The Kingdom of Thailand

 
The Kingdom of Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia. To its east lie Laos and Cambodia; to its south, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia; and to its west, the Andaman Sea and Burma. Its capital and largest city is Bangkok. Thailand has had one of the longest monarchies in history. It is also the only Southeast Asian country that was not colonized by any Western power.
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy.
Education
Thailand enjoys a high level of literacy, and education is provided by a well organized school system of kindergartens, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, numerous vocational colleges, and universities. The private sector of education is well developed and significantly contributes to the overall provision of education which the government would not be able to meet through the public establishments. Education is compulsory up to and including Grade 9, and the government provides free education through to Grade 12.
Thailand has never been colonized, and therefore its educational system does not draw off of European models to a great extent. Education in a modern sense is relatively recent and, according to some sources, still needs to overcome some major cultural hurdles in order to ensure further development and improvement to its standards, which in some respects have fallen to the lowest levels in southeast Asia.
The establishment of reliable and coherent curricula for its primary and secondary schools is subject to such rapid changes that schools and their teachers are not always sure what they are supposed to be teaching, and authors and publishers of textbooks are unable to write and print new editions quickly enough to keep up with the volatile situation. The issue concerning university entrance has therefore also been in constant upheaval for a number of years. Nevertheless, education has seen its greatest progress in the years since 2001, most of the present generation of pupils and students are computer literate, and knowledge of English is on the increase at least in quantity if not in quality.
Administrative divisions
Thailand is divided into 75 provinces, which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya, of which Bangkok is at provincial level and thus often counted as a 76th province.
Each province is divided into districts and the districts are further divided into sub-districts (tambons). As of 2006 there are 877 districts and the 50 districts of Bangkok. Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok. These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city  is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai or Chiang Mai.
Metropolitan Area
Bangkok Metropolitan Area - 10,061,726
Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area - 957,634
Pattaya-Chonburi Metropolitan Area - 957,298
Greater Hatyai-Songkhla Metropolitan Area - 712,900
Nakhon Ratchasima Metropolitan Area - 429,853
Phuket Province - 321,802
Geography
At 514,000 km² (198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 50th largest country in land mass, whilst it is the world's 28th largest country in terms of population. It is comparable in population to countries such as France and United Kingdom, and is similar in land size to France and California in the US; it is just over twice the size of the entire United Kingdom, and 1.4 times the size of Germany.
Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,565 metres above sea level (8,415 ft). The northeast, Isan, (see special section on this region) consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong River. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.
The local climate is tropical and characterized by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. Major cities beside the capital Bangkok include Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, Surat Thani, Phuket and Hat Yai.
Economy
Thailand is a newly industrialized country. Thailand exports over $105 billion worth of products annually. Major exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism contributes about 5% of the Thai economy's GDP.
Thailand uses the metric system but traditional units of measurement and imperial measure (feet, inches) are still much in use, particularly for agriculture and building materials. Years are numbered as B.E. (Buddhist Era) in education, the civil service, government, and on contracts and newspaper datelines; in banking, however, and increasingly in industry and commerce, standard Western year (Christian or Common Era) counting prevails.
Language
Thailand's population can be generally categorized into the Central Thai, the Northeastern Thai or Isan (see special section on this region), the Northern Thai, and the Southern Thai. The Central Thai have long dominated the nation politically, economically, and culturally, even though they make up only about one-third of Thailand's population and are slightly outnumbered by the Northeastern Thai. Due to the education system and the forging of a national identity, many people are now able to speak Central Thai as well as their own local dialects.
The largest group of non-Thai people are the Chinese who have historically played a disproportionately significant role in the economy. Many have assimilated into mainstream Thai society, and do not live in Bangkok's Chinatown on Yaowarat Road. Other dominant ethnic groups include Malays in the south, Mon, Khmer and various hill tribes. After the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese refugees settled in Thailand, mainly in the northeastern region.
The Thai language is Thailand's national language, written in its own alphabet, but many ethnic and regional dialects exist as well as areas where people speak predominantly Isan or Mon-Khmer languages. Although English is widely taught in schools, its use is not widespread throughout the country.
Religion
According to the last census (2000) 95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Thailand's southernmost provinces - Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay. Most often Muslims live in separate communities from non-Muslims. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnic Malays. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country's cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century. Since 2001, Muslim activists, generally described by the Thai government as terrorists or separatists, have rallied against the central government because of alleged corruption and ethnic bias on the part of officials.
Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan Province
Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan Province
Phra That Phanom, Nakhon Phanom Province
Phra That Phanom, Nakhon Phanom Province
A BTS skytrain passing the Sathon area of Bangkok.