The country of Thailand was previously known as Siam. This name was first changed in 1939 to Prathet Thai and again in 1949 (having been reversed during WWII). Prathet means “country” and the word Thai means “free” or “freedom” in the Thai language, a word that is also the name of the majority ethnic group in Thailand (an ethnic group that found their freedom more than two millennia ago, when they reached this region fleeing the Chinese). This means that Prathet Thai can be translated as Country of Free People. When translated into English Prathet Thai became Thailand (Land of the Thai) and from there to Thailand in Spanish.
The 514,100 km² of Thailand are located in the center of Southeast Asia. Thailand’s position as the hub of the area has influenced many aspects of its society and culture. It controls the only land passage from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore.
According to bridgat, Thailand has a tropical climate in which the Monsoon occurs. Temperatures typically range from a mean annual high of 38 ° C to a low of 19 ° C. The monsoons in the south-west occur between May and July (except in the south) and mark the arrival of the rainy season (ridu fon), which lasts until October. November and December are the beginning of the dry season. Temperatures start to rise in January.
The dry season is shorter in the south due to the proximity of the sea to all areas of the Malay Peninsula. With few exceptions, all areas of the country receive abundant rainfall, although the length of the rainy season and the amount of rain vary very substantially according to region and altitude. The northeast has a long dry season, and its porous soil retains little water, so its agricultural potential is limited.
The Thai population is dominated by the Thai and Lao ethnic groups, which make up three-quarters of the population. There is also a large Chinese community that has historically played a disproportionately significant role in the economy. Other ethnic groups include the Malays in the south, the Mon, the Khmer, and various indigenous mountain tribes.
Around 95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravāda tradition but there are also minorities of Muslims, Christians and Hindus. The Tai language is the national language of Thailand, written with its own alphabet, despite the existence of ethnic and regional dialects; and also despite the fact that English is widely taught in schools.
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces, grouped into 5 groups – in some cases the eastern and western provinces are grouped together. The name of each province is that of its capital city, sometimes with the prefix Mueang (or Muang) to avoid confusion with the province. With the exception of Songkhla province, the capital is also the largest city in the province.
Bangkok is at the same time the most populated province. The largest province is Nakhon Ratchasima, the smallest is Samut Songkhram. Mae Hong Son province has the lowest population density, and Ranong has the lowest absolute population (figures taken from the 2000 census).
Each province is administered by a governor, appointed by the Minister of the Interior. The only exception is Bangkok, where the governor is elected.
The provinces are divided into 877 districts. The fifty districts of Bangkok are called khet. The districts are divided into tambon (communes or sub-districts) and mubaan (towns).
After enjoying the world’s highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 – averaging 9% per year – speculative pressure on the Thai currency, the baht, increased, which in 1997 led to a crisis that uncovered weaknesses in the financial sector and forced the government to sell currency.
Long stuck at 25 against the US dollar, the baht hit its low of 56 against the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted around 10.2% in the same year. The crisis spread into an Asian financial crisis.
Thailand entered a recovery phase in 1999, expanding to 4.2% and growing by 4.4% in 2000, due to a greater extent to the strong exports that increased by around 20% during that same year. Growth was softened by the slowdown in the global economy during 2001, but recovered in subsequent years due to strong growth in China and thanks to various internal stimulation programs within the “Dual-Track” policies promoted by the First Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Growth in 2003 was estimated at 6.3% and projected at 8% and 10% for the years 2004 and 2005 respectively. Thailand is on its way to becoming the most economically powerful state in Southeast Asia and one of the most powerful states in Asia, competing with advanced countries in the West.