Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย Ratcha Anachak Thai)) is an independent country that lies in the heart of Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest.
The country is a kingdom, a constitutional monarchy with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth king of the House of Chakri, who has reigned since 1946, making him the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king is officially titled as the Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths. The largest city in Thailand is Bangkok, the capital, which is also the country's center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities.
Prior to Doomsday, Thailand had a brief period of experimentation with democracy. However, this lasted only three years, from 1973 to 1976, when a military junta replaced democratically elected officials. In October 1977 a different section of the army staged another "coup" and replaced Thanin with General Kriangsak Chomanand. By this time, Thai forces had to deal with the situation resulting from the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. There was another flood of refugees, and both Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces periodically crossed into Thai territory, sparking clashes along the borders. A 1979 visit to Beijing earned Deng Xiaoping's agreement to end support for Thailand's communist movement; in return, the Thai authorities agreed to give safe haven to the Khmer Rouge forces fleeing west following the invasion of Cambodia. Revelations of the crimes of the defeated Khmer Rouge also sharply reduced the appeal of communism to the Thai public. Kriangsak's position as prime minister soon became untenable and he was forced to step down in February 1980 at a time of economic troubles. Kriangsak was succeeded by the army commander-in-chief, General Prem Tinsulanonda, a staunch royalist with a reputation for being incorruptible. In 1979-83, Vietnamese occupation forces in Kampuchea made incursions into Thai territory, often seeking rebel guerrillas supposedly hidden in refugee camps (where many Laotians and Vietnamese refugees had also settled). Sporadic skirmishes continued along the border until Doomsday forced the Vietnamese government to focus on internal politics. In April 1981 a clique of junior army officers popularly known as the "Young Turks" staged a coup attempt, taking control of Bangkok. They dissolved the National Assembly and promised sweeping social changes. But their position quickly crumbled when Prem accompanied the royal family to Khorat. With the King's support for Prem made clear, loyalist units under the palace favourite General Arthit Kamlangek managed to recapture the capital in a bloodless counterattack. This episode raised the prestige of the monarchy still further, and also enhanced Prem’s status as a relative moderate. A compromise was therefore reached. The insurgency ended and most of the ex-student guerillas returned to Bangkok under an amnesty. The army returned to its barracks, and yet another constitution was promulgated, creating an appointed Senate to balance the popularly elected National Assembly. Elections were held in April 1983, giving Prem, now in the guise of a civilian politician, a large majority in the legislature (an arrangement which came to be known as "Premocracy").
Prem was also the beneficiary of the accelerating economic revolution which was sweeping south-east Asia. After the recession of the mid 1970s, economic growth took off. For the first time Thailand became a significant industrial power, and manufactured goods such as computer parts, textiles and footwear overtook rice, rubber and tin as Thailand’s leading exports. With the end of the Indochina wars and the insurgency, tourism developed rapidly and became a major earner. The urban population continued to grow rapidly, but overall population growth began to decline, leading to a rise in living standards even in rural areas, although the Isaan continued to lag behind. While Thailand did not grow as fast as the "East Asian Tigers" like Taiwan and South Korea, it achieved sustained growth. Right before Doomsday, Prem had achieved another victory in the general elections of 1983.
The reaction of Thailand's government after Doomsday was one of shock. After initial confusion, it was established that contact with Europe, the U.S. and the USSR had ceased. Through what could be heared from China, the situation there was grim as the government dissolved into infighting. Contact with surrounding states, however, never ceased. Malaysia was in a state of unrest, which culminated with the overthrowing of the government in 1987, which resulted in increased border patrols around Thailand's southern border.Vietnam had been hit hard , loosing its capital and faced an influx of Chinese fleeing China. The communist government's colaps ultimately brought to relations becoming friendly since the mid-eighties. Prem enacted a short lived period of martial law through the eighties, which only lasted five years, as the country was not directly affected by the nuclear war. It did receive a fair share of refugees,however, coming from Cambodia, China and Burma and India, as India had collapsed and Burma still dealt with a bloody civil war. Singapore and ANZUS pact members proved to be valuable in providing assistance to Thailand and together they helped difuse the threat Malaysia posed to Singapore, eventually leading to Thailand helping to rebuild Malaysia after its revolutionary government fell apart in 1998.
Prem Tinsulanonda had ruled with a firm grip on things since the early eighties and in 1990, after a decade of rule, he decided to not run for another term as prime minister, leaving the position to be filled by democratically elected Chuan Leekpai of the Democrat Party. Leekpai was an able administrator and ruled the country until the New Aspiration Party headed by Chavalit Yongchaiyudh won a narrow victory. Chavalit increased dialogue with regional countries and formed a close bond with the government of the ANZC. Thailand's economy soared in this period, becoming one of the stronger countries in Asia. Thailand established a lot of embassies throughout the known countries of the world and Bangkok was regarded as one of the centers of dialogue in Asia. Throughout his tenure as prime minister, as well as subsequent prime ministers Chuan and Thaksin, Thailand's economy continued to grow. The country established itself as an island of peace, growth and stability in an otherwise problem-filled region.
2008 coup 'd'etat
On the 26th of September, as Thaksin was in Nuku’Alofa, Tonga, attending the founding ceremony of the LoN, Army Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin launched a successful coup 'd'etat. The coup came after incresed allegations of corruption coming from the People's Alliance for Democracy who wanted fair elections without corporate interests getting in the way of the democratic process. With the junta's support a new constitution was drafted and general elections were held in October of 2009. Throughout this time, Thaksin was denied entry into the country and he remained in exile on Tonga.
The Democrat Party won the October, 2009 elections, as the People's Power Party, led by Samak Sundaravej, was seen as a puppet of deposed leader Thaksin. The country maintains its policy of neutrality towards the world's powers and has friendly diplomatic relations with all of them. Thailand did not withdraw from the LoN after the 2008 coup and is still an active member of the organization. There are active territorial disputes however, concentrated along the borders of Malaysia and Cambodia, which are still ongoing.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces (Thai: กองทัพไทย: Kongthap Thai) is the name of the military of the Kingdom of Thailand. It consists of the following branches:
- Royal Thai Army (กองทัพบกไทย)
- Royal Thai Navy (กองทัพเรือไทย, ราชนาวีไทย)
- Royal Thai Marine Corps (นาวิกโยธินไทย)
- Royal Thai Air Force (กองทัพอากาศไทย)
- Other Paramilitary Forces
Today the Royal Thai Armed Forces comprises about 1,025,640 personnel.
The Head of the Thai Armed Forces (จอมทัพไทย: Chomthap Thai) is His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), however this position is only nominal. The Armed Forces is managed by the Ministry of Defence of Thailand, which is headed by the Minister of Defence (a member of the Cabinet of Thailand) and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters, which in turn is headed by the Chief of Defence Forces of Thailand.
According to the Constitution of the Kingdom, serving in the Armed Forces is a duty of all Thai citizens. However only males over the age of 21, who have not gone through reserve training are subjected to a random draft. Those chosen randomly are subjected to twenty-four months fulltime service, while volunteers are subjected to eighteen months service, depending on their education. The Royal Thai Armed Forces Day is celebrated on January 18th to commemorate the victory of King Naresuan the Great in battle against the Crown Prince of Burma in 1593. The army buys its equipment from both the ANZC and the Socialist Union, relying on Siberian reliability and the ANZC's modernicity. For example, assualt rifles, tanks, etc are purchased from the USSR, while communications gear and aircraft come from the ANZC.
Growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004 was 5–7% annually. Growth in 2005, 2006 and 2007 hovered around 4–5%.
Major exports include Thai rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewellery, cars, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percentage of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the arable land area is used for rice production.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and cars, while tourism in Thailand makes up about 6% of the economy. Prostitution in Thailand and sex tourism also form a de facto part of the economy. Cultural milieu combined with poverty and the lure of easy money have caused prostitution and sex tourism in particular to flourish in Thailand. According to research by Chulalongkorn University on the Thai illegal economy, prostitution in Thailand in the period between 1993 and 1995, made up around 2.7% of the GDP. It is believed that at least 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade.
The economy of Thailand is an emerging economy which is heavily export-dependent, with exports accounting for more than two thirds of gross domestic product (GDP). Thailand has a GDP worth 8.5 trillion Baht (on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis). Despite this, Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines .
It functions as an anchor economy for the neighboring developing economies of Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. Thailand ranks high among the world's automotive export industries along with manufacturing of electronic goods. Most of Thailand's labor force is working in agriculture. However, the relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased. Tourism revenues are on the rise. With the instability surrounding the recent coup and the military rule, however, the GDP growth of Thailand has settled at around 4-5% from previous highs of 5-7% under the previous civilian administration, as investor and consumer confidence has been degraded somewhat due to political uncertainty. Thailand generally uses the metric system but traditional units of measurement for land area are used, and imperial measure (feet, inches etc) are occasionally used with building materials such as wood and plumbing sizes. 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.
According to the last census (2000) 94.7% of the total population 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. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnically Malay, and most Malays are Sunni Muslims. Christians represent 0.5% 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 have rallied against the central government because of alleged corruption and ethnic bias among officials.
Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย, RTGS: Muai Thai, lit. "Thai Boxing") is a form of hard martial art practiced in large parts of the world, including Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The art is similar to others in Southeast Asia such as: Pradal Serey in Cambodia, Lethwei in Burma, Tomoi in Malaysia, and Muay Lao in Laos. Muay Thai has a long history in Thailand and is the country's national sport.
Traditional Muay Thai practiced today varies significantly from the ancient art Muay Boran and uses kicks, punches and knee and elbow strikes in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing.
Sepak Takraw (Thai: ตะกร้อ) is a sport native to Thailand , which the players hit a rattan ball and only be allowed to use their feet, knee, chest and head to touch the ball. Sepak Takraw is a form of this sport which appears in volley ball style, the players must volley a ball over a net and force it to hit the ground on oppnent's side. It is a popular in other countries in Southeast Asia also.
Rugby is also a growing sport in Thailand with the Thailand national rugby union team rising to be ranked fairly high in the world. Thailand became the first country in the world to host an international 80 kg welterweight rugby tournament in 2005. The national domestic Thailand Rugby Union (TRU) competition includes several universities and services teams such as Chulalongkorn University, Mahasarakham University,Kasetsart University, Prince of Songkla University, Thammasat University, Rangsit University, the Thai Police, the Thai Army, the Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force. Local sports clubs which also compete in the TRU include the British Club of Bangkok, the Southerners Sports Club (Bangkok) and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
Golf Thailand has been called the Golf Capital of Asia as it is a popular destination for golf. The country attracts a large number of golfers from Japan, Korea, Singapore and the ANZC who come to play golf in Thailand every year. The growing popularity of golf, especially among the middle classes and expats, is evident since there are more than 200 world-class golf courses nationwide. Other sports Other sports in Thailand are slowly growing as the country develops its sporting infrastructure, like weightlifting and Taekwando.
Thammasat Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Bangkok, Thailand. It is currently used mostly for football matches. The stadium holds 25,000. It is located in Thammasat University's Rangsit campus.
Its appearance is that of a scaled down version of the Rajamangala Stadium. The tribunes form a continuous ring which are quite low behind each goal but rise up on each side. Unlike the Rajamangala though, Thammasat has a roof covering both side tribunes. Most striking about this stadium are the floodlights. Thai architects usually favour concrete pylons but these are the steel variety. As viewed from the exterior of the stadium the base of each pylon seems to grip the outside of the stadium and they dramatically lean over the tribunes so as to better illuminate the playing area. Rajamangala National Stadium is the biggest sporting arena in Thailand. It currently has a capacity of 65,000. It is located in Bang Kapi, Bangkok. The stadium was built in 2001.
Thailand is a member of the League of Nations