The kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a natural gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. Its profile and geography divide into four natural regions : The mountains and forests of the North; the vast rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid cattle farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the tropical islands and prolonged coastline of the South.
Thailand comprises 77 provinces that are additional divided into districts, sub-districts and villages. Bangkok is the principal city and centre of political, trade, manufacturing and cultural activities. It is also the seat of Thailand’s respected Royal Family, with His Majesty the King recognised as Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Upholder of the Buddhist religion and Upholder of all religions.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or King Rama IX, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, the present king. The King has reigned for more than half a century, making him the longest reigning Thai monarch. Thailand embraces a rich diversity of cultures and traditions. With its proud history, tropical climate and renowned hospitality, the Kingdom is a never-ending source of fascination and pleasure for international visitors.
Regions of Thailand
Thailand Regions consist of the main areas with travel and tourism all all important parts of the Thai structure and economy. The weather and climate can vary dependent on the season so take note of when you travel, and plan for the unexpected weather, with the climate change dramatic sometimes in only a few minutes.
Central Thailand, is an endless plain dominated by the giant urban agglomeration of Bangkok.
The Thailand Central area has a dramatic history, and its heritage of ancient temples, battlefields and ruins and two capitals, Ayutthaya and Bangkok, are a continuing lure for visitors. The west sea coasts at the region’s southern end also draw colossal numbers of visitors every year. Bangkok residents spend prolonged weekends enjoying the relaxing beach atmosphere, while holiday-makers from around the world discover the delights of the tropical beach life.
On the west coast, the resorts of Cha-am and Hua Hin draw international travelers who choose their more sophisticated yet laid-back atmosphere.
Far from the sea in the northwest of the region is Kanchanaburi, whose forested mountains, waterfalls and caves, state-run parks and wildlife sanctuaries on the border with Myanmar provide some of Thailand’s most enthralling scenery.
The 19 provinces of Central Coast are Ang Thong, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Chai Nat, Kanchanaburi, Lop Buri, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Phetchaburi, Ratchaburi, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram ,Prachuap Khiri Khan, Sing Buri, Suphan Buri and Saraburi
The North is the birthplace of the original Thai civilisation and has many sites of archaeological and cultural appeal. Northern natives are famous for their courtesy and hospitality, and the region is moreover noted for its variety of cultural traditions. It is a great area to tour.
Many visitors from the surrounding provinces congregate on Chiang Mai for the once a year Songkran Festival, again a fantastic tourist event not to be missed along with a visit to Sukhothai for Loi Krathong.
The area has three seasons, sweltering from March to May, not so hot from June to November and cool from December to February. High up in the mountains, though, cool may often mean exceptionally cold.
The Thai nation had its origins in the North, in city states that were progressively incorporated into the Lanna kingdom centred on Chiang Mai. Sukhothai became the first capital of Thailand, but the influence of the Lanna states of Laos and Myanmar can be clearly seen in the architecture and cuisine of the North.
The nomadic hill people of the region pursued their own course, moving back and forth across frontiers. There are six main tribal groups, Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, Akha and Lisu, each with its own unique customs and clothing. These days, they are settled in villages on the mountainsides, a impressive attraction for travelers.
Further north still, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son are centres for canoeing, walking and tours of tribal villages. To the south, the Historical Park at Sukhothai is an essential destination for all folks wishing to discover more in relation to the history and culture of Thailand.
The 17 provinces that comprise the North are Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Tak, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Sawan, Nan, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phichit, Uthai Thani, Phitsanulok, Phrae, Sukhothai, and Uttaradit.
The Northeast of Thailand, a vast flat terrain covering almost one third of the country, is commonly known as Isan. It extends northwards to the Mekong River which divides Thailand from Laos, and to the south and it ends at the Dong Rek mountain range along the border with Cambodia.
It is recognized to be an dry region with soil of poor quality, but for seeing the sights, Isan is one of the country’s most interesting destinations with many Stone Age and Bronze Age dwellings and artifacts, and several important temples that are a legacy of the great Khmer empire.
Two of Thailand’s best-loved state-owned parks, Khao Yai, Phu Kradung and Phu Rua in Loei, are in Isan. Other main attractions include the villages in Khorat and Khon Kaen where the beautiful community silk is woven by hand.
Isan is a comparatively poor area whose main earnings is from agriculture, and many of the younger citizens in the villages migrate to the city. But Isan folk have a distinctive character and dialect and a enthusiastic culture, with their old traditions still reflected in the many festivals unique to the region.
With its strategic place bordering Laos and Cambodia, Isan has in modern years risen to become a worthwhile starting point for adventurous journeys to destinations along the mighty Mekong River. There have been crucial developments in infrastructure to accommodate what is estimated to be a boom in tourism.
The Northeast consists of 20 provinces: Amnat Charoen, Buri Ram, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Loei, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Yasothon and Bueng Kan.
Eastern Thailand comprises the seven provinces that be situated south of Isaan and east of the Central area, sandwiched among Bangkok and Cambodia.
Physically the smallest of the five regions of Thailand, Eastern Thailand contains exactly seven provinces.
While Pattaya is the unique mass tourism destination, the islands of Ko Samet and Ko Chang are in addition first and foremost visitor destinations.
On the other hand, the islands at the eastern tip ofthe region in Ko Chang National Park, until recently very challenging to get to, are some of the generally scenic and untouched in the country.
The East consists of 7 provinces: Chachoengsao , Chai Nat, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Prachin Buri, , Rayong and Sa Kaeo.
This southern region extends southward along a narrow neck of land lying sandwiched between the Andaman Sea its west side and the South China Sea on the east. It is a rich soil in terms of the plenty of its natural resources, the richness of its soil, the diversity of its community and its trade viability.
The east coast on the Gulf of Thailand permanently seems to be extra relaxed, with long, wide bays and calm seas; the Andaman Sea coast tends to be extra rugged and exhilarating, with its extraordinary limestone rock formations and cliffs.
The occurrence of two seasonal monsoons means that the climate differs from the rest of Thailand. The southwest monsoon sweeps the west coast and the Andaman Sea from May to October, while the northeast monsoon moves across the Gulf of Thailand form November to February. The peninsula forms a barrier so that rain rarely falls on both coastlines at once. Tourism is a major industry in the South.
The coastline attracts most visitors, along with a lot of ex-pats re-locating here, though Samui Island in the Gulf of Thailand is growing in popularity as a laid-back holiday spot with first class diving opportunities nearby on Tao and Pha-ngan islands.
The Andaman Sea coast offers added sophisticated choices in the island province of Phuket, Thailand’s best vacation resort.However, the fascinating rock formations and offshore islands at Phang-nga, Krabi and Trang are enormously popular for the diving and sailing opportunities they offer.
The mountains, rivers and forests in the state-owned parks in the interior of the peninsula are also gaining popularity with Eco-tourists, as can be seen with the growing numbers of safari expeditions on foot, by elephant and in canoes.
The South of Thailand consists of 14 provinces: Chumphon, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Phang-nga, Phatthalung, Phuket, Ranong, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Trang and Yala.
The original identifiably Thai kingdom was founded in Sukhothai in 1238, getting its zenith under King Ramkhamhaeng in the 14th century before falling under the control of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which ruled nearly all of present-day Thailand and much of today’s Laos and Cambodia as well, eventually in addition absorbing the northern Kingdom of Lanna.
Ayutthaya was sacked in 1767 by the Burmese, but King Taksin regrouped and founded a new capital at Thonburi. His successor, General Chakri, moved across the river to Bangkok and became King Rama I, the founding father of the Chakri dynasty that rules (constitutionally) to this time.
Recognized as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the single South-East Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power, and fiercely proud of the fact. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan all through World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict.
With a string of military dictatorships and quickly toppled civilian Prime Ministers, Thailand ultimately stabilized into a fair approximation of a democracy and the economy boomed through tourism and industry. Over it all presided King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the world’s longest-reigning monarch and a greatly loved and respected figure of near-mythic proportions. There is more Thailand Knowledge here.
Thailand Weather and Climate
Thailand weather is tropical, the climate is hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the 28-35°C range (82-95°F) sometimes higher, a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand or on coastal areas. The watchful observer will, however, note three weather seasons:
- COOL: From November to the end of February, it doesn’t rain much and temperatures are at their lowest, although you will barely notice the difference in the south and will merely need to pack a sweater if hiking in the northern mountains, where temperatures can fall as low as 5°C. This is the generally widespread time to visit and, especially around Christmas and New Year’s or at Chinese New Year a few weeks later, finding flights and accommodation can be expensive and challenging
- HOT: From March to June, Thailand swelters in temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F). Pleasant enough when sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, but not the best period of year to go temple-tramping in Bangkok.
- RAINY: From July to October, although it can be wet a number of days rain only really gets underway in September, tropical monsoons hit most of the country. This doesn’t mean it rains non-stop, but when it does it pours and flooding is not uncommon.
There are district deviations to these common patterns. In particular, the south-east coast of Thailand (including Ko Samui) can have rains reversed, with the peak season being May-October and the rainy off season in November-February, but even then never for more than a few hours unless exceptionally bad. Of Course if your a golfer overall weather conditions are perfect for the golfer.
Thailand’s natives are mainly Thais, although here are large minorities of Chinese and assimilated Thai-Chinese all over the country, Muslims in the south near the Malaysian border and hill tribes such as the Karen and the Hmong in the north of the kingdom.
The overwhelmingly dominant religion (95%) is Theravada Buddhism, although Confucianism, Islam, Christianity and animist faiths in addition jostle for importance.
The citizens respects the royals, the King and the Queen, very much. Even pointing fingers to the picture of them is considered bad.
Mainland Thai culture is broadly influenced by Buddhism. However, unlike the Buddhist countries of East Asia, Thailand’s Buddhists respect the Therevada school, which is arguably closer to its Indian roots and places a heavier emphasis on monasticism.
Thai temples recognized as wats, resplendent with gold and easily identifiable thanks to their ornate, multicolored, pointy roofs are ubiquitous and becoming an orange-robed monk for a short period, typically the three-month rainy season, is a common rite of passage for adolescent Thai boys and men.
One pre-Buddhist tradition that still survives is the spirit house (saan phraphuum), as a rule found at the corner of any house or business, which houses spirits so they don’t enter the house and cause disturbance.
The grander the building, the bigger the spirit house, and buildings placed in particularly unlucky spots may have very outsized ones.
Perhaps the most famous spirit house in Thailand is the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok, which protects the Erawan Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt Erawan) – built in 1956 on a former execution ground and is now one of the busiest and generally popular shrines in the city.
Some traditional arts popular in Thailand include traditional Thai dancing and music, based on religious rituals and court entertainment. Famously brutal Thai boxing (muay Thai), derived from the services training of Thai warriors, is undoubtedly the country’s best known native sport.
In addition to the mainland Thai culture, there are many other cultures in Thailand including those of the “hill tribes” in the northern mountainous regions of Thailand (e.G., Hmong, Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Akha), the southern Muslims, and indigenous island peoples of the Andaman Sea.
Thai food is renowned for its enthusiastic use of fresh (rather than dried) herbs and spices as well as fish sauce.
Thai food is widespread in many Western countries especially in Australia, New Zealand, some countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, and Canada.
As a replacement for of a single main course with side dishes found in Western cuisine, a Thai full meal typically consists of either a single dish or rice khao with many complementary dishes served concurrently.
Thai cuisine is characterized by balance and strong-tasting flavors, especially lime juice, lemon grass and fresh coriander, the combination of which gives Thai food its distinctive taste. In addition, Thai food has a deserved reputation for being spicy, with scorching little torpedo-shaped chillies called phrik khii nuu making their way into many a dish.
Thais are well aware that these can be more than Westerners can deal with and will often ask if you like it hot; answer “yes” at your own risk!
Thai dishes can be roughly categorized into central Thai food (around Bangkok), northern Thai food (from the northern region around Chiang Mai, with Burmese and Chinese influence), north-eastern Thai food (from the Isaan region bordering with Laos) and southern Thai food (with heavy influences from Malaysia).
Rice is a staple component of Thai cuisine, as it is of most Asian cuisines. The highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice is native to Thailand.
Noodles, known all over parts of Southeast Asia by the Chinese name kwaytiow, are popular as well but usually come as a single dish, like the stir-fried Pad Thai or noodle soups. Many Chinese cuisine are adapted to suit Thai taste, such as khuaytiow rue, a sour and fiery rice noodle soup.
Thai food is commonly eaten with a fork and a spoon. Chopsticks are used rarely, primarily for the consumption of noodle soups. The fork, held in the left hand, is used to shovel food into the spoon.
However, it is common practice for Thais and hill tribe peoples in the North and Northeast to consume sticky rice with their right hands by making it into balls that are dipped into side dishes and eaten. Thai-Muslims also regularly eat meals with only their right hands.
Often thai food is served with a variety of spicy condiments to embolden the dish. This can range from dried chili pieces, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, to a fiery chili sauce such as the nam prik mentioned above.
Holidays and Festival
Thailand has a quantity of vacations, mostly related to Buddhism and the monarchy. No one celebrates all of them, except for banks, which seem to be closed a lot.
- MAKHA BUCHA – falls on the full moon in of the fourth Lunar month, which as a rule falls in February or March, and commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 people before the Buddha, which led to their ordination and consequent enlightenment. At temples in Bangkok and all over Thailand, Buddhists carry candles and walk around the main shrine three times in a clockwise direction.
- CHINESE NEW YEAR – Chinese Thais, who are numerous in Bangkok, celebrate by cleaning their houses and offering food to their ancestors. This is mainly a period of abundant feasting. Visit Bangkok’s Chinatown or Yaowarat to fully embrace the festivity.
- SONGKRAN – undoubtedly the mainly fun celebration is the celebration of the Thai New Year, sometime in April (officially April 13th to 15th, but the date varies in some locations).
What started off as polite ritual to wash away the sins of the prior year has evolved into the world’s leading water fight, which lasts for three full days. Water pistols and Super Soakers are advised and are on sale in all places. The best places to participate are Chiang Mai, the Khao San Road area in Bangkok and holiday resorts like Pattaya, Ko Samui and Phuket. Be advised that you will get very wet, this is not a onlooker sport. In recent years, the water-throwing has been getting more and more distasteful as people have started splashing iced water onto each other. It is advisable to wear dark clothing, as light colors may become transparent when wet.
- LOY KRATHONG – falls on the first full moon day in the twelveth month in Luna calendar,more often than not on November, when people head to rivers, lakes and even hotel swimming pools to float flower and candle-laden banana-leaf (or, these days, Styrofoam) floats called krathong .
The krathong is meant as a thank you offering to the river goddess who gives life to the people. Thais also believe that this is a good time to float away your bad luck and many will place a few strand of hair or finger nail clippings in the krathong. According to tradition, if you make a wish when you set down your krathong and it floats out of sight before the candle burns out, your wish will come true. Some provinces have their own version of Loy Krathong, such as Sukhothai where a sensational show takes place. To the North, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, have their own unique tradition of floating Kom or lit lanterns balloon. This sight can be breath-taking as the sky is suddenly filled with lights, rivaling the full moon.
- THE KING’S BIRTHDAY (December 5) is the country’s National Day and also celebrated as Father’s Day, when Thais pay respect to and show their love for His Majesty the King. Buildings and homes are decorated with the King’s flag (yellow with his insignia in the middle) and his portrait. Government buildings, as well as commercial buildings, are decorated with lights. In Old Bangkok (Rattanakosin) in particular, around the Royal Palace, you will see lavish light displays on trees, buildings, and the roads.
- THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY (August 12) is Mother’s Day, and is celebrated similarly if with a little less pomp.