Thailand’s social history can be traced back to the Neolithic period and has witnessed the rise and fall of a myriad of empires and dynasties. Thailand, as we know it now, came into effect with the establishment of an alliance between three kingdoms: Lan Na, Sukhothai, and Phayao in the 13th century. The 14th and 15th centuries witnessed the establishment of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which continued until it fell to the Burmese, initially in 1569, then again in 1760 before finally falling again in 1767.
Thailand’s current Chakri Dynasty began in 1782 when Phraya Chakri ascended the throne as King Ramathibodi, Rama I. The new dynasty moved the country’s capital city to Bangkok where it remains to this day. Current king Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, is the world’s longest serving current head of state and Thailand’s longest reigning monarch, having ascended to the throne in 1946.
King Mongkut, Rama IV, instigated trade and diplomatic relations with European countries in the mid-19th century. He also instituted educational reforms, developing a school system along European lines. His son, King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, led Thailand into the 20th century, establishing an effective civil service, formalising global relations and introducing industrialisation. He united the royal line under the title Rama and assigned the title Rama I to the dynasty’s first king.
During the reign of King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy following a successful coup d’état in 1932. The country’s name was officially changed from Siam to Prathet Thai, or Thailand, meaning “land of the free” in 1939. The Thai use the phrase “land of the free” to express pride in the fact that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never to be colonised by a European state.
The Thai military government sided with the Japanese forces in WW2 and were involved in the construction of the infamous Burma-Siam railway, made legend by the fictional British film Bridge Over The River Kwai. The government also allowed US forces to use Thai territory during the Vietnam War.
Democracy has developed slowly in Thailand with corruption allegations, demonstrations and military coups derailing the process on several occasions. After a quarter of a century of military rule, civilian government was restored to Thailand in 1973 following student riots in Bangkok, but this was to last only three years before the military again took control. The country continues to move between civilian and military governments.
On December 26 2004, an earthquake in Southeast Asia triggered a tsunami that impacted considerably upon Thailand’s touristic infrastructure. The west coast was the worst hit area, including outlying areas and tourist resorts near Phuket. Many hotels were ruined; thousands were killed. Thailand has however made a strong recovery from this terrible catastrophe and continues to be one of the world’s top travel destinations.
Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister assumed office on August 5th 2011 following the 2011 general election. Leader of the populist Pheu Thai Party, which replaced the controversial People’s Power Party in 2008, her party won a majority with 265 of the 480 seats. She is the country’s ninth leader in just over five years.
The people of Thailand, more appropriately known as Thais, speak a national Thai language which includes a Thai alphabet that is written in Khmer script. The Thai language is a form of Kradai and is rather similar to the ones spoken in Lao, Shan, and Burma. Several other dialects do exist though, depending on the region.
Regarding religion, the majority of Thais are Buddhists practicing in the Theravada tradition. The second major religion is Islam. Most of the time, the Muslims and non-Muslims live separately. Catholics also are present in Thailand as are Sikhs, Hindus, and Jews.
Similar to the size of France or California, Thailand is the world’s 50th largest country in terms of land mass. Its local climate is tropical with the regular monsoons. May to September is generally characterized by clouds and rain, while the rest of the year, the country experiences dry and cool weather.
In regards to terrain, the country has rugged mountains, great rivers, lakes, and rolling plains. As a matter of fact, because of its terrain, the country is able to export rice, textiles, and even rubber. Because of the Mekong River, the country also has a very large area of arable land making rice, which is one of Thailand’s most important crops.
The cuisine of Thailand is characterized by sweet, spicy, bitter, and sour tastes. All these may or may not be present in one single dish, but you can trust that Thai food will always revolve around them. When it comes to the key ingredients, garlic, rice, chili, lemon, and fish sauce all take center stage in almost every Thai dish.
Thai culture is thoroughly true to the roots of its people. For the most part, it contains Indian, Chinese, Cambodian, and Southeast Asian influences in it. As can be seen from the numerous Buddhist temples within the country, Theravada Buddhism plays a major role in Thai culture.
In Thailand, you can see that they have a strong sense of social hierarchy. Many believe that this is of Indian origin, since it is similar to India’s caste system. The difference, however, lies in that in Thailand, this practice is not as evident or as relatively serious as in India.
The famous wai greeting in Thailand is similar to India’s namaste. It is done with the hands pressed together, the fingertips pointing up, and touching the face to the hands as the head is bowed. To Thais, this is a sign of respect and, in fact, there are even certain rules as to who says the greeting first when being introduced to someone.
Another thing that Thailand is known for is their national sport called Muay Thai. Once taught to soldiers, this sport and martial art is now practiced and gaining influence worldwide.
Thai is the official language. English is widely spoken, especially in establishments catering for tourists.
Thailand has one of the most hectic and upbeat nightlife scenes in Southeast Asia. Bars are abundant, especially in Bangkok and Phuket that meet anybody’s wants and needs. Shopping centers and street markets are also available for almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week to those who love to shop and explore.
There are a lot of famous attractions in Thailand such as the Golden Triangle, Nan Province and Chiang Mai. If you are seeking backpacking and nature trails, then Nong Khai is the place to go. It is an area the Mekong River and is a favorite stop over for serious backpackers, as well as those seeking a casual nature hike. It provides dreamy views of the river, delicious banana pancakes, a relaxed pace of life and amazing attractions.
The Pahnom Rung Historical Park is an all-in-one famous hot spot in country. It sits on top of an inactive volcano, providing great views of the Dongrek Mountains of Cambodia. It also houses Khmer monuments, in the Pahnom Rung temple complex, which gives anybody who reaches them a great feeling of satisfaction. From this temple, one can see the Angkor Wat of Cambodia in the west, Prasat Khao Wihan in the north, and Thailand’s Prasat Phimai in the southeast. :
What better place to start your visit than Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city which is home to several of the floating markets the country’s so famous for. The vibrant, bustling, China Town is where the much debated Shark Fin Soup can still be found. You can also find beautiful temples, delicious food infused with Thai, Chinese and Western influences. You’d be mad not to add this to your list of must see places in Thailand. Here are some places in Bangkok not to miss: Yaowarat (China Town), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and Bang Khu Wiang floating market.
If you fancy spending some time relaxing on one of the beaches with white sand and crystal clear water then head to Ko Samui which is Thailand’s 3rdlargest island. The miles of white sandy beaches lined with palm trees and nestled in bays filled with turquoise water make for the perfect snorkelling or scuba diving destination. The island is generally much drier than the mainland in the rainy season but does have its own rainy season between October and December. Don’t miss: The Secret Buddha Garden (with spectacular views over the island), Namtok Hin Lat/Namtok Na Mueang (waterfalls) and Wat Khunaram ko Samui (a famous temple complete with mummified monk).
Siam Water Park
Once you’ve tired of laying around on beautiful beaches & attending full moon parties, head to Siam Water Park for a relaxing day splashing around with your friends or family. Located near Bangkok, there’s a man made beach (if you haven’t already had enough of those), wave machine, whirlpools, lots of fun slides and waterfalls galore.
Ko Pha Ngan
Talking of full moon parties, this is the island that started it, Ko Pha Ngan still holds a monthly full moon party. Here you can dance the night away into the early hours of the morning and then crash out on the beach to relax when you’re finished. This is another excellent place to go scuba diving, but do check your travel insurance first to make sure you don’t void your policy by doing so (this is a common exclusion on many policies). Don’t miss the nearby Ang Thong Archipelago which consists of over 40 islands for you to explore. Once you’ve definitely had your fill of lazing around in the sun, why not head to the nearby “Blue Lagoon” which featured in the film “The Beach”.
You can head to Chiang Mai for a taste of something different altogether. The city is home to over 300 temples (in and around the main city), many featuring spectacular decoration and statues. Don’t be fooled by it’s history as Chiang Mai is a bustling metropolitan city underneath it all with designer clothes shops, boutique hotels and many fine dining eateries. Don’t miss the Chiang Mai Arts & Cultural Centre and Wat Phra Sing (one of the most spectacular and beautifully decorated temples in Chiang Mai).
Pattaya is always switched on and fun. This vibrant coastal city shot to fame in early 1980s, and stayed there. From sunrise to sunset, Pattaya’s beaches are constantly brimming with life, as water sports lovers and sun worshippers take to the waters. After dark, the action shifts to the streets, as revellers explore its electrified nightlife scene, where drinking and partying continue until dawn. Apart from water sports and nightlife, Pattaya offers endless possibilities when it comes to accommodation and entertainment. It has outgrown its image as a seedy beach town to a destination for a wider audience; whether couples, families or business travellers, Pattaya has something for everyone. Only 147km from Bangkok, Pattaya is the closest of Thailand’s major beach resorts to the capital city.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Dress is informal, although beachwear should be confined to the beach. Drugs are illegal and travellers should know that possession of even small quantities can lead to imprisonment, and that drug traffickers risk the death penalty. Avoid touching others hair or head (rubbing a child hair for example), as this is a disrespectful gesture. Taking off one’s shoes when entering a home is customary, although most shops and restaurants do not always expect tourists to remove their footwear. Do not put your feet on table or chairs, as lifting a foot toward someone, especially the underside of the foot is considered a disrespectful gesture. Although haggling is common when buying items, especially at markets, Thais are generally very calm and soft spoken people. Arguing loudly or raising one’s voice when haggling is deemed disrespectful in Thai culture.
Although the political situation in Thailand is currently more stable than before, there have been major political demonstrations in Bangkok in recent months accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Tourists have not been targeted during the protests, but travellers are advised to avoid all political gatherings and marches and to stay well-informed about the situation in the country. Travellers should check out the official travel alerts for Thailand before visiting, and should be careful to abide by any curfews or other rules imposed by the Thai government.
There is a threat from terrorism throughout South East Asia and travellers should be particularly vigilant in public places, including tourist resorts. Avoid the border areas and don’t camp in undesignated areas in national parks. The security situation in the southern provinces near the Malaysian border is unstable and travel to Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and Songkhla is to be avoided. Violence near the Preah Vihear temple area has been recurrent and visitors are advised to avoid travel there.
Visitors to major cities are advised to secure their passports and credit cards and not carry too much money or jewellery. In Bangkok visitors should be aware of scams, often involving gems recommended by kind strangers. In tourist areas, particularly at the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Ngan, be careful about accepting drinks from strangers as there have been reports of drinks being drugged. Incidents of sexual assault do occur and female travellers should be cautious.
The monsoon season in September and October (November to March on Koh Samui) brings about flooding in the north, northeast and central regions, causing mudslides and flash floods; visitors planning to trek in the jungle during this time should check conditions with licensed tour guides before leaving.
Passport and Visa
Travellers entering Thailand are required to prove they have sufficient funds to cover the length of their stay, and are recommended to hold documentation for return/onward travel. If issued a visa prior to arrival, travellers are permitted to travel on a one-way ticket. It is highly recommended that passports are valid for six months beyond travel.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.