of the Thai economy led to the increase in the need for business services including legal, advertising, employment, and general management. In 1997, legal and accounting firms reported the highest revenue while advertising bore the brunt of the financial crisis. The demand for financial restructuring services including merger, acquisitions, and debt collection remained high in 1998, which led to an increase in the sector's employment. To illustrate, one accounting company expanded its debt restructuring division from 2 to 20 people in 1997. Top international consulting firms have offices in Thailand, including Baker & McKenzie and Tilleke & Gibbins for law; Andersen Consulting and Boston Consulting Group for management consulting; Arthur Andersen and Price Waterhouse for accounting; and J. Walter Thompson and AC Neilsen for advertising and media.
The retail sector is composed of department stores, hypermarkets, supermarkets, and convenience stores, most of which are local companies. Among the international retailer stores are Carrefour, 7-Eleven, Marks & Spencer, and Makro.
As of 1999, Thailand had 639 international restaurants and 328 local restaurants, and about 15,000 fast food, mid-level family style restaurants, coffee shops, noodle shops, specialty food shops, and delivery shops to fuel the food services sector. It also had 2,350 hotels, 364 resorts, and 784 bungalows which account for higher food sales than restaurants. In 1998, total food sales amounted to US$5.385 million. In 1992, restaurants and food shops employed approximately 440,000 workers. Even though the dollar value of food service sales decreased due to the devaluation of the baht during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the sector grew by 7 percent based on actual sales.
Thailand has 34 commercial banks, of which 13 are domestic and 21 are foreign. Among the foreign banks are Bank of America, Chase Manhattan, and Citibank. Leading local banks include Krung Thai Bank, with 646 local branches and 10 overseas branches; Bangkok Bank PCL, with 526 local branches and 21 overseas branches; and Thai Farmers Bank, with 497 local branches and 12 overseas branches. As a result of the financial crisis, some local banks have been taken over by the government and are in the process of reorganization and eventual privatization . The public financial sector includes banks geared for specific purposes including 1) the Government Savings Bank for small savings deposits; 2) the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives for farm credit; 3) the Government Housing Bank for middle-and low-income housing mortgages; 4) the Industrial Finance Corporation of Thailand for industrial development projects; and 5) the Export Import bank for importers and exporters. Other financial services include finance companies, mortgage lenders, life and non-life insurance companies, and financial cooperatives.
Thailand has a long history of international trade. Beginning in the 15th to 18th centuries, during the reign of the Ayutthaya monarchy, foreign merchants who lived near the kingdom's capital conducted trade with foreigners. The country's first significant trade treaty was
|Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Thailand|
|SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.|
the Bowring Treaty in 1855 with Britain. Shortly after that, it also signed treaties with 14 other countries including the United States, France, Russia, Sweden, Spain, and Japan.
Today, the United States, Japan, and the European Union continue to be its top trading partners, absorbing 52.6 percent of all exports in 1999 and supplying 48.8 percent of total imports in the same period. Its other partners are Hong Kong, China, and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, the most significant of which are Singapore and Malaysia. Other countries apart from those mentioned accounted for 18.4 percent of exports and 21.6 percent of imports in the same period.
Thailand's major exports are rice, tapioca products, cane sugar and molasses, and rubber for agriculture; chemicals, polymers, and plastics for the manufacturing industry; and gypsum, natural gas, and feldspar for the mining industry. Bank of Thailand statistics as reflected in the Asian Economic Survey of 2000 identified the country's major export products as machine parts, circuits, frozen shrimp, prawns, sundry items, computer parts, garments, vehicle parts, and plastic products. On the other hand, its major imports are petroleum, integrated circuit parts, and chemicals.
The balance of trade was consistently negative until 1998, which means that the value of the country's imports was bigger than the value of its exports. The discrepancy was minimal in 1970, with import value exceeding export value by only US$541 million. In 1975, imports exceeded exports by US$1.072 billion, which doubled in 1980 to US$2.709 billion. In 1985, imports still exceeded exports by US$2.21 billion, which had quadrupled by 1990 to US$10.309 billion. In 1995, the balance still stood in favor of imports by US$14.337 billion. In a considerable reversal, imports in 1997 exceeded exports by US$5.319 billion but the following year, exports exceeded imports by US$11.485 billion.
Despite the uneven balance of trade, the Thai economy continued to grow by an average of 6.8 percent in the 1970s, 7.5 percent in the 1980s, and 8 percent in the early 1990s before the Asian financial crisis. This growth can be attributed to 2 factors, namely the boom of the tourism industry and the inflow of foreign direct investment. According to International Historical Statistics, in 1970, the services sector contributed 44.1 percent of GDP, which increased in 1980 to 49.7 percent. Though this contribution fell to 46.9 percent in 1999, it is safe to say that the dollar earnings from the tourism industry generated a substantial amount, enough to offset the trade imbalance.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is another major factor in the growth of the economy since the mid-1980s. In 1988, FDI infused US$1.25 billion into the economy, partly explaining the 7.5 percent growth despite a US$4.332 billion discrepancy in balance of trade in favor of imports. Foreign direct investment doubled to US$2.5 billion in 1990.
Thailand is a member of several international trade organizations including the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Thai economy grew with the formulation of the first 5-year National Economic Development Plan in 1958. During the 1960s, the country grew by an average of 8 percent annually. In the 1970s the fluctuation of commodity prices, a rise in interest rates, and the 150 percent increase in world oil prices slowed the economy, although it continued to grow at the rate of 6.8 percent annually. Political instabilit—including student uprisings in 1973, 2 military coups, and increased communist insurgency— hindered the government in its adjustment of economic plans and structures to meet the challenges of the next decade. Surprisingly however, the economy continued to perform well in the 1980s with a 7.5 percent GNP growth rate. The year 1986 is significant because of the fall of the excess value of imports over exports to a mere US$301 million compared to the previous year's deficit of US$2.121 billion, indicating a substantial growth of the value of Thailand's exports. This can be attributed to economic adjustments launched by the government.
The first half of the 1990s was marked by similar growth until the Asian financial crisis hit the region. In 1996, real GDP growth rate fell sharply from 8.8 percent in 1995 to 5.2 percent and during the period of the crisis between 1997 and 1998, real GDP growth dropped to-0.43 percent and-10.18 percent, respectively, according to the International Financial Statistics Yearbook. The government spent much of the country's foreign reserves to stabilize the value of the baht, causing the further de-valuation of the currency. The crisis led to a temporary increase in poverty levels in the city and unemployment
|Exchange rates: Thailand|
|baht (B) per US$1|
|SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].|
due to massive lay-offs specifically in the construction and service industries. These unemployed city-dwellers went back to rural areas hoping to find employment, which led to a rise in poverty levels in the south, central, and northeast regions. Thailand's recession also started a domino effect that led to the fall of the economies of its South East Asian neighbors.
There has been a remarkable resurgence in the economy since then, fueled by the US$17.2 billion assistance package given by the World Bank, reforms in the financial sector, and increased foreign investment. For the first time since 1969, the economy posted a positive balance of trade with the value of exports exceeding imports by US$11.485 billion in 1999, according to the International Financial Statistics Yearbook.
The average exchange rate of the Thai baht from 1984 to 1997 was B25 to US$1. However, the baht was devalued by the administration of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda by 8.7 percent in 1981, and again in November 1984 by 14.9 percent, as part of its austerity measures. This devaluation led to the decline in the cost of production, which resulted in increased revenue from exports.
With the onset of the financial crisis, the baht fell from its B25 to US$1 average to B31.36 to US$1 in 1997, and to an all-time low of B41.36 in 1998. The infusion of direct foreign investment in 1998 led to the recovery of the economy and the increase in the value of the baht to B37.81 against the dollar in 1999, which went even higher to B37.349 in January 2000. By 12 October 2000, however, the baht had devalued once more to a 27-month low of B43.27, which threatened to increase inflation . The depreciation was caused by external factors, including weak regional currencies such as the Philippine peso and the Indonesian rupiah, the strong showing of the dollar compared to currencies such as the Euro, and increase in world oil prices which used up the country's surpluses. Internal factors that were identified include weak economic policies and practices and the country's unstable political situation.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) was established through the passage of the SET Act in May 1974, and began operation on 30 April 1975. The second revision of the SET Act in 1992 produced the Securities and Exchange Act (SEA) which established a Securities and Exchange Commission to serve as the only supervisor of the securities business.
POVERTY AND WEALTH
In Thailand, the incidence of poverty or wealth is dependent on a person's occupation, location of residence or work, and level of educational attainment. From the 1970s until the early 1990s the poor were mostly agricultural workers in the rural areas, particularly in the
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
north, northeast, or southern regions, whose highest level of education was 6 years of primary schooling. Meanwhile, those working in the manufacturing or service sectors in the major cities or in the central region— specifically in the Bangkok metropolitan region—who completed at least 12 years of formal education, were more likely to be economically well-off. Due to the concentration of economic activities in the capital, such as construction of physical infrastructure and job creation, the regional disparities in income and wealth slowly began to widen. As Thailand slowly shifted from an agrarian economy to an industrialized economy, economic resources were shifted to the industrial sector and huge demand for factory workers created huge differences in wage rates between farmers and factory workers. As the contribution of the agricultural sector to the economy decreased so did the demand for farm workers. In the latter years of the 1980s, 80 percent of the people living below the poverty line worked in the agricultural sector.
Poverty in Thailand is not so much a problem of an increasing number of families being unable to provide for their most basic needs, as it is a problem of the huge difference in income between the upper 30 percent and the rest of the population. Thailand's impressive economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s has improved overall living conditions, but the benefits of this national affluence have not been distributed equitably. Those belonging to the lower 30 percent of the population are
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Thailand|
|Survey year: 1998|
|Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
merely surviving while the upper 30 percent are enjoying the fruits of the country's affluence with brand new houses and cars, overseas education for their children, and increased savings for emergencies. Despite the fact that more and more Thai families are climbing out of the poverty pit, their earning capacity remains low compared to that of the upper 30 percent.
The government has addressed the increasing incidence of poverty in the different national development plans that are formulated every 5 years. From the second to the seventh National Economic Development Plan, the government formulated different strategies in order to achieve a fairer distribution of income and social services, to create more employment opportunities in the rural areas, to assist parents in their children's education, and to provide credit facilities for small-time business ventures.
Before the Asian financial crisis hit Thailand in 1997, government efforts to alleviate poverty were slowly gaining ground with poverty levels falling from 33 percent in 1988 to 11.4 percent in 1996, according to the World Bank. However, the income distribution remained inequitable with the top 20 percent earning 12.2 times more than the bottom 20 percent in 1988. The disparity
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|aExcludes energy used for transport.|
|bIncludes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
worsened further in 1993 with the top 20 percent earning 15.8 times more than the lowest 20 percent of the population. Average income in the most impoverished region in the northeast was 11.9 times lower compared to Bangkok in 1994. Consequently, rural workers tried to find work in the urban areas, especially in the Bangkok metropolitan area, causing the proliferation of slum areas in the urban cities.
In July 1997, as the Asian financial crisis ravaged the Thai economy, hundreds of workers in the construction and service industries in Bangkok were laid off. These newly unemployed workers moved back to the rural areas to find work in the agricultural sector which was performing strongly in those times. This migration caused the incidence of poverty to increase in the agricultural regions because not all of the unemployed could be absorbed in the agricultural sector. The northeast region experienced the largest increase in poverty during this period, rising from 19.4 percent in 1996 to 30.8 percent in 1999. Overall poverty incidence in Thailand rose from 11.4 percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 1998 as an additional 1.1 million people fell below the poverty line.
Poverty in Thailand can be attributed to several factors. First is the concentration of economic activities in Bangkok and a number of other urban areas. Investment, goods and services, government programs, and well-paying jobs are still largely concentrated in the capital and nearby urban areas despite government efforts to decentralize economic development. The concentration of resources and investment in Bangkok is evidenced by the fact that it contributes over 50 percent of the country's GDP despite hosting only about 10 percent of the population. In contrast, other regions, especially rural areas, suffer from inadequate investment and employment opportunities.
Another reason stems from the failure of the Thai government to provide social safety nets amid the country's rapid growth and industrialization. The government over-prioritized the implementation of financial and industrial reforms and neglected to formulate and implement a comprehensive social service program to protect the most unprepared sectors from the ill effects of rapid industrialization. Moreover, experts have expressed that, had Thai authorities given the same attention to the social sector, it might have even surpassed its current development and would have ensured its future development with a steady source of well-educated and multi-skilled labor as it shifts to technologically sophisticated industries.
A third problem is the weak educational system in the country. Inferior and inadequate education is the root of the growing income gap between city dwellers and villagers. As poverty in the rural areas worsened, many rural folk could not afford to send their children beyond the 6 years of compulsory schooling, making them unqualified for the higher paying jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors. As a consequence, these families were trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty where living conditions of the succeeding generations do not improve due to lack of education.
Another problem is the failure of the government to implement agricultural land reform policies. This failure has resulted in insecure land ownership and increasing tenancy, or production on rented land. As the population increased, people in the rural areas encroached into the forest areas to settle and plant. After several years of residence in these areas, they claim illegal ownership of the land which results in periodic conflicts with government authorities. Due to the government's refusal to issue land titles to legalize the ownership of the land to the farmers who are tilling it, rural workers lack the proper legal documents to secure agricultural support such as credit facilities and technical support and have no security of ownership over the land. This leads to low productivity from the land. Another problem is the increase in the number of farm tenants who till other peoples' land because they either have no land of their own or because they had to sell their own land to pay off accumulated debts.
In 2000, the World Bank reported that Thailand has not fully recovered from its economic recession in 1997. The most recent data revealed that the number of poor increased from 11.4 percent in 1996 to 15.9 percent in 1999. Just like in the past, Bangkok remains affluent while other regions suffer. According to the World Bank's country report for 2000, poverty incidence in 1999 increased from 5.8 percent to 8.8 percent at the outskirts of the urban areas and 14.9 percent to 21.5 percent in the rural areas. At the same time, Thailand continues to suffer from unequal income distribution with the richest 30 percent accounting for some 80 percent of the aggregate national income while the other 70 percent account for roughly 20 percent of the aggregate national income.
According to the World Bank, during the 1990s the Thai government became more aggressive in addressing the root problems of poverty and the ever-widening income disparity. In 1993, the Ministry of Interior launched the Poverty Alleviation project which provides interest-free loans to poor rural households who want to engage in micro-enterprise. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is implementing the Educational Loans Program, which provides loans to students from low-income households to encourage them to continue their studies beyond the 6 years of compulsory schooling. The Thai government has likewise launched programs to create jobs in the rural areas by hiring villagers for the construction of rural infrastructure, such as in the case of the Tambon Development Program.
In 1999, more than 50 percent of the 362,683 establishments in Thailand were located in Bangkok and nearby provinces. Based on 1999 labor statistics, Thai-land's total labor force was 8,134,644, with males (4,253,327) edging out females (3,881,317). About 4.4 million are working in the informal sector —which involves domestic work, traditional handicraft production, and manufacturing of export goods—and small-scale enterprises with less than 10 workers.
During the 1997 recession, it was estimated that about 8,000 businesses closed down while those that continued to operate had to lay off staff, reduce wages, and cut bonuses in order to stay afloat. Women were the first to be laid off in most of the industries except in printing and advertising, retail and wholesale, and furniture and wood products.
The unemployment rate fluctuated from 2.2 percent in February 1997 to 4.6 percent in February 1998 and 5.2 percent in February 1999 before dropping to 4.3 percent in February 2000. In the first 2 quarters of 1999, the total number of unemployed persons peaked at about 1.7 million. The recession has caused real wages to fall, with agriculture being the hardest hit sector. Between August 1997 and August 1999, overall real wages fell by 6.1 percent, with real wages falling by 15 percent in agriculture, 8 percent in manufacturing, and 7 percent in construction.
LABOR UNIONS AND ISSUES.
In 1999, Thailand had a total of 1,087 private enterprise labor unions, 44 state enterprise labor unions, 19 labor union federations, 8 labor union councils, 226 employer associations, 3 employer association federations, and 10 employer councils, according to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare. Membership in these voluntary organizations may vary from 250 to 8,000 workers. In specific industries such as textile, doll, and artificial flower making, it can be expected that the majority of the union members will be female. Female union leaders, however, are a rarity in Thailand.
One of the effects of the recession in 1997 was a marked increase in labor disputes compared to figures in the past 17 years. Approximately 80 percent of these cases involved the collection of severance pay.
Different government agencies, led by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, ensure that working conditions, especially in the factories, conform to legally-established standards. However, despite periodic inspections, working conditions in the factories still need improvement. One study reports that over 20,000 Thai workers suffer occupational afflictions every year. In 1993, the Committee for Workers' Health and Safety was established after a tragic blaze that killed 188 Kader workers.
In general, Thai workers complain about low pay, excessive working hours, and inadequate medical benefits. The textile industry has been specifically cited in many studies as having some of the most dismal working conditions characterized by deafening noise, poor lighting, inadequate medical facilities, and improper ventilation. Each year about 30 percent of the industry's female workers suffer from byssinosis or "cotton sickness" from cotton dust particles. Meanwhile, women in other industries likewise suffer from other occupational hazards.
Based on 1998 labor statistics, of the total 186,498 cases covered by the workers' compensation fund, 67.8 percent involved temporary disability requiring less than 3 days of leave, 29.7 percent involved temporary disability requiring more than 3 days of leave, 2 percent involved permanent partial disability, while 0.4 percent involved death.
Thailand's 1997 constitution mandates equal rights and protection for men and women. However, the results of various surveys reveal that there is still some discrimination against Thai women in terms of professional advancement and wages. Most employers in the private sector hire women only when there is a difference in wage rates. Commonly, firms would rather not hire women or promote them to more important jobs because of traditional attitudes against women working outside the home. Likewise, women are not prioritized for skills training and upgrading since it is unlikely that they will be promoted to higher positions anyway. Women are commonly employed in labor-intensive industries, service and entertainment jobs, and the informal sector.
One of the negative consequences of Thailand's tourism industry is the prostitution of its women and children, especially those who have no formal schooling or only finished the first 6 years of schooling. The law prohibits women under 18 from working in nightclubs, dance halls, schools for dancing, bath and massage houses, and hotels, however, there are not enough government personnel to conduct inspections.
Thailand has been severely criticized by the international community for the proliferation of child domestic workers in its factories and brothels, or houses of prostitution. Child labor involves not only Thai children but also children of migrant workers of neighboring countries. Determining the exact number of child laborers in Thailand is difficult since parents or companies do not want to cooperate with authorities for fear of prosecution or loss of income. Different agencies have conflicting estimates of number of prostituted children in Thailand. The estimates range from 40,000 (1997) by the Thai government, to 200,000 (1997) by the international organization End Child Prostitution, and 400,000 (1998) by the BBC News. Based on the provisions of the Labor Protection Act (1998), persons between the ages of 15 to 18 can only work in non-hazardous jobs and must secure permission from the Department of Labor. Moreover, they cannot work at night or during holidays.
In the mid-1990s, only 40 percent of the Thai labor force had completed secondary or post-secondary education. Enrollment in secondary education is slowly increasing, although it is still low compared to other countries in the region. The gross enrollment ratio of formal secondary education increased from 64.8 percent in 1997 to 70.6 percent in 1999. The New Education Act of 1999, as provided for in the 1997 constitution, has mandated the extension of compulsory schooling to 9 years from the current term of 6 years and the implementation of a 12-year free education program by 2004. Moreover, the act has reduced the power of the central ministry in favor of new school districts within the next 3 years.
In its early years of development, Thailand placed too much priority on developing the primary level of education to the detriment of the quality of secondary and tertiary education. As a consequence, Thailand lagged behind other countries in terms of research and development in science and technology, which meant that its workforce was ill-equipped to handle the emerging opportunities in high technology industries. As a result, the companies that were engaged in these industries chose to set up the center of their operations in other Asian countries. It was only after the 1997 financial crisis that Thailand started paying attention to the improvement of its educational system.
Over the years, the Thai government has formulated different strategies to improve the skill level of its work-force (World Bank, 2000). Among these programs are the Vocational Training Promotion Act (1994), the Training Tax Exemption Decree (1995), and the Skills Development Fund (1997), which grants low-interest short-term loans for approved training courses that would provide skills certification.
COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
1300s TO 1500s. Thailand's very first kingdom, Sukhothai, is established. It is remembered for its contribution to Thailand's art, architecture, and politics.
1378. King Borommaracha I of Ayutthaya conquers Sukhothai's frontier city of Chakangrao. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya becomes the dominant power in the Chao Phraya Basin, site of the present capital, Bangkok. This period, which ends in 1767, marks Thailand's earliest achievements in the area of international trade.
1767-82. General Phraya Taksin, former governor of Tak, defeats the Burmese invaders that destroyed the Ayutthaya kingdom and establishes his kingdom at Thon Buri, across the river from what is presently Bangkok.
1782-1809. Rama I, ancestor of the present monarch, establishes Bangkok as the capital of Thailand and rebuilds the Thai state. Some of Thailand's greatest structures are built during King Rama I's reign, including the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
1821-68. The Thai Kingdom faces the challenge of avoiding Western imperialism during the consecutive reigns of the monarchs Rama II and his 2 sons, Rama III and Rama IV. Under the reign of King Rama IV,
Thailand signs a significant trade treaty with Britain in 1855 called the Bowring Treaty which paves the way for greater Thai presence in the world market.
1868-1910. Under King Chulalongkorn's reign, Thai-land's communication system is modernized with the introduction of post and telegraph services. Mass transportation is also introduced with the construction of a railway network. Under his reign, a more centralized and bureaucratic political structure is established, the slave system is abolished, and Thailand becomes more outward looking.
1910-32. The reigns of Rama VI and VIII are marked by their contributions to Thailand's educational system. In 1917, Thailand's first university, Chulalongkorn University, is founded. In 1921, Rama VI issues a law on compulsory primary education. Upon his brother's death, Rama VIII accedes the throne. He works on establishing Thailand in the international community.
1932. Thailand becomes a constitutional monarchy after a bloodless coup d'etat on 24 June. A formal constitution is promulgated and a National Assembly is established with the monarch as Head of State. In the same year, the first formal comprehensive education plan is implemented.
1942. The Bank of Thailand Act establishes the country's central bank. The Bank of Thailand holds the main accounts of the Thai government including those of government enterprises.
1946. On 9 June, King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascends to the throne. In the same year, Thailand becomes a member of the United Nations.
1949. Thailand becomes a member of the World Bank.
1955. King Bhumibol Adulyadej becomes the first Thai ruler to travel to the poorest provinces of Thailand, in the northeast region, to check for himself the living conditions of the people. This begins the implementation of more than a thousand social projects.
1957. The premiership transfers from Field Marshal Pibul to Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. The policies of his administration are focused on economic development and national security. Under his administration, the first national economic development plan is formulated.
1959. Thailand's Board of Investment is established. Its main tasks are to promote investment of both foreign and local capital in the private sector.
1962. The automobile industry is established as part of the government's import substitution policy.
1967. Through the primary initiative of Thailand, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is established in accordance with the Bangkok Declaration.
1972. In December, Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn announces a new interim constitution that provides for a totally appointed legislative assembly, two-thirds of the members of which would be drawn from the military and police.
1973. In May and June, students and workers rally in the streets to demand a more democratic constitution and genuine parliamentary elections. On 14 October the military government of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn and Field Marshal Prapass Charusathien is overthrown by student-led mass demonstrations which culminate in shoot-outs with almost 100 people killed.
1974. The Stock Exchange of Thailand is established and placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Thailand.
1975. The pullout of 27,000 United States military personnel based in Thailand as part of the Vietnam War effort begins in March and is completed in mid-1976.
1976. A bloody coup d'etat is staged at the Thammasat University on 6 October.
1977. Another violent coup d'etat brings to an end the 1-year civilian regime of Thanin Kraivichien. General Kriengsak Chamanand becomes the prime minister. Under his administration, Thailand achieves some kind of political stability, thereby attracting foreign investors who establish businesses in the country.
1978. A new constitution is promulgated in December.
1980. In February, the government's decision to increase the prices of oil, gas, and electricity provokes opposition from elected politicians and demonstrations by students and workers, reminiscent of the 1973 demonstrations. As opposition grows, Prime Minister Kriangsak resigns and is replaced in March by General Prem Tinsulanonda.
1984. The Thai baht is devalued after much pressure from the International Monetary Fund and as part of the government's austerity measures.
1987. The manufacturing sector surpasses the performance of the agricultural sector in exports by a wide margin, marking the beginning of Thailand's industry-led economic development.
1989. Thailand becomes a founding member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
1991. In February, a coup d'etat establishes yet another military government led by General Suchinda Kraprayoon.
1992. The Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission is established to closely monitor and supervise the operations of Thailand's stock exchange.
1995. Thailand joins the World Trade Organization as one of its founding members.
1997. A financial crisis hits the East Asian region, causing the Thai economy to nosedive with GDP growth falling to-0.14 percent from the previous year's 5.52 percent.
1998. Thailand's economy makes an impressive recovery. For the first time, the country registers a positive trade balance caused by an influx of foreign direct investment.
2000. National elections are conducted and culminate in the election of Thaksin Shinawatra, a successful Thai businessman and leader of the Thai Rak Thai Party.
The success of the country's economic programs rely on the effective implementation of reforms that the government is presently putting in place after the financial crisis revealed the weaknesses and gaps in Thai-land's economy. The Thai economy is poised for greater involvement in heavy industries, including automobile assembly, petrochemicals, electronics, and a more diversified food processing sector focused on value-added products such as ready-to-eat meals and canned foods. The economy has rebounded from the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, although the World Bank believes that it has yet to fully recover. Challenges facing the economy include weak infrastructure, labor skills that do not match the needs of an increasingly industrialized economy, and the need to re-organize the financial sector to ensure that loans are paid in order to avoid a crisis similar to that of 1997.
Thailand has greatly benefitted from the US$17.2 billion World Bank assistance package in terms of recovering from the crisis. However, due credit must also be given to the strong inflow of foreign direct investment and the robust performance of the tourism industry that enabled the economy to rebound and pose the first positive balance of trade since the 1960s.
Efforts at decentralizing political power to local governments and communities must be stepped up in order to ensure that the rest of the country progresses along with Bangkok. Another important factor is the development of physical infrastructure in the rest of the country to promote the growth of rural communities and increase their contribution to Thailand's economic development. To achieve this, the government's proposed strategy to actively partner with non-government organizations in assisting rural communities must be implemented effectively since using this approach would also ease the disparity in income among the regions and within the different economic classes. Furthermore, the government must actively pursue the stamping out of corruption in order to bring about an even higher rate of economic growth.
Among the other concerns that government must address in the years ahead is the pending maturation of HIV-infected citizens into full-blown AIDS carriers. As of 1999, 700,000 Thai people are infected with HIV. The World Bank predicted that in the year 2000, 55,000 Thais will have developed AIDS and 29,000 more will have become infected with HIV. This will negatively affect the productivity of the country's labor force since those who are afflicted with the disease are mostly women in their prime productive years.
Thailand's industrialization has taken a toll on its environment, as its resources were depleted of raw materials that were needed to support the growing industries. Having realized the impact of environmental degradation, the government is stepping up efforts to rehabilitate its denuded forests and heavily polluted and over-fished coastal resources. In agriculture, research and technology has produced strains of crops that are high yielding and suitable to rotation which enables the land to recover from the effects of monoculture (the cultivation of a single type of crop). However, the continuous use of pesticides and herbicides still inflict considerable environmental damage.
Thailand has no territories or colonies.
Asian Development Bank. Asian Development Outlook 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
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Barlow, Colin. Institutions and Economic Change in Southeast Asia. Edward Elgar Publications Inc., 1999.
Bunbongkarn, Suchit. State of the Nation: Thailand. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Nations, 1996.
Business Monitor International Ltd. Thailand 2000. BMI, 2000.
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Chew, Victor T. Southeast Asian Tax Handbook. International Bureau for Fiscal Documentation, 1996.
Cumming-Bruce, Nick. "Thailand, Asian Economic Survey." Asian Wall Street Journal. 23 October 2000.
Dhiravegin, Likhit. Democracy in Thailand. Bangkok, 1994.
Harrison, Matthew. Asia-Pacific Securities Markets. Hong Kong: Financial Times, 1997.
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International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook. New York: IMF, 1999.
Kingdom of Thailand. Thailand in the 1990s. Bangkok: National Identity Board Office of the Prime Minister, 1995.
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Kulich, Elliot, and Dick Wilson. Thailand's Turn: Profile of a New Dragon. London: Westmillan Press, 1992.
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—Maria Cecilia T. Ubarra
Thai baht (B). One baht equals 100 satangs. There are notes of 50 satang and 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 60, 100, 500, and 1,000 baht, and coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 satangs and 1, 5, and 10 baht.
Computers and parts, textiles, rice.
Capital goods, intermediate goods and raw materials, consumer goods, fuels.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$388.7 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$58.5 billion (f.o.b., 1999). Imports: US$45 billion (f.o.b., 1999). [ International Financial Statistics 1999 reports 1998 exports of US$54.46 billion and imports of US$42.97 billion.]
Ubarra, Maria Cecilia T.. "Thailand." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410100173.html
Ubarra, Maria Cecilia T.. "Thailand." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. 2002. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410100173.html
Kingdom of Thailand
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Songkhla, Udorn
Khon Kaen, Lampang, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Phet Buri, Phuket, Yala
This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated April 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.
THAILAND is an exotic kingdom where the past and present mingle in harmony. The country once known as Siam came into being more than 1,000 years ago, when the Thai people descended from the hilly hinterlands of Burma (now Myanmar) and southern China. Here, in the fertile central plain and basin of the Chayo Phraya River, they created a number of independent kingdoms that were continually besieged by their Burmese and Khmer neighbors. Although the Thai were never colonized, they were forced to fight through the centuries to maintain their freedom.
In 1238, the Thai inflicted a devastating defeat on the Khmers and created the kingdom of Sukhothai. At that time, Bangkok (the present capital) lay entirely beneath the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. In 1350, when the capital was moved to Ayutthaya, Bangkok was only a series of mud banks raised by alluvial deposits from the Chao Phraya.
Just 200 years ago, Siamese warriors, mounted on elephants, drove out the Burmese who had killed their king and sacked and destroyed Ayutthaya. The new king established a capital in Thonburi. Fifteen years later, Rama I, founder of the present Chakri dynasty, moved the seat of government across the river to Bangkok.
Bangkok, capital of Thailand, is the largest city in the kingdom and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. About seven and a half million people live in Bangkok and the surrounding metropolitan area. The city lies within a great bend of the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings), which empties into the Gulf of Thailand 35 miles to the south. Thonburi, on the west bank, is considered part of the metropolitan area.
Bangkok became the Thai capital in 1782. Called by the Thai "the city of angels," it is a national treasure house, containing most of the country's historic temples and major landmarks.
Bangkok is an exotic, energetic city of contrasts: high-rise apartment buildings and ancient temples; air-conditioned, modern department stores and crowded, narrow stalls of local markets; wide avenues teeming with traffic and crooked lanes bordered by canals, where small children bathe and fish; the blare of pop music and the tinkle of temple bells; spacious homes and primitive, thatched huts; the scents of jasmine and of fish drying in the sun; international restaurants, and food vendors squatting over small charcoal cooking pots on the sidewalk. A lifetime could be spent exploring Bangkok and its delightful mixture of cultures, customs, and peoples.
Bangkok (in Thai, Krung Thep) suffered heavy damage during World War II. It was seized by the Japanese in December 1941, only a few days after Pearl Harbor and, in 1944 and 1945, it became the target of frequent bombing raids by Allied planes.
In Thailand's tropical climate, cotton and other lightweight washable clothing is comfortable and practical. Most types of summer fabrics, including lightweight knits, are worn for business, since all offices are air-conditioned.
Men find that shirts and ties, without jackets, are acceptable, as are wash-and-wear or safari suits. A dark business suit is usually worn for evening functions. Thai-style men's shirt-jackets, tailored in silk or cotton, can be worn to some evening events. Sports clothes are popular for casual wear, and can be bought locally. Shoes are available at reasonable prices, although larger sizes may have to be custom made.
Women need more clothing for Thailand than for a more temperate climate. Here, clothes need to be changed more frequently. Dresses in current styles are sold in boutiques and department stores, but usually only in sizes to fit petite Thai figures. Dressmakers can make equally comfortable and fashionable clothing. Prices range from reasonable to expensive, and results vary according to the design and the skill of the dressmaker. A wide variety of fabrics is sold in local shops. Thai cotton and silk are of high quality, and are popular for both daytime and evening wear.
Casual dresses, skirts, blouses, and slacks are suitable for almost all daytime occasions outside the office. Businesswomen will be appropriately dressed if they wear the same style of clothing that is acceptable in city offices in the U.S. Sleeveless and short-sleeved dresses with jackets are convenient for moving from the hot, humid outside air into air-conditioned buildings. Shoes purchased on the local market are reasonably priced, stylish, and comfortable, but are not always available in narrow widths or in larger sizes.
For informal social events, floor-length skirts, trousers, or dresses are popular. Occasionally, more formal attire is needed, and can be easily made by dressmakers. Thais wear black only at funerals and when in mourning, and often show discomfort when a foreigner (not in mourning) wears this color. It is sometimes worn as part of fashion, but never as the dominant color.
Children need the same kind of clothing they would wear during hot summer months in the U.S. With few exceptions, most items can be purchased or made locally. Many parents order items through mail order catalogs.
Supplies & Services
Tailors and dressmakers are numerous; seamstresses will work in the home. Shoe repair services are available, but materials used are not of the quality found in the U.S. Dry cleaning and laundry services are adequate, as is repair service for small appliances.
Beauty salons and barbershops charge reasonable prices, and their personnel generally are well-trained.
Most personal and household items are found in Bangkok. Cosmetics, some toiletries, and bed and bath linens are costly. Attractive, locally made table linens, however, are moderately priced.
Although Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, religious tolerance is practiced. The constitution requires the king to be a Buddhist, but also makes him the protector of all religions. Government offices and many businesses close on Sunday, not as a religious holiday, but as a day of rest.
Christian churches in Bangkok include many denominations, many of which hold regular services and Sunday school in English. Catholic, Protestant, Interdenominational, Seventh Day Adventist, Christian Science, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints religious groups are represented in Thailand. A Jewish Center and a Baha'i Center are located in Bangkok. Many up-country areas also have Christian churches, which are often operated by missionaries.
Most foreigners resident in Thailand employ at least one maid or cook. Single people usually can manage with one domestic who cooks, cleans, and does the laundry, but families often need more help. Drivers are not necessary, although they offer great relief from the strain and stress of driving in city traffic.
Domestics work six days a week, with the free day determined by the employer; most household help live in their own quarters in the employer's house or apartment. Knowledge of English varies. Salary depends on skills and previous experience, and ranges from the equivalent of $115 to $200 monthly. Most are also paid one month's salary bonus, or a fraction if they have worked less than a year, at Christmas.
Before employment, and every year thereafter, each employee should have a complete medical examination (available at local hospitals). The American Women's Club in Bangkok operates a registry to assist Americans in finding household employees. Employee liability insurance is recommended.
The International School of Bangkok (ISB) is the major English-language school in Thailand. It is private, based on the American educational system, and supervised by a board of directors elected by parents. The school's constitution requires that at least three nationalities be represented on the board.
About 50% of the staff are hired locally, but some of the teachers are spouses of U.S. Government personnel stationed in Thailand. ISB's teachers and administrative staff have strong academic and teaching credentials.
The school offers kindergarten through grade 12, is accredited by the Western Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and is an academically excellent institution.
There is no longer a formal dress code, but all students are expected to be appropriately dressed and groomed while on campus or attending school-sponsored off-campus activities. Students are permitted to wear the national dress of their native countries. Uniforms are required only for physical education classes.
International School offers primarily a college preparatory program, although a limited number of vocational courses are available. Extracurricular sports and other activities are provided.
ISB participates in, and is a testing center for, the following national testing programs: Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMQT), College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Strong Vocational Interest Inventory (SVII), College Board Achievement Test (ACH), American College Test (ACT), College Board Advanced Placement Test, Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), and Test of Academic Progress (TAP).
Six psychologist/counselors work with students and parents in academic and personal counseling. ISB's facilities for learning-disabled students are limited. If a child needs a self-contained classroom, a small (10-12 students) classroom, extensive occupational therapy, or psychiatric counseling, these services are not available at ISB or anywhere in Bangkok.
Ruamrudee International School is another institution offering an English-language curriculum. The school, founded in 1963, is affiliated with the Catholic Church. A wide variety of elective and extracurricular activities are offered, as well as various sports.
Other schools in Bangkok include Holy Redeemer (Catholic), the Bangkok Pattana (British system), and La Petite École Française (French system).
Schools with instruction in English for handicapped children are not available, but a number of physical therapy clinics and wide range of Thai specialists can provide continuing care.
Several clubs in Bangkok offer English-language classes in the arts, sports, cooking, and crafts. The National Museum Volunteers group sponsors lectures on the ancient and modern history of Thailand, aspects of the country's culture and Buddhism, and Thai art. Qualified music teachers for many instruments are available, and a small music academy in Bangkok teaches theory and composition, and offers instruction in piano, voice, and stringed instruments.
Almost all Thai universities require a special entrance examination (which is in the Thai language) for undergraduate study. Most courses are taught in Thai. For these reasons, it is extremely difficult for an American student to enroll in a college degree program here.
Facilities for many sports are available in Bangkok. Several commercial tennis and racquetball courts are located in the Sukhumvit area and in other parts of the city. Most golf courses are open to the public, and charge reasonable fees.
Privately owned health and exercise clubs are scattered throughout the city, some in the Sukhumvit district. Joggers use the paths at Lumpini Park, near the U.S. Embassy. Others jog on city streets in the early morning before traffic becomes heavy, or use the playing field at the International School of Bangkok. The Royal Bangkok Sports Club offers jogging tracks, horseback riding, an 18-hole golf course, and a swimming pool. However, there is a long waiting list (up to five years) for memberships, unless you pay a special, expensive fee.
There are bowling alleys and swimming pools in the residential areas. Ice skating and roller skating are available. Sporting goods can be bought locally, but prices are high.
Ballet, jazz, and aerobic classes for children and adults are offered at various Bangkok locations.
Spectator sports include Thai boxing, as well as other events ranging from tennis matches to gymnastic exhibitions.
Bangkok has a wealth of historic and scenic sites for the tourist to visit and enjoy. Local travel services have daily tours in modern air-conditioned buses. This is the best way, at first, to see the following sights: the Wat Benchamabophit, an ornate marble temple; Wat Po, which holds the large reclining Buddha image; Wat Trai Mitr, temple of the Golden Buddha; Wat Phra Keo, in the Grand Palace where the emerald Buddha is housed; and many other picturesque and exotic temples.
Boat trips and klong (canal) tours can be arranged. These include taxi rides on the Chao Phraya River, and "long tail" boat trips through the klongs (where the visitor can see Thai houses built on stilts, and observe a style of life based on water transportation networks). Cruises on converted rice barges also are possible.
A few examples of old Thai architecture have been preserved and now serve as museums. Among these are the Suan Pakkard Palace, which contains an antique collection of lacquer, pottery, and manuscripts; the Jim Thompson House, with its superb collection of objets d'art; and the Siam Society's Khamthieng House, an example of northern-style teak architecture. At the weekend market one can buy almost any conceivable article, from roasted beetles to antiques.
The following popular tourist attractions are within a day's drive of Bangkok:
The Ancient City and its outdoor museum, with replicas of nearly 100 ancient and modern monuments of Thailand erected on a scale of 1:1 up to 1:3.
The Rose Garden, featuring beautiful flower beds, a selection of hotels and restaurants, and a daily show recreating country life (Thai dancing, boxing, and cock-fighting).
Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand, only a two-hour drive from Bangkok. It has numerous ruins, some of which have been restored.
Bang Pa In, a former royal summer retreat with a collection of palaces and pavilions in various Thai, Chinese, Italian, and Victorian architectural styles.
Trips up-country and to the various beach resorts are a relaxing way to spend weekends and holidays. The following are some of the more frequently visited places:
Pattaya, a seaside resort with many excellent hotels and restaurants. Because of the rapid growth, however, the beaches are polluted and, unless one is willing to risk disease, water sports are limited to hotel pools. Scuba diving is popular, but requires long boat rides to the outer islands to avoid the worst of the pollution. Nearby, at Bang Saroy, is the local affiliate of the International Game Fish Association, a point of contact for the serious angler.
Hua Hin, which can be reached by train, car, or bus. This resort, the oldest in Thailand, has beautiful white beaches, and mountain scenery. Golf, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and boating are available.
Phuket, a large offshore island about 560 miles south of Bangkok. It has unspoiled sandy beaches and is a favorite spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. Large tin mines are found here.
Khao Yai, a forest and wildlife preserve, about 125 miles northeast of Bangkok. Accommodations include a hotel, bungalows, and camping facilities.
Pimai, called the Angkor Wat of Thailand. It has ruins dating back to the 11th century.
Chiang Mai, a 50-minute flight or a 13-hour overnight train trip from Bangkok. It can also be reached by car in eight hours. Here, one can visit the northern hill peoples and the villages where artisans make umbrellas, silver bowls and jewelry, pottery, handwoven Thai silk and cotton, and carved teak furniture and other wooden objects. Located nearby is a young elephant training camp.
Tours organized by various groups are frequently offered to places outside the country, including Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Health and visa requirements change constantly, and must be checked before each trip.
Colorful festivals celebrating traditional Thai holidays include the following:
Songkran (mid-April), Thai New Year's Day. Young girls dressed in Thai national costumes go to the banks of the rivers in colorful processions. Water is sprinkled on Buddha images, monks, parents, and elders as a gesture of veneration. Sometimes the participants become too enthusiastic and throw buckets of water on passersby.
The Ploughing Ceremony which takes place during the sixth lunar month (May). It is an important festival, with historical roots embedded deeply in Thailand's traditional dependence on the fertility of the land, and in Buddhist and Hindu rituals of kingship. After the king touches the sacred red and gold plough for good luck, the plough is drawn by garlanded bulls in a circular furrow on the Phra Mane Grounds, site of the weekend market. Brahmin priests chant as the animals are offered seven varieties of crops. The yield of the next year's harvest supposedly depends on which crops the bulls choose.
Loy Kratong, celebrated on the night of the full moon of the 12th lunar month (November). This festival marks the end of the rainy season and the end of hard work in the fields. People float their bad fortune away from them in tiny banana leaf or paper floats (kratongs ), decorated with lit candles, flowers, and incense stick. The kratongs are sailed on rivers, canals, and ponds.
Ok Pansa (late October and early November), the end of the Buddhist Lent, during which monks must stay at a wat (temple) and not travel. At the end of Lent, Thai Buddhists can earn merit by presenting kathin, or offerings of food and other items for the wat, and new saffron robes for the monks. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or another member of the royal family, presents kathin to several of Bangkok's large temples. Thai usually join together to purchase such offerings, often presenting them to a wat in another part of the country, and traveling there in festive procession.
Many activities and varied types of entertainment exist for children of all ages in Bangkok. Such attractions include Khao Din Zoo, one of the best in Southeast Asia; Magic Land, a Thai version of Disneyland; Siam Park, a combined amusement and water park; the Science Museum and Planetarium, with "hands on" exhibits; the Pasteur Institute's large collection of living poisonous snakes; and the monthly activities for children at the Nelson Hays Library.
Bangkok offers museums, art galleries, and occasional theater, dance, and music performances. The city also has discotheques and nightclubs.
Regular performances are sponsored at the Bangkok Community Theater, Music Society, Combined Choir, Alliance Française, and Bangkok Symphony. Americans interested in performing can join these groups.
The active American University Alumni Association regularly presents films, lectures, and displays, and holds classes in both Thai and English. Often, AUA sponsors performances of chamber music, jazz and popular music, and recitals by visiting American musicians. Various embassies and organizations offer Thai cultural programs throughout the year.
The Bangkok branch of the Interdenominational Christian Women's Club holds regular monthly luncheon programs. All are welcome; no dues are charged.
The Bhirasi Institute presents frequent art exhibits from Thailand and other countries. Local galleries show extensive work produced by Thailand's active artist community.
The Siam Society, organized to promote knowledge of the country's art, history, culture, and archaeology, provides activities toward these ends. The National Museum Volunteers plan trips and special programs.
At the International Club on Soi 21, Sukhumvit, there are tennis courts, a large swimming pool, a library, and a snack bar, open to all nationalities.
The American Women's Club welcomes any American woman or wife of a U.S. citizen residing in Thailand. The club has programs of local interest, operates a thrift shop, and maintains a servants' registry.
Americans participate in the activities of the Foreign Correspondents'Club and the Hilltribe sale. An American who speaks serviceable Thai will have access to an even wider range of activities and local organizations.
Chiang Mai, with a population exceeding 160,000 is an important regional center for commerce and tourism. It is about 500 miles north of Bangkok, on a river plain surrounded by mountain ranges. Buddhist temples are found on almost every block, and city streets are crowded with bicycles, motorbikes, and converted pickup trucks used as taxis. Although Chiang Mai is undergoing a modernization process, with high-rise condominiums being constructed throughout the city, it still retains a measure of its traditional charm which makes it a popular tourist stop.
Chiang Mai, founded nearly seven centuries ago, was a major religious, cultural, and commercial center until 1556 when Burmese invasion reduced it to a vassal state. The Burmese were driven out in 1775, and Chiang Mai and the surrounding Lan Na Thai kingdom once again became part of northern Thailand.
The city is noted for its scenic splendor, ancient temples, the lilting dialect of its people and, especially, for its beautiful women. The Thai call it Shangri-La.
January is Chiang Mai's coolest month, and warm clothing is needed at that time. Temperatures start to rise in February, reaching their hottest in April with highs of 107°F. The rainy season, May through October, brings relief and heavy rainstorms. November and December are the best months with bright, sunny days and cool nights.
The northern provinces, where Chiang Mai is located, are mountainous, with transportation lines running primarily on a north-south axis along the wide river valleys. The region produces rice, tobacco, corn, sugarcane, and seasonal delicacies such as strawberries. Opium and jade are major illicit products. Lumber, textiles, mining, cottage industry, and tourism are also important elements in the region's economy. About 500 Americans, many of them missionaries, reside in northern Thailand.
The Chiang Mai International School (CMIS), licensed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and operated by the Church of Christ in Thailand, provides instruction from kindergarten through tenth grade. Instruction, using U.S. textbooks, is in English. Uniforms are not required, and jeans are acceptable attire.
The school, founded in 1954, offers classes in Thai language and culture. Currently no programs for either gifted or learning disabled students are available, nor does the school have guidance/vocational counselors.
Depending on the number and ages of preschoolers and the availability of teachers, informal nursery schools and play groups are often organized. Tutors can be found to teach Thai in the home, and the Alliance Française offers classes in French. Special educational opportunities may be available at Chiang Mai or Payap universities, but no organized activities or classes in English are currently offered.
Recreation and Entertainment
Chiang Mai offers the sports enthusiast golf, tennis, windsurfing, swimming, squash, bowling, fishing, horseback riding, and horse racing. Club memberships are available at reasonable rates. Sports equipment and attire are expensive, and both brand and choice of size are limited.
Chiang Mai is a popular tourist and trekking center. The city has many important and interesting Buddhist temples. On the mountain above Chiang Mai is the royal family's winter palace, Phuping, and a well-known Buddhist temple, Suthep. Nearby are villages that specialize in lacquer-ware, silver-smithing, silk and cotton weaving, wood carving, and umbrella making.
Regional touring opportunities include visits to elephant training camps, unusual hill-tribe villages, scenic waterfalls and picnic spots, historic sites along the Mekong River, and the towns of Chiang Rai, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Lamphun, and Sukhothai. Interesting treks and river trips also can be enjoyed, although security regulations may limit the possibilities.
Several local movie theaters have special sound rooms where original English-language soundtracks are played. The U.S. Air Force detachment here receives films each week from the armed forces film circuit; these are screened for the official U.S. community Friday and Saturday evenings.
Three Thai TV stations are received in Chiang Mai, but unlike Bangkok, no simultaneous English-language FM soundtracks are broadcast. American sets must be converted to the European (PAL) system.
Radio Thailand Chiang Mai has English broadcasts both mornings and evenings. With a shortwave receiver, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) can be picked up. No English-language newspapers are available, but two Bangkok English-language papers arrive daily.
Social activities among Americans are informal, and depend on individual inclination and initiative. There is an International Women's Group, which holds luncheon meetings, sponsors arts and crafts and cooking classes, and organizes other special activities. Chiang Mai has several Rotary Club and Lion's International chapters with active and multi-national memberships. Many club and sports activities bring together Thai and foreign nationals.
Songkhla lies at the tip of the Thailand peninsula, about 815 miles south of Bangkok. It is served by Thai Airways and has train connections to Bangkok and Malaysia from the rail junction at Hat Yai, a half-hour drive from the city. This port town has regular freight service to Bangkok. The main highway to Bangkok is paved and the main roads leading to other provinces in the south are generally good.
Sea breezes (from an inland sea to the north and the Gulf of Thailand to the east) give Songkhla a pleasant climate. The temperature stays in the 80s year round, with an occasional hot day. Rainfall is heavy from October through December. January through March is dry, with scattered rains.
In this city of about 250,000, the foreign community is small, but it continues to grow as a result of oil exploration efforts in the Gulf of Thailand. Housing is limited, but usually good. There is a first-class hotel on the beach. Electric current (220v, 50 cycles) is basically reliable, but subject to interruptions. City water is undependable, and the better homes have wells.
Songkhla has a provincial hospital. A Seventh-Day Adventist hospital and a new, modern university medical facility are located in nearby Hat Yai. Local markets are well stocked with seafood and fresh foodstuffs. Pork and chicken are readily available, but quality beef is hard to find. Shopping for items not found in Songkhla markets can be done in Hat Yai or Penang, a large northern Malaysian city, only four hours away by car.
The area around Songkhla includes many fine beaches. There are tennis courts and a golf course in the city.
Udorn, a city over 100,000, is one of the regional hubs of northeastern Thailand. It is 350 miles northeast of Bangkok and 30 miles south of the Mekong River border with Laos. Udorn (Udorndhani) is connected to Bangkok with daily air, rail, and bus service. The drive from Bangkok takes eight hours on the Friendship Highway.
This part of Thailand, where life moves at a leisurely pace, has three distinct seasons. The cool interval, with clear warm days and cool nights, is from November to February. The hot dry season is like "burning sand under glass," to quote Kipling; it extends from March through May. The rainy season normally begins in June and tapers off in October.
From 1965 to 1976, the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Udorn housed a large contingent of U.S. Air Force personnel. With the withdrawal of this contingent in 1976, the American population dropped drastically; about 50 Americans now live in the Udorn area. These include retired military, missionaries, and Peace Corp volunteers, as well as diplomatic personnel.
Considerable economic growth in Udorn has resulted in the construction of new retail establishments, restaurants, hotels, and housing, although the city is still relatively small in area and does not yet boast any high-rises. Udorn has two Western-style supermarkets, as well as a number of smaller grocery shops selling a variety of Western-style products. In addition, traditional open markets offer a wide variety of fresh vegetables, meats, and other products. Bakeries carry local breads and cakes, but they differ somewhat from American versions.
Udorn's one department store and local shops meet most household needs. Ready-made clothing is difficult to find, but many tailor and seamstress shops offer decent service at inexpensive prices. Auto repair shops perform excellent maintenance on American and foreign-made cars at a reasonable cost. Film may be developed locally, but slides must be sent to Bangkok.
One of Udorn's four cinemas has a sound booth available where one can listen to the English soundtrack when an English-language film is shown. Local TV is in Thai, except for English subtitles during the evening news on one channel. English-language radio broadcasts can be heard on shortwave radio. Bangkok based English-language newspapers are available the evening of the date published. English-language video cassettes can be rented from stores in Bangkok; local shops carry a limited supply.
Udorn has many very good Thai and Chinese restaurants, as well as several acceptable Western ones. Recreational facilities are limited, but numerous tennis courts and a short nine-hole golf course are located just outside of town. Also available are four swimming pools, fishing parks, and a jogging path along the city reservoir. Nearby archaeological digs at Ban Chiang, and mountain campsites at Phu Kadueng National Park in Loei Province offer interesting weekend trips for the adventurous.
Most of Thailand lies north of Bangkok and is referred to as "up-country." In general, life outside of Bangkok is restful. Those bothered by the noise, smoke, heavy traffic, and crowded conditions of the capital will enjoy the tranquility and spaciousness of the up-country.
North of Bangkok are jade green rice fields that stretch for miles in all directions, crisscrossed by klongs. Beside the klongs, farmers build their houses on stilts, out of reach of the water, and plant a few fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Many plow their fields with the aid of huge, slow-moving water buffalo with long, curving horns, although an increasing number are using small machine plows. After the day's work, the farmers wash the mud of the paddy from their bodies in waters of the klong.
Beyond the rice lands, the teak-covered mountains reach to the northernmost part of Thailand. To the northeast, a high plateau rises abruptly from the plains and slopes eastward to the Mekong River, which separates Thailand from Laos. This plateau is dotted with scrubby trees. In many areas, water is scarce and the soil poor. The dry season makes unpaved roads dusty, and the monsoon turns them to mud.
The climate in the north and northeast varies more than in Bangkok. Lightweight blankets and sweaters are needed for the cool season, and summer clothing for the hot season.
Western-style housing varies up-country but, on the whole, it is good and steadily improving. Some new houses are being built, and ingenuity can make older homes comfortable and attractive. Houses are usually two-story, with airy rooms and at least one air-conditioned bedroom. Most electrical systems are 200v, 50 cycle, but voltage fluctuates sharply. Power failures in some areas are frequent, and water shortages occur during the dry season. Most homes have telephones.
Hotels vary widely. Some are new and modern; others have only cold water and furnish no sheets. For trips around the provinces, one must pack sheets, towels, soap, and plenty of extra changes of clothing.
Provincial hospitals have facilities adequate only for emergency treatment, although Chiang Mai has excellent medical institutions. Routine medical care is available at four hospitals in Udorn. Most expatriates with serious medical problems, or those requiring surgery or extended treatment, seek medical care in Bangkok. Also, most foreigners go to Bangkok for inoculations and dental care.
Since only Bangkok and Chiang Mai have English-language schools, American parents up-country either send their children to boarding school, or teach them at home, using the Calvert system. In some communities with several children, arrangements are made for one parent to act as teacher for all children.
Even the larger up-country towns may have only small Western communities, and may offer limited social activities and recreational facilities. Many people develop hobbies such as painting, writing, and gardening. Others teach English, cooking, or handicrafts to children or adults. Families now living up-country suggest that newcomers bring musical instruments, games, books, and sports equipment. A shortwave radio is useful. Most of these items can be bought in Bangkok.
A few up-country places have only one or two American families, but this isolation seems to draw them closer together. Friendships seem warmer and a spirit of neighborliness prevails, much as in pioneer days in America. English is not widely understood or spoken in the up-country.
A great advantage of living up-country is the chance to become well acquainted with Thai people, to learn their language, customs, and culture. Many Americans who have accepted the challenge of working in rural Thailand feel that the experience gives a satisfaction that far outweighs the occasional inconvenience.
KHON KAEN is the capital of Khon Kaen Province in east-central Thailand. The city lies on a railroad, 100 miles north of Nakhon Ratchasima. A university opened here in 1964. Khon Kaen's population is estimated over 210,000.
The capital of its province, LAMPANG is on the left bank of the Wang River and near a railroad, 45 miles southeast of Chiang Mai. Located in northwestern Thailand, the city is linked by a highway with Chiang Rai. Lampang is a commercial center with sugar-refining facilities.
Situated in southwestern Thailand, NAKHON PATHOM (also spelled Nagara Pathom) is the capital of Nakhon Pathom Province. The city is about 38 miles northwest of Bangkok and has, among its landmarks, a large temple.
Formerly ruled by Cambodia (officially called Democratic Kampuchea), the ancient walled city of NAKHON RATCHASIMA (also called Khorat or Korat) is the capital of its province, and lies on the Mum River, 100 miles east of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. Nahkon Ratchasima's population exceeds 280,000. A railroad junction point, the city is a trading and distributing center for the eastern region of the country.
PHET BURI (also spelled Petchaburi or Bejraburi) is a seaport and provincial capital on the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. A railroad connects it with Bangkok, 60 miles southwest.
The seaport town of PHUKET is the capital of Phuket Province in southwestern Thailand. As one of the major Thai ports on the Indian Ocean, Phuket exports fish, rubber, charcoal, and tin.
Situated in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border and 22 miles south of Pattani, YALA is a provincial capital. It is on the Pattani River and on the railway that runs from Songkhla to northeastern Malaysia. The residents of Yala are Malay in their language and culture and Islamic in religion. The city's exports include rubber and tin.
Geography and Climate
The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly Siam, is located at a strategic crossroads in Southeast Asia. With an area of about 200,000 square miles, it is the region's second largest nation. Its boundaries adjoin Myanmar on the north and west, Laos on the east and northeast, Cambodia on the southeast, and Malaysia and the Gulf of Thailand on the south.
Topographically, Thailand presents a varied landscape of forested mountains, dry plateaus, fertile river plains, and sandy beaches. Mountain ranges run along the border with Myanmar and down to Malaysia. Another range splits the country in half from north to south. Major deforestation has occurred throughout Thailand. However, the government has attempted to save the forests by imposing a ban on commercial logging.
The Chao Phraya River originates in the north and flows southward. It irrigates the fertile rice lands of the central plains through a network of klongs. This long waterway also serves as the main water transportation route through the central part of the country. It empties into the Gulf of Thailand near the international port of Bangkok. Day and night, the river teems with traffic: ships of many lands; round-bottom barges loaded with rice, sugar, rubber, teak, and coconut; brightly painted river taxis; and tiny sampans piled high with fruits and vegetables for the city market.
Because it is located between the equator and about 20°N latitude, Thailand is warm and humid and classified as tropical monsoon. A pronounced rainy season lasts from July through October. From November through February, the northeast monsoon brings a cooler, drier period, when humidity drops from an average high of 95.2% to an average low of 58.5%. During this season, temperatures range from the mid-60s in the morning to the mid-80s during the day. March through June is usually hot and humid, and temperatures often reach 100°F.
Thailand's warm, humid climate, particularly during the rainy season, can cause mildew. However, air-conditioning generally prevents serious problems. The usual tropical insects and small lizards live on ceilings and walls; the lizards eat mosquitoes and other insects and do no damage or harm. Ants of all varieties abound. Ticks are a problem for pet owners.
In 2000, Thailand's population was estimated at 61.2 million. Most people are native-born Thai whose ancestors migrated from southern China in the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. Over the centuries, they have developed an independent culture and identity that is uniquely national in character. The most significant minority are the Chinese, who comprise 14% of the population and live throughout Thailand. Small minorities include the Malays, Mon, Khmer, Indians, Vietnamese, and various hill tribe peoples. About 20% of the population live in cities, with a disproportionately large number—six million—concentrated in metropolitan Bangkok. Villages and small towns dot the greater part of the landscape. The annual population growth rate has declined dramatically from over 3% a year in 1960 to less than 1% in 2001.
The Thai, historically governed by strong central rule tempered by Buddhist precepts of reciprocity between the king and his people, retain a traditional reverence for their monarch. Throughout their history, the Thai have encountered and borrowed selectively from regional and, later, Western civilizations, producing a rich cultural synthesis that is uniquely Thai. That their country maintained its independence despite pressures from colonial powers is a matter of great pride. A strong sense of cultural and national identity has helped to protect this society from massive disruption as it shifts from an agrarian economy to a developing, urbanizing, industrial state.
Social interactions are governed by formal expressions of courtesy, and deference to age and social status. Thais greet one another with a wai, performed by placing the palms of the hands together in front of the face and bowing slightly. The younger, or the one of lower station in life, customarily initiates the greeting. The word used is sa-wat-dee kha, spoken by women, and sa-wat-dee krap, by men. When taking leave, the same words and wai are repeated. It is good manners to remove shoes on entering a Thai home, and this custom is obligatory before entering a temple or shrine.
It is impolite to touch a Thai, even a child, on the head or shoulders, to point or shake a finger at another person, or to talk loudly or shout. To point one's feet at, or step over, another person is considered an insult. A woman should never touch a Buddhist monk, hand anything directly to him, or allow her clothing to brush against his robe. Sitting or standing on Buddha images is considered a sacrilegious act, punishable by a fine or jail sentence. Pointing fingers at, or touching, any image of the Buddha is viewed as an expression of bad manners.
The royal family is of particular importance to all Thais. It is not acceptable to speak out against the King. Such behavior is punishable under lese majeste laws. Talking about any member of the royal family in derogatory terms, even in casual conversation, is also not acceptable. Everyone at a gathering stands when the King's anthem is played.
Thai is a tonal language, with a root monosyllabic vocabulary enriched by the addition of Sanskritic and other loan words. It is not inflected, and the absence of tenses and cases makes it relatively easy for Americans to pick up a rudimentary command of Thai, despite the difficulties introduced by the tone system. The regional dialects, as well as the closely related Lao language, can be hard to understand but, in this age of radio and television, almost all Thai people now understand some Bangkok or Central Thai. English, the second language of most educated Thais, is taught in schools and universities.
Thailand is a religious nation; 95% of its people are Buddhist. A mixture of Theravada Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism permeates all levels and aspects of society. It is a stabilizing force both at national and at local levels, where it provides a focus for community life, particularly in rural areas.
The wat (temple) is used not only for spiritual purposes, but for ceremonies of birth, marriage, and death. It also is used for recreation and welfare activities and, in remote areas, still serves as a school. Thai Buddhist men gain merit by spending from three months to several years in the saffron robes of the monk, adhering to Buddhist moral and religious precepts, or Dhamma, and performing meritorious acts.
Most Chinese and Vietnamese in Thailand are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism. Less than 0.5% of the population are Christian. Thai Muslims, about 4% of the total population, are concentrated in the four southern provinces along the Malaysian border.
Most scholars believe that the Thai (also known as the Siamese) people migrated from the hilly hinterlands of southern China into what is now Thailand over 1,000 years ago. Settling first in the fertile central plain and basin of the Chao Phraya River, they created a series of independent kingdoms that competed with their Burmese and Khmer neighbors.
In the 13th century, the Thai defeated the Khmer and created a kingdom with its capital at Sukhothai. A second kingdom, founded in 1351 at Ayudhaya, later eclipsed Sukhothai in importance. The Burmese, in April 1767, sacked and captured Ayudhaya, killing the Thai king. Six months later the Siamese drove out the Burmese and General Phraya Taksin established a new capital in Thonburi, across the river from what is now Bangkok. In 1782, Rama I, who replaced Taksin and founded the current Chakri dynasty, moved the capital across the river to its present location. Although Westerners have long called the city Bangkok after a small fishing village once nearby, the Thai name of the capital is Krung Thep, or City of Angels. The Grand Palace lies in an area called Rattanakosin, or the Jewel of Indra, the name also used to designate the Chakri era's history and culture.
In Thailand's pre-modern Buddhist state, the king was a living Buddha, or Bodhisatta, for his subjects, and a living embodiment of Buddhist law (Dhamma ). He was protector of the monastic orders, and performed regular ceremonies to assure the progression of the seasons and fertility of the land. Considered to be between human and divine, he was the apex of an earthly hierarchy below which the Thai social and political order was formed. Kings of the Chakri dynasty (late 19th and early 20th centuries) were a powerful modernizing force, introducing important reforms and innovations while protecting the country from encroachment by imperialistic forces in the region.
The modern period began in 1932 with the advent of constitutional monarchy and experiments with the parliamentary system. Since 1946, American-born King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), as chief of state, has ruled in conformity with provisions of the constitution. The king has little direct power, but he plays an important symbolic, unifying role, and he continues to be the protector of Buddhism, performing regular ceremonial roles and is the patron of all religions. Legislative power lies with a democratically elected government led by a prime minister.
Since 1932, Thailand has lived under a succession of unstable governments in which the military has played a dominant role. Changes of government frequently came through coups and the groups seizing power rewrote the constitution to suit their own purposes. A relatively stable time occurred in the 1980s when Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda presided over eight years of coalition governments. The military last seized power in 1991, but with citizen protests and royal intervention, civilian rule was restored in 1992.
The most significant development since then was the ratification of the current constitution in 1997. Thailand has revised their Constitution 16 times since 1932. The recent reforms involve the political process as well as expanded the rights and civil liberties of Thai citizens. They include the establishment of a National Counter Corruption Commission, a Constitutional Court, a national Human Rights Commission, and a new national Election Commission.
The Ratha Sapha (National Assembly) has two chambers: the Saphaputhan Ratsadon (House of Representatives), with 438 members, and the Wuthisapha (Senate) with 200 members.
House terms last for four years. However, the prime minister may choose to dissolve the House and call elections before that date. Elections for the country's first elected Senate were held in March 2000. All members of the Senate are elected concurrently for a set term of six years, and members are not eligible for reelection.
With the exception of the Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest organized political party, Thai political parties have tended to be centered on individual personalities rather than ideologies.
Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws; Koranic law is applied in the far south, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeals, and its judges are appointed by the king.
The flag of Thailand is comprised of five horizontal bands—red, white, dark blue, white, and red, in that order. The central blue band is twice the width of the others.
Arts, Science, Education
The literacy rate for Thais aged 15 and over is 90%. Ninety-seven percent of those eligible for first grade enter school and 65% of these complete the primary grades. 60%, however, enroll in secondary and higher education. Bangkok is the home of 10 state-run universities and numerous private colleges and universities. Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, and Songkhla each have an important regional university. The language of instruction is Thai, except for selected graduate economics and business programs that offer courses in English.
The predominant sources of modern Thai culture are Hinduism and Theravada Buddhism, as transmitted through contact with ancient Mon, Ceylonese, and Khmer civilizations centered in what are now Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. A perceptible Chinese influence also exerts itself in many aspects of Thai culture. In southern Thailand, long traversed by Muslim traders, elements of the classical Islamic tradition have been incorporated into the culture.
Art objects in Thailand traditionally were created and used for religious purposes—decoration of temples, sacred manuscripts, and religious statues—and for the use of royalty and nobility. As a result of the sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the destruction of many cultural artifacts, Thai art for this period is scarce, but later periods are well represented in museum and other collections. After the late 1940s, schools of modern Thai art began to show marked Western influences. Although many artists paint in styles derived from Western models, others are experimenting with expressing traditional Buddhist themes in contemporary forms. Traditional techniques are preserved and taught at Silpakorn University and the Department of Fine Arts in Bangkok.
The National Museum in Bangkok contains an extensive collection of Thai art, including prehistoric objects, sculpture, pottery, and paintings representing various periods and objects (furnishings, carriages, etc.) from previous royal families. The Jim Thompson House (dedicated to the man who popularized Thai silk throughout the world) and Suan Pakkard Palace exhibit private collections which contain some of the finest examples of Thai antiques.
The Museum Volunteer Group and the Siam Society give lectures and arrange study work groups on Thai culture. A number of cultural societies, including the Alliance Française, British Council, Goethe Institute, Japan Foundation, and American University Alumni Association show movies from their respective countries, usually in their native languages, and sponsor The Bangkok Community Theater, an amateur group, which presents a number of plays each year. The Bangkok Combined Choir presents an annual performance of Handel's Messiah. The Bangkok Music Society schedules recitals all year and the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra's yearly season includes at least four concerts.
Many private galleries show the works of contemporary artists and artisans. Air-conditioned theaters show American, Thai, Indian, and Japanese movies daily. In recent years, the more traditional forms of Thai art, music, and dance have been revived. The Royal Siamese classical dances, now in great demand, are performed frequently by troupes of the Department of Fine Arts, dance schools, and private groups. The more traditional forms of painting and handicrafts, including work with silver, silk, bronze, lacquer, and ceramics, also are enjoying a resurgence.
Commerce and Industry
In the earlier part of the 1990s, the Thailand economy was one of Southeast Asia's strongest. But financial crisis hit, beginning in 1997. By the end of 1998, the economy had collapsed by 10.8%, local currency lost half its value, and about 70% of Thailand's domestic financial institutions were either shut down, taken over by the government, or merged with other institutions. Per capita income dropped from $3,000 in 1996 to $1,800 in 1998.
With over $17 billion dollars of aid from the International Monetary Fund, the economy has stabilized and has begun to move forward at a slow, but relatively steady rate.
About 54% of the labor force is involved in agriculture. The most important crop is rice, which is both the staple food and the principal export. Other agricultural commodities produced in significant amounts include: fish and fishery products, cassava (tapioca), rubber, maize (corn), and sugar. Exports of processed foods such as canned tuna, pineapples, and frozen shrimp are on the rise.
Thailand's manufacturing sector has revived with rapid increases in production of such goods as computers and electronics, garments and footwear, furniture, wood products, canned food, toys, plastic products, gems, and jewelry. High-technology products such as integrated circuits and parts, electrical appliances, and vehicles are now leading Thailand's strong growth in exports.
Tourism is still one of Thailand's single largest earners of foreign exchange. Many new luxury hotels and other tourist facilities have opened in order to serve the growing number of tourists from Japan, Europe, the U.S., and Taiwan.
The U.S. is Thailand's leading export market, followed by Japan and Singapore. Leading Thai exports are fishery products (especially canned tuna), textiles, integrated circuits, jewelry/precious stones, and footwear. Japan supplies most of Thailand's imports, followed by the U.S. Leading Thai imports are machinery and parts, aircraft, chemicals, textile fibers (especially cotton), and fish.
American investment has played a significant role in the Thai economy. Two American companies, ESSO (Exxon) and Caltex (a joint venture of Chevron and Texaco), are among the four largest gasoline retailers in Thailand. Seagate Technology has made Thailand its worldwide base for production of computer disk drives, and AT&T has constructed the world's largest corded telephone manufacturing plant outside Bangkok. American consumer brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Gillette, Johnson and Johnson, and Colgate-Palmolive are well established in Thailand, selling products that are either imported or manufactured by local subsidiaries. American investment has not increased as rapidly as that of Japan or Taiwan, although the U.S. is still considered the largest or second largest foreign investor in Thailand.
Bangkok is served by several international air carriers, and there are domestic airlines providing service between Thai cities. Comfortable, air-conditioned buses also are available, traveling to major cities and resort areas. Daily first-class train service to major cities is also available.
Canals, or klongs, have traditionally provided an important mode of transportation in parts of central and southern Thailand. Although most canals in Bangkok have been filled in, or are no longer navigable, water-taxi routes starting from points along the banks of the Chao Phraya River link the capital city to the large number of klongs in the countryside. Water taxis and small motorboats provide a low-cost and efficient means of transporting passenger and light-cargo traffic, and are a pleasant way to explore a style of Thai life not visible from the roads. These boats do not carry life jackets.
Roads in Bangkok are generally good. However, because the city is below sea level, major drainage problems arise during the rainy season, when certain streets become, or revert to, canals; when others flood; and when large potholes and drain openings go unrepaired for many weeks. Roads vary from the Friendship Highway and the main north-south roads, all in good condition, to unpaved, ungraded surfaces, often impassable by flooding during the rainy season.
Bangkok traffic is heavy and, when not halted at intersections in the city's infamous and interminable traffic jams, moves at a reasonable pace. The billows of black smoke emitted by public buses, exhaust fumes from other vehicles, and the mixture of large passenger cars, motorcycles, bikes, samlors, public buses, and pedestrians make driving one of the least attractive and most fatiguing aspects of life in Bangkok. The perpetual, severe congestion forces people to arrange the day's activities around traffic problems, and often exceeds the limits of time, tolerance, frustration, and fatigue.
Public transportation in Bangkok includes buses (always crowded and driven aggressively); samlors (two-passenger, three-wheel vehicles used in emergencies for short trips); and taxis.
Taxis are usually air-conditioned to some degree. The state of repair of the taxi, the driver's knowledge of the local major destinations, English competence, and basic driving ability (including possession of a drivers license) can vary widely from taxi to taxi. The traveler should negotiate the fare before entering the vehicle and, upon completion of the trip, remain seated in the taxi until change is received. Meters are not required by law.
Taxis dispatched from hotels are air-conditioned and more comfortable, but the rates are two or three times the fare for a regular taxi. Hotel taxis are, however, particularly useful for late night trips or journeys to the airport because they can be booked in advance. You can rent air-conditioned cars and minibuses, with or without drivers, for trips in and out of Bangkok.
Local police cars vary in color; fire trucks are red. Traffic, when directed, is controlled by traffic lights or police officers.
Personally owned vehicles should be air-conditioned for comfort. The extremely hot, humid, and polluted air makes driving with open windows difficult.
Traffic moves on the left. Right-hand-drive cars are safer, especially on the open highways, but left-hand-drive cars can be used. Station wagons and larger vehicles are not recommended, since they are difficult to maneuver or park in certain areas of Bangkok. They also cost more to operate and are difficult to sell.
Japanese and European cars can be purchased locally, although often with a wait of three to four months for delivery. If an American car is shipped, it should have a tropical radiator. Unleaded gas is not available. Adequate repairs are done on the local market. Labor costs are low, but most replacement parts for non-Japanese cars are expensive. Tires are available locally at reasonable prices.
Cars must carry adequate property damage and liability insurance. Several Bangkok firms are licensed to issue policies in Thailand, but many Americans order from well-known firms in the U.S. Third-party liability insurance is required; full comprehensive coverage is recommended.
Automobiles brought into the country must be registered promptly upon arrival, and cannot be driven without Thai license tags. Since it takes up to three months to obtain a Thai driver's license, an international or U.S. permit can be used in the interim.
Telephone service to the U.S. is good. Sometimes you can be put right through and at other times there is a one-to two-hour delay while the call is routed through the international operator. Calls may be placed from home, hotel, or the Central Radio Telephone Service of the General Post Office on New Road in Bangkok. Telegrams and cables can be sent from any post office and from most hotels; messages must be submitted in written form. Airmail service to the U.S. takes three to 10 days, and transit time for surface mail is from 10 to 20 days.
Thai television operates on the PAL system; American-made color sets must be adjusted before use. Modification to PAL can be done locally, but it is expensive and the results are not always satisfactory. Reception is fair when an outside antenna is used. Sets purchased locally are expensive.
Bangkok has five television stations. The stations carry some American and British programs, and English translations of the news, which the viewer receives by tuning in the appropriate channel and listening to the English soundtrack on FM radio.
A number of Thai-language and a few English-language radio stations operate on FM stereo and regular AM frequencies. Shortwave carries Voice of America (VOA) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Bangkok has two English-language dailies: the Bangkok Post and The Nation Review. Both offer home delivery and use Western wire services to supplement domestic news. Time and Newsweek (international editions), the International Herald Tribune, and USA Today are available by subscription or direct purchase at newsstands.
Health and Medicine
Bangkok has a full range of trained, English-speaking medical and dental specialists. Hospitals used by the American community are modern and well-equipped. In Bangkok, only a limited number of medical specialists are qualified to offer care to the physically handicapped or mentally disabled. In other cities, there are hospitals which are adequate for routine treatment; more complicated cases are often treated in Bangkok.
Most diseases in Thailand are also common in the U.S., but some occur with greater frequency because of climatic and sanitary conditions. Heat rashes, fungus infections, colds and other respiratory infections, and intestinal disorders are common. Careful attention to sanitation and hand cleanliness is the best preventive against intestinal disorders.
Lack of vehicle pollution control plus severe industrial pollution have created a serious air pollution problem in Bangkok. Persons with chronic respiratory problems should seek medical advice before arriving for an extended stay, since these conditions usually become much worse here.
In large cities, household water comes from purification plants, but the possibility of contamination in the distribution system always exists. Boiled or bottled water must be used for drinking, making ice cubes, and brushing teeth. During times of flooding, drinking water becomes contaminated by seepage into the delivery pipes and diarrheal diseases invariably increase in frequency. Since the water here contains no fluoride, pregnant women and all children under 18 should use a fluoride supplement.
Fresh milk and ice cream are sources of many infectious diseases. Canned and powdered milk are safe to use, as are the products of Foremost Dairy, sold in most local supermarkets. Meat, especially pork, should be cooked thoroughly, and raw fruits and vegetables must be washed with soap and water and then soaked in chlorine or an iodine solution prior to cooking or peeling.
Mosquitoes are profuse throughout the country, but malaria is not a problem in the major cities or resort areas. Suppressants are available when traveling to border regions. Hepatitis is transmitted by contaminated food and water, but gamma globulin shots reduce its incidence and severity dramatically.
Rabies shots for pets are not compulsory, but rabid dogs are common here. All foreign residents, especially children, should (in advance of arrival) receive pre-exposure rabies immunizations. Any person> bitten or scratched by a fur-bearing animal or bat should seek medical care immediately. Cats, dogs, and other animals susceptible to rabies should have rabies shots before they are brought to Thailand as pets.
Jan. 1… New Year's Day
Feb. … Chinese New Year*
Apr. 6… Chakri Day
Apr. … Songkran Day*
May 1… Labor Day
May … Royal Ploughing Ceremony*
May … Visakha Bucha Day*
July … Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent)*
Aug. 12 … Her Majesty the Queen's Birthday & Mother's Day
Oct. 23 … Chulalongkorn Day
Dec. 5… His Majesty the King's Birthday & Father's Day
Dec. 10… Constitution Day
Dec. 31… New Year's Eve*
NOTES FOR TRAVELERS
Several international air carriers serve Bangkok. The most commonly traveled route for Americans is via Tokyo and Hong Kong.
U.S. citizen tourists staying for less than 30 days do not require a visa, but must possess a passport and onward/return ticket. A Passenger Service Charge, currently 500 baht (USD equivalent as of September 2001: $11.50), must be paid in Thai baht when departing the country from any of Thailand's international airports. Thailand's Entry/Exit information is subject to change without notice. For further information on Thailand's entry/exit requirements, please contact the Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, telephone (202) 944-3600, or the Internet web site http://www.thaiembdc.org, or the Thai consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City.
Thai customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Thailand of items such as firearms, explosives, narcotics and drugs, radio equipment, books or other printed material and video or audio recordings which might be considered subversive to national security, obscene, or in any way harmful to the public interest and cultural property. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Thailand in Washington, D.C. or one of the Thai consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Americans living in or visiting Thailand are encouraged to register either online or in person at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai. At both locations updated information on travel and security in Thailand is available. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok; the U.S. mailing address is APO AP 96546-0001. The central switchboard number is (66-2) 205-4000; the American Citizen Services Unit number is (66-2) 205-4049; and the fax number is (66-2) 205-4103. The web site for the U.S. Embassy is http://usa.or.th. American citizens can register online via the web site. Questions regarding American Citizens Services can be submitted by E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai is located at 387 Wichayanond Road; the U.S. mailing address is Box, C, APO AP 96546. The telephone number is (66-53) 252-629 and the fax number is (66-53) 252-633.
Thailand has no quarantine restrictions on entering pets, but does require a rabies inoculation certificate and a certificate of good health issued not more than one week prior to arrival. Bangkok's tropical climate poses numerous health hazards for pets. Dogs especially are susceptible to such afflictions as heartworm, roundworm, and other parasites. Fleas and ticks also abound. Local veterinary clinics are not always up to U.S. standards. Bangkok has a high incidence of rabies, and local pet purchases are discouraged. Pet goods are available at local pet shops.
Firearms & Ammunition
Any weapon that can be fired must be registered with authorities. Foreigners should not import antique weapons. Firearms imported into Thailand must be exported upon the owners departure, and cannot be disposed of by sale or gift within the country. Weapons are restricted to pistols and revolvers with minimum four-inch barrel length and maximum. 45 caliber bore (one of each caliber); target rifles, not larger than. 22 caliber (one of each type); hunting rifles neither operable in full automatic mode, larger than .375 caliber, nor configured as a military weapon (one of each caliber); shotguns, one of each designed for skeet or trap shooting, and one of each designed for hunting; and a total of 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Social Customs & Laws
Thailand's traditional greeting is the wai, made by placing the palms together and raising them to a level determined by the relative status of those being greeted. The handshake is becoming more popular among cosmopolitan Thais.
It is a criminal offense to make negative comments about the King or other members of the royal family. Thais hold the King in the highest regard, and it is a serious crime to make critical or defamatory comments about him. This particular crime--dubbed "lese majeste"--is punishable by a prison sentence of three to fifteen years. Purposely tearing or destroying Thai bank notes, which carry an image of the King, may be considered such an offense.
Currency, Banking & Weights and Measures
The time in Thailand is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus seven.
The basic unit of Thai currency is the baht, divided into 100 satangs. All normal banking services are provided by several foreign and Thai banks; many have sidewalk currency exchange windows.
Thailand uses the metric system for most weights and measures, but some local units remain in force, particularly in the provinces. Some of the more important local measures are the rai (.4 acres), the square wah (four square meters), and the picul (60 kilograms).
The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:
Bowie, Theodore, and Alexander Griswald. The Arts of Thailand. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975.
Bunnag, Jane. Buddhist Monk, Buddhist Layman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Cadet, J.M. Ramakien: The Thai Epic. Palo Alto, CA: Kodansha, 1971.
Coedes, George. The Hinduized States of South-East Asia. Honolulu, HI: University Press, 1975.
Donner, W. Five Faces of Thailand. London: C. Hurst, 1978.
Girling, J. Thailand: Society and Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Keyes, Charles F. Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation-State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.
Klausner, William J. Reflections on Thai Culture. Bangkok: Siam Society, 1983.
Manunet, Banham. Siamese Tales Old and New. Philadelphia: R. West, 1978.
McKinnon, John, and Wanat Bhruksari. Highlanders of Thailand. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Morell, D., and Chai-Anan Samudvanij. Thailand: Reform, Reaction, and Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1981.
Na Pombhejra, Vichitwong. Readings in Thailand's Political Economy. Bangkok Printing Enterprise, 1978.
Nuechterlein, Donald Edwin. Thailand and the Struggle for Southeast Asia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965.
Segaller, Denis. New Thoughts on Thai Ways and Some Old Ones, Too. Bangkok: Mke. Magazine Distribution Service, 1989.
Sivaraksa, S. Siam in Crisis. Bangkok: Komol Keemthong Foundation, distributed by Suksit Siam, 1980.
Smith, Bardwell, ed. Religion and Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books, 1978.
Spinks, Nelson. Ceramic Wares of Siam. Bangkok: Siam Society, 1978.
Swearer, Donald K. Buddhism and Society in Southeast Asia. Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books, 1981.
Waugh, Alec. Bangkok: The Story of a City. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
Wells, Kenneth Elmer. Thai Buddhism: Rites and Activities. New York: AMS Press, 1982.
Wyatt, David K. Thailand: A Short History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
Young, Ernest. The Kingdom of the Yellow Robe. London: Oxford University Press, 1982.
"Thailand." Cities of the World. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410700213.html
"Thailand." Cities of the World. 2002. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410700213.html
|Official Country Name:||Kingdom of Thailand|
|Compulsory Schooling:||6 years|
|Public Expenditure on Education:||4.8%|
|Educational Enrollment:||Primary: 5,927,902|
|Educational Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 87%|
History & Background
The Kingdom of Thailand is one of the few developing countries never to have been colonized. It is located centrally in Southeast Asia with both extensive Pacific coasts (Gulf of Thailand) and Indian Ocean (Andaman Sea). It shares borders with Myanmar (Burma) to the west and northwest, the Lao PDR to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the south and east, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand occupies an area of 514,000 square kilometers (319,194 square miles). Its population is 61,230,874 (estimated in July 2000), making it the sixteenth largest country in the world.
Though not as culturally diverse as other Southeast Asian countries, such as Myanmar, Laos, or Indonesia, Thailand has, nevertheless, considerable ethnic diversity. The three major groups are ethnic Thais (roughly 45 percent), Thais of Lao-Isan (northeast) ethnicity (roughly 30 percent), and Sino-Thais (roughly 14 percent) who are generally well-assimilated. Among the other three major ethnic groups are diverse hill peoples in the north and west such as the Hmong and Karen, Islamic Malay peoples in the southernmost four provinces of Thailand, and Khmer-Thais in the lower part of the northeast.
Prior to 1939 and from 1945-1949 the country was known as Siam. In 1949, the name reverted to Thailand, literally meaning land of the free. The country's origin dates back to 1238 when the Sukhothai Kingdom was established (1238-1378). The Sukhotahai Kingdom was followed by the Ayuthaya Kingdom (1350-1767), Thonburi Kingdom (1768-1781), and the current Chakri Dynasty-Bangkok Period (1782 to present). The country has had a literate culture from its beginning. Its phonetic alphabet was invented by King Ramkhamhaeng in 1283 and was derived originally from a form of the Brahmi script of Southern Indian called Grantha (Pongsak 2001).
Traditionally, education took place in Buddhist temples (wat). Teachers were Buddhist priests who were considered the learned members of the community and they provided both moral training and the basics of a literary culture. This system prevailed from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. A lasting influence of this system can be seen today in what are known as "temple schools" located on the grounds of Buddhist monasteries (approximately 20 percent).
In the late nineteenth century under the visionary leadership of its modernizing monarch, King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) (1868-1910), Siam established a modern secular system of education. The introduction of a modern printing press by Western missionaries in the mid-1800s made it possible to print books in the Thai language, an extremely important development for the future of Thai education. In 1858, King Mongkut (Rama IV) had the first government printing press established.
Constitutional & Legal Foundations
In 1871 King Rama V issued the Command Declaration on Schooling, representing the beginning of formal education in Siam. At that time, however, such schools were essentially elitist and served the royal family and their adoptees. Later schools were established to serve commoners. An English school was set up at the Palace to prepare princes and other royals for study overseas. In 1887, King Rama V established a formal Department of Education, responsible for the administration of all schools in the Kingdom (34 at that time) and religious affairs. As part of a major administrative reform of government, King Rama V established 13 ministries and the Department of Education was transformed into the Ministry of Education. In 1902, the National System of Education in Siam was promulgated providing for two types of education: general and professional or technical. The system specified various age limits for admission. In 1921, the Compulsory Primary Education Act became law, requiring compulsory four years of schooling.
Eleven years later in 1932, Siam was transformed from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy through a bloodless revolution. Following that transition, the first National Education Scheme was introduced. It articulated the ideal of equality of opportunity for all regardless of gender or socioeconomic background. In 1960, compulsory education was extended to seven years, four years of primary education and three years of lower secondary. This new law though was not vigorously enforced and most Thais, especially in rural areas completed only four years of formal schooling. In 1977, Thailand's educational system was changed from a 4-3-3-2 to a 6-3-3 structure, with six years of compulsory education, three years of lower secondary, and three years of upper secondary. This change was designed to ensure that more Thais would complete a complete cycle of basic education.
On August 14, 1999, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej signed a new National Education Act, reflecting the basic policies of educational reform mandated by the new democratic constitution approved on October 11, 1997. This new act called for 12 years of free education for all Thais and 9 years of compulsory schooling.
Thailand has a large and complex educational system. Basically, the system is a 6-3-3 one followed by a wide variety of postsecondary options. Public preschools are under the control of the Ministry of Education or Interior and serves children aged three to five. Private preschools serving the same age group are under the supervision of the Private Education Commission. Public primary schools accommodate children from the ages of 6 to 11 and are supervised by the Ministries of Education, Interior, and local municipalities. Private primary schools are under the control of the Private Education Commission. Secondary schools educate children between the ages of 12 to 17 and overseen by the Ministry of Education and local municipalities in the public sector and by the Private Education Commission in private schools.
Students between the ages of 14 to 17 who are seeking admission to selective universities or students seeking admission to highly selective schools attend private coaching schools. There are also private international schools teaching 5-to 18-year-olds under the supervision of the Private Education Commission. Selective public universities (undergraduate programs) teach 18- to 21-year-olds and are under the supervision of the Ministry of University Affairs. Selective public universities, offering graduate masters and doctoral programs are supervised by the Ministry of University Affairs. The "open universities" (both open admissions and open distance) serve the over 18 working population and are overseen by the Ministry of University Affairs.
International colleges and universities, private universities, teacher training colleges, institutes of technology, colleges of physical education, and nursing colleges offer undergraduate and master degree programs. These institutions of higher learning are controlled by the Ministry of University Affairs, the Ministry of Education, or the Ministry of Public Health depending upon their content.
There are 44,903 preprimary schools (6,619 private) in Thailand. The number of public primary schools and lower secondary is 31,129. Public lower and upper secondary schools number 2,660. There are 409 public vocational schools (upper secondary and postsecondary-certificate levels), 42 international schools and colleges, 36 Rajabhat Institutes, 50 Rajamangala Institutes of Technology, 13 special science schools, 13 colleges of physical education, 6 sports schools, 15 colleges of fine arts, 2 Buddhist universities, 11 original public selective universities, 8 recent new public universities, 2 public open universities, and 49 private universities in Thailand.
In addition to these genres of education supervised by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of University Affairs, a number of other ministries and agencies administer various kinds of schools and academic institutions. For example, the Ministry of Public Health administers nursing colleges, public health colleges, and a college of medical technology and public health. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives administers an irrigation college, a veterinary school, and a cooperative school. Seven other ministries and bodies administer schools and colleges of various types.
Preprimary & Primary Education
Preprimary education is neither required nor guaranteed by the government for all students. With the rapid growth of the Thai economy, though, the high level of female participation in the labor force, and intense competition for entry to quality primary schools, the demand for preschool education has grown steadily. In 1995, approximately 73.7 percent of the three to five age group was enrolled in preschools, but by 1999 this percent had risen to an impressive 96.9 percent. The Eighth National Education Development Plan (1997-2001) calls for all preschool children to have access to at least one year of a school readiness program before 2001 and that no less than 90 percent of children aged three to five will have access to preprimary education in the year 2001. Reflecting the importance of this level of education, a special National Institute for Early Childhood Education (NECE) was established.
There are three basic types of preprimary education: Child development centers; Preschool classes offered by private schools, and public schools; and Formal kindergarten education offered by private and public schools.
The primary school curriculum is for six years. For each school year, there are 40 weeks of instruction with 25 hours per week resulting in a total of 1,000 hours of instruction per year. The curriculum is focused on five key competency areas rather than specific individual courses. The five areas are: Basic skills group (Thai language and mathematics); Life experiences; Character development; Work-oriented experiences; and Special experiences (grades 5 and 6 only).
Most students study at this level in public schools (88 percent). Though primary education is compulsory, it is still not universally attained as there are significant numbers of children from the ages of 6 through 11 not in primary school. These are children primarily in remote rural areas or urban slums. The overall enrollment percentage for primary schools in 1999 of 103.6 percent is misleading and is higher than 100 because of repeaters and those enrolled who are either under or overage (younger than 6 or older than 11). Thailand's net primary school attendance rate for 1997 was 88 percent, even lower than Vietnam's.
Secondary education is divided into three years of lower secondary and three years of upper secondary education. To expand educational opportunities in remote rural areas, the Office of the National Primary Education Commission (ONPEC) has established extensive lower secondary programs around the country. Also, inspired by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Ministry of Education has established a Sema Life Development Project to provide special scholarships for secondary education to rural girls vulnerable to potential exploitation by the commercial sex industry.
Upper secondary education is divided into two basic tracks: general academic and vocational. Of those in upper secondary, 57 percent take the general academic track and 43 percent the vocational. In both lower and upper secondary, students study for a total of 1,400 hours per year. The curriculum of both lower and upper secondary have four basic elements; Core subjects such as Thai, mathematics, science, and English which must be taken by all students; Prescribed elective subjects which differ according to local conditions and needs (the special needs of schools in Islamic areas of the south); Free elective subjects depending on the interests of learners; and Activities.
Enrollments at the secondary school level are critically important for economic and social development. This is an area where Thailand has lagged behind many of its Asia-Pacific neighbors. Japan and Korea, for example, have achieved universal secondary education. Also in terms of secondary school enrollment ratios, Thailand lags behind its major Southeast Asia neighbors like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. As late as 1990, only 39 percent of those finishing government primary schools continued on to secondary education. As the result of historically low secondary school enrollments, in the year 2000 around 80 percent of the total Thai population was not educated beyond the primary level.
In recent years there have been significant improvements in the transition from primary to lower secondary education, resulting in higher secondary enrollment ratios. By 1999, the transition rate from primary to lower secondary education had improved to 87.1 percent. Also from 1995 to 1999, the overall secondary school ratio improved from 53 to 71 percent. Despite such important improvements, nevertheless, 30 percent of 12-17 year olds have no opportunity to study at the secondary level. Thailand's net secondary school attendance rate of 47.6 percent (1997) ranked it much lower than many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another serious problem relates to regional disparities in the access to lower and upper secondary education. In the whole kingdom 43.3 percent of the population received 4 years of education, 90.8 percent had completed the primary program, 74.2 percent the lower secondary, and 47.4 percent had completed the general and vocational upper secondary programs. Percentages for the central region show 42.1 percent had completed 4 years of education, 100 percent had completed the primary grades, 78.4 percent the lower secondary program, and 51.2 percent the general vocational or upper secondary programs. Percentages in the northeast, north, and south were somewhat less than the central region, with the remotest and most economically disadvantaged northeast lagging behind other regions.
The less than complete enrollment ratios at both the secondary and primary level are reflected by the significant numbers of youth not in school. Some 143,900 children between the ages of 6 and 11; 231,000 between the ages of 12 and 14; and 231,000 from ages 15 to 19 are not in school. Of the population between the ages of 20 to 24, some 5,043,000 are not in school.
The Thai monarchy actively supports Thai higher education. Thailand's first and premier university was established on royal lands in 1916 by King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI) and named in honor of his father, King Chulalongkorn. All students receive their university degrees personally from the Royal Family. His Majesty the King himself is an active scholar and researcher and his daughter, H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn took a Ph.D. in Thailand and is an extremely active scholar who speaks numerous languages (both Asian and Western).
The Thai system of higher education is both large and complex with a myriad of potential opportunities for those graduating from the secondary school level or having met secondary equivalency requirements through non formal education. Amazingly there are a total of 780 institutions offering some type of higher education. Most secondary school graduates aspire for admission to one of the highly selective prestigious public universities. Admission to these universities (except NIDA) is based primarily on success in a standardized national university entrance examination administered by the Ministry of University Affairs. This examination has been used since 1962. This has resulted in a meritocratic system that clearly favors those of higher socioeconomic background from the best secondary schools, often in Bangkok or other urban areas of the country. A thorough analysis of the examination results for students from all regions of the country indicates rather dramatic disparities. Students attending school in more remote economically disadvantaged areas such as many parts of the north, northeast, and some parts of the south have much less chance of taking and/or passing the university entrance examination. To combat such inequalities, regional universities have developed special quota systems to ensure a specific number of slots for university students from their own regions.
In applying for admission to selective universities and taking the national university entrance examination, students indicate specific faculties and institutions in terms of priorities. Thus, some students may choose fields in which they do not have a genuine interest (where competition may be less keen) to enhance their chances of gaining admission to the most prestigious university possible.
Chulalongkorn University, established in 1916, has 26,381 students enrolled. Thammasat University was established in 1934 and has 20,667 students. Mahidol University has 26,859 students, and Kasetsart University has 27,366 students. Silapakorn University has 7,339 students. The latter three all opened in 1943. King Mongkut Institute of Technology with three campuses opened in 1959, 1960, and 1971. Total enrollment at the institute is 34,912. Chiang Mai University in the north opened in 1964 and enrolls 21,550 students. Khon Kaen University in the northeast also opened in 1964 with 17,938. The National Institute of Development Administration was established in 1966 and has 6,225 students. Prince of Songkla University in the south opened in 1967 and has 15,033 students. Srinakharinwirot University (formerly the major teacher training college) began in 1974 and has 13,452. All offer bachelor, masters, and doctorates with the exception of the National Institute of Development Administration which only offers master and doctorate degrees. Prince of Songkla University offers only bachelor and master degrees. All except Silapakorn, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Prince of Songkla, and Srinakharinwirot are located in Bangkok.
These elite selective universities are quite diverse in nature and tend to specialize, though Chulalongkorn and the three major regional universities are comprehensive in their offerings. The diversity of higher education in Thailand is a reflection of the nation's special status of never having been colonized. Thus, in establishing various universities it has been rather eclectic. Chulalongkorn University has somewhat of a British flavor, while Thammasat University is noted for politics and is more French oriented. The literal meaning of Thammasat is moral sciences. Mahidol University is noted for medicine and science and it is named after a Prince who studied at the Harvard Medical School. Kasetsart, which has an agricultural orientation, was somewhat modeled after a U.S. land grant institution and is noted for its extensive and effective outreach programs.
For students who can not gain access to these selective elite public institutions of higher education there are multiple options. In recent years, a number of new public universities have been established in local areas. Each provides special quota admissions for students for their respective regions. In some cases branch campuses of Bangkok universities became separate universities. Local politicians have actively worked to support this development as a mechanism to provide more higher education opportunities for those in the regions and those of rural backgrounds.
Some of the more recently established public universities and their enrollments include Burapa University in the southeast (1990) with 6,613 students; Mahasarakham University (1994) in the northeast with 12,400 students; Naresuan University (1990) in the north with 14,104 students, Suranaree University of Technology (1990) in the northeast with 5,473 students. In the south Thaksin University (1996) has an enrollment of 3,609 students. Ubon Ratchatani University in the northeast was established in 1990, and Walailak University in the south was established in 1992 and has 2,153 students. Mae Fah Luang, which began in 1997, in the north has a projected enrollment of 350 students for the year 2001.
Suranaree University of Technology in the northeast and Walailak University in the south were established as fully autonomous public universities. Thus, they can establish salary levels and personnel policies, independent of the University Civil Service system and the normal regulations of the Ministry of University Affairs. They provide possible models for the education reform proposal to make all public universities more autonomous.
Another educational opportunity for students is attendance at one of Thailand's two large open universities. In an earlier period Thammasat University had been an open university. In 1971 Ramkhamhaeng University was established as Thailand's first formal open university to meet the growing social demand for higher education which could not be met by the existing selective universities. Ramkhamhaeng now offers both bachelor's and master's degree and has a large student body of 355,352. This institution is an open admissions university, which is basically a conventional university with direct classroom learning and instruction complemented by media. It also serves working adults who may be interested in a second degree and/or enhancing job-related skills in a specific area. In 1978, Thailand established a second open university, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU), which is an open distance university, basically an innovative university without walls. It has students in all 76 provinces of Thailand learning by television, radio, correspondence, and the Internet. Its total enrollment is 209,680. STOU has targeted working adults as a major clientele for its programs and has plans to develop several doctoral programs.
Another option for higher education is a group of institutions known as Rajabhat Institutes, which were formerly teacher training colleges. There is one of these colleges located in every other province, providing convenient access to those residing in remote areas of the country. When they were transformed from Teacher Training Colleges into Rajabhat Institutes in the early 1990s, their curricula were diversified to provide training and learning in many practical fields, such as tourism management and business administration.
For students interested in technology and technical fields, there are 50 Rajamangala Institutes of Technology around the country, which like the Rajabhats offer the bachelor degree.
In recent years the growing demand for higher education has stimulated the private sector to offer more opportunities for students to finish secondary school. These institutions tend to be more expensive than the public ones. There are 49 private universities in Thailand, enrolling 199,464 students (1999), serving almost as many students as the original selective public universities. Fifty-five percent of these private universities are located outside of Bangkok, thus, help to serve higher education needs in the regions. The first to be granted university status was Payap University in Chiang Mai in 1974. It has a liberal arts orientation with strong strengths in areas such as music and sports. It receives special funding through its missionary affiliation and in the past received major U.S. aid funding for renovation of its campus. The largest private university is Bangkok University with 22,135 students.
Given its central location in both Asia and Southeast Asia, Thailand has been considered a potentially attractive location for international universities and colleges. The most well-known institution of this type is the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), sometimes referred to as the "MIT of Asia." It serves students throughout the Asia-Pacific region and has an international faculty. AIT grew out of the SEATO School of Engineering and was established as AIT in 1967. The Thai government provides roughly 20 percent of its funding. Assumption University, a private university, uses an exclusive English language curriculum and has many international faculty. Also a number of Thai universities collaborate with overseas institutions to offer special international programs. An example is the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, an internationally oriented English language MBA program housed at Chulalongkorn University and established in 1982, conducted in collaboration with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. This was Thailand's first English language graduate management program. Mahidol University has an International College embedded within it which uses an exclusively English language curriculum and serves both Thai and international students who need higher education offered in English.
During the economic boom of the 1985-1995 period, there were many plans to establish new international colleges and universities. With the economic crisis of 1997, many of these plans collapsed since they were highly dependent upon private sector funding. Prior to the economic crisis, Thailand was also developing international academic programs to serve the needs of students from transitional economies such as Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Vietnam. As Thailand recovers from its economic crisis, such programs are likely to be revitalized and expanded.
Starting with the reforms introduced by King Chulalongkorn in the late 1800s, Thailand has also had a strong tradition of sending students abroad for higher education. In fact, there is a Thai word, chup dua, which means to acquire prestige by going abroad for further study or training. Many of those in leadership positions both in the public and private sectors have studied overseas. His Majesty King Bhumibol was educated in Switzerland, and His Majesty's father, Prince Mahidol studied medicine at Harvard. The prime minister of Thailand has a doctorate from the United States. Prior to the Pacific War, Europe, especially England, was the most popular site for overseas study. In the post-war period, overseas opportunities have greatly diversified. In the 1960s and 1970s, during the Cold War period, there was considerable U.S. funding available for talented Thai students to pursue advanced studies in the U.S. A high percentage of top-ranking Thai civil servants have studied abroad. The Thai government itself has also provided considerable funding in support of overseas study. In 1999, there were 3,223 Thai students abroad being supported by Thai government fellowships. Even if Thai civil servants do not receive a fellowship for overseas study, they automatically receive their full government salary while on approved study leave, either internationally or locally. This has been a major source of support for overseas education and training.
With respect to enrollment at the higher education level, in 1999, approximately 25.7 percent of the 18 to 21 age group were enrolled, leaving roughly 3,300,000 of this age group not participating in any institution of higher education. Despite Thailand's major economic crisis, higher education enrollments actually increased 19.8 percent between 1998 and 1999. There were two major reasons for this. First, the Thai government introduced a major loan program to assist students to help meet the costs of both upper secondary and college level education. Second, with the economic crisis and related higher unemployment levels, the opportunity cost of pursuing higher education certainly declined.
Administration, Finance, & Educational Research
As illustrated by the sweeping educational reforms introduced by the visionary monarch, King Chulalongkorn in the late 1800s, education has been strongly influenced by politics in Thailand. Until 1932, Siam had a system of absolute monarchy, which was transformed in a bloodless revolution into a constitutional monarchy in June 1932. From 1932 to 1973, the military dominated Thai politics for much of the period, and there were often significant constraints limiting the freedoms of Thai intellectuals, scholars, and students. A major student revolution, which erupted in October 1973, fundamentally changed the future direction of Thai politics and education. Three military tyrants were expelled from the country and replaced by a prime minister who had been a professor at Thammasat University. From 1973 to 1976, Thailand experienced its most open period ever in terms of intellectual fervor and the tolerance of diverse perspectives. Great concerns about educational equity and equality emerged and were addressed in a major educational reform initiative. Unfortunately this reform movement was cut short by a counter coup by the police and military on October 6, 1976, when police stormed Thammasat University, which was housing student protesters. The more open environment was restored after another coup in October 1977, which ushered in the current democratic period. In the subsequent period there was only one successful military coup in February, 1991, which was reversed in a people power confrontation with the military in May 1992. This event opened the door for the political and educational reforms initiated in the late 1990s.
Prior to 1980, there were three separate ministries administering education: Ministry of Interior (most primary education), the Ministry of Education (secondary education and some postsecondary education), and the Ministry of University Affairs (responsible for institutions of higher education.) In 1980, demonstrating able leadership and vision, Dr. Sippanondha Ketudat, a Harvard-trained technocrat serving as Minister of Education, orchestrated a transfer of authority for basic primary education from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Education. Since the budget for basic primary education represented approximately 10 percent of the national budget, this was a remarkable example of the potential for structural change in Thai education.
The administration of Thai education is exceedingly complex given the multiple actors and agencies involved. A number of different ministries and agencies are involved in administering education in Thailand. They are the Ministry of Education, Ministry of University Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, Ministry of Justice, and the Thai Red Cross Society.
There is considerable overlap and redundancy among ministries and agencies providing education. This has made effective planning complex and difficult. For example, both the Ministry of University of Affairs and the Ministry of Education have been actively involved in preparing teachers. This created a crisis in a tremendous overproduction of education graduates relative to need. Also nine different agencies are involved in providing primary education.
In general, the system of education is highly centralized, especially the part administered by the Ministry of Education, which houses a large bureaucracy in the capital of Bangkok. The 14 departments within the Ministry are extremely strong and are even commonly referred to as the "14 fiefdoms." This over centralized system results in excessive funds being spent on administration rather than for educational improvements. Also, this over centralization has contributed to inefficiency and an inability to be responsive to the diverse needs of local communities.
In terms of educational finance, Thailand actually spends an impressive amount of both its GDP and national government budget on education. In 1998, the government budget for education was 3.9 percent of GDP and despite the serious economic crisis of the late 1990s, education in fiscal years 1998 and 1999 was about 25.0 percent of total government expenditures, the highest ever. The budget approved by Parliament for the year 2000 represented 25.7 percent of the national budget.
While the majority of funds for education come from the national budget, over time an increasing amount of local funds have become available to support education. This has been particularly true of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), where 28.1 percent of its budget is derived from its own local funds. In the future it is likely that other wealthier urban areas, such as Haadyai, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, will provide considerable local funding in support of education.
Thailand also receives considerable international assistance in support of education in the form of loans and technical assistance. Major multilateral assistance has been received from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the OECF. Major bilateral assistance has been provided by Austria, Denmark, and Germany.
Compared to other countries of its size and stage of development, Thailand has produced extensive educational research and the Thai publishing industry has grown dramatically in recent decades with much research published in Thai as well as in English. The origins of Thai educational research date back to 1955, when the International Institute for Child Study was established in Bangkok. The Institute has now become the Behavioral Science Research Institute and has conducted both basic and applied research. In the 1960s, the Thai government began actively supporting research, primarily done by divisions of the Ministry of Education and the National Education Commission. In 1974, the Office of University Affairs issued new regulations requiring research work for the promotion of faculty, which led for the first time to the systematic encouragement of research. In the Thai context, the development of textbooks was counted as "research" for purposes of promotion. In 1998, only 21.5 percent of faculty in public universities and 7.8 percent in private universities had Ph.D. research degrees, which is an important barrier to Thailand's overall research capacity at the university level.
Extensive educational research is conducted by the Office of the National Education Commission (ONEC), Thailand's major educational R&D center, which is part of the Office of the Prime Minister. This office did important and extensive research underlying the education reform initiative (1999-2002). Another major source of research is provided by the faculty and students of Thailand's many universities, especially in faculties of education. Some research is also done by the Ministry of Education itself, particularly by its Department of Curriculum and Instructional Development. That research focuses on testing, curriculum, and text development. Combining English and Thai language materials, there have been more than a total of 1,000 publications of educational research in recent decades.
Another important research-oriented institution is the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST), which is responsible for R&D and related training to improve the teaching of science and technology in Thailand. IPST participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. To facilitate research, a new Library Network has been established in Thailand that will electronically link the National Library, university libraries, the Rajabhat Institute Library, the Rajamangala Institute of Technology Library, and other libraries around the country.
Around 1978, the concept of "life-long education" was introduced and led to the expansion of nonformal education to cover all ages of the population. Under his brilliant leadership, the late Dr. Kowit Vorapipatana, "the father of nonformal education in Thailand," transformed a rather modest Division of Adult Education (established in 1938) into an important department of Nonformal Education (1979) which now has a presence in every district of Thailand. Influenced by the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, he introduced the important pedagogical concept of khit-pen, which literally means to be able to think for yourself.
An adult literacy campaign under the leadership of Dr. Kasama Varavan in the early 1990s, was carried out by the Nonformal Education Department. Thailand's literacy rate is an impressively high 94 percent with female literacy at 91.6 percent. For its success in combating illiteracy in Thailand, the Department won the ESCAP Human Resources Development Award. Its special equivalency programs offer Thais a major second chance to complete primary and/or secondary education.
The various genres of non formal and informal education present in Thailand offer a rather remarkable array of potential learning opportunities to both enhance quality of life and employment productivity and capability. Programs include basic education, literacy, primary and secondary equivalency, vocational education, handicraft training, reading and science programs, religious and tribal programs, language studies, health education, politics, and environmental studies.
Teacher education in Thailand has a long tradition, dating back to 1892 when the first training school for elementary school teachers was founded as part of King Chulalongkorn's reforms. Relative to other countries at its early stage of development, Thailand has a well-educated teaching force. Eighty-six percent of primary school teachers hold a bachelor's degree. Contributing to this achievement was the establishment in the 1960s of teacher training colleges in every other province. With such proximity to remote rural areas, these colleges have been the primary opportunity for social mobility for bright and motivated youth from a rural background. The Thai government also established a special scholarship program for those willing to return to their rural areas after completing their studies in teacher education. As in many countries, a major problem is a failure to attract the most talented and qualified students to faculties of education. Data indicate that the most talented Thais tend to prefer study in fields such as medicine, engineering, or business, primarily because of the prestige and higher earnings in such careers.
There are a total of 114 postsecondary institutions involved in preparing future teachers. Teacher training courses are being primarily offered by faculties of education in 16 public universities, 36 Rajabhat Institutes (RIs) (formerly teacher training colleges), vocational education colleges, physical education colleges, and dramatic and fine arts colleges. The latter types of institutions train vocational teachers. Fourteen public universities offer master's level training in education as do two private universities. Doctoral programs in education are offered by four public universities (Chulalongkorn, Srinkharinwirot, Kasetsart, and Silapakorn).
With so many institutions offering teacher training under different administrative centers, there has been a vast overproduction of those trained in teacher education. As a result, Thailand has one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in Asia, especially at the primary school level. Also contributing to this situation is Thailand's remarkable success in family planning and fertility reduction. Population growth is only 0.93 percent per year (estimated for the year 2000). This has resulted in the problem of having many small schools particularly in remote sparsely populated areas. Thailand has also had a tradition of a school in every village, also contributing to small schools and an overly low student-teacher ratio. In negotiations with the Asian Development Bank for social sector funding related to the economic crisis, the Thai government agreed to raise the teacher-student ratio to 25:1 by fiscal year 2002 by strictly controlling the hiring of new primary school teachers. Achievement of this goal should enhance the internal efficiency of Thai education.
While Thailand actually has an adequate number of teachers, there are serious problems related to the allocation and distribution of these teachers. Some areas and provinces have far more teachers than classrooms, while other areas do not have enough teachers to cover all classes, thus, requiring multi-grade teaching, which has adverse effects on educational quality.
Related to the many complex issues related to teacher issues (including traditional pedagogy emphasizing rote memorization of facts), a special Teacher Education Reform Office (TERO) was established in 1997 to examine strategies for enhancing the teaching profession and improving the quality of teaching in Thailand. TERO has also directly assessed the complex problem of the over-production of teacher education graduates who have no prospects for obtaining teaching jobs and has also proposed innovative strategies for upgrading the existing teaching force.
During the past several decades Thailand has achieved impressive success in expanding its educational system quantitatively at all levels and improving its basic educational infrastructure. This success was facilitated by the extremely high economic growth experienced in the period, 1985-1995. The euphoria concerning such macroeconomic success tended to mask the important reality that, among lower middle-income countries, Thailand's social and educational development was significantly lagging behind its economic development. With the advent of the economic crisis in July 1997, even this rapid economic growth proved unsustainable. The crisis also stimulated a more critical, deeper, and more systematic analysis of Thailand's complete development structure, including its educational system.
Thailand faces what has been termed the "mid-level technology pinch." Thailand can no longer compete with countries with extremely low labor costs (such as India and Vietnam) in manufacturing labor intensive products, but has not yet developed the strong research and development capability to compete with high technology manufacturers in industrial countries. With higher level wages but an average educational level of 5.3 in its workforce, Thailand faces serious problems in international competitiveness and in improving the productivity of its workforce. It also must find ways to enhance the development of local indigenous R&D to respond to the challenge of the mid-level technology pinch.
The Asian economic crisis represented a valuable "wake-up call" to Thailand; it demonstrated the urgent need to improve education and human resource development. The crisis set in motion new public and political forces leading to a major educational reform initiative mandated in the October 1997 constitution and codified legally in the National Education Act of August 1999. A public organization, the Education Reform Office (ERO) was established in 1999 to implement the critically needed educational reforms.
The reforms have the following key elements: major structural changes in the management of education, including decentralization to local education areas and rationalization and reengineering of the administration of education. A new national Ministry of Education, Religion, and Culture will be established comprised of four basic organizations: National Council for Education, Religion, and Culture; The Commission for Basic Education; The Commission for Higher Education; and the Commission on Religion and Culture; greater fiscal and administrative autonomy for Thai public universities; provision of free basic education to all Thai youth with 12 years and 9 years of compulsory schooling; shift to demand-side financing of education with a reform of the budget process; de-institutionalizing education and expanding choice, represented in the popular slogan of the educational reform campaign: "Education for All and All for Education." The education for all concept reflects the thrust for greater equity as an important element of reform. There is also an emphasis on the utilization of local wisdom and knowledge and a National Institute for the Development of Thai Wisdom and Education (NISE) has been established; and fundamental change in pedagogy away from teacher-centered learning emphasizing rote memorization to student-centered learning fostering independent thinking and creativity. Related to this reform, the visual metaphor of children with heads of parrots is being used in the campaign's critique of conventional learning approaches and patterns.
The proposed reforms are intended to provide all Thais with the opportunity to complete quality secondary education in accord with their own needs and preferences. The reform opens up opportunities for more home schooling, charter schooling, and other alternatives, including a greater role for the private sector. Major budgets are to be decentralized to local education areas, which can then make decisions about the use of educational resources. Under the old centralized system, money often came at the wrong time for the wrong things. Under the new system, educational services and curricula can be more responsive to local needs.
To assure accountability in the new system, a special office for external quality assurance is being established to monitor the quality of schools under the new system and provide educational consumers with better opportunities for more informed choices. A system for licensure for both teachers and administrators is also being introduced. To revitalize the teaching profession and to reward outstanding teaching performance, a system to recognize and provide special National Teacher Awards for outstanding innovative teachers was established in 1998. As part of the learning reform initiative, individuals will be recognized and designated as National Teachers and Master Teachers to spearhead student-centered learning reforms.
Another critical arena directly related to the reforms and the technology pinch is the promotion of R&D in the science and technology area. Thai universities as a whole produced only 135 Ph.D.s in 1997. In honor of His Majesty King Bhumibol's 50 years on the throne (1996), a Royal Golden Jubilee Ph.D. Program was established to provide fellowships for the most talented Thais to obtain Ph.D. level training in the next twenty years. The target of the Ph.D. Program is to produce 5,000 Ph.D.s during Phase I (1997-2011) and 20,000 Ph.D.s during Phase II (2011-2021). The Program utilizes a "sandwich strategy" in which Fellows will receive their Ph.D.s from Thai institutions but with international experience and collaboration. Also, the Eighth National Education Development Plan (1997-2001) calls for no less than one percent of GDP to be invested in public and private sector R&D by the year 2001. In 1995, R&D as a percent of GDP was an extremely low 0.17.
Related to R&D is the development of information technology (IT). This is an area in which Thailand has made considerable progress and has excellent potential. A survey completed by Mahidol University indicates that 63 percent of urban youth and 34 percent of rural youth are able to use a computer. Thomas Friedman in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree argues that those countries that are deficient in IT will be left behind. If he is correct in his assessment, this should augur well for the future of Thailand. Interestingly, Thailand's prime minister, Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra, elected in January, 2001, is a former leading entrepreneur in IT development for Thailand and the region.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree also raises the issue of the tension between globalization (the lexus) and preservation of local culture (the olive tree). That potential cultural collision is also embedded within elements of Thailand's educational reform initiative. With a noncolonial heritage, the Thais are confident, however, that they can globalize in their own unique way and still preserve their rich Thai cultural heritage. The King's project of economic self-sufficiency, for example, draws upon traditional culture but is responsive to the need for sustainable development. At times unilinear thinking exaggerates potential contradictions between modernity and tradition as illustrated in the fundamentally progressive essence of Buddhist epistemology as expressed thousands of years ago in the Kalama Sutra of the Lord Buddha:
Yes, you may well doubt, you may well be uncertain. . . .Do not accept anything because it is the authoritative tradition, because it is often said, because of rumour or hearsay, because it is found in the scriptures, because it agrees with a theory of which one is already convinced, because of the reputation of an individual, or because a teacher said it is thus and thus. . . .But experience it for yourself.
Numerous public hearings on educational reform have been held in various regions of Thailand. While a national consensus in support of educational reform (including all major political parties) has emerged, there are still pockets of resistance (both overt and covert). Resistance primarily is reflected in the following views: Skepticism about the capability of local areas to manage education on their own. Related to this view are concerns about potential corruption and nepotism at the local level; concerns about potential unintended adverse consequences of the new "voucher-type" demand side system of funding of education; concerns about whether more experiential student-centered learning will actually improve learning outcomes; and more covert resistance is from stakeholders who have strong vested interests (often related to financial benefits, urban amenities, and job security) in the highly centralized administrative system.
Implementing this bold educational reform represents a major challenge to both the Thai government and its people. Its implementation will require determined and astute political leadership. The painful economic crisis, which emerged in 1997, sent a strong warning signal that "more of the same" in education is no longer viable and that Thailand needs to get more "bang for its buck" in education. Given the constraints on how much the central government can support education, and particularly given the bold commitment to 12 years of free education, it is critically important to mobilize other private, local, and even international resources in support of the reform process and policies. Successful implementation of educational reform is critical for Thailand to restore its earlier economic performance and to increase its international competitiveness and the productivity of its people. This in turn should contribute to a higher quality of life and standard of living for all Thais in the Kingdom in the twenty-first century.
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——. Management of Education in Thailand: A Review and Recommendations for an Implementation Strategy for Decentralization: Volume II/1, prepared for UNESCO-Bangkok as part of the Asian Development Bank Social Sector Program Loan in the Framework of the Educational Management and Finance Study Project TA 2996-THA, 1999a.
——. Teaching Personnel Strategy in Thailand: A Review and Recommendations: Volume II/2, prepared for UNESCO-Bangkok as part of the Asian Development Bank Social Sector Program Loan in the Framework of the Educational Management and Finance Study Project TA 2996-THA, 1999b.
——"The Economic and Political Impact of Study Abroad," In Bridges to Knowledge: Foreign Students in Comparative Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
Fry, Gerald W. and Ken Kempner. "A Subnational Paradigm for Comparative Research: Education and Development in Northeast Brazil and Northeast Thailand," In Comparative Education: ASHE Reader Series, ed. William Tierney, et al., 384-408. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
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—Gerald W. Fry
Fry, Gerald W.. "Thailand." World Education Encyclopedia. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409700222.html
Fry, Gerald W.. "Thailand." World Education Encyclopedia. 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409700222.html
|Official Country Name:||Kingdom of Thailand|
|Region (Map name):||Southeast Asia|
|Language(s):||Thai, English (secondary language of the elite)|
|Area:||514,000 sq km|
|GDP:||122,166 (US$ millions)|
|Number of Daily Newspapers:||34|
|Circulation per 1,000:||253|
|Circulation per 1,000:||176|
|Total Newspaper Ad Receipts:||18,212 (Baht millions)|
|As % of All Ad Expenditures:||32.10|
|Number of Television Stations:||5|
|Number of Television Sets:||15,190,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||245.8|
|Number of Cable Subscribers:||151,750|
|Cable Subscribers per 1,000:||2.5|
|Number of Satellite Subscribers:||231,000|
|Satellite Subscribers per 1,000:||3.7|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||13,960,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||225.9|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||1,471,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||23.8|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||2,300,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||37.2|
Background & General Characteristics
Thailand, known as Siam until 1932, traces its history back to the thirteenth century to the kingdom of Sukhothai (1257-1378) whose greatest ruler Ramakhamhaeng (1277-1317) united many of the Thai tribes by force of arms, established diplomatic relations with China, and created the Thai alphabet. A series of weak successors and unrest among the vassal states led to the kingdom's surrender (1378) to the more powerful neighboring state of Aytthaya ruled by King U Thong. Thailand became a federated state under the absolute monarch of U Thong, or Ramathibodi. The Thai people were governed according to a legal code based on Hindu legal texts and Thai customs but accepting Theravada Buddhism as the Thai people's official religion. During the Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767), Thailand's kings came under the influence of the neighboring Khmers (Cambodians). Thai kings remained paternalistic and absolutist rulers, but they adopted the Khmer interpretation of king-ship, which witnessed their withdrawal from society behind a wall of taboos and rituals and the assumption of divinity as the incarnated Shiva.
Thailand's Chakkri Dynasty came to power in 1782 when General Chakkri (1782-1809) replaced the executed last ruler of the Ayutthaya kingdom. As King Yot Fa, or Rama I, General Chakkri moved the capital to Bang-kok, revived the economy, preserved the artistic culture of the Thai, and maintained the nation's independence against growing incursions by Cambodia, Burma, and Great Britain. Nineteenth-century monarch King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was the first Thai ruler educated by western tutors. Chulalongkorn instituted a number of western-style reforms, which included a modern judiciary, the reform of state finances, and the adoption of modern accounting methods. Chulalongkorn ended the ritual of prostration, abolished slavery, created a standing army, and decentralized the bureaucracy by dividing it into departments and local administrative units.
King Chulalongkorn's western-oriented reforms maintained Thai independence against both British and French attempts at imperialistic conquest, making Thailand the only nation in Southeast Asia to escape colonization but at the cost of some Thai territory surrendered to both French Indochina and British India. The themes of modernization and westernization continued under Kings Rama VI and Rama VII. However, in 1932, civil servants and army officers, who were opposed to the actions of the government but not the King, engineered a bloodless takeover of the Thai state. Since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has witnessed 17 military coups, 53 governments, and 16 constitutions. Throughout these political changes, the position of the Thai King remains revered and respected. The King is accepted as the moral voice of the nation.
Missionaries wanting to influence the King started Thailand's first newspaper in 1844. The role of the print media and freedom of the press in Thailand has historically been affected by the particular monarch in power and after 1932, by the coup leaders and the politicians who assumed governing control. Newspapers sometimes enjoyed more freedom to print under absolute rulers than they were allowed during constitutional regimes. Since 1932 newspapers have been traditionally linked to a political party, and their ability to publish depended on the attitude of the current prime minister who was likely to be a prominent member of the Thai military. During the 1950s and 1960s, Thailand's press was poorly paid, ill-regarded, and lacked professional credentials. Many of the newspapers suffered from small circulations and simply served as the personal propaganda instruments of politicians, policemen, or soldiers. Their circulations popularity derived from stories about sex, crime, and mudslinging. The Thai military increasingly regarded the print media's use of sensational headlines to capture reader interest as immoral. Only two Bangkok dailies, Siam Rath and Siam Nikorn, were regarded as legitimate print media offering critical and balanced coverage. Both newspapers influenced the policies of the nation's leaders.
Faced with increasing threats of communist incursions, a military coup took place in 1951. The constitution was suspended. King Bhumibol returned from the United States where he was completing his academic studies. By 1955 the military government felt secure enough to endorse "limited democracy" and allow the people to criticize the regime. The press responded with severe outspoken criticism and verbal attacks on the government. When elections failed to create stable parliamentary governments, the country's experiment with democracy ended in 1958. The government outlawed political parties, jailed critics including students, teachers, labor leaders, journalists, and liberal parliamentarians. A least a dozen newspapers were closed. Work began on yet another constitution.
Under Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat (1959-1963) the government issued the law Announcement No. 17, which required the licensing of all newspaper publishers. Newspapers displeasing to the government were given warnings, impounded, or destroyed. Frightened, many of the nation's best writers abandoned their careers. A new constitution was drafted, and Prime Minister Sarit relaxed some of the more stringent controls on the press in an attempt to create the appearance of a more liberal political climate.
The increasing political instability in the nations bordering Thailand and deeper involvement by the United States in Vietnam prevented constitutional parliamentary government, or were at the least given as the reasons by military-backed governments for the failure to implement a new constitution. From 1963 to 1973, press restrictions were first strictly enforced and then gradually reduced under Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn. New technology generated more newspapers competing for circulation by again running highly sensational news stories. Strict self-censorship was found necessary and imposed by the government. In 1971, press restrictions again were reduced, and the government promised to approve Announcement No. 2, which would abolish censorship except for newspapers whose commentary divided the nation.
From 1973 to 1976, the Thai press witnessed its freest period for publication. The new prime minister, Sanya Dharmasakti, was a university professor and popular with journalists. The ban was lifted on new newspapers, and a new constitution offered press freedoms, abolished censorship, and restricted press ownership to Thai citizens. Although Announcement No. 17 remained in effect, it was seldom enforced. Newspapers flourished during this brief period, and licensed newspapers and magazines numbered 853, but only an estimated 10 percent ever went to active publication. The emergence of hundreds of new publications combined with the lifting of press restrictions created a series of new tensions between the press and the government. Although the circulations of many newspapers were very small, their antigovernment positions voiced the views of many new small political parties. Some of these newspapers were nothing more than rumor-mill tabloids using extortion and blackmail to gain financing. Even government officials found themselves subjected to false blackmail threats from a segment of the press, which was both vocal and irresponsible in reporting information.
Under Prime Minister M. R. Kukrit Pramoj, founder of the newspaper Siam Rath, attempts at responsible journalism were introduced, and a new press law was enacted creating a 17-to 21-member committee to control the press based on ethical considerations. Political tensions within Thailand between political factions of both the right and left, clashes with students, and a too sensation-alist and irresponsible press contributed to the conditions that resulted in a violent and bloody coup in 1976. Strict press censorship was once again imposed. Labor unions came under strict regulation, and an anticommunist drive led to purges within the civil service and the education system. For the next 20 years Thailand lurched between military dictatorships and experiments with limited democracy. The prime ministers were usually former generals even during democratic periods of governance.
Thailand is a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The Constitution of 1997 governs the Thai nation. The King is the head of the armed forces and the upholder of the religion. The monarch is sacred and inviolable— "enthroned in a position of revered worship." His powers come from the Thai people. The King exercises legislative power through the parliament and executive power through the cabinet. The King must be consulted and encouraged, and has the right to warn the government when the state is working against the good of the people. Thailand has a bicameral legislature consisting of a 500-member House of Representatives popularly elected and a Senate whose members, previously appointed by the King, are since 2000 popularly elected without political party affiliation. The Prime Minister must be a member of Parliament and is advised by a cabinet of 14.
Article III of the 1997 Constitution pertains to the Rights and Liberties of the Thai People. Sections 26 through state:
In exercising powers of all Courts authorities regard shall be had to human dignity, rights and liberties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Rights and liberties recognized by this constitution expressly, by implication or by decisions of the Constitutional Court shall be protected and directly binding on the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, Courts and other Courts organs in enacting, applying and interpreting laws (Section 27). A person can invoke human dignity or exercise his or her rights and liberties in so far as it is not in violation of rights and liberties of other persons or contrary to this constitution or good morals. A person whose rights and liberties recognized by this constitution are violated can invoke the provisions of this constitution to bring a lawsuit or to defend himself or herself in the court (Section 28). The restriction of such rights and liberties as recognized by the constitution shall not be imposed on a person except by virtue of provisions of the law specifically enacted for the purpose determined by this constitution and only to the extent of necessity and provided that it shall not affect the essential substances of such rights and liberties. (Section 29)
Section 37 guarantees:
A person shall enjoy the liberty of communication by lawful means. The censorship, detention or disclosure of communication between persons including any other act disclosing a statement in the communication between persons shall not be made except by virtue of the provisions of the law specifically enacted for security of the Courts or maintaining public or good morals.
Section 39 extends to each Thai the liberty to:
… express his or her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicize (sic), and make expression by other means. The restriction on liberty … shall not be imposed except by virtue of the provisions of the law specifically enacted for the purpose of maintaining the security of the Courts, safeguarding the rights, liberties, dignity, reputation, family or privacy rights of other person, maintaining public order or good morals or preventing the deterioration of the mind or health of the public. The closure of a pressing house or a radio or television station in deprivation of the liberty under this section shall not be made. The censorship by a competent official or news or articles before their publication in a newspaper, printed matter or radio or television broadcasting shall not be made except during the time when the country is in a state of war or armed conflict; provided that it must be made by virtue of the law enacted under the provisions (in Article II). The owner of a newspaper or other mass media business shall be a Thai national as provided by law. No grant of money or other properties shall be made by the Courts as subsidies to private newspapers or other mass media.
Section 40 of the Thai constitution states:
Transmission frequencies for radio and television broadcasting and radio telecommunications are national communication resources for public interest. There shall be an independent regulatory body having the duty to distribute the frequencies … and supervise radio or television broadcasting and telecommunication businesses as provided by law … regard shall be had to the utmost public benefit at national and local levels in education, culture, Courts, security, and other public interests including fair and free competition.
In Section 41:
Officials or employees in a private sector undertaking newspaper or radio or television broadcasting businesses shall enjoy their liberties to present news and express their opinions under the constitutional restrictions without the mandate of any Courts agency, Courts enterprise, or the owner of such businesses; provided that it is not contrary to their professional ethics. Government officials, officials or employees or a Courts agency or Courts enterprise engaging in the radio or television broadcasting business enjoy the same liberties as those enjoyed by officials or employees. …
Section 58 guarantees:
A person shall have the right to get access to public information in possession of a Courts agency, Courts enterprise or local government organization, unless the disclosure of such information shall affect the security of the Courts, public safety or interests of other persons which shall be protected as provided by law.
Section 59 continues that:
… a person shall have the right to receive information, explanation and reason from a Courts agency, Courts enterprise or local government organization before permission is given for the operation of any project or activity which may affect the quality of the environment, health, and sanitary conditions, the quality of life or any other material interest concerning him or her or a local community and shall have the right to express his or her opinions on such matters in accordance with the public hearing procedure, as provided by law.
In 1996, Thailand had 30 daily newspapers with the 15 largest newspapers in circulation printed in Bangkok. The Thai-language newspapers, with 1995 circulation figures, are the morning and evening Ban Muang, (100,000), the evening Daily Mirror (50,000), the morning Daily News (400,000), the morning and Sunday Matichon (100,000), the morning Siam Post (50,000), the morning and Sunday Siam Rath (80,000), and the morning Thai Rath (800,000). English-language newspapers are all morning papers published in Bangkok. They are the Bangkok Post (60,000), the Business Day (40,000), the Thailand Times (20,000), and The Nation (40,000). Chinese-language newspapers, all morning Bangkok editions, are Sin Sian Yit Pao (40,000), Sirinakorn Daily News (30,000), Tong Hua Yit Pao (40,000), and the Universal Daily News (36,000).
General interest periodicals, all published in Bang-kok, are the weekly Bangkok Weekly (200,000), the biweekly Koo Sang Koo Som (250,000), the fortnightly Kulla Stri (120,000), and the weekly Skul Thai (120,000). Special interest periodicals published in Bangkok include business magazines, the English-language monthly Business in Thailand (10,000) and the Thai-language monthly Dok Bia (30,000). Popular women's magazines are the weeklies Kwan Ruen (160,000) and Praew (40,000) and the fortnightly Dichan (60,000). Manager Magazine (5,000) is a monthly publication.
Three of Thailand's radio stations serve each of the branches of the nation's armed forces: Sor.Tor.Ror (Navy), Tor.Or (Air Force), and Wor.Por.Tor (Army). Thailand's other major radio stations are Radio Thailand, Tor.Tor.Tor., and the Voice of Free Asia. Thailand's Bangkok-based television stations are Army HAS-TV-5, Bangkok Broadcasting TV-7, Bangkok Entertainment-3, Mass Communications Organization of Thailand (MCOT), and TV-Thailand-11.
From 1985 to 1995, the Kingdom of Thailand enjoyed one of the world's highest growth rates, averaging 9 percent annually. Since 1995, the Thai currency, the baht, has declined in value because of inherent weaknesses in the financial sector, the slow pace of corporate debt restructuring, and a decline in global demand for Thai goods. The Thai labor force is divided among agriculture (54 percent), service industries (31 percent), and industry (15 percent). Thai industries center on travel and tourism, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing of jewelry, electric appliances and components, computers and parts, furniture, and plastics. Thailand is the world's second-largest tungsten producer and the third largest producer of tin.
Economic development has brought ecological problems to Thailand. The water table has been depleted resulting in more frequent droughts. There are increased automobile emissions causing air pollution in Bangkok, the capital, and in other Thai urban areas. The river systems are increasing polluted from organic and factory wastes. Deforestation is changing the geography of the nation and contributing to severe soil erosion. An increasing population clearing more forestland for cultivation is threatening the wildlife populations already endangered by illegal hunting. Thailand is a relatively homogeneous nation with 75 percent of the population Thai, 14 percent Chinese, and 11 percent drawn from other Asian ethnic groups. An estimated 95 percent of the Thai people are Buddhists and 4 percent are Muslim. The remaining 1 percent of the population is either Christian or Hindu.
Until recently Thailand's government has been a continuous series of politicians, soldiers, and bureaucrats who ran the nation with little regard for interests of the Thai people. The 1992 attempt by a military strongman to suppress student demonstrations was foiled when the King summoned the general and, in private, gave the general a severe dressing down. Democracy was restored and the immediate result was the Constitution of 1997, an extremely detailed document designed to prevent the types of governments and politicians that have governed Thailand since the 1950s. The winners were the local government and the people. Financial power is returning gradually to the provinces with an estimated 35 percent of the national budget being returned to local governments by 2006. It is the intent of the 1997 Constitution to empower the Thai voter by providing the opportunity to monitor, criticize, and challenge the bureaucracy by presenting petitions, receiving explanations from the government ministry in question, or by law suit. The constitution authorizes the creation of two independent agencies, the Election Commission and the National Counter-Corruption Commission, to ensure the integrity of the government and the constitution.
By the end of the 1980s the media regained much of its lost independence. All the major daily newspapers were privately owned, but the radio and television stations—although government controlled—were commercially run enterprises. Newspapers were enjoying their best credibility with the public. The exercise of freedom of the press in the decade of the 1980s came with a price: editorial self-censorship. The government by tradition and law does not allow criticism of the monarchy, government affairs, internal security matters, and Thailand's international image. Thailand's National Police Department has the authority to revoke or suspend the license of any publication that the government finds offensive to the monarchy's position. New press bills are pending in parliament to increase press freedom except during war or a state of emergency.
Surveys conducted in the 1980s indicated that in Bangkok 65 percent of adults read a daily newspaper whereas only 10 percent of adults in rural areas read a paper. Most of Thailand's publications are independently owned and financially solvent. Sales and advertising are their major revenue sources. The Thai government is prohibited from financing newspapers. Foreign ownership of newspapers is illegal. Although Thai newspapers have continued to offer sensational news stories to attract readers, Thai journalistic standards have shown significant improvement based on the educational background of reporters, increasing journalistic emphasis on political and economic issues, and well-written coverage about foreign news stories.
Radio and television stations, government controlled and supervised by agencies reporting directly to the prime minister's office, avoid controversial topics and viewpoints. Radio stations in Thailand are commercial enterprises run by the government as part of MCOT, the army, the navy, the air force, the police, the ministries of communications and education, and Courts universities. The broadcast media's operating hours, programming, advertising, and technical requirements are under the supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister. The Army Signal Corps and MCOT operate Channels 5 and 9. Bangkok Entertainment Company operates Channel 3 and Channel 7 is directed by the Bangkok Television Company. Channel 11 is a government channel dedicated to educational programming. The National Broadcasting Services of Thailand transmits local and international news on all stations.
Press Laws & Censorship
On February 2001, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra delivered a policy address to the National Assembly of Thailand. Expressed in that address were actions regarding communications policy. The prime minister proposed to promote the development of an infrastructure for a communications and transport network to improve production, create employment, and to generate income. He requested that the modernization and expansion of the telecommunications system be given the highest priority to enable each Thai citizen to receive and send information and knowledge, share linkages with other nations, and facilitate a liberalization of the telecommunications business. Government policy is designed to foster improvements in the domestic communications network and promote cooperation in building communications networks with Thailand's neighbors. Under public administration policy, the prime minister argued that improving the utilization of information technology would provide Thai citizens with comprehensive, fast and non-discriminatory information services would improve the public administration. The existing Information Act would be amended to better serve the Thai people. It was also proposed that outdated laws, rules, and regulations be changed to accommodate the nation's current economic and social conditions in order to make them more flexible to cope with Thailand's future needs.
In 2002 the media was the center of controversy for critical commentary written by the press about the King and the prime minister. The controversy directly affected both the foreign and domestic media in Thailand. In April 2002, a cable station in Bangkok had its transmission interrupted while a domestic critic of the prime minister was speaking. The station, controlled by Nation Group, a major media company in Thailand, accused the government of deliberately interrupting an interview with former foreign minister, Prasong Soonsiri, an opponent of the Prime Minister Thaksin. In 2001 Nation Group began publication of the newspaper Nation, which criticized Prime Minister Thaksin for his attacks on foreign journalists. The prime minister's office ordered an investigation into money laundering charges against Thai journalists who were also openly critical of the administration's policies. What was once perceived as a relatively free press in Thailand has thus come under attack by a prime minister who, as a successful businessman, is not used to having his policies questioned. Thailand's revered King commented in his birthday speech that the disaster facing Thailand was "from a failure to listen to criticism." Many journalists, government officials, and the Thai people perceived the King's remark as an oblique attack on Prime Minister Thaksin.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
In 2002, Western journalists in Thailand found themselves under increasing scrutiny by Thailand's prime minister. The March 30, 2002, issue of Economist, published in the United Kingdom, was blocked from distribution by the Thai government because the government was displeased with commentary about the King in the special section, "A Survey of Thailand." The government cited the article as "… affecting the highest institution [the monarchy] and tarnishes Thailand's image." Criticism of the monarchy in Thailand is punishable with up to 15 years in prison. The press restriction placed on the Economist followed an earlier incident with an article published in the Far Eastern Economic Review for making reference to alleged tensions between the King and the prime minister. The two journalists for the Far Eastern Economic Review had their visas temporarily pulled until the magazine apologized for discussing the monarchy in an article that constituted a threat to peace and the morality of the people. Thai journalists have been told not to write anything about the King and the royal family without prior permission. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand and the Thai Journalists Association have both vigorously protested to the government. The Thai prime minister told the United States not to get involved with a matter affecting Thailand's national security. The apology seems to have resolved the problem but western concern about Thailand's willingness to protect human rights is unlikely to end soon.
Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, elected in controversy in 2001, is Thailand's wealthiest citizen. He recently acquired the only non-state-owned broadcaster ITV. Many ITV employees were subsequently fired. The press survivors were expected to take a more pro-government, non-critical position. A Thai radio station that included news broadcasts critical of the prime minister was sanctioned by the government and denied access to Nation Multimedia Group, one of Thailand's few independent news sources. Economist reporters suspect that Prime Minister Thaksin has used economic leverage against the media when his business empire distributes money for advertising. It is speculated that Prime Minister Thaksin instructs his companies to spend their advertising budgets on only friendly publications. In 2002, a polling agency's headquarters were raided after publishing a poll indicating a drop in the prime minister's popularity. Foreign journalists and their accredited publications fear that Thailand is no longer a nation that respects press and speech freedoms even when guaranteed by the constitution. Since taking office Prime Minister Thaksin has been accused of frequent critical commentary against the press, academics, businessmen, and any who criticize him. In October 2001, the Thai parliament approved a law limiting foreign ownership in the telecommunications industry to 25 percent of the company. Under public pressure the law may revert to the previously legal 49 percent allowable for foreign ownership.
Thailand's King, Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), succeeded his brother, King Ananda, in 1946. King Ananda died under mysterious circumstances from a gunshot wound. During his reign of over 55 years, King Bhumibol has twice intervened in politics to avoid bloodshed. The first time was 1973 and most recently in 1992. Each royal intervention preserved the nascent Thai democracy from a military takeover. A televised address to the nation in 1992 strongly indicated the King's preference for democracy over dictatorship. The King remains a major force for unity among the Thailand's diverse interest groups, the commercial, industrial, and financial cliques and the military, intellectuals, and the people. Revered by his people, Bhumibol travels Thailand sponsoring projects in agriculture, the environment, public health, occupational promotion, water resources development, social welfare, and communications.
Information about Thailand's King and royal family is strictly controlled by some of the world's harshest lesemajeste laws, laws that make it a crime to violate the dignity of a ruler. Section 112 of the Penal Code sanctions punishment for lese-majeste : "Whoever defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding seven years." It appears that the interpreter of Thailand's lese-majeste law is the prime minister.
When a U.S. film company decided to do a remake of the film The King and I under the title Anna and the King, the Thai government was approached about an on-location shooting of the film. Not only did the Thai government ban the film company from coming into the country, but also the film was banned from being shown in Thailand. Lese-majeste was invoked as the reason. The Thai government found the film offensive to suggest that a British governess would have had such influence over King Chulalongkorn and his family. The Thai government found it offensive to suggest that its king would associate so freely with a person not of his rank. In the recent controversy over the planned expulsion of Western journalists from the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Economist, it appears that lese-majeste was also invoked. It was the prime minister who proposed sanctions and who determines when such an offense has occurred.
There are 27 anti-press laws. Based on the 1997 Constitution, all 27 should be abolished because they contradict rights guaranteed in the constitution; however, laws are not automatically made obsolete or null and void when in conflict with a constitution. Such laws are legal and can be used to prosecute the media until each one is officially abolished by a vote of parliament.
There is one news agency in Thailand, the Thai News Agency, headquartered in Bangkok. Five press associations are located in Thailand's capital city: the Foreign Correspondents Club, the Journalists Association, the Press Association, the Public Relations Association, and the Reporters Association.
Broadcast & Electronic News Media
The Radio and Television Executive Committee controls the administrative, legal, technical, and programming features of broadcasting. Representatives of government agencies are selected as members. All radio stations are operated by and under the supervision of government agencies. Radio Thailand broadcasts three national programs, provincial programs, and educational programs with some programming offered in nine different languages. Television Thailand is the state television network. There are three commercial stations and an Army television channel.
MCOT, formed in 1978, is a Thai state agency that exists under the prime minister's office and is overseen by the prime minister's permanent secretary. It consists of TV Channel 9, MCOT Radio, and the Thai News Agency and employs an estimated 1,428 people. TV Channel 9 has 32 relay stations nationwide and 3 preparing to go on line in the early 2000s. TV Channel 9 reaches 96.5 percent of the Thai population presenting news as well as educational and entertainment programming. The programming is designed to encourage self-improvement skills and knowledge about Thailand in an image that will benefit the people. MCOT is the primary host for broadcasting foreign media and covers both national and international events. MCOT radio had seven FM stations and two AM stations in Bangkok; an additional 53 radio stations broadcast nationwide. Thailand's children's radio project is part of MCOT. MCOT radio provides the support for local community radio stations and encourages the population to voice their opinions and promote democracy and cultural conservatism.
The Thai News Agency (TNA) is the center of news production with the information disseminated by MCOT television, radio, and the Internet. TNA exchanges information with other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, the Organization of Asian and Pacific News Agencies, Xinhua News Agency (China), and the Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran). MCOT's future plans include expansion into international radio and television stations by means of satellite broadcasting, e-commerce, online news and information, and digital broadcasting. MCOT currently uses the online news sites of Headline News, News DigestToday in Asean, and OANA. Portal links offered by MCOT include banks/ finance houses, e-commerce, phone messages/beepers, search engines, government agencies, job opportunities, free-addresses ISP, learning, tourist information, and miscellaneous. Other MCOT interest sites include Asia-net, Asia Access, Chomanan Worldnet, CS Interest, Data Line Thai, and Internet Thailand.
Education & Training
Thai citizens seeking a career in the media and communications can attend one of three universities in Bang-kok: Thammasat University, Bangkok University International College, and Chulalongkorn University as well as Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand. Thammasat University offers a masters degree in mass communication. The graduate program is designed to prepare students to develop communication skills and acquire sufficient experience in both theory and process, which relates to Thai society, to be equipped for future careers with a developed understanding of communication disciplines, to inform students about effective contributions to the development of the communications profession in Thailand, and to inculcate professionalism in the student's communication's major. The masters degree program is an interdisciplinary approach offering a general background in the social sciences. Emphasis is placed on critical analysis of concept, theory, and research in the mass media. The program places great emphasis on technical and practical skills. Graduate students select from three specializations: mass communication research, communication policy and planning, and development communication. Thammasat University offers a second masters degree in mass communication administration. The courses in this program of study are designed for administrators who would like to advance and enhance their understanding of the globalization process and the changing political, economic, and social factors affecting mass communication administration.
Recognizing that communication is a potent power that creates and affects social change, the Bangkok University International College offers a bachelors degree in communication arts. The undergraduate program is designed to provide students with the basic knowledge and understanding of general socioeconomic situations, prepare students in the fields of communication arts, develop graduates who are able to identify problems occurring in the society and possible solutions, develop graduates of good moral character and a sense of social responsibility, and prepare students for further study in Thailand and overseas. A graduate program in communication arts is also offered at Bangkok University International College. Students study the message and the media; relate the processes of communication to the needs of the communicators, and plan for careers in the media and communication. The graduate course of study is taught from theoretical, critical, ethical, and social science perspectives. The masters program is designed to identify and evaluate trends in social, political, and economic areas and their relevance to the aims of the technologies of communication. Graduate student majors are public relations, advertising, mass communication, and interpersonal communications.
Founded by King Rama VI in 1917, Chulalongkorn University is Thailand's oldest and most prestigious university. Donations from the Thai people erected a monument to King Rama V who offered equal educational opportunities to the Thai people. The university's basic goals are to break new ground, search for, uphold, and transmit knowledge along with ethical values to university graduates. The university's philosophy is that knowledge contributes to the prosperity of individuals and society in general and the student body and the university benefit from the diverse academic disciplines. Chulalongkorn University places significant stress on ethical standards teaching graduates self-knowledge, inquisitiveness, constructive initiatives, circumspection, sound reasoning, and a sense of responsibility, far-sightedness, morals and devotion to the common good. The university offers a bachelors degree in communication arts. Graduates of Chulalongkorn University derive benefit and status from the patronage of the Thai Royal Family and every Thai monarch of the twentieth century.
Chiang Mai University is northern Thailand's oldest, largest, and most prestigious university. International cooperation in teaching, research, and professional associations is a cornerstone of the university's academic programs. The university offers a bachelors degree in mass communication. Chiang Mai's motto "The Wise Person Cultivates Himself" promotes the university and the nation's belief that highly trained competent people are the nation's wealth. Founded in 1964, Chiang Mai's goals are to contract research, nurture culture, and provide community service. Thai graduate students may opt to pursue additional courses of study in media and communication overseas in the United States and Europe.
In the twenty-first century the government in power directly affects the degree of freedom in which Thailand's press can operate. During the last 50 years of the twentieth century there were short periods when the press published whatever it wanted to and the number of publications was large. It is true that the Thai press did not always shown restraint and responsible journalism in the types of stories it printed. There is an increasing hope that the media will show self-restraint. Historically, the print media has always been privately owned. The broadcast media is government-controlled but operated for profit. Politicians, the military, and entrepreneurs have all used the media to present particular perspectives in their attempts to manipulate public opinion.
The Constitution of 1997 is a unique document because of the detail it offers the Thai people about rights guaranteed and protected by the government. The degree of specificity was necessary to prevent the reappearance of abuses by previous governments under earlier administrations. All 336 articles in the constitution are thought to represent a mistrust of authority and a desire to spread power. The 1997 Constitution is designed to fight corruption so endemic to Thailand's political structure and the military. The constitution expresses the need to end the tradition of unstable multiparty coalition governments. By the decentralization of power from Bangkok to the provinces, the constitution's intent is to reduce the concentration of power in the capital.
Two anticorruption agencies were created by the Constitution of 1997: the Election Commission and the National Counter-Corruption Commission. A complex method exists to appoint members to each. The government plays no role in this process. The Election Commission is designed to eliminate vote buying. It seeks to reduce the influence of political parties and the traditional and frequent practice of switching party loyalties. Senators are elected without political party affiliation. The commission's rulings are final without right of appeal. The National Counter-Corruption Commission reviews the financial public disclosure of assets from elected politicians. Any errors or omissions allow the commission to ban the offender from holding the office for five years. Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was under investigation for failing to accurately reveal all of his financial assets. Had the commission ruled against the highly popular and newly elected prime minister, he would have been forced to step down. The prime minister was not cited or punished for his financial omissions. However, during the waiting period, the media was very critical of him. This may explain Prime Minister Thaksin's policies of media regulations in oblique ways, such as directing advertising budgets to friendly, pro-government media and the use of the lese-majeste law.
The media in Thailand is not as free as they are in the Western world. It is believed that over time the Constitution of 1997 will provide the legal framework for reform at all levels of the government and full civil rights protection. Until that time, the voice of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol remains the nation's final guarantor for civil rights.
- 1992: Bhumibol Adulate reverses a military coup and restores democracy.
- 1996: King Bhumibol Adulate celebrates 50 years as Thailand's monarch.
- 1997: Thailand adopts a new Constitution.
- 2001: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announces a major domestic agenda.
- 2002: The Thai government appears to restrict journalistic freedom of the foreign press.
50 Years of Reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Accession to the Throne. Bangkok: Public Relations Department, 1996.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, 1997.
Crossette, Barbara. "King Bhumibol's Reign." New York Times Magazine (21 May 1989): 30ff.
Insor, D. Thailand. New York: Praeger, 1963.
LePoer, Barbara Leitch. Thailand, A Country Study. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1989.
A Memoir of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Bangkok: Government Printing Office, 1984.
"A Step Backwards." Economist (9 March 2002): 14.
"A Survey of Thailand." Economist (2 March 2002): 1-16.
Turner, Barry, ed. Statesman's Yearbook 2002. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
World Mass Media Handbook, 1995 Edition. New York: United Nations Department of Public Information, 1995.
William A. Paquette
Paquette, William A.. "Thailand." World Press Encyclopedia. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409900217.html
Paquette, William A.. "Thailand." World Press Encyclopedia. 2003. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409900217.html
Thailand (tī´lănd, –lənd), Thai Prathet Thai [land of the free], officially Kingdom of Thailand, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 65,444,000), 198,455 sq mi (514,000 sq km), Southeast Asia. Occupying a central position on the Southeast Asia peninsula, Thailand is bordered by Myanmar on the west and northwest, by Laos on the north and east (the Mekong River forms much of the line), by Cambodia on the southeast, and by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia on the south. A southward extension into the Malay Peninsula gives Thailand a long coastline on the Gulf of Thailand and on the Andaman Sea. Bangkok is the capital and by far the largest city.
Land and People
Thailand has a tropical, monsoonal climate. The heart of the country, the fertile and thickly populated central plain, is dotted with numerous rice paddies, entirely flat and rarely more than a few feet above sea level. It is watered by the Chao Phraya and lesser rivers and is elaborately veined by a system of canals (called klongs) for irrigation and drainage. Bangkok and Ayutthaya, the old capital, are in that basin.
The north is mountainous, with peaks rising to c.8,500 ft (2,590 m); mountains stretch south along the boundary with Myanmar on the west. Forests in the north yield teak, although overcutting has decreased Thailand's forest reserves severely. Although the population in the north is relatively sparse, rice is intensively cultivated in the river valleys, and one of the country's major cities, Chiang Mai, is in that area.
Most of NE and E Thailand is occupied by the Korat (Khorat) plateau, which is cut off from the rest of the country by highlands and the Phetchabun Mts. It is a hilly, dry, and generally poor region, where livestock raising is dominant. Chief towns are Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), Udon Thani, and Ubon Ratchathani.
Peninsular Thailand in the south (which includes Phuket and other offshore islands) is largely mountainous and covered with jungles. It is the principal source of the rubber and tin that make Thailand a major world producer of both. Chief towns of the peninsula are Hat Yai and Songkhla, the second largest port of the country.
While 75% of the people are ethnically Thai, the country has a large Chinese minority, accounting for almost 15% of the population. Local trade is chiefly in the hands of the Chinese, and as a consequence there has been substantial tension between Thais and Chinese. Other sizable minorities include the Muslim Malays, concentrated in the southern peninsula; the hill tribes of the north; the Khmers, or Cambodians, who are found in the southeast and on the Cambodian border; and the Vietnamese, who live along the Mekong River. While the ethnic minorities generally speak their own languages, Thai (linguistically related to Chinese) is the official tongue; English predominates among the Western languages. Theravada Buddhism is the state religion; some 95% of the people are Buddhists, while about 5% are Muslims.
Agriculture employs almost 50% of the population but makes up only 10% of the gross domestic product. Rice is by far the leading commercial crop, followed by rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, and soybeans. Thailand's teak, once a major export, is still a valuable commodity. Marine and freshwater fisheries are important; fish provide most of the protein in the diet, and some of the deep-sea catches (mackerel, shark, shrimp, crab) are exported. Thailand is also a major exporter of farmed shrimp. Tin and tungsten are the most valuable minerals and major export items. Lead, zinc, and antimony are also mined for export. Iron ore, gold, precious and semiprecious stones (especially saphires and rubies), salt, lignite, petroleum, natural gas, asphaltic sand, and glass sand are exploited on a smaller scale.
Thailand has substantial hydroelectric potential, which is being developed; projects have been constructed on the Ping, Mekong, Phong, and Songkhram rivers. Industry is growing. Much industry is focused on the processing of agricultural products; rice milling is by far the most important, followed by sugar refining, textile spinning and weaving, and the processing of rubber, tobacco, and forest products. The manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment, including appliances and computers and integrated circuits, became important in the late 20th cent., causing a substantial rise in the per capita gross domestic product. Lumbering is concentrated in the north. Other industries include steel production, oil refining, tin smelting, vehicle and machine assembly, and vehicle parts. Small factories, many of which are in the Bangkok area, manufacture jewelry, furniture, plastics, glass, and pharmaceuticals. Tourism is the leading source of foreign exchange, and handicraft production has a ready market in the tourist trade. Thailand is also a major transshipment point for illicit heroin and has become a drug-money-laundering center. The main exports are textiles and footwear, fishery products, rice, rubber, computers and electronics, automobiles and auto parts, electrical appliances, and jewelry. The chief imports are capital and consumer goods, raw materials, and fuels. The main trading partners are Japan, the United States, China, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Bangkok is a key point on round-the-world air routes. It is the political, commercial, cultural, and transportation center of the country, with the only port that can accommodate oceangoing vessels. Thailand's railroads originate in Bangkok and extend to Chiang Mai, the Korat plateau, and to Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia; a corresponding network of paved highways has been constructed. Thailand's inland waterways—a complex, interconnected system of rivers, streams, and canals—have been important arteries since ancient times; barges and boats still carry well over half the cargo moved in the central plain.
Like other countries of Southeast Asia, Thailand in prehistoric times was peopled through successive migrations from central Asia into territory already inhabited by the Negrito peoples. Although a few Thai groups (ethnically related to the Shan of Myanmar and the Lao of Laos) migrated to the northern hill country of Thailand, the main body of Thais remained in Yunnan, China, where by AD 650 they had organized the independent kingdom of Nanchao. By 1000, however, the Chinese had overrun Nanchao and made it a tributary state. With the destruction of the kingdom of Nanchao by the Mongols under Kublai Khan in 1253, the slow infiltration of Thailand from the north turned into a mass migration. By that time the Khmer Empire was well established in the Chao Phraya valley and on the Korat plateau.
The Thais captured the Khmer town of Sukhothai, in N central Thailand, and a new Thai nation, with its capital at Sukhothai, soon developed. During this period (c.1260–1350), King Rama Kamheng, whose 40-year reign began c.1275, borrowed from the Khmers of Cambodia the alphabet that the Thais still use. He extended Sukhothai power southward to the sea and down the Malay Peninsula, and contact was made with India. After the death of Rama Kamheng, Sukhothai declined and was absorbed by Rama Tibodi, prince of Utong, who established (c.1350) a new capital at Ayutthaya. The kings of Ayutthaya consolidated their power in S Siam and the Malay Peninsula, then launched a long series of indecisive wars against the Lao state of Chiang Mai and against Cambodia, which did not end until the 19th cent. The 16th cent. saw the beginnings of warfare with the Burmese; in 1568 the Burmese captured Ayutthaya and dominated the country until c.1583, when King Naresuan (1555–1605) drove them from Siam. He captured Tanintharyi and Dawei in S Myanmar and the major port of Myeik.
Contacts with Europe
Siam's relations with the West commenced after 1511, when Portuguese traders and missionaries began to arrive. Adroit diplomacy, developed during this time, enabled Siam to remain independent of European colonization, the only country in Southeast Asia able to do so. In the early 17th cent. the Dutch and British broke Portugal's monopoly. Siam became, so far as Europe was concerned, the most consequential kingdom in Southeast Asia, and the brilliance of its court under King Narai (reigned 1657–88) was proverbial. The French, aided by the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon, who had risen to power at the Siamese court, launched a bid for dominance in Siam that provoked an antiforeign coup (1688). Phaulkon was executed, and Siam was closed to most foreigners for over a century.
The Building of a Modern State
In 1767 the Burmese, after several attempts, finally destroyed Ayutthaya. Gen. Phya Tak, or Taksin, however, quickly rallied the Thai forces, and within a decade he drove (c.1777) the Burmese from the country and established his capital at Thon Buri. His successor, General Chakkri (reigned 1782–1809), later known as Rama I, moved the capital from Thon Buri across the river to Bangkok and founded the Chakkri dynasty, thereafter the ruling house of Siam. In the 19th cent. the authority of Bangkok was at last established over N Siam, and relations with the West were resumed; Siam signed commercial treaties with Great Britain (1826) and the United States (1833). The independence of the kingdom was threatened, however, when Great Britain extended its sway to Malaya and Burma, and France carved out an empire in Indochina.
By opening their posts to European trade, by bringing in Western advisers, by strengthening the central administration as against the hereditary provincial chieftains, and by playing off British against French interests, the Siamese managed to stay free. Even so, the establishment of Siam's boundaries meant the surrender of its claims to Laos (1893) and parts of Cambodia (1907) and of its suzerainty over Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Terengganu (1909), on the Malay Peninsula. The Pattani sultanate (now Thailand's three southern provinces), however, was annexed in 1902. The Westernization of Siam took place under an absolute monarchy and was chiefly the work of Mongkut (reigned 1851–68), or Rama IV, and his son Chulalongkorn (reigned 1868–1910), or Rama V. Siam became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, when a bloodless coup forced Prajadhipok (reigned 1925–35), Rama VII, to grant a constitution.
Pibul and Pridi
The two young leaders of the coup, Pibul Songgram and Pridi Phanomyang, both educated in Europe and influenced by Western ideas, came to dominate Thai politics in the ensuing years. In 1934 the first general elections were held; a year later Prajadhipok abdicated, and a council of regency chose Ananda (reigned 1935–46) as Rama VIII. Pibul Songgram, a militarist, became premier in 1938. He changed the country's name to Thailand and instituted a program of expansion. Taking advantage of the initial French defeat (1940) in World War II, he renewed Thai claims in Cambodia and Laos. Japanese "mediation" resulted (1941) in territorial concessions to Thailand. In Dec., 1941, Pibul, despite the objections of Pridi Phanomyang, permitted the Japanese to enter Thailand, and in 1942 the government, under Japanese pressure, declared war on Great Britain and the United States.
With the help of the United States, Pridi formed a militant anti-Japanese underground. In 1943, Japan "granted" to Thailand territory in N Malaya and in the Shan states of Myanmar, but after the war Thailand was forced to return these territories and those acquired in 1941 to French and British control. Pridi Phanomyang became premier in the postwar government, while Pibul was briefly jailed as a war criminal. Pridi restored the name Siam as a repudiation of Pibul's policies. Inflation, corruption in government, and the mysterious death (1946) of King Ananda all contributed to the overthrow (1947) of Pridi's government by Pibul. Pridi fled the country and in 1954 appeared in Beijing as the professed leader of the Communist "Free Thai" movement, allegedly representing numerous Thais still in Yunnan, China.
Under Pibul's military dictatorship, the name Thailand was again adopted. Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, was crowned king in 1950 after a four-year regency. Thailand signed (1950) a technical and economic aid agreement with the United States and sent troops in support of the United Nations action in Korea. Thailand has received huge military grants from the United States and was the seat (1954–77) of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. The country, apprehensive over its proximity to China, remained consistently pro-Western in international outlook.
In 1957 a military coup led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat overthrew Pibul Songgram and made Gen. Thanom Kittikachorn premier. In 1958, however, with the stated purpose of combating Communism, Sarit deposed his own premier, suspended the constitution, and declared martial law. King Bhumibol Adulyadej proclaimed an interim constitution in 1959 and named Sarit premier. When Sarit died in 1963, Thanom Kittikachorn was returned to power. A new constitution was finally promulgated in 1968. Under Sarit and Thanom the country's economy in the 1960s continued to boom, spurred by a favorable export market and considerable U.S. aid. Thailand strongly supported the U.S. policy in South Vietnam, providing bases for U.S. troops and airfields for strikes against the North Vietnamese; thousands of Thai troops were sent in support of South Vietnam. The nation's foreign policy was closely geared to the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia and its economy became increasingly dependent upon U.S. military spending and subsidies. Thailand became one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967.
Economic reversals came in 1970 when the international demand for rice dropped substantially (due in part to improved farming techniques in other countries) and the prices of tin and rubber fell; for the first time since 1933, Thailand suffered a trade deficit. In addition, the security of the country appeared threatened by the spread of the Vietnam War into Cambodia and Laos and by growing insurgencies, chiefly Communist led, in three separate areas within Thailand itself: in the south, where Malaysian Communists used Thailand as a staging base for operations in Malaysia and Thai Malay separatists mounted an insurgency that continued into the 1980s; in the north, where Communists trained in North Vietnam were believed to be organizing the hill peoples; and, most significantly, in the economically backward northeastern provinces, where a discontented minority had been active since the mid-1950s.
The increasing economic and security problems prompted a coup in Nov., 1971, by Premier Thanom Kittikachorn and three military aides, in which they abolished the constitution and the parliament and imposed military rule. Guerrilla raids against both Thai government forces and U.S. air bases continued. Economic conditions improved throughout 1972 as large numbers of U.S. military personnel were transferred from South Vietnam to bases in Thailand; by June of that year there were more U.S. forces in Thailand than in South Vietnam.
In Oct., 1973, the military regime of Thanom was toppled after a week of student demonstrations and violence in Bangkok. King Bhumibol Adulyadej appointed Sanya Thammasak as Thanom's successor, giving Thailand its first civilian premier in twenty years. The new premier promised to complete a constitution and to hold general elections. In May, 1974, citing the heavy burden of the office and the sharp criticism directed against the government, Sanya resigned, but he was soon persuaded to form a new government. In June he was sworn in as the head of a revamped, all-civilian cabinet. A new constitution was promulgated in Oct., 1974. Over the next few years the civilian government made little headway in establishing its authority. In 1976, the military took control of the government once again. After that, the military held power almost continuously until the early 1990s.
From the late 1970s, Thailand's political concerns were dominated by pressures resulting from warfare in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and serious unrest in Myanmar (Burma); Thailand also experienced a massive influx of refugees from these countries. From 1975 onward, Thailand was a way station for Hmong refugees immigrating to the United States under its resettlement program. The Khmer Rouge used Thailand as a staging area after they were driven out of Cambodia by the Vietnamese, and internal fighting within the Cambodian government in 1997 sent a new flow of refugees into Thailand.
In 1992 there were signs of popular opposition to continued military rule and, after antigovernment demonstrators were killed, King Bhumibol Adulyadej appointed a civilian as interim prime minister. In the Sept., 1992, elections, parties opposed to the military won a majority, and Chuan Leekpai became prime minister of a coalition government. In Jan., 1995, parliament approved a package of constitutional reforms that lowered the voting age to 18, guaranteed equal rights for women, and reduced membership in the military-dominated senate. New elections were held in July, 1995, after Chuan's government fell because of a land-reform scandal; the Chart Thai (Thai Nation) party won a slight plurality, and Banharn Silpa-archa became prime minister, heading a seven-party coalition. His government collapsed in Dec., 1996, and he was succeeded by Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. However, Chavalit resigned under pressure in Nov., 1997, and Chuan Leekpai once again became prime minister. A new constitution was approved in Sept., 1997.
Despite its unsteady political climate, Thailand appeared to have one of the strongest economies in SE Asia. However, following years of speculation in the real estate market and growing corruption in government, its currency plummeted in July, 1997, setting off a crisis in Asian financial markets and plunging the country into a deep recession. The International Monetary Fund pledged to provide Thailand with a $17 billion rescue package, and by 2000 the economy was experiencing a recovery, but the economic pain led in a loss of support for the government. Elections in Jan., 2001, resulted in a victory for the Thai Rak Thai party (Thais Love Thais; TRT) and its allies, the Chart Thai and Khwam Wang Mai (New Aspiration) parties. Thaksin Shinawatra of the TRT became prime minister, but an anticorruption commission accused him of concealing his assets, raising the possibility that he would be banned from politics for five years. Thailand's high court, however, cleared him in a close decision in August. The new government has privatized a number of state-owned companies, but it also has been marked by investigations into and disclosures of significant corruption.
In 2004 there were attacks by Muslim separatists in Thailand's three southern provinces. Muslims, who are in the majority in the provinces, complained of discrimination in education and employment. The situation there evolved into an ongoing conflict, exacerbated by the sometimes excessive response of the Thai police and military. Militant attacks against nonsecurity targets as the conflict became prolonged, however, also alienated many Muslims.
In Dec., 2004, areas of S Thailand along the Indian Ocean were devastated by a tsunami; an estimated 8,000 people, some of them foreign tourists, died. The government's response to the disaster and the nation's generally improved economic conditions resulted in strong support for the TRT and the prime minister in the Feb., 2005, parliamentary elections, and the governing coalition increased its majority in the lower house. The continuing attacks by Muslim separatists in the south led the prime minister to assume emergency powers in July, 2005.
Meanwhile, Thai publisher Sondhi Limthongkul, a former ally of the prime minister, began publicly criticizing Thaksin for corruption and poor government performance, first on his television program and, after being forced off the air in Aug., 2005, at public rallies. Thaksin responded with libel suits, and there were attacks on Sondhi's offices. In Dec., 2005, the king, in a rare criticism of the government, rebuked Thaksin for suing Sondhi, and the prime minister subsequently withdrew his lawsuits.
A controversial stock sale (Jan., 2006) by Thaksin's children, who sold a nearly 50% stake in the family communications business to a Singapore-government-owned company and legally avoided taxes on the deal, gave new life to anti-government protests. In February the prime minister called a snap election, but the opposition boycotted the April vote. The TRT won a majority of the seats, but 10% of the constituencies failed to elect a representative (all seats must be filled for a government to be formed) and there was a sizable number of abstentions. Thaksin announced he would step aside and "rest," but he did not resign as prime minister as demanded by the opposition. A second ballot in late April still failed to fill all the seats, leading the king to call on the courts to resolve the problem. In May the Constitutional Court ruled the election invalid.
Thaksin resumed his post later in the month, and a new election was tentatively scheduled for October. Meanwhile the late April election of the senate, intended to be independent but dominated by Thaksin supporters, was marred by vote-buying. In June Thaksin said he would support the proposals by a national commission for the three southern provinces; it recommended establishing a regional administrative body to oversee the provinces, using of Malay as a local "working" government language, and avoiding military responses in favor of resolving the problems that had produced the unrest. In mid-June there was a coordinated string of some 40 bombings in the south.
In mid-September the Thai election commission postponed the October parliamentary elections, but shortly thereafter, with Thaksin abroad, the military overthrew him. Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the head of the army and close to the king, led the coup. He was named head of the Council of National Security, which under the interim constitution became Thailand's most powerful body. A retired general, Surayud Chulanont, was appointed prime minister in October, and a hand-picked unicameral legislature was also appointed. The same month the new government agreed to talks with Muslim rebels in S Thailand, and then revived a former government agency for the region; the dissolution of the agency had contributed to the current unrest in the south. The policy changes did not, however, reduce rebel attacks, which continued into subsequent years and increased in frequency and brutality.
Meanwhile, in Mar., 2007, Thaksin's wife and others were charged with evading taxes in a 1997 share transfer, and the following month his children were order by a Thai anticorruption committee to pay $616 million in taxes and fines as a result of their 2006 sales of stock in the family telecommunications firm. The government moved in June to seize $1.5 billion in assets belonging to Thaksin and his wife, and also ordered him to return to face corruption charges; he remained in exile. The previous month a court had ordered the TRT party disbanded for breaking the electoral laws in 2006; Thaksin was barred from politics for five years. Warrants were subsequently issued for the arrest of Thaksin and his wife on corruption charges.
In Aug., 2007, Thai voters approved a new constitution in a referendum, which was subsequently endosed by the king. Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk succeeded Sonthi as national security council leader in Oct., 2007. In the parliamentary elections in December, the People Power party (PPP), led by an ally of Thaksin and drawing on Thaksin's rural support, won a plurality of the seats; the vote was seen as a repudiation of the coup. Thaksin's wife returned to Thailand from exile in Jan., 2008. In February the PPP formed a six-party coalition government, with PPP leader Samak Sundaravej as prime minister and many former Thaksin aides in key posts; later that month Thaksin returned to Thailand. In July, one party left the governing coalition because of the PPP's focus on constitutional reform. The opposition, known as Yellow Shirts (yellow being the color traditional associated with the monarchy), began mounting increasing confrontational protests against the government in mid-2008; beginning in August they occupied the grounds of the prime minister's office.
Thai government support for naming the Preah Vihear (Phra Viharn) temple a UNESCO World Heritage site stoked antigovernment demonstrations and led to tensions with Cambodia in July, 2008. Awarded to Cambodia in 1962, the temple is claimed by both nations. The nationalistic outpouring in Thailand, in which opposition groups asserted the government action had undermined Thailand's claim on the temple, led both nations to reinforce their troops along the border near the temple, creating concern about an outbreak of border fighting. In Aug., 2008, both nations agreed to reduce greatly their forces near the temple, but tensions continued. There were subsequent sporadic clashes over the site, most significantly in Feb., 2011, and in Apr., 2011, there were clashes there and at other disputed sites. In Dec., 2011, both governments agreed to withdraw their troops from the disputed areas around Preah Vihear, and a demilitarized zone was established there in July, 2012. Most of the disputed territory was awarded in 2013 to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice. Meanwile, in Aug., 2008, Thaksin and his wife fled Thailand for Great Britain after she was convicted of tax fraud; he had been charged with abuse of power and other crimes and was convicted in absentia of corruption in Oct., 2008.
In Sept., 2008, days of antigovernment protest in Bangkok sparked clashes between anti- and progovernment demonstrators; clashes also occurred in October and November. Prime Minister Samak was dismissed from office in September by the Constitutional Court; it ruled that Samak's hosting of a television cooking show violated Thailand's conflict of interest law. He was succeeded by Somchai Wongsawat, a former judge and Thaksin's brother-in-law. In late November antigovernment protesters also began a blockade of Bangkok's airports, with damaging consequences for Thailand's tourist industry and agricultural exports. Early the following month the Constitutional Court ruled that the PPP and two smaller coalition parties had engaged in vote buying in the last election; Somchai was barred from politics and the three parties dissolved. Yellow Shirt activists subsequently ended their protests and blockades. The opposition Democrat party succeeded in forming a governing coalition later in December; party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva became prime minister.
Thaksin supporters, known as "Red Shirts" for the color they used to distinguish themselves from the Yellow Shirts, subsequently mounted demonstrations against the new government. In late March the protests in Bangkok became significant, and in mid-April protestors forced the cancellation of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit; demonstrations were also reported in northern and northeastern provinces. Abhisit declared a state of emergency (which lasted two weeks), and used the military to suppress the protests in the capital. In Nov., 2009, Cambodia's naming of Thaksin as a government adviser strained relations between the two nations again.
In Mar., 2010, Thaksin supporters again mounted signficant demonstations in the capital against Abhisit in an attempt to force him to resign and call new elections; the government again declared a state of emergency. In April the ongoing protests erupted into fighting between the Red Shirts and security forces, and hundreds were injured. Abhisit subsequently placed the army commander in chief in charge of national security. In May, after increasing tensions, the government forcibly reestablished control over Bangkok; in response, protesters set fire to a number of buildings, and there were also riots in a number of cities in NE Thailand (a Red Shirt stronghold). The government subsequently also issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin, on terrorism charges relating to the two-month protest. Not until December was emergency rule lifted in all provinces.
In the June, 2011, elections for the House of Representatives, the pro-Thaksin For Thais party (Phuea Thai party, PTP), led by Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won a majority of the seats and subsequently formed a coalition government with a number of smaller parties; Yingluck became Thailand's first woman prime minister. In the 2011 monsoon season (August–October) unusually heavy rains resulted in weeks of significant flooding in three quarters of the country's provinces; it was the worst flooding in half a century. More than 750 persons died, and some areas continued to be affected into early 2012; the disruption to manufacturing caused an economic slowdown.
In Nov., 2013, the amendment of a political amnesty bill to include Thaksin led to a legislative walkout of opposition Democrats, and sparked demonstrations against the government that continued into 2014 despite the failure of the bill to pass the Senate. In December Yingluck dissolved parliament and announced new elections, which the PTP was expected to win; the Democrats announced a boycott of the elections, and demonstrators attempted to disrupt the preparations for them. In Jan., 2014, the government imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding provinces.
The Feb., 2014, elections were blocked by protests in a number of districts, and the constitutional court subsequently declared the voting invalid as a result. Yingluck and nine cabinet members were ordered to step down in May, 2014, after the constitutional court ruled the government had acted illegally in transferring the national security chief in 2011. Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, the commerce minister, became caretaker prime minister, but the army, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, subsequently seized power in a coup. An interim constitution, adopted in July, led to the appointment by the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order, of a legislative assembly. Ultimate power, however, remained with the military, and in August Prayuth became prime minister. Elections under a new constitution were slated for late 2015. In Jan., 2015, Yingluck was impeached (despite no longer being in office) and banned from office for five years, ostensibly over corruption in a subsidy program for rice farmers.
See Sir John Bowring, The Kingdom and People of Siam (2 vol., 1857; repr. 1972); K. P. Landon, The Chinese in Thailand (1941, repr. 1973); J. Nakahara and R. A. Witton, Development and Conflict in Thailand (1971); R. Syamananda, A History of Thailand (1971); D. K. Wyatt, Thailand, A Short History (1984); C. F. Keyes, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation State (1987); S. Bundongkarn, The Military in Thai Politics, 1981–1986 (1988).
"Thailand." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Thailand.html
"Thailand." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Thailand.html
RecipesNam Pla Prig (Dipping Sauce) ..................................... 37
Thai Beef Curry ........................................................... 37
Chicken Satay ............................................................. 38
Cucumber Salad.......................................................... 39
Poa Pee (Thai Egg Rolls) .............................................. 39
Sang Ka Ya (Thai Coconut Custard)............................. 40
Banana with Coconut Milk .......................................... 41
Ka Nom Jeen Sour Nam (Pineapple-Fish Noodles)....... 42
Pad Thai...................................................................... 42
Coconut-Chicken Soup ............................................... 43
1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
Comprising an area of 514,000 square kilometers (198,456 square miles) in Southeast Asia, Thailand (formerly known as Siam) extends almost two-thirds down the Malay Peninsula. Comparatively, the area occupied by Thailand is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Wyoming.
Thailand may be divided into five major physical regions: the central valley, fronting the Gulf of Thailand; the continental highlands of the north and northwest, containing Thailand's highest point, Doi Inthanon (2,565 meters/8,415 feet); the northeast, much of it often called the Khorat Plateau; the small southeast coastal region facing the Gulf of Thailand; and the Malay Peninsula, extending almost 960 kilometers (600 miles) from the central valley in the north to the boundary of Malaysia in the south.
Thailand has a tropical climate. In most of the country, the temperature rarely falls below 13°C (55°F) or rises above 35°C (95°F).
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
Until 1939, the country we call Thailand was known as Siam. It was the only Southeast Asian country never colonized by the West. This helped Thailand to maintain its own special cuisine (cooking style). However, that cuisine had already been influenced by Thailand's Asian neighbors.
The Thai (pronounced TIE) people migrated to their present homeland from southern China about 2,000 years ago. They brought with them the spicy cooking of their native Yunan province, as well as its dietary staple, rice. Other Chinese influences on Thai cooking included the use of noodles, dumplings, soy sauce, and other soy products. Like the Chinese, the Thais based their recipes on blending five basic flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and hot.
From nearby India came not only the Buddhist religion, but also spicy seasonings such as cumin, cardamom, and coriander, as well as curry dishes. The Malays, to the south, further shared seasonings, as well as their love of coconuts and the satay (a dish that is similar to shish kebabs). Since 1970, Thai cooking has become extremely popular in both North America and Britain.
3 FOODS OF THE THAIS
Rice is the main dietary staple of Thailand. Thais eat two kinds of rice: the standard white kind and glutinous, or sticky, rice. Sticky rice rolled into a ball is the main rice eaten in northeastern Thailand. It is also used in desserts throughout the country. Rice is eaten at almost every meal and also made into flour used in noodles, dumplings, and desserts. Most main dishes use beef, chicken, pork, or seafood, but the Thais also eat vegetarian dishes.
Thai food is known for its unique combinations of seasoning. Although it is hot and spicy, Thai cooking is carefully balanced to bring out all the different flavors in a dish. Curries (dishes made with a spicy powder called curry) are a mainstay of Thai cooking. Hot chilies appear in many Thai dishes. Other common flavorings are fish sauce, dried shrimp paste, lemon grass, and the spices coriander, basil, garlic, ginger, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Soup, eaten with most meals, helps balance the hot flavors of many Thai dishes as do steamed rice, mild noodle dishes, and sweet desserts. Many dishes are served with sauces, such as Nam Pla Prig, for dipping.
Coconuts play an important role in the Thai diet. Coconut milk and shredded coconut are used in many dishes, especially desserts. Thais eat a variety of tropical fruits for dessert, including mangoes, papayas, custard apples with scaly green skins, and jackfruit, which is large and prickly and has yellow flesh.
Thai food differs somewhat from one region to another. Seafood is popular in the southern coastal areas. The Muslims in that part of the country favor curries. The spiciest food is found in the northeast.
Nam Pla Prig (Dipping Sauce)
This sauce is used as a dip. It is provided on the table at every Thai meal, in the same way that salt and pepper are provided on most tables in North America.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
- 4 Tablespoons fish sauce (available at supermarkets and Asian food stores)
- 2 Tablespoons water
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
- Stir to dissolve sugar.
- If sauce is too salty, add more water.
- Serve at room temperature in individual bowls.
- Keeps for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, tightly covered.
Thai Beef Curry
- 10 ounces beef flank steak with the fat trimmed off
- 2 cups coconut milk, unsweetened
- 2 Tablespoons red curry paste
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 cup bamboo shoot strips
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 Tablespoons water
- 20 leaves of fresh basil
- ¼ medium red pepper, cut into thin strips
- 2 Tablespoons green peas, frozen
- 2½ cups rice, steamed
- Slice the steak into pieces ¼-inch thick, 2 inches long, and about 1-inch wide.
- Heat 1 cup of the coconut milk in a wok or frying pan and add the red curry paste.
- Stir to dissolve and cook at high heat for 5 to 6 minutes, until the oil of the coconut milk rises to the top and the sauce thickens.
- Add fish sauce and stir it in.
- Add the second cup of coconut milk and the beef. Reduce heat to medium.
- Add the bamboo shoot strips and the sugar. Return the heat to high and add 3 Tablespoons water.
- Cook, stirring for 3 minutes until bubbling.
- Add ¾ of the basil leaves, the red pepper strips and the green peas.
- Stir and cook for another 30 seconds, folding all the ingredients into the sauce.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish.
- Top with the rest of the basil leaves and the additional red pepper strips.
- Serve immediately, accompanied by steamed rice.
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- Small amount of oil or coconut milk
- Fresh coriander leaves
- Lettuce leaves
- Slice chicken breasts into thin slices lengthwise. Each slice should be about 4 inches by 1 inch by ¼ inch. (Optional: place chicken in freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to make it easier to slice.) Place the chicken strips in a mixing bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients, first the solids, then the liquids, to the bowl. Toss until well mixed.
- Let the chicken marinate (absorb the flavoring) in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and as long as 24 hours.
- When ready to cook the satay, stir the chicken in the sauce and remove.
- Thread each slice onto a skewer, pushing the skewer in and out down the middle of the slice.
- Baste (rub) the chicken with oil or coconut milk and grill on a barbecue or under the broiler.
- Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, watching carefully and turning to keep the chicken from burning.
- Baste once more with oil or coconut milk. The satay is done when it's golden brown and crispy along the edges. Serve with optional garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
- 1 long cucumber
- ½ small red onion
- ⅓ medium red pepper
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Fresh coriander leaves
- Wash and dry the cucumber, and peel it if desired.
- Cut in half lengthwise and then into quarters.
- Slice the quarters into ¼-inch pieces and arrange on a plate.
- Slice the red pepper and onion into thin strips. Scatter them over the cucumber.
- In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vinegar, and salt.
- Pour dressing over the vegetables and top with the coriander leaves.
Serves 4 to 6.
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Although most Thais are Buddhists, there are no food taboos in Thailand. The Thais celebrate a number of seasonal festivals and Buddhist holidays with feasts and banquets. Some of the foods eaten at these meals have a symbolic meaning. Among these are "golden threads," a thin layer of egg or noodles wrapped around small pieces of food. It is thought that they bring good luck and wealth to the person who eats them. Like the Chinese, the Thais believe that long noodles symbolize long life. Grilled, baked, or fried chicken is a popular food for holiday banquets. While everyday meals end with fruit, sweet desserts are served on special occasions. These fall into two categories: cakes (kanom ) and liquid desserts, such as bananas and coconut milk.
One of the most important feast days is Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year, celebrated in April. People throw buckets of water at each other to let everyone start fresh for the coming year. Egg rolls are traditionally eaten for Songkran, as well as other holidays. Custard is another traditional dish served on Songkran.
Poa Pee (Thai Egg Rolls)
- 3½ ounces (one-half package) rice noodles or cellophane noodles
- ½ pound ground pork
- ½ pound ground beef
- 1 cup carrots, peeled and shredded
- 1 cup bean sprouts or shredded cabbage
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- ¼ Tablespoon pepper
- ½ clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 package of lumpia papers (rice-paper wrappers may be substituted; both are sold in gourmet or frozen foods section of supermarket or Asian grocery store)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 black mushrooms (optional; sold in Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets and gourmet stores)
- 1 egg
- If using black mushrooms, soak them in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain well in a strainer.
- Discard mushroom stems and shred caps.
- Soak noodles in hot water according to package directions. When soft, drain and cut into 2-inch pieces with a sharp knife or scissors.
- In a large bowl, beat egg well. Add black mushrooms, noodles, pork, beef, carrots, bean sprouts, onion, fish sauce, pepper, garlic, and sugar. Mix well.
- Place 1 wrapper on a flat surface. Cover remaining wrappers with a slightly damp kitchen towel so they don't dry out.
- Place about 1½ Tablespoons of filling just below the center of each wrapper and fold up into a roll. Press edges to seal.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat for 1 minute.
- Carefully place 3 rolls in oil and fry slowly for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Turn and fry the other side 10 minutes.
- Keep fried rolls warm in oven heated to 200°F.
- Serve hot with individual bowls of nam pla prig or with sweet-and-sour sauce.
Sang Ka Ya (Thai Coconut Custard)
- 4 eggs
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup winter squash, thinly sliced with seeds and rind removed
- In a deep bowl, beat eggs well.
- Add brown and white sugars and stir until dissolved.
- Add coconut milk and squash and stir well.
- Pour mixture into a 9- by 9-inch baking pan or a 9- or 10-inch pie pan.
- Place ½ cup water into a steamer or Dutch oven large enough to hold the custard pan.
- Bring water to a boil over high heat, and place pan with custard inside.
- Cover and steam over high heat for 30 minutes.
- Serve at room temperature.
Banana with Coconut Milk
- 12 half-ripe bananas
- 4 cups fresh or canned coconut milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Peel the bananas and cut in quarters. Place in a steamer over boiling water. Steam for 20 minutes; set aside.
- In a large pot heat the coconut milk, sugar, and salt on high heat. As soon as it boils, add the bananas.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
- Serve hot.
Serves 8 to 12.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
Thais are famous for their love of snacks. There are food stalls near every public place due to the Thai habit of snacking all day. These stalls sell hundreds of different snacks. Among the most popular are fish cakes, egg rolls, fried rice, and noodles served with a choice of seasonings.
Thais eat three meals daily, plus many snacks. Dinner is the main meal. Breakfast often consists of fried rice, boiled eggs, and foods left over from the previous day's dinner. Lunch is usually a single-dish meal based on either rice or noodles. The main meal, eaten at dinnertime, consists of several different dishes chosen to balance different flavors and cooking methods. Soups are served with most main meals and are sipped throughout the meal. A typical dinner is steamed rice, a curry dish, a vegetable dish, a cold salad, and soup. Rice is the only food placed on each person's plate. All the other dishes are brought to the table in serving bowls, and people help themselves. Fresh fruit is served at the end.
Unlike their Asian neighbors, Thais do not use chopsticks unless they are eating noodles. Most of the time they use a fork and a flat-bottomed spoon. The fork is used only to push food onto the spoon, not to bring it to one's mouth. Food is already cut into bite-sized pieces, so a knife is not needed.
Poa Pee (egg roll)
Spicy beef salad with lemongrass sauce
Spicy mint noodles
Chicken with basil
Sang Ka Ya (custard)
Thais like their food to please the eye as well as the taste buds. They carve fresh fruits and vegetables into fancy shapes and serve prepared foods in pretty containers.
Ka Nom Jeen Sour Nam (Pineapple Fish Noodles)
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 pounds fish fillets, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 can (20-ounces) crushed pineapple, drained thoroughly
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Fresh mint and coriander for topping (optional)
- In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over high heat for 1 minute.
- Add fish, garlic, and ginger.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or until fish becomes white.
- Add pineapple, coconut milk, fish sauce, pepper, sugar, and cayenne pepper and stir well.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until fish flakes easily.
- Serve over hot rice noodles, topped with fresh mint and coriander.
This is Thailand's most famous noodle dish.
- 12 ounces of Pad Thai noodles
- 8 cups cold water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 16 medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (with the veins taken out)
- 2 ounces firm brown tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup crushed unsalted peanuts
- 3 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 2½ Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon sugar or 1½ Tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper
- 3 ounces fresh bean sprouts
- ¼ cup leeks, cut into 1½ to 2-inch-long shreds
- In a large bowl, soak noodles in cold water 45 minutes.
- Drain in a colander (special bowl with holes for draining) and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.
- Add garlic and sauté until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
- Add shrimp and tofu and sauté 1 minute.
- Add eggs and stir 30 seconds.
- Add noodles, peanuts, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, paprika, and red pepper and stir constantly for 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle with bean sprouts and leeks and serve.
Serves 8 to 10.
- 14 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
- 1 stick lemon grass
- 1 inch ginger root
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 2 fresh hot chilies
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- Fresh coriander leaves
- Slice chicken into thin strips.
- Smash the lemon grass once with a rolling pin. Cut it into 1-inch slices.
- Cut the ginger into thin slices and cut the chilies in half.
- Heat coconut milk and water in a saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. (Do not let it boil.)
- Add the lemon grass, ginger, and chilies, and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously and not letting the liquid boil.
- Add chicken strips and cook for 5 minutes, stirring over medium heat, until the chicken is cooked. Lower heat if mixture starts to boil.
- Add lemon juice, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar.
- Stir and continue cooking for another minute or two.
- Pour soup into a serving pot and serve immediately, topped with fresh coriander leaves.
Serves 6 to 8.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
About 24 percent of the population of Thailand is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Almost all of the population (94 percent) has adequate access to sanitation. Of children under the age of five, about one-quarter are underweight, and nearly 22 percent are stunted (short for their age).
Despite malnourishment, Thailand is the world's largest rice exporter, accounting for over 22 percent of all agricultural exports by value in 1997. It also provides about 95 percent of the world's cassava (tapioca) exports. The government, however, has initiated large-scale irrigation projects, introduced higher-yielding varieties of rice, and encouraged mountain villagers to grow coffee, apples, strawberries, and other crops in an effort to increase exports and compete in the global market.
7 FURTHER STUDY
Bremzen, Anya von, and John Welchman. Terrific Pacific Cookbook. New York: Workman Publishing, 1995.
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Halvorsen, Francine. Eating Around the World in Your Neighborhood. John Wiley & Sons: New York, 1998.
Harrison, Supenn, and Judy Monroe. Cooking the Thai Way. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1986.
Rutherford, Scott, ed. Insight Guide Thailand. Singapore: APA Publications, 1998.
Sananikone, Keo. Keo's Thai Cuisine. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1986.
Webb, Lois Sinaiko. Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1995.
Young, Wandee, and Byron Ayanoglu. Simply Thai Cooking. Toronto: Robert Rose, 1996.
Asia Foods. [Online] Available http://www.asiafoods.com (accessed February 7, 2001).
Bangkok Cuisine. [Online] Available http://bangkokcuisine.com/original/bangkok/recipes.htm (accessed July 19, 2001).
Epicurious. [Online] Available http://epicurious.com (accessed February 7, 2001).
SOAR (online recipe archive). [Online] Available http://soar.Berkeley.edu (accessed February 7, 2001).
Mail-order and online sources for specialty ingredients:
The Oriental Pantry
423 Great Road (2A)
Acton, MA 01720
[Online] Available http://www.orientalpantry.com (accessed February 7, 2001).
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435400088.html
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Foods and Recipes of the World. 2002. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435400088.html
Thailand is situated in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia. Located between latitudes 5° and 21° north and longitudes 97° to 106° east, it borders the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and Myanmar (formerly Burma) to the north, Cambodia to the east, Myanmar to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Tropical temperature and rainfall patterns predominate throughout much of the country and influence its culinary traditions. Thailand, once called Siam, is distinguished from most other Southeast Asian countries by the fact that it has not ever been ruled by a European power. The monarch is a member of the Chakri dynasty, which has led the kingdom since 1782. Much of the Thai cuisine evolved in the central region during the Sukhothai period (1238–1350 B.C.E.). The rise of Ayutthaya in the fourteenth century brought an increase in trade, and outside influences became more pronounced. China, India, Indonesia, and Cambodia exerted strong influences, as did some European countries. After the fifteenth century domesticates from the Americas, such as the chili pepper and the tomato, were introduced. The complex of seasonings and dishes regarded as Thai cuisine was probably well established by the 1800s.
Staples, Specialties, and Etiquette
Rice and fish were first used as metaphors for prosperity and security in the inscription from King Ramkhamhaeng (1283 C.E.): "In the water there are fish, in the paddies there is rice" (nai nam mee pla—nai na mee khao). Rice, fish, and local fruits and vegetables form the centerpiece of Thai cuisine. Considerable evidence suggests that the domestication of wild rice occurred in the Yangtze Valley in China and later spread to Thailand and other areas in Southeast Asia. Rice is more than just a culinary staple. Rice agriculture is the primary farming activity nationwide, an integral way of life often portrayed in songs, poems, novels, and films. Rice is so central in the Thai diet that the most common term for "to eat" is "kin khâo," literally "eat rice," and a common greeting is "Kin khâo láew réu yang?" literally "Have you eaten rice yet?" Regional distinctions exist in the type of rice consumed. Sticky or glutinous rice (khâaw niaw) is consumed widely in the north and the northeast, and plain white rice (khâaw jâo), especially jasmine rice, is popular in the central and southern regions (see "Thai Regional Cuisine" below). Glutinous or sticky rice is a variety (Oryza sativa) that requires a shorter growing season and contains a large amount of amylopectin starch. The high proportion of amylopectin causes the kernels to disintegrate when boiled. Consequently glutinous rice is usually soaked and then steamed in a container above the water.
Eating in Thailand is usually done in a social context rather than alone. In Thai the word for "meal" is "meu," and meals usually consist of rice accompanied by various side dishes that are not eaten in any specific order. Frequently meals include a soup, a curry (kaeng), a salad, a steamed or fried dish, and at least one dipping sauce, such as fish sauce nam pla or one of the various forms of the hotter nam prik. Dessert usually consists of fruits, although various sweets called kanome, which are sometimes eaten as snacks, can also be served at a meal. Specific foods are seldom limited to certain times of the day, and distinctive breakfast, lunch, or dinner dishes do not exist. Some Thai food is eaten with the fingers, especially in certain regions of the country or specific foods such as sticky rice. The use of a fork and spoon predominates in urban areas, where the fork is used to push food onto the spoon rather than to bring food to the mouth. Knives are not commonly used because food is usually cut into small pieces before it is cooked.
Traditionally some distinction is made between food eaten by royalty (ahaan chow wang) and village food (aahan chow bâan). The primary difference lies not so much in the ingredients as in the use of serving dishes, in the variety and number of side dishes, and in the presentation style as food is transformed by carving, shaping, or decorating to change its appearance. In addition to an artistic presentation, palace food has often required many hours of preparation. Traditional palace food is served in Bangkok at restaurants specializing in this type of cuisine. Some royal desserts such as foi thong (golden threads), a dessert made from egg yolks and sugar, and luk choob, small mung bean paste sweets, similar to marzipan, shaped into small replicas of various fruits, colored with vegetable dyes, and glazed in the gelatin-like agaragar. These sweets also can be obtained in many large grocery stores and from some street vendors.
A twentieth-century development, especially in the urban areas, was the rapid rise in Thai street food. Sometimes considered a culinary form in its own right, street food is characterized by rapid preparation methods and includes a wide variety of categories. Snacks, such as sliced fruits or sweets, are common, as are noodle dishes and main dishes. Usually each vendor concentrates on one of these categories of food. Sidewalk food vendors are regulated by official authorities in each city. This form of culinary activity clearly fills an important niche in the cosmopolitan Thai lifestyle.
The Tastes and Flavors of Thai Food
The consumption of meals is guided by the qualities of taste, smell, and texture. Often these are the same qualities that guide health-promoting behavior. Foods are classified and categorized in a variety of ways. The ingredients selected for cooking frequently have medicinal properties. Penny Van Esterik (1988, p. 753) notes that the taste relationship is so close to concepts of health that the head teacher of the Traditional Medical College identified medicine (ya) as "anything which can be eaten to improve one's health." The basic taste qualities overlap with the medicinal tastes of traditional Thai medicine, which is related to the Indian Ayurvedic system. These taste contrasts guide the combination of ingredients or the combination of dishes with rice. The tastes are primarily derived from local plants, resins, oils, roots, insects, and algae, many of which are gathered wild from forests, ponds, and rice paddies.
Flavoring is a defining characteristic of Thai cuisine that imparts regional or ethnic identification, a sense of familiarity, and a sense of tradition. Most Thais speak of five important tastes as the hallmarks of Thai food, sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and hot-spicy. The ideal meal is often designed to include these tastes, and sometimes several of the tastes are subtly combined in an individual dish. Despite regional differences, much of Thai food is characterized by a combination of naam plaa (predominantly in the central, northern, and southern regions) or plaa daek (in the northeast), lemongrass, ginger, galingale, Thai basil, garlic, and chili peppers. A wide variety of chili peppers is used, different types imparting distinctive tastes, colors, and levels of hotness, such as the small and extremely hot prik ki nu. In addition mint, coriander, lime, and kaffir lime leaves (Citrus hystrix DC.) are also frequently used.
Food in Thai Celebrations, Rituals, and Religion
Food plays an important role in the personal, social, and religious aspects of Thai life. Most Thais are Buddhists, and the daily offering of food to monks, called tham boon tak bàat, is one of the most important Buddhist acts. Every day throughout the country, in urban and rural communities, Thai Buddhist monks receive their daily food during a practice known as bintábàat. Walking through the streets and paths in the early morning, the monks are met by people offering food. Food is also offered at numerous religious shrines and is an important part of most Thai Buddhist ceremonies. Houses, office buildings, hotels, and rice fields have a spirit (phii) house (san pra poom), where daily offerings are placed. The spirit houses, originating from past Brahman influences, may be elaborate and look like small temples or may be modestly constructed of plain wood or concrete. Thais give offerings to feed the spirits occupying the spirit house who protect the place from harm. As in secular life, rice has a central role in Thai spiritual life. The most common type of offering at spirit shrines is a small amount of rice, however, other food, such as fruits or sweets, may also be provided.
Buddhist monks perform many different ceremonies in which food offerings are integral. These include funeral rites, weddings, house consecrations, and inductions of new monks. Sweet offerings predominate at engagement and wedding ceremonies. The names of such sweets often signify a special aspect of the occasion. For example, kanome (sweet) thong (gold) ake (best) signifies bestowing wealth to the couple. The preparation and offering of food for religious ceremonies and rituals bestows merit on the person who provides the food. In preparing and giving ritual food individuals gain merit, and food is integrated into the spiritual and ceremonial fabric of Thai life.
See also Buddhism ; China ; India ; Rice .
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Na Songkla, Vandee. Thai Foods from Thai Literature. Book 2. Bangkok: Chotivej Compas, n.d.
Poladitmontri, Panurat, and Judy Lew with William Warren. Thailand, the Beautiful Cookbook. Bangkok: Asia Books, 1992.
Smith, Bruce. The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library, 1995.
Van Esterik, Penny. "To Strengthen and Refresh: Herbal Therapy in Southeast Asia." Social Science and Medicine 27 (1988): 751–759.
Yee, Kenny, and Catherine Gordon. Thai Hawker Food. Bangkok: Book Promotion and Service, 1993.
Regional Cuisines of Thailand
Thailand is divided into four regions, the North, Northeast, Central, and South, which vary in geography, natural resources, culture, and history of contact with outer societies. Consequently each is characterized by its own foods and style of eating, although the increase in communication and extensive internal migration has been accompanied by the movement of regional dishes into different areas within the country.
Northern Thailand, site of the early Thai city-states Lanna, Chiang Mai, and Chian Saen, borders Myanmar, Laos (Lao PDR), and China. Consequently the food of the North is an amalgamation of cuisine from these areas. The importance of sticky rice in the North is a reflection of dietary influences from Laos. The use of pork, tamarind, and turmeric belies the influence of Myanmar, as does the regional specialty kaeng hang le (a pork curry). Mild-hot, salty, and sour tastes predominate, and local dishes contain bitter acacia leaf, eggplants known for their bitterness, sour tamarind juice, and pickled bamboo shoots. A traditional form of a meal in this region is the khantok (khan means bowl, tok means low, round table), during which diners sit on the floor around a low table.
The Central Region
The Central region dominates the nation politically and economically. Hot, salty, sweet, and sour tastes predominate there. The cuisine of Central Thailand is characterized by curries made with coconut milk and spices, such as kaeng phèt (red curry) and kaeng khĭaw waăan (green curry). Stir-frying with basil and curry paste (phàt phèt) is also common, as are the well-known soups tôm yam gôong (spicy shrimp soup) and tôm khà gaì (chicken coconut soup). Yam, the hot and tangy salad, is most popular served with squid or barbecued beef or pork. The Chinese community has had a large influence on Central Thailand as can be seen in Kŭaytĕow, noodle dishes, and the clear bitter soups made with green squash, bitter gourd, and ground pork. The eastern seaboard region is increasingly gaining attention as a separate region characterized by its reliance on seafood and distinctive fruits.
The Northeast (Isan)
Isan is characterized by hot, spicy, salty, and sour tastes. Food in this region reflects its relationship and similarity to neighboring Lao PDR. Some of the earliest archaeological sites in Asia with evidence of agriculture, pottery, and bronze work are located in the Northeast. Consumption of glutinous rice is a distinctive characteristic of Isan. The food is frequently flavored with pla daek, a fermented fish sauce. One special dish from the region is laab or kôy. This dish is a blend of minced meat, fish sauce, herbs such as cilantro and mint, scallions, lime juice, ground roasted sticky rice, and chilies either fresh or in powdered form. Sôm tam, a spicy green papaya salad, and grilled chicken are also characteristic of Isan.
South of Bangkok the country rapidly narrows to a strip of land connecting Thailand with the Malay Peninsula. Culturally the South is distinctive, with a large Muslim and Chinese population. Hence much of the food of the South combines Thai, Malay, and Chinese elements, and the prevailing tastes are hot, spicy, salty, and sour. Curries in the Indian style, such as Massaman curry, are the predominant features of southern meals. Additionally influences from the Middle East and Pakistan are evident, for example in roti (flat Indian bread). The use of a pungent, flat bean, sato (Parkia speciosa), which imbues a bitter taste is also favored in this region.
Moreno-Black, Geraldine. "Thailand." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403400546.html
Moreno-Black, Geraldine. "Thailand." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403400546.html
Official name: Kingdom of Thailand
Area: 514,000 square kilometers (198,457 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Doi Inthanon (2,576 meters/8,451 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 7 p.m. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,648 kilometers (1,024 miles) from north to south; 780 kilometers (485 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 4,863 kilometers (3,022 miles) total boundary length; Laos 1,754 kilometers (1,090 miles); Cambodia 803 kilometers (499 miles); Malaysia 506 kilometers (314 miles); Myanmar (Burma) 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles)
Coastline: 3,219 kilometers (2,000 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Thailand is located in Southeast Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand in the south. The country shares boundaries with Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast, Malaysia to the south, and Myanmar (Burma) to the west. With an area of about 514,000 square kilometers (198,457 square miles), the country is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Wyoming. Thailand is divided into seventy-six provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Thailand has no outside territories or dependencies.
Most of Thailand has a tropical monsoon weather pattern, with an equatorial climate affecting the southern peninsula. Three seasons occur each year: the rainy season from May to October, when the southwest monsoon arrives; the cool season from October to March, during the northeast monsoon; and the hot season from March to May. The country's average annual temperature is 28°C (83°F), with the average temperature in Bangkok varying from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F). Thailand's humidity averages 82 percent, dropping to 75 percent during the hot season.
The average annual rainfall is 140 centimeters (55 inches). Areas close to the sea receive more rain than inland areas. Northeast Thailand lies in the rain shadow of Indochina's mountains and is very prone to droughts and chronic water shortages. Typhoons sometimes strike in the south. Global warming also threatens Thailand with changes in rainfall patterns and the possibility of major coastal flooding.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Thailand lies on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate at the center of continental Southeast Asia. Features of the terrain include mountain ranges, an alluvial central plain, and an upland plateau. The mountains of southern China and northern Thailand extend down to a fertile central plain formed by the mighty Chao Phraya River. Settlement has tended to concentrate in the Chao Phraya Valley, with its fertile floodplains and tropical monsoon climate so ideally suited to wet-rice cultivation. The Khorat Plateau to the east is arid. From the north-central area, the very narrow Malay Peninsula extends to the south, shared in part with Myanmar and Malaysia. Numerous islands are scattered off of both of the peninsula's coasts. Thailand's part of the continental shelf extends to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The southwestern shoreline of Thailand meets the Andaman Sea of the Indian Ocean to the west. The south-central coast and the eastern shoreline of the Malay Peninsula both border the Gulf of Thailand (formerly the Gulf of Siam) of the Pacific Ocean. The offshore depths in the Gulf of Thailand range from 30 to 80 meters (98 to 262 feet). Thailand has 2,130 square kilometers (822 square miles) of coral reefs. An estimated 96 percent of Thailand's coral reefs are considered "threatened," as they are endangered by dynamite fishing, pollution, oil spills, shrimp farming, and tourist activities.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra lies the Strait of Malacca, linking the Andaman Sea to the South China Sea.
Phangnga Bay lies on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula, near the island of Phuket. Many small islands with dramatic limestone formations and caves attract visitors to Phangnga Bay.
The Gulf of Thailand coastline contains Mae Klong Bay, which indents into the country, reaching its apex at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River near Bangkok.
Islands and Archipelagos
Thailand's three largest islands are: Phuket, 543 square kilometers (210 square miles), in the Andaman Sea; Koh Samui, 240 square kilometers (93 square miles), in the Gulf of Thailand off the Malay Peninsula; and Koh Chang, 219 square kilometers (85 square miles), in the Gulf of Thailand off the southeast coast. Other islands in the Andaman Sea include the nine-island Similian group; the twin islands of Koh Phi-Phi; Koh Lanta; and the Turatao group, a marine park composed of fifty small islands. Additional islands in the Gulf of Thailand are Koh Samet, a national park off the southeast coast; and Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, both near the peninsula. Many of the islands have been developed for tourism purposes, and some are protected parks.
The Isthmus of Kra, which is just 24 kilometers (15 miles) wide, connects the north-central mass of Thailand to its southern peninsula. There have been proposals for digging a canal through it or building a superhighway across the isthmus in order to use it as a transport channel between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, which would link the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Thailand's Andaman Sea coastline, on the western side of the peninsula, extends south from the Myanmar border to the Malaysian border, with many small islands nearby. The large island of Phuket lies below a promontory that shelters the Andaman Sea's Phangnga Bay.
The Gulf of Thailand coast extends eastward to the Cambodian border and southwest from Mae Klong Bay to the Malaysian border. The shoreline and islands on both the east and west coasts are graced with excellent beaches and harbors for fishing boats.
6 INLAND LAKES
Thale Sap Songkla (1,040 square kilometers/ 401 square miles) is Thailand's largest inland body of water. It is a lagoon lake on the southern peninsula, with a small inlet from the Gulf of Thailand. Thale Sap Songkla has a mixture of fresh and brackish water. Two sanctuaries for waterfowl surround the lake's perimeters. Bung Nong Han is a 32-square-kilometer (12-square-mile) freshwater lake in northeast Thailand. Thailand also has several huge man-made reservoirs.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Mekong River flows along much of Thailand's border with Laos. Approximately 4,350 kilometers (2,700 miles) in length, it is the longest river in Southeast Asia. The eastern and some of the northern part of Thailand are drained by it. The Mun River, 644 kilometers (400 miles), is the largest river within the northeast. The Mun and its Chi tributary empty into the Mekong River. Rapids and falls in Laos and Cambodia prevent navigation down the Mekong from Thailand to the South China Sea.
The Chao Phraya, 230 kilometers (143 miles), and its tributaries drain an estimated one-third of the nation's territory. The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the main branches of a network of rivers and man-made canals that support wet rice cultivation and provide vitally important transport waterways.
There are no desert regions in Thailand.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The central plain is the lowland area dominated by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries. The highly developed irrigation systems of the central region support a large population. Sprawling metropolitan Bangkok, the country's focal point of trade, transportation, and industrial activity, is situated on the southern edge of the plains region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand.
In the dry northeast, scrub grassland is prevalent. Weed-like grasslands are common in the north, where repeated burning of forests for agricultural clearing has taken place. Local and foreign aid groups are attempting to reforest some of these areas. Types of forest in Thailand include mangrove, monsoon, evergreen rainforest, montane, and conifer. Tree plantations for commercial species such as eucalyptus and rubber also exist but are environmentally controversial. Khao Yai National Park, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Bangkok, has natural grasslands that are an important tiger, elephant, and deer habitat.
DID YOU KNOW?
Thailand has several sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Bung Khong Long, in the north near Nong Khai, has several endemic fish species. Don Hai Lot, in the south on Mae Klong Bay, includes a rare ecosystem of inter-tidal mudflats. The Princess Sirindhorn Wildlife Sanctuary (Pru To Daeng) is a large and very biodiverse peat swamp forest near Narathiwat and the Malaysian border. Kuan Ki Sian, near Thale Sap Songkla, has a varied freshwater ecosystem, and Nong Bong Kai is an important bird habitat in the north.
Hill regions in Thailand include the countryside surrounding the northern city of Chiang Mai; the gem mining region of the southeast near Cambodia; and the picturesque limestone outcroppings along the southern peninsula and on the islands.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Mountain chains cover most of northern Thailand and also rise along the western border with Myanmar to form the spine of the Malay Peninsula. The north consists of an area of high mountains cut by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. Doi Inthanon, a 2,576-meter (8,451-feet) limestone peak, is Thailand's highest mountain.
Thailand's frontier mountain chains include the northern Tanen and Doi Luang ranges, which are extensions of the Himalayan foothills. The limestone peaks of the Dawna and Bilauktaung ranges are located in the west and the Dangrek and Chanthaburi ranges are in the east, along the Cambodian border. The Thiu Khao Phetchabun range runs north-south down the middle of the country, setting off the Khorat Plateau. The southern peninsular region has rolling hills and mountainous terrain unbroken by large rivers.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Chaem River forms the narrow, rocky Ob Luang Gorge in the northwest. Phae Muang Phi (City of Ghosts) is a canyon near the town of Phrae with labyrinthine rock formations sculpted by erosion. The small, erosion-formed Sao Din Canyon is also located in the north in the Nan Valley.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Northeast Thailand consists mainly of the dry Khorat Plateau, which has many ecological problems, primarily poor soil. This upland plateau, at 60 to 210 meters (200 to 700 feet) above sea level, is a gently rolling region of low hills and shallow lakes, drained almost entirely by the Mekong River via the Mun River. Mountains ring the plateau on the west and south, and the Mekong River traces much of the eastern rim. Phu Kadueng, a national park in the north, is a 1,360-meter- (4,462-feet-) high mesa that has wooded slopes and savannah (mixed grassland and forest) at the top. Phu Wiang and Phu Keaw are other mesas in the north.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Thailand has twenty-eight large dams, constructed for irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, and electric power generation. The dams created the following reservoirs: Srinakarin (419 square kilometers/300 square miles), near the Bilauktaung Mountains; Khao Laem (388 square kilometers/150 square miles); Bhumiphol (300 square kilometers/116 square miles); Sirikit (260 square kilometers/ 100 square miles), in the north on the Nan River; and Rajjaprabha (165 square kilometers/ 64 square miles). Each dam project sparked environmental and social controversy.
14 FURTHER READING
Boyd, Ashley J. Thailand's Coral Reefs. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995.
Cubitt, Gerald, and Belinda Stewart-Cox. Wild Thailand. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.
McNair, S. Thailand. Chicago: Children's Press, 1987.
Kuneepong, Parida. "Thailand, Gateway to Land and Water Information." Land Development Department of Thailand. http://www.ldd.go.th/FAO/z_th/th.htm (accessed April 24, 2003).
Thai Society for the Conservation of Wild Animals. http://www.tscwa.org (accessed April 24, 2003).
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425900284.html
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. 2003. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425900284.html
513,120sq km (198,116sq mi)
Thai 80%, Chinese 12%, Malay 4%, Khmer 3%
Theravada Buddhist 94%, Muslim 4%, Christian 1%
Thai Baht = 100 stangs
Climate and VegetationThailand has a tropical climate. The monsoon season lasts from May to October. The central plains are much drier than other regions. The n includes many hardwood trees, which are being rapidly exploited. The s has rubber plantations. Grass, shrub and swamp make up 20% of land. Arable land, mainly rice fields, covers 33%.
History and PoliticsThe Mongol capture (1253) of a Thai kingdom in sw China forced the Thai people to move south. A new kingdom was established around Sukhothai. In the 14th century, the kingdom expanded and the capital moved to Ayutthaya.
The first European contact was in the early 16th century. In the late 17th century, the kingdom was briefly held by the Burmese. European desire to acquire the brilliance of the Thai court resulted in their expulsion for more than a century; Thailand remained the only Southeast Asian nation to resist colonization.
In 1782, a Thai general became King Rama I, establishing the Chakkri dynasty, which has ruled ever since. The country became known as Siam, and Bangkok acted as its capital. From the mid-19th century, Siam began a gradual process of westernization. In World War 1, Siam supported the Allies. In 1932, Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.
In 1938, Pibul Songkhram became premier and changed the country's name to Thailand. In 1941, Pibul, despite opposition, invited Japanese forces into Thailand. In 1950, Bhumibol Adulyadej acceded to the throne as Rama IX. In 1957, Pibul was overthrown in a military coup. The military governed Thailand until 1973. General Prem Tinsulanonda ruled for much of the 1980s. Chuan Leekpai led the longest surviving governments in the 1990s (1992–95, 1997–2001). Thaksin Shinawatra of the Thais Love Thais Party won 2001 elections. In December 2004, more than 5,300 people (some 1,700 of them foreign tourists) on the western coast and islands died in the Indian Ocean tsunami.
EconomyThailand is a rapidly industrializing, developing nation (2000 GDP per capita, US$6700). It was a founder of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Manufacturing and services have grown rapidly. It is a major producer of commercial vehicles. Agriculture employs 66% of the workforce. Thailand is the world's largest producer of pineapples and natural rubber. It is also the fourth-largest producer of rice, buffalo, and cassava. Thai silk is among the world's finest. Tourism is a vital source of revenue. In 1997, the economic crisis in Southeast Asia brought financial collapse and a 20% devaluation of the baht. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a US$17 billion rescue package.
"Thailand." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Thailand.html
"Thailand." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Thailand.html
Siamese, Central Tai
Identification. The name "Thailand" is associated with the dominant ethnic group, Thai. Thailand was never under European colonial rule. It was an absolute monarchy until 1932, when it became a constitutional monarchy. In 1939 the country's name was changed from Siam to Thailand. Military dictators ruled the nation until the early 1970s; the military remained a powerful force in national politics into the early 1990s. Since that time, its role has diminished, and a new constitution was adopted in 1997. The military governments after World War II promoted rapid economic development and attempted to assimilate ethnic minorities. Rapid economic growth continued until the late 1990s, when the economic boom of the early part of the decade came to an abrupt end. As part of a trend toward devolution of authority, the democratic governments of the 1990s adopted more liberal policies with regard to ethnic minorities. However, members of ethnic minorities continue to face many problems in regard to political rights and economic security.
Location and Geography. The Kingdom of Thailand has an area of 198,114 square miles (513,115 square kilometers). The country is commonly divided into four main regions and borders Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The northern region is hilly, with much of its population concentrated in upland valleys and the flood plains of rivers; the dominant geographic feature is the Khorat Plateau. The southern region is a narrow isthmus with hills running down the center.
The Thai (also known as the Central Tai) live mainly in the central region, with closely related groups of Tai-speaking peoples occupying most of the remainder of the nation. Smaller ethnic groups are scattered throughout the country, especially in the north and the northeast. Bangkok has been the capital since the late eighteenth century, when it replaced the earlier capital of Ayutthaya, which was sacked by Burmese invaders in 1767. With a population of almost 10 million, Bangkok is the most important city politically and economically. About twenty smaller regional cities have populations of two hundred to three hundred thousand.
Demography. The population estimate for 2000 is approximately 62 million. There are about 75 ethnic groups, and approximately 84 percent of the population is Thai, including people from other Tai-speaking ethnic groups; the Thai, constitute about 36 percent of the population. The Thai-Lao account for about 32 percent of the population; their territory formerly was part of the Lao kingdom. The Lanna Thai account for about 8 percent of the national population. The Pak Thai constitute about 8 percent of the population. Other major ethnic groups include Chinese (about 12 percent of the population), Malay-speaking Muslims (about 3 percent), and Khmer (about 2 percent). The majority of the Chinese live in central Thailand, especially in urban areas. The Malay-speaking Muslims live near to the border with Malaysia. The Khmer live near the Cambodian border.
There are communities of Korean- and Urdu-speaking peoples in Bangkok, and there is a small population of Mon in central Thailand. Various peoples, commonly designated as hill tribes, inhabit the northern mountain areas. The total hill tribe population is about 500,000, with the Karen being the largest group (about 350,000). There are several settlements of Palaung (about 5,000 people) near the Burmese border and several communities of Khmu, Phai, Mal, and Mlabri (about 75,000 in total) near the border with Laos. Several small ethnic groups in the northeast speak Mon-Khmer languages; the largest of these groups is the Kuy (about 235,000). These groups have been largely assimilated into the Tai-speaking populations. In the south, there are small groups of so-called sea gypsies and aboriginal Malays (about 6,000 people). In the isolated inland areas of the south, there are about 1,000 forest-dwelling peoples referred to as Orang Asli in Malay.
Linguistic Affiliation. Thai is a Daic language in the southwestern Tai group. Other Thai groups speak related southern and east-central Thai languages. Large-scale Chinese migration took place in the nineteenth century. Most of the Chinese in the country speak dialects of Min Nan Chinese. There are twenty-four Mon-Khmer-speaking groups, whose languages can be subdivided into four groups: Monic, Aslian, Eastern Mon-Khmer, and Northern Mon-Khmer.
Seven Austronesian languages are spoken, all of which belong to the Malayic Malayo-Polynesian group. The main Austronesian language is Pattani Malay, which is spoken by about 2.5 million people in the southern region. The Pattani Malay, Malay, and Kedah Malay populations live in an area associated with the kingdom of Patani, which fell under Thai control in 1786.
The nineteen Tibeto-Burman-speaking groups include nine groups that speak Karen languages. Three Hmong-Mien languages are spoken in the north. Various migrant communities speak Korean, Japanese, Tamil, and Urdu.
Thai is the national language and the medium for education and mass communication. It is widely used by speakers of other Tai languages and is a second language for most other people.
Symbolism. The most potent national symbols are the king and images associated with Buddhism. The monarch serves as the most important symbol of national identity and unity. Images of the king appear frequently in public and in people's homes, and he is featured often on television and the other mass media. His image is on all banknotes and coins. Showing disrespect for the king is a serious legal offense. Images of the Buddha and shrines are found in public buildings (including schools and government offices) and homes as well as temples. The promotion of Buddhism as a symbol of national identity has met with opposition from the Muslim minority.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. Evidence of an agricultural civilization with metallurgical capabilities has been found in northeastern Thailand; the earliest bronze artifacts date back to approximately 3,000 years ago. In the eighth and ninth centuries c.e., Mon states influenced by Indian civilization occupied portions of central and northern Thailand, where they were referred to as Dvaravati. In Thailand, the most important Mon center was Nakhon Pathom west of Bangkok. Mon influence declined in the eleventh century as the Khmer invaded the area from the east. The Khmer occupied not only the Mon areas, but part of northeastern Thailand.
As early as the fifth or sixth century, Tai-speaking peoples began migrating from northern Vietnam and southern Yunnan into areas adjacent to the Mekong River. The Tai in northern Thailand came into contact with the Mon, who converted many of them to Theravada Buddhism. Tai-speaking peoples gradually migrated southward and by the early eleventh century had moved into Mon territory. Tai peoples living in central Thailand came under Khmer control as the Khmer empire expanded. The Khmer referred to the Tai as Siams. The Tai in the vicinity of Sukhothai revolted against the Khmer rulers in 1238 and established a kingdom that promoted a writing system that formed the basis of modern Thai. In the wake of declining Khmer power, the center of Thai power shifted south to Ayutthaya, which was founded in 1351. In the north, the kingdom of Lan Na was founded in 1259. The Lao kingdom of Lan Sang was founded in 1353 and came to include much of northeastern Thailand.
The founder of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, Rama Thibodi, promoted Theravada Buddhism and compiled a legal code based on Hindu sources and Thai customs that remained important until the late nineteenth century. Ayutthaya pushed into Khmer territory and sacked the capital of Angkor. Both Ayutthaya and Lan Na became strong and prosperous states during the latter part of the fifteenth century. After the deaths of the two rulers both kingdoms degenerated. Lan Na witnessed several civil wars and came under Burmese control. Ayutthaya was attacked by the Khmer and Burmese in the sixteenth century briefly came under Burmese control. In 1585, Ayutthaya began a period of rejuvenation. Starting with the establishment of a Portuguese embassy in 1511, there was a growing European presence in Ayutthaya. In 1765, the kingdom was invaded again by the Burmese; in 1767, the Burmese captured and destroyed the city.
After pushing the Burmese back, the Thai established a new capital at Thonburi. Chao Phraya Chakkri became king in 1782 and founded Bangkok. The third Chakkri ruler established a system of royal titles, and named himself Rama III. During his reign, treaties were signed with the United States and some European countries, and Christian missionaries were allowed into the kingdom. Rama V (ruled 1868–1910) successfully resisted European colonization and introduced modernizing reforms.
A group of young Thais who had studied abroad staged a coup in 1932 and transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy. From 1935 to 1945, a military dictator, Phibun Song-khram (commonly known as Phibun), ruled the country. Phibun changed the name of Siam to Thailand. In 1945, there was a brief return to civilian government, and the country's name was changed back to Siam. Between 1947 and 1973, the country was ruled by military dictators. After the brutal suppression of antigovernment demonstrators in 1973, military was forced out of office, but in 1976 it again seized power.
In 1980, a more moderate government headed by Prem Tinsulanonda assumed office. Prem is credited with achieving political and economic stability. This period saw the end of a communist insurgency in the countryside, a gradual transition to democracy and economic growth. An election was held in 1988, but the elected government was overthrown by a military coup in 1991. Those who staged the coup appointed a civilian prime minister and a cabinet of civilian technocrats. A new constitution was passed in 1991, and an election was held in 1992, returning the country to civilian rule. After a subsequent period of political and economic instability a far more democratically reformist constitution was promulgated in late 1997. National elections were held under this constitution in early 2001.
National Identity. In the twentieth century, the culture of the Central Tai came to dominate the national culture. The military dictator, Phibun, passed a number of Cultural Mandates that promoted a centralized national culture and identity. Other mandates promoted the use of the national dress and the national language.
The term "Thai identity" was coined in the late 1950s. The Ministry of Education played an important role in expanding the national culture. The military government that seized power in 1976 viewed the national identity as something that had to be defended against Western cultural influences. A National Culture Commission was established in 1979 to coordinate efforts to defend the national culture. Those efforts were closely linked to national security and occurred against the backdrop of a communist insurgency that involved members of ethnic minorities.
In the 1980s, a revival of regional and local identities began, especially in the northern and northeastern regions where there was a resurgence of local foods, celebrations, and styles of traditional dress. Democratic reforms and moves to devolve power since the early 1990s have allowed this process to accelerate. The sense of national identity is no longer viewed as precluding local and regional identities.
Ethnic Relations. Thailand often is portrayed as a culturally homogeneous country, but there are approximately seventy-five distinct ethnolinguistic groups. The Central Tai is the dominant ethnic group and accounts for 36 percent of the population. The Thai-Lao and Lanna Tai, who together account for about 40 percent of the population, were not assimilated into the national culture until the twentieth century.
There have been Chinese in Thailand for centuries. In the nineteenth century, their numbers more than doubled until they constituted about 10 percent of the population. Along with Westerners, the Chinese merchant class dominated the economy in the nineteenth century, especially with the exportation of rice. In the early twentieth century, the Chinese established their own educational institutions, resulting in antipathy toward them under the nationalistic Phibun regime, which blamed the Chinese for the country's economic problems. In 1938, the Phibun government taxed the Chinese, limited the use of their language in schools, and closed most Chinese-language newspapers. Chinese immigration came to a virtual halt. While anti-Chinese sentiment remained strong, by the 1970s virtually all the Chinese had Thai citizenship. With the growth of a more open and democratic society in the 1990s, the Chinese began to express their culture openly.
Since it came under Thai control in 1786, the Malay Muslim population has posed difficulties for the Thai state. This region has mounted numerous rebellions against central authority over the past two centuries. In 1948, the Phibun regime banned Malay and Islamic organizations, sparking a rebellion that was violently crushed. Education has been a point of conflict between Thai authorities and the Malay Muslims since the government introduced compulsory education in 1921. As a result, many Muslims sent their children to Malaysia and other Muslim countries to be educated. In the 1960s, returning students joined various independence movements. Guerrilla activities in the south reached their height between 1970 and 1975. Counterinsurgency operations failed to end support for the separatists. In the late 1980s, the national political environment changed with greater sensitivity to the Muslim religion and culture. The civilian government elected in 1992 initiated reforms to ease tension in the Muslim south.
The Thai government treats the Khmer as part of a generic northeastern Thai ethnic category called Isan. Efforts to assimilate the Khmer into the national culture in the 1960s and 1970s were spurred by concern over their support for communist insurgents in the northeast. In the 1990s there was a cultural revival among the Khmer in the northeast that included the formation of dance and music groups to promote Khmer culture. The hill tribes in the north, with the exception of the Lawa and Karen, are relatively recent immigrants. The majority of hill tribe members did not become citizens until recently and lacked political rights. These hill tribes have faced economic difficulties related to their lack of land rights. The authorities generally have viewed them as primitive peoples. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was encroachment on their land by lowlanders, who believed that their presence was a key factor in environmental degradation in highland areas. Proponents of rights for the tribes in the 1990s led to the granting of citizenship for the hill tribes. Nevertheless, there are many conflicts, including those involving corrupt government officials and business interests that are attempting to exploit highland resources.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
A little over 20 percent of the population lives in urban areas, including about ten million residents of the Bangkok metropolitan area. Over the last decade, regional towns have undergone rapid growth. Thailand's second largest city, with a population of around 300,000, is Nakon Ratchasima (also known as Korat). Until the early 1980s it was a relatively small country town, but industrialization has resulted in rapid growth. Other northeastern towns also have experienced rapid growth. Economic growth in the southern region (in part associated with the rubber, shrimp, and fishing industries) in the late 1980s and 1990s also resulted in sharp population increases.
In the past, towns were centers of government administration, Chinese business, and the Buddhist religion, featuring government offices and housing for civil servants, Chinese shops and storage facilities, and Buddhist temples. The growth of the cities is reflected in a lack of planning and growing congestion, but the core features of the cities have not changed. Wood has given way to cement as the main building material, and new forms of architecture include high-rise buildings for offices and residences, and air-conditioned shopping malls. The 1980s witnessed the emergence of suburban housing developments and shopping complexes. There are few public parks, and urban planning is focused on building roads. The use of waterways for transportation is waning.
Modern government offices are highly standardized to instill a sense of national unity, and even Buddhist religious architecture has become uniform. There were regional differences in houses, especially in rural areas, but these differences are disappearing. The traditional house is raised on a framework of wooden posts to provide protection from floods and intruders, and to create a multipurpose space under the house. This underpart served as a place for women to work, a place to sleep during the hot season, a storage space, and a place to keep domestic animals. The size and complexity of the raised area varied with the wealth and status of the family. The house is constructed of prefabricated units that fit together with wooden pegs. The raised part can be divided into an open area and an enclosed area. The open area includes a front veranda that is partially shaded. People usually sit on mats on the veranda. The rear of the house has an open balcony for washing clothes, doing laundry, and performing other domestic chores. This area also is used to lie out food to dry, and for spinning and sewing. The interior includes a living room and a sleeping space. People usually sit on mats, and there is little furniture. There may be a cooking area in the living room in smaller houses, but usually there is a separate space for cooking. In larger houses, there is a separate kitchen and granary.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. Rice is the staple food at every meal for most people. All food is brought to the table at once rather than being served in courses. A meal will include rice, dishes with gravy, side dishes, soup, and a salad. Whereas in central and southern Thailand polished white rice is eaten, in the north and northeast people eat glutinous or sticky rice. Fish and shellfish are popular. Curries are eaten throughout the country, but there are regional varieties. Northern and northeastern food is similar to that of Laos and consists of more meat, including meat served as sausages, or as larb (a salad is usually made of raw meat). Chinese food has influenced the national cuisine, especially in regard to noodle dishes. Sweets are eaten as snacks. A popular snack is green papaya salad. In the past, there were marked differences between the food of the common people and that of the nobility. Women in noble households were proficient at decorative carving of vegetables and fruits. In recent decades, this practice has become popular among the middle classes. Whereas commercial alcoholic drinks are common throughout the country, non-commercial alcohol made from rice is still drunk.
Basic Economy. Thailand has a relatively diversified export-oriented economy that grew rapidly in the latter part of the twentieth century until the crash of 1997. Manufacturing and tourism led its growth, but agriculture continued to play an important role—employing over 60 percent of the workforce. The country remains a major producer and exporter of agricultural products, including rice, rubber, and tapioca. Thailand's currency is called the baht.
Land Tenure and Property. In the past, all land was owned by the crown in theory, but individuals had use rights if they paid taxes on the land that they occupied. Because of the low population density, land ownership in rural areas was not a matter of concern. Large agricultural estates were rare. The commercial buying and selling of land took place in the main towns, where commercial life was concentrated. Urban land was often owned by Sino-Thais. In the 1950s, around 90 percent of farmers owned their own land. Strong nationalist sentiments influenced the 1941 Land Act, which made it difficult for non-Thais to own land. Informal means of circumventing these restrictions on land ownership helped create a chaotic system in which the title to land was difficult to determine. Under the new constitution and after the economic collapse, efforts were made to reform land ownership. Many restrictions on foreign ownership were removed, including those placed on Thais married to foreigners and their children.
Commercial Activities. Thailand has a large and relatively modern commercial sector, with domestic and foreign commercial banks and a stock exchange. The 1997 crash resulted in the closing of some financial institutions and the consolidation of others. Producers of agricultural products traditionally sold their products through local brokers, but since the 1980s there has been a trend toward contract production for sale to large firms. Most towns and cities have small shops and traditional markets with small-scale traders who sell food, consumer goods, hardware, and medicines. In larger towns, shopping malls and large multipurpose stores have assumed a significant role since the 1980s.
Major Industries. Major manufacturing industries include motor vehicle and motorcycle units and parts, computers, garments and footwear, electrical appliances, and plastic products. There also are large commercial farming and fishing industries. The main agricultural products are rice, tapioca, sugar, corn, and fruits. In addition to fresh and frozen agricultural products, food-processing industries produce canned and frozen products. Thailand has a large fishing industry and is a major producer of farmed shrimp. The country is one of the world's leading producers of rubber. Cement production is also important. Mining has declined in recent decades. The country produces some oil and natural gas but must import gas and petroleum products to meet domestic demand. It is a major center for cutting and selling gems. Thailand is Southeast Asia's top tourist destination, and that industry is the largest earner of foreign exchange. Japan is the largest foreign investor; the United States is also a major source of foreign investment.
Trade. In the mid-1990s, exports were equal in value to about 25 percent of the gross domestic product. The most important exports are computers, integrated circuits, and related parts. Other major exports include electric appliances, garments, rubber, plastic products, shrimp, footwear, gems and jewelry, rice, and canned seafood. Major imports include nonelectric machinery and parts, electrical machinery and parts, chemicals, vehicle parts, iron and steel, crude oil, computers and parts, metal products, and integrated circuits. After the 1997 crash, the manufacturing sector declined sharply, especially the sectors that were highly dependent on imports, such as garments. By late 1998, however, manufacturing had begun to recover. The United States and Japan are the largest markets for the country's exports and suppliers of its imports. Neighboring countries, especially China, have become increasingly trading important partners.
Division of Labor. The division of labor in the agricultural sector is based on gender, with little specialization by ethnicity. Ethnic Chinese have long played a major role in commerce and industry, but few jobs or professions are the monopoly of a single ethnic group. Traditional craft specialization is sometimes associated with specific villages or communities. Primarily ethnic minorities produce hand-woven textiles. Positions in modern technical professions such as medicine and engineering are related to education and specialized training and thus exclude members of the smaller rural ethnic minorities.
Classes and Castes. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the social strata included an elite of Thai nobles, a small commercial middle class of Chinese and Europeans, and a lower class that included mostly rural farmers. With the development of a more modern economy, the structure of social stratification has become more complex. Noble birth continues to have some bearing on status, but the modern class system is based primarily on wealth. There now is a much larger middle class. The growth of towns and cities has given rise to a class of urban poor in addition to the traditional rural poor. In addition to regional differences in income, there are regional differences in income distribution: Income is distributed more equally in the center and south than it is in the north and northeast.
Government. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The king, on occasion, involves himself directly in political affairs when national stability is threatened. Between 1932 and the early 1990s, the government was dominated by a military and bureaucratic elite. After the elections in 1992, political parties opposed to military intervention formed a coalition government, with the leader of the Democratic Party becoming prime minister. Parliament was dissolved in 1995, and the Democratic Party lost to the Thai Nation Party. That government lasted only until 1996, when a former military commander formed a coalition government and became prime minister. The economic collapse of 1997 led to the fall of that government and the eventual assumption of power by a coalition government led by the Democratic Party with its leader, Chuan Leekpai, as prime minister.
A reformist constitution was promulgated in late 1997 with the intent to enhance participatory democracy. Attention has focused on eliminating corrupt political practices and devolving power. Devolution has included holding elections to a wider range of local offices. A National Counter-Corruption Commission was formed and given some powers to monitor electoral fraud.
Thailand held its first national election under the 1997 constitution in January 2001. The newly formed Thai Rak Thai party led by Taksin Shinawatra, one of Thailand's richest men, defeated the Democrats and won 248 of parliament's 500 seats. The Thai Rak Thai party was joined by the smaller New Aspiration party to form a coalition with 325 seats. Voters appeared to have grown tired of Chuan Leekpai's six-party coalition government. They were lured by Taksin Shinawatra's promises of expansive economic policies, including his pledge to give every one of the country's 70,000 villages 1 million baht (about U.S. $25,000) in development funds. The election was fraught with corruption, which the National Counter-Corruption Commission proved to have only limited influence in curtailing.
Leadership and Political Officials. The kings of the Chakri dynasty had numerous wives and concubines, resulting in the existence of a large number of nobles who were related to the king; in addition, some commoners were given high positions. In central Thailand, administration was directly linked to Bangkok and the king; in more remote areas, there were vassal princes. Below the government officials were freemen and slaves. The system was stratified, but social mobility was possible.
After the advent of military rule and the end of the absolute monarchy in the 1930s, the state remained highly centralized, with government officials being appointed by those in power in Bangkok, primarily military officers and former officers. In the new system, power was gained through factional struggles within the military. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the rise of "money politics," as wealthy civilians came to play an increasingly important role in politics. Increased democratization in the 1990s resulted in a much more complex political system. While wealth continued to be important, many major political figures claimed to speak for the poor, especially the rural poor. The newly formed government of Taksin Shinawatra is seen by some observers as a return to the old politics of wealth and patronage. Taksin is one of the country's wealthiest men and his party is held together mainly through an extensive patronage network. In the 1990s, a growing number of Muslims from the south attained elected political positions. Similar political gains have not occurred among the smaller ethnic minorities.
Social Problems and Control. The government generally respects the human rights of its citizens. There is considerable freedom of expression, but there are laws that prohibit criticism of the royal family, threats to national security, and speech that may incite disturbances or insult Buddhism. The constitution makes it unlawful for the government to censor, ban, license, or restrict print or broadcast media except in times of crisis. While newspapers and periodicals practice some self-censorship, media criticism of public figures, political parties, and the government is widespread. Freedom of religion is protected by law.
Thailand is no longer a significant producer of narcotics, but is still an important route for international heroin trafficking, and domestic consumption of narcotics has increased dramatically. Social problems associated with narcotics trafficking include money laundering, police and military corruption, and criminal activity by addicts. Political corruption is widely viewed as a serious problem.
The National Police Department, with over one-hundred thousand personnel, includes the provincial police, metropolitan police, Border Patrol Police (BPP), and Central Investigation Bureau. The police force has a culture of corruption, and demands for bribes are routine. This corruption encourages illegal activities such as income tax evasion, gambling, drug trafficking, smuggling, and prostitution. Enforcement of the law is lax, but in many respects the police force works well. In general, the law requires that police officers making an arrest have warrants, and it is rare for police officers to be tried for extrajudicial killings or the use of excessive force.
The legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws. In the Muslim south, Koranic law is applied. There are courts of the first instance, courts of appeal, and the supreme court, along with a separate military court. A constitutional court was created in 1998 to interpret the new constitution. There is no trial by jury. Career civil service judges preside over the courts, and supreme court judges are appointed by the king. Judicial appointments and structures are not subject to parliamentary review, and judges have a reputation for venality.
Conditions in prisons are poor because of overcrowding, and medical care in prisons does not meet minimum international standards. Access to prisons is not restricted, and the government permits visits by human rights monitors and the Thai International Red Cross.
Military Activity. Since 1992, the military's role in political affairs has been reduced. Responsibility for internal security and law enforcement is mainly in the hands of the police. The military's primary role is national defense, especially problems along the border with Burma. However, former senior military officers still account for a large percentage of the elected members of parliament and the military retains wide-ranging legal powers.
The total strength of the military is around 270,000, including the army, navy, and the air force. In addition, there are about five-hundred thousand reserves. Male citizens between ages twenty-one and thirty are required to serve in the military for two years. Under civilian governments, defense spending has declined. Although there is a domestic arms industry, most military supplies are provided by the United States and Great Britain.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
Local, domestic, and international nongovernmental organizations are active in social welfare, heath, political reform, the status of women, the environment, religion, and business. Those organizations face few restrictions and are relatively free to publish their findings. Government officials generally are cooperative with such organizations.
There continues to be discrimination against the hill tribes, which are widely viewed as being involved in narcotics trafficking. The Tribal Assembly of Thailand has lobbied the government for greater transparency in decisions affecting those tribes, especially in regard to the granting of citizenship and land issues.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Both men and women do agricultural work, and although some tasks tend to be assigned mainly to men or women, that division of labor is not adhered to rigidly. There is also some variation in the allotment of tasks according to region. In the north it is traditional for men alone to prepare land for planting and sow seeds, but in central Thailand, women sometimes perform those tasks. Women transplant rice seedlings in all areas, but sometimes men do that job as well. Harvesting is done by both men and women. Domestic work is done mostly by women. Weaving usually is done by women. Pottery, basketry, plaiting, making lacquerware, and making umbrellas can be done by men or women. Small-scale market selling and itinerant trading are conducted by both men and women. Transportation of goods and people by animal, carts, boats, and motor vehicles is done mainly by men. Religious specialists and traditional healers generally are male. Traditional theatrical and musical performances involve both genders. In the modern professions, women work mainly in teaching and nursing.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender inequality is manifest in violence against women, societal discrimination against women, and trafficking in women for prostitution. Efforts to improve the status of women have increased, and the 1997 constitution provides women with equal rights and protections, although, some inequalities in the law remain. Domestic abuse affects women in all social classes. Specific laws concerning domestic violence have not been enacted, and the rules of evidence make prosecuting such cases difficult. Domestic violence often is not reported, since many victims and the police view it as a private matter. Sexual harassment in the workplace was made illegal in 1998, but only in the private sector, and no cases have been prosecuted. Thailand serves as a source, place of transit, and destination for trafficking in women for prostitution. Prosecutions for such activities are rare.
Women constitute forty-four percent of the labor force. Laws require employers to give women equal wages and benefits for equal work, and there are no legal restrictions on women owning and managing businesses. An increasing number of women hold professional positions, and women's access to higher education has grown. More than half the university graduates are women. Police and military academies do not accept female students. There is still a gap between the average salaries of men and women since women are concentrated in lower-paying jobs. There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics. While there have been improvements at the lower levels, women remain underrepresented in national politics.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. In general, individuals find their own marriage partners, although the choice of a spouse may be influenced by one's family among the wealthy. The value of goods provided to the couple and elaborateness of the wedding ceremony vary with the wealth of the families of the couple. Polygyny was common among the elite in the past but is now rare, although wealthy and powerful men often have a de facto second wife known as a minor wife. Divorce is not difficult and is usually a matter of a couple ceasing to live together and dividing their property.
Domestic Unit. The ideal is for a married couple to establish its own household as soon as possible. However, especially among poorer couples, residence with the parents of the husband or wife is common. The nuclear family is the core of the domestic unit, but it often includes members of the extended family. Including unmarried siblings, widowed parents, and more distant unmarried or widowed male and female relatives. The husband is nominally the head of the household, but the wife has considerable authority. Female members of the household are responsible for most domestic chores.
Inheritance. Property generally is divided equally among the children after the parents die. However, it is common practice for one child, usually the youngest daughter, to assume primary responsibility for looking after the parents in their old age, and this person inherits the family home.
Kin Groups. The Central Tai reckon descent bilaterally. Various forms of kin groups may be formed. The most common type is formed by siblings, married children, and sometimes more distant relatives living in a multihousehold compound. Members of these groups may share domestic and other tasks. Sometimes larger kin groups encompass several compounds to form a hamlet cluster. In some instances, a hamlet cluster forms around a wealthy and powerful individual.
Infant Care. Adults take a great deal of interest in children, including the children of other people. A mother keeps her baby with her whenever she leaves the house. Young children are pampered and given considerable freedom of movement and are allowed to handle almost anything that catches their attention. Weaning usually takes place when a child is two or three years old.
Child Rearing and Education. Children in rural areas grow up surrounded by the implements that they will later use and see adults performing domestic, agricultural, and artisanal tasks. In the past, young boys attended school in a nearby Buddhist monastery, where they would be taught to read and write. Girl's education took place mainly at home as they learned to perform domestic tasks. After 1932, the government secularized the public school system by replacing monks with trained teachers. In the late 1990s, eighty-eight percent of children of primary school age were enrolled in schools and ninety-three percent of the adult population was literate. However, the economic crisis of the late 1990s resulted in an increase in the number of children leaving school. The government raised compulsory education requirements from six to nine years in 1999 and is attempting to improve educational standards.
Higher Education. Institutes of higher education include comprehensive universities, technical institutes, and religious universities. Traditionally, education was handled by religious bodies. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a growing number of people went abroad for higher education. The first university, Chulalongkorn University, was founded in 1916. That university initially served mainly to train civil servants. An Arts and Crafts School was established in the 1920s. After the 1932 revolution, Thammasat University was founded. This was an open university with unrestricted admission and an emphasis on legal training. Chulalongkorn University tended to cater to the elite, while Thammasat University was more populist. In 1942, the Arts and Crafts School attained the status of a university, Silpakorn University. All three of these institutes are in Bangkok. A fourth institute was added in 1948 after the reorganization of advanced military education at the Chulalongkorn Royal Military Academy, whose graduates came to dominate not only the military but also politics. Admission to the military academy was restricted to "native Thai" until 1973, mainly to keep out ethnic Chinese.
In 1960, less than one percent of the population had completed a higher education. In the 1960s and 1970s, new universities were founded, including the first regional university and a number of technical colleges and teacher training colleges.
Buddhist educational bodies continue to play a role in education, offering not only religious education but a wide range of other subjects. There are also private universities which tend to focus on business education. There has been a boom in the growth of private higher educational institutes since the early 1990s, and plans are in place for the privatization of public universities.
The Thai and other Buddhists follow the widespread Buddhist custom of not touching a person on the head, which is considered the highest part of the body. Patting a child on the head is thought to be dangerous to the well-being of the child. A person should not point the feet at anyone or at an image of Buddha. Footwear is removed when entering temple complexes, and it is polite to remove footwear when entering a house. Buddhist monks are not supposed to come into contact with women. It is traditional to greet a person with a prayerlike gesture called a wai. It is considered improper to lose one's temper or show too much emotion in public.
Religious Beliefs. About eighty-five percent of the people are Theravada Buddhists, and the monarch must be a Buddhist. Virtually all Tai-speaking peoples are Theravada Buddhists, as are members of many of the ethnic minorities. The Buddhism of Central Tais often is referred to as Lankavamsa, reflecting its origins in Sri Lanka. Thai Buddhism, however, is a syncretic religion that borrows from earlier animistic beliefs, Hinduism, and Christianity. A noticeable manifestation of animism in Thai Buddhism are the spirit houses associated with almost all houses and buildings. These usually are small model houses placed on a pedestal, that serve as a home for the spirits associated with the site. These houses are decorated and presented with daily offerings. Many large trees also are considered to serve as the home of spirits and are decorated and given offerings.
Approximately ten percent of the population is Muslim, primarily ethnic Malays in the south. Although Christian missionaries have been active in the country since the nineteenth century, only about one percent of the population is Christian. The Christian population consists primarily of non-Tai ethnic minorities in the north and ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese. There are small numbers of animists, Confucianists, Taoists, Mahayana Buddhists, and Hindus.
Religious Practitioners. The majority of religious practitioners are Buddhist monks. Most young men become Buddhist novices and go to live in a monastery. While most young men remain at the monastery for a short time before returning to the secular life, some become ordained monks. A person who wants to become a monk is expected to be free of debt and certain diseases, have the permission of his parents or spouse, to agree to follow the disciplinary rules of the monkhood, and not become involved in secular life. Monks are expected to lead a life of aestheticism but commonly perform important functions in the community, especially as counselors. A variety of religious practitioners are associated with the animistic side of the religious beliefs of most Buddhists, including exorcists, spirit doctors, astrologers, and diviners.
Rituals and Holy Places. A number of Buddhist religious festivals are held throughout of the country, and there are local events related to particular places and individuals. The Buddhist religious calendar begins with Songkran, in mid-April when images of Buddha are washed and monks are offered special alms. This celebration is marked by dousing people with water and festive behavior including dancing, singing, and theatrical performances. Visakha Puja in May celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and entrance into nirvana. The day includes the ceremonial watering of the banyan trees that represent the tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. Asanha Puja celebrates a sermon given by Buddha. Khao Phansaa in July marks the start of the three-month lenten period. It is at this time that young males become novices. Lent is considered a period of spiritual retreat for monks, who are expected to remain in the monasteries. Thawt Kathin from mid-October to mid-November marks the end of lent. During this period, monastic robes and other paraphernalia are given to monks. In some communities, there is a celebration to produce new garments for monks and images of Buddha in which members of the community work together to produce the cloth in a single day. Magha Puja in February commemorates Buddha's preaching to enlightened monks. It culminates in a candlelit procession at temples.
Death and the Afterlife. Buddhists believe that those who die are reborn in a form that is appropriate to the amount of merit they accumulated while alive. The cycle of death and rebirth is believed to continue as long as ignorance and craving remain. The cycle can be broken only through enhanced personal wisdom and the elimination of desire. Funerals involve either burial or cremation. The funeral ceremony includes a procession of monks and mourners who accompany the coffin to the cemetery or crematorium, with monks chanting and performing rites along the way. Funerals for monks tend to be very elaborate, while people who have died a violent death are buried quickly, with very little ceremony, since their spirits are believed to linger after death as malevolent ghosts.
Medicine and Health Care
The health of the population has improved over the last few decades, with increased life expectancy and lower rates of major diseases. An exception to this trend is the AIDS epidemic. The spread of AIDS is related to both sexual practices and narcotics use. The government has devoted substantial resources toward AIDS education and awareness programs and AIDS-related research.
The health infrastructure includes facilities and programs provided by the public sector, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector. The majority of health resources are concentrated in urban areas, where a marked difference in access to health facilities depends on wealth. Private sector facilities exist almost exclusively in urban areas. Public health facilities in rural areas include district hospitals and community health centers. In small towns and villages, health care is provided mainly by village health communicators and village health volunteers who receive little training. In urban areas, private hospitals are becoming important providers for the wealthy and the middle class. In the 1990s, the government adopted a policy of self-reliance that included greater attention to classical traditional medicine and herbal folk medicine. A government sponsored, codified system of traditional medicine draws on elements of Chinese and Indian medicine. Many unlicensed healers practice folk medicine.
Most celebrations are associated with the Buddhism or other religions. The most important secular holidays are related to the monarchy. Celebrations include Chakkri Day (6 April), commemorating Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty; Coronation Day (5 May), commemorating the coronation of the current king; the Royal Plowing Ceremony (second week in May), an ancient ritual held near the Royal Palace in Bangkok to start the rice-planting season; the queen's birthday (12 August); Chulalongkorn Day (23 October), held in commemoration of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V); and the current king's birthday (5 December). Other secular celebrations include Constitution Day (10 December) and New Year's Day.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. Support for the arts comes from both the public and private sectors. The Department of Fine Arts underwrites programs throughout the country, and there a national theater. Silpakorn University is the main public educational institution for the arts, and there is a national College of Dance and Music. The Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupational and Supplementary Techniques, founded in 1976, is associated with the queen and runs projects throughout the country for traditional artisans. There are private art galleries, mainly in Bangkok, and private auction houses have become a commercial outlet for paintings.
Literature. Written literature dates back to the Sukhothai period (1250–1350), and earlier traditions. The oldest known poem, the Suphasit Phra Ruong, was written in the late 1200s. The Traiphum Khatha (1345), is a treatise on Buddhist cosmology.
Poetry from the fifteenth century includes epics, poems based on the life of Buddha, and the Lilit Phra Lo, Thailand's first love story. The reign of King Narai in the seventeenth century is considered the golden age of Thai literature. Most of this literary work consisted of epics and love stories written in poetic form. Cau Fa Thamathibet (1715–1755) is famous for so-called boat songs, which abound in mythical allusions. The eighteenth century saw the emergence of a new genre of poetry, lakhon. This was a type of theatrical poetry in which players positioned themselves before an audience and recited texts derived from the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Ramayana ), Inau (an epic of Javanese origin), and Anirut tales (which were more local in origin).
King Rama II was a poet, and during his reign epics expanded in scale and in performance. There were some famous female poets during this period, including Khun Phum, who wrote a poetic eulogy for Rama IV. During the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), prose writing emerged and poetry became more realistic. Prince Damrong Ratchanuphap (1861–1947) compiled histories of Thai literature.
The modern period has witnessed the emergence of many new forms of poetry and popular fiction. This fiction is realistic, often portraying the lives of common people and the underclass in the face of adversity. While most of the stories are set in central Thailand, there has also been regional literature, such as the novels of Khamphun Bunthami, which are set in the northeast. Since the 1970s a good deal of fiction and poetry has focused on social criticism.
Graphic Arts. The graphic arts include art forms associated with Buddhist temples such as sculpture in wood, stucco, and stone; mural painting; and bronze castings of images of Buddha. Other forms of graphic arts include lacquerware, mother-of-pearl inlay, gold work, nielloware, silverware, wood carving, ceramics, basketry and plaiting, weaving, and painting on paper or canvas.
In the Ayutthaya and Bangkok periods, there were distinct royal and common textile traditions. The nobility imported textiles from China, India, and Persia and received special textiles as tribute from neighboring regions. Commoners produced clothing for themselves until the nineteenth century, when imported cloth became widely available. There are still distinct regional styles of weaving that include the production of special hand-woven cloth for sale to elite customers in urban areas. There are many local, regional, and national weaving competitions and fairs to promote textiles.
Painting traditionally was done in tempera in the form of murals on temple walls as well as on cloth and paper. While Buddhist themes were predominant, temple murals often included depictions of secular objects. Artistic styles initially were influenced by Sri Lanka and southern India and later were influenced by China and the West. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) imported Western works of art and Western artists. Especially noteworthy were realistic painted portraits and statues of prominent individuals. In 1910, King Vajiravudh tried to revive traditional art, by creating the Department of Fine Arts in 1912 and the Arts and Crafts School in 1913. The Italian-born sculpture Corrado Feroci became a central figure in creating modern art in Thailand. As director of the Fine Arts University (Silpakorn University), he is widely viewed as the father of modern art in the country. The university held the first National Exhibition of Art in 1949, and this annual event became central in defining the state of contemporary art.
Much of the work of modern Thai artists has mirrored trends in Europe and North America, but many artists have mixed imported styles with subjects associated with the national culture.
Performance Arts. Classical dance developed from folk dances and incorporated elaborate Indian hand gestures and arm and leg movements, probably through the Mon and Khmer cultures. Various forms of dance, including masked dance dramas, are shown on Sukhôtâi stone inscriptions. The eighteenth century is considered the golden age of classical dance and dance drama. Although many musicians and dancers of Ayutthaya were taken by force to the Burmese royal court in 1767, those who remained behind taught their traditions to others during the early Bangkok period.
Classical dance and drama were attacked by leftists in the 1970s because of their links to the aristocracy. When the military returned to power in 1976, it promoted classical art forms. In 1977, the military regime held a national festival of dance and drama that included classical forms and patriotic plays glorifying the country's past. In recent years, classical, folk, and modern dance and drama have been popular. Folk dances are regional in character. Each dance style is accompanied by different musical instruments. Dances in the central region have been influenced by courtly traditions. Southern dances have been influenced by Sri Lankan and southern Indian styles. Individual dance styles are associated with many of the ethnic minorities.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Teaching, training, research, and publishing in the physical and social sciences are well developed. Most higher educational institutions offer courses in the physical and social sciences, and a number of government and government-sponsored institutes and agencies work in those fields. However, an insufficient number of university students are pursuing degrees in the physical sciences. The government has launched a number of programs to encourage students to go into the physical sciences.
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Skinner, G. William. Chinese Society in Thailand: An Analytical History, 1957.
Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets, 1984.
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Walker, Anthony R., ed. The Highland Heritage: Collected Essays on Upland North Thailand, 1992.
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Wenk, Klaus. Thai Literature: An Introduction, 1995.
Wyatt, David. Thailand: A Short History, 1984.
—Michael C. Howard
Tobago See Trinidad and Tobago
HOWARD, MICHAEL C.. "Thailand." Countries and Their Cultures. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401700237.html
HOWARD, MICHAEL C.. "Thailand." Countries and Their Cultures. 2001. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401700237.html
The people of Thailand are called Thai. There are more than 30 ethnic groups, each with its own history, language, religion, appearance, and patterns of livelihood. The Thai, related to the Lao of Laos and the Shan of Myanmar (formerly Burma) make up about 84 percent of the total population of Thailand.
Major ethnic minorities are the Chinese (about 11 percent) and Malays (about 4 percent).
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900492.html
"Thailand." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900492.html
"Thailand." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Thailand.html
"Thailand." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Thailand.html