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Country of the Week: Thailand

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in the fascinating country of Thailand. Discover a history without colonization, a unique culture, a true mega-city, and much more!

  • Capital (and Largest City): Bangkok
  • Population of Thailand (2016): 65,242,968 (21st)
  • Total Area: 513,120 km² (51st)
  • Official Language: Thai
  • Currency: Thai baht (฿) (THB)
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Coastal scene in the southern Phuket Province

History of Thailand

The history of civilization in Thailand dates back tens of thousands of years. Facts and dates start to come into the narrative around the early days of the CE, with the Indian influenced Kingdom of Funan. These Indian roots have remained in Thailand to this day, brought about as a result of both contact with people from India and nearby Indian influenced powers.

Khmer Empire and Other Kingdoms

During what we consider the Middle Ages, Thailand was under the sway of the powerful Khmer Empire – which originated from nearby Cambodia. While the empire was a major force in the region for many years, eventually it came to an end around the 13th to 15th centuries. In its place, many other groups rose to fill the void. These included numerous Buddhist kingdoms. All throughout this era, Thailand grew into a major trading hub, interacting both with neighbours as well as newly explorative European countries such as Portugal.

The Chakri Dynasty

In 1782, King Rama I established the Chakri Dynasty. This began a line of monarchs that remains in place today. A major way in which Thailand was able to differentiate itself from its neighbours during this time was to maintain full independence – remaining the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized to some degree. It should be noted however that the influence of the British and French did lead to loss of territory as well as reforms in both government and society. Eventually, in the early days of the 20th century, military and civilian revolution forced the king to enact a new constitution – ending what was until this point an absolute monarchy.

Thailand During WWII

In the early part of WWII, 1941 to be exact, Japan invaded Thailand. Not long after, Thailand granted free passage to the Japanese troops and, after signing an agreement, declared war on Japan’s enemies – namely the US and UK. Despite this, many remained opposed to the Japanese invasion, with a strong resistance. By the end of the war, the country had suffered heavy loss of life, with a large amount due to hard labour.

Modern Thailand

Following the defeat of the Axis Powers, Thailand sought closer relations with the United States. The Cold War was a tumultuous time for the country, with coups and instability commonplace until things calmed down in the 80’s. Recently, political strife has made a comeback – particularly during the 2014 coup d’état. Today, the current prime minister is the army chief who led the coup.

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Buddhism is an integral part of Thai culture

Thai Culture

The culture of Thailand combines elements from India, China, and other nearby Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Laos. In addition, Buddhism has a major impact on the Thai way of life. Other traditions and practices that are important to Thai culture include the traditional greeting known as the wai, reverence towards ancestors, and the importance of seniority.

Food in Thailand

Like many other East Asian countries, rice is one of the staples of the Thai diet. Food is meant to blend five fundamental tastes: sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and spicy. Many dishes are characterized by a strong smell and a spicy kick. Thai cuisine has found a large following around the world – with the popularity of it believed to contribute to growing tourist numbers.

Sport in Thailand

One of the most important sports in Thailand, and the one it is most commonly associated with, is the martial art of Muay Thai. A form of kickboxing, it incorporates strikes of many varieties and has been utilized in mixed martial arts as well as sharing similarities to parts of boxing. The most popular sport in Thai society nowadays however is soccer. While the national team is not one of the more successful in the region, the English Premier League has developed a large following in the country.

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Pad Thai is a stir fried rice noodle dish that is common in Thailand

Famous People from Thailand

Tony Jaa is a well-known martial artist and actor from Thailand, who was recently seen by international audiences in the film Furious 7. Suvanant Kongying is considered the country’s most famous actress (especially in the 90’s). The current monarch is King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has reigned for nearly 70 years, edging out Queen Elizabeth II as the world’s longest tenured head of state.

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Bangkok – the centre of life in Thailand

Geography of Thailand

Thailand is a relatively large country, covering slightly more area than Spain. The land is divided into distinct regions, which are roughly based around provinces. There is the mountainous north that is known as the Thai Highlands. Here you’ll find Doi Inthanon, the country’s tallest peak at 2,565 metres. Isan in the northeast is a large plateau (Khorat) that borders the Mekong River. The Chao Phraya river valley consumes the central part of the country. Moving south takes us towards the long, narrow Kra Isthmus and eventually to the Malaysian border. There are other unique regions as well, which helps to give Thailand one of the most diverse landscapes in Southeast Asia.

The largest and most important city in Thailand is the capital Bangkok. Over 8 million live within the city, while the metropolitan region as a whole is home to over 14 million people. Because of this, Bangkok is known as an extreme primate city – meaning its size and importance is disproportionately large compared to other Thai cities. The city is the centre of life in the country and is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

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A barley field in rural Thailand

Facts About Thailand

  • Until 1939, the country was known as Siam. The name was again used between 1945-1949
  • Siamese cats come from Thailand
  • The full name of Bangkok is (hold you breath): Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit
  • Disrespect towards the king can be classified as treason
  • Thailand exports more rice than any other country in the world
  • Feet are considered lowly while the head is more important and deserves respect
  • Bangkok used to be filled with canals. Now the canals have been turned into roads
  • About 1,430 islands are found in the country
  • One town holds a Monkey Buffet, where tons of food is put out to attract the local monkey population
  • The world’s largest fish (whale shark) and smallest mammal (bumblebee bat) are found in Thailand
  • The energy drink ‘Red Bull’ is based on the Thai ‘Krating Daeng’
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Wat Arun – a Buddhist temple in Bangkok

Last Word

Thanks for reading! We hope you learned a bit more about one of the gems of Asia. Stay tuned this week to see our picks for the best destinations as well as some important information about the local currency.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

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