Thailand, an overview
Thailand, which literally means Land of the Free, is commonly referred to as the Land of Smiles. The country, which is in the very heart of South East Asia, is seen as the gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. It’s also a leading partner in the region’s trade and politics, often providing a vital link between neighboring South-East Asia nations.
Covering a geographical area of 514,000 square kilometers (which is roughly the size of France), Thailand stretches 1,620 kilometers from north to south and 775 kilometers from east to west at its widest point. Borders are shared with Lao PDR in the north and northeast; Myanmar in the north and west; Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand in the east; and Malaysia in the south.
There are four main geographical regions; namely, the mountainous north where teak and a range of temperate crops are produced; the semi-arid northeast plateau region where minerals are mined; cash crops such as jute and maize are grown and dry rice cultivation is practiced; the flat, fertile central region which has long attracted settlers and is one of the world’s most fertile rice growing areas; and the southern peninsula with its backbone of mountain ranges interspersed with fertile plains and important for its fishing industry
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok and Pattaya.
Bangkok, the metropolis
The capital city of Bangkok
or “Krung Thep” as called by the locals is Thailand’s political, commercial, industrial and cultural capital and is situated near the mouth of renowned Chao Phraya River. Bangkok was known as the Venice of the east, with the city crossed by canals (Khlongs) along which the life of the people was conducted.
Present day’s Bangkok has grown from a city scattered along the river to a metro area
. The city has a hundred of skyscrapers, an impressive infrastructure of motorways, a subway and its acclaimed sky train. But it still retains a uniqueness as in brightly-colored signature Tuk-Tuks carrying locals and tourists alike around this most vibrant of city’s.
Although a bustling metropolis, Bangkok is still a city with time for fun (sanuk), time for smiles, and time for the tinkling of temple bells to remind one of the spirituality. And of course, there is always Thai food, which has been recognized as one of the top five cuisines in the world, and which can be enjoyed in the air-conditioned comfort of world class restaurants or as a snack at one of the city’s famed pavement food stalls. Its influence in the arts
, politics, fashion
as well as being a business center has made Bangkok the status of a global city
Government and administrative
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy in which King Bhumibol Adulyadej is recognized as the Head of State and the Prime Minister as the head of government. King Bhumibol is not only a symbol of national identity and unity, but also highly regarded by his people with utmost reverence.
Government is centralized in Bangkok and a National Assembly is elected by the people. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into 76 provinces (changwat), which are further divided into districts (amphoe), sub-districts (tambon) and villages (baan or bang). Within Bangkok, districts are called khet and sub-districts are called khwaeng.
Thai is the official language. English is widely taught in schools and spoken especially in establishments catering for tourists. Other spoken languages are ethnic and regional dialects.
The vast majority adhere to Buddhism (Theravada) (93.83%) followed by Islam (4.56%), Christianity (0.8%), Hindu minorities (0.08%) and others (0.73%).
Thailand has a sophisticated network of air, rail and roads.
The country offers a number of airports catering international and domestic routes all over the country. The main international airport, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi (BKK), just opened in 2006 and is currently servicing nearly 40 million passengers a year. Located about 25 kilometers east of downtown Bangkok, the Suvarnabhumi Airport is linked with the Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link (SARL), a high speed elevated railroad, where passengers are whisked from the airport to downtown Bangkok within 15 minutes through its express service and 27 minutes through its local service line.
Bangkok boasts two major international airports: Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK), plus other major international airports in four major cities; namely,
- Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) in Chiang Rai
- Hat Yai International Airport (HDY) in Songkhla
- Phuket International Airport (HKT) in Phuket
Although they are much smaller than the Bangkok airports, they have frequent flights from and to Bangkok and are quick to get in and out of the capital city. There are also local airports in other cities in all other regions including Krabi (KBV), Khon Kaen (KKC), Trang (TST), Nakhon Phanom (KOP) and Mae Hong Son (HGN).
Train, although the slowest way to get from one place to another, is a great way to travel long distance in Thailand. The country’s railway network serves all regions on four separate lines but they do not interconnect. As a result, to get from one region to another, one must pass through Bangkok to change train.
For road travel, Thailand has an extensive and excellent highway system covering virtually all of the country. The Thais however drive on the left. There are also frequent buses run by the government and many private bus companies from Bangkok to all destinations in Thailand.
In Bangkok, Buses are a major method of transportation for people. Three-wheeled ‘open-air’ motorized taxis called “Tuk-Tuks” are popular for short journeys. Motorcycle Taxis also operate in the city for short trips. The fare for tuk-tuks and motorcycles is negotiable between passenger and driver. Taxis are fixed with a meter and have a sign “TAXI-METER” on the roof. The minimum fare is 35 bath for a distance of no more than 2 km and charged by distance and waiting time.
As for the rail systems, the Bangkok Mass Transit System, commonly known as the BTS Skytrain or in Thai as “Rot Fai Fa BTS”, is an elevated rapid transit system in Bangkok. The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), officially known in Thai as “Rot Fai Fa Maha Nakhon”, is more commonly called “Rot Fai Tai Din” and is Bangkok’s underground metro system.
Through downtown Bangkok runs the Khlong Saen Saeb, which has a canal boat service. The wide river Chao Phraya, flowing through the city, has several cross-river ferries and the Chao Phraya Express Boat with as many as thirty stops along both river banks extending as far as the northern suburb of Nonthaburi.