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Geography


Located in the center of Southeast Asia, Thailand is truly at the heart of the region.  Looking over a map of Thailand will reveal a country whose borders form the rough shape of an elephant’s head: the head and ears forming the mostly landlocked northern and eastern provinces and the trunk extending down the Malaysian peninsula between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.

The geography of Thailand features many natural borders with neighboring countries: a mountainous border with Myanmar (Burma) to the north and west; a long stretch of the Mekong River separating Thailand from Laos to the north and east; and the Mekong River and the Dongrak Mountains delineating the border of Cambodia to the east. 

Covering an area of approximately 514,000 square kilometers (200,000 sq miles), Thailand is the 50th largest country in the world, most nearly equal in size to Spain.   Located just 15 degrees north of the equator, Thailand has a tropical climate and temperatures typically range from 19 to 38 degrees C (66-100 F); monsoon rains fall predominately from May to July and cooler, drier weather occurs around November and December.  Despite the geographical boundaries of Thailand all falling within the tropics, Thailand’s four primary regions are each geographically distinct from each other.

Along Thailand’s western border with Myanmar, the forested mountains of Thailand rise higher as they stretch north, peaking at the 2,565 meter (8,415 ft) Doi Inthanon.  Thailand’s northern peaks are replete with wildlife and feature Thailand’s coolest winters.

Northeastern Thailand’s geography, where the kingdom borders Laos at the Mekong River, features the Khorat Plateau, which extends south towards the Thai border with Cambodia. The Isan region of Northeastern Thailand is the most populous region of Thailand (with the exception of Bangkok) and features a number of bustling provincial capital cities.

The geography of Thailand’s interior is dominated by the Central Plains, the “Rice Bowl of Asia,” through which the Chao Phraya River feeds expansive rice fields and then enters the bustling capital of Bangkok before spilling into the Gulf of Thailand.

Stretching down the Malaysian peninsula, the slender trunk of the figurative elephant separates the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand, providing Thailand with beaches and islands along opposing shores.  Once, the sheltered coves of the narrow Isthmus of Kra were important ports along an ancient, strategic trading route; today the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui are equally important as tourist destinations, though both coasts also contain numerous historical attractions as well as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and spectacular forests, waterfalls, and beaches. In addition to these natural, geographical regions, Thailand is divided into 76 political provinces, with Bangkok serving as the political, commercial, industrial, educational, and entertainment capital of the country.  

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Weather


Thai Meteorological Department

The Thailand climate is controlled by tropical monsoons and the weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. While Thailand’s seasons are generally divided into the hot season, cool season, and rainy season, in reality it’s relatively hot most of the year. The weather in central, northern, and northeastern Thailand (the landlocked provinces) is determined by three seasons, whereas the southern, coastal regions of Thailand feature only two, making the weather in Thailand quite easy to understand and plan a trip around.

In Thailand’s inland provinces the seasons are clearly defined: Between November and May the weather is mostly dry and the cool season and hot season occur from November to February and March to May respectively. 

The other inland season, the rainy season, lasts from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in most of Thailand is at its heaviest.  

The southern, coastal region of Thailand really has only two seasons – rainy season and dry season. Fortunately, for those planning a beach holiday, Thailand’s two coasts have slightly different rainy seasons, allowing visitors to find sunny beaches nearly year round.

On the Andaman or west coast, where Phuket, Krabi, and the Phi Phi Islands lie, the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October, while on the Gulf of Thailand or east coast, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao lie, the most rain falls between September and December.  

Cool Season (November - February)
The weather in Thailand around the central, northern, and northeastern regions is mostly cool and dry between November and February, consequently these are the most popular months to visit Thailand.  Considering its location in the tropics however, the Thailand climate is quite warm most of the year and genuinely “cool” weather really only occurs in the northern mountains, while areas like Bangkok and Ayutthaya receive perhaps only two or three weeks of “cool” weather in late December or early January. 

The southern region of Thailand really has only two seasons – “rainy” and dry, not technically experiencing “cool” weather, per se, but featuring glorious sunshine without unbearable heat, beginning in late November and continuing onto April or May. 

Hot Season (March - June)
The weather in Thailand classified as the hot season lasts from March to June when higher relative temperatures and occasional rain are the norm.  Around the inland areas, including Bangkok and Ayutthaya, this often means punishing heat and high humidity.  The temperatures in the hot season begin climbing in February and by April the unrelenting heat makes many residents eager for the upcoming rains, which begin sporadically falling around mid-April.  This is traditionally the least popular season for travelers to visit, although the weather in Thailand is still quite nice along Thailand’s coasts.

Rainy Season (July - October)
The rainy season lasts from July to October and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in most of Thailand is at its heaviest.  However, like the “cool” season, the name “rainy season” is slightly misleading.  While it certainly does rain during this season it’s more likely to consist of flash-flood afternoon downpours than a continual drizzle for days.  If you can bear the heat and humidity, the weather in Thailand is typically sunny throughout the rainy season, but when the rain comes, it’s fast and it’s furious.

Fortunately for beach lovers, Thailand’s two coasts have slightly different rainy seasons, allowing visitors to find sunny beaches nearly year round. On the Andaman or west coast, where Phuket, Krabi, and the Phi Phi Islands lie, the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October, while on the Gulf of Thailand or east coast, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao lie, the most rain falls between September and December.  While the monsoon on the west coast brings a fairly steady season of continual rain that forces businesses outside the major tourist destinations to shut their doors for the season, the east coast storms are more similar to the north’s, generally sunny days with occasionally heavy downpours. 

Overall, the southern parts of Thailand, particularly the Andaman Coast, get the most rain: around 2,400 millimeters every year, compared with the central and northern regions of Thailand, both of which get around 1,400 millimeters.

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Population


The vast majority (roughly 80%) of Thailand’s nearly 65 million citizens are ethnically Thai. The remainder consists primarily of peoples of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Mon, Khmer, Burmese, and Lao decent. Of the 7 million citizens who live in the capital city, Bangkok, there is a greater diversity of ethnicities, including a large number of expatriate residents from across the globe. Other geographic distinctions of the population include a Muslim majority in the south near the Malaysian border, and hill tribe ethnic groups, such as the Hmong and Karen, who live in the northern mountains.

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Religion


While roughly 95% of the Thai people are practitioners of Theravada Buddhism, the official religion of Thailand, religious tolerance is both customary in Thailand and protected by the constitution.  By its very nature however, Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of the Buddha, “the enlightened one” (nee Siddhartha Gautama), is a compassionate and tolerant religion, the aim of which is the alleviation of suffering. Consequently, Thai people are very respectful of the religious beliefs of others and are very open toward discussing their Buddhist values with visitors.  In fact, there are many opportunities in Thailand to visit Buddhist temples to learn about or study Buddhism and perhaps to learn to meditate.

Religion in Thailand pervades many aspects of Thai life and senior monks are highly revered; it is not uncommon to see their images adorning walls of businesses or homes or upon ornaments inside of taxi cabs. In many towns and villages the neighborhood wat (temple) is the heart of social and religious life. Buddhist holidays occur regularly throughout the year (particularly on days with full moons) and many Thai people go to the wat on these and other important days to pay homage to the Buddha and give alms to monks in order to make merit for themselves.

Meditation, one of the primary practices of Buddhism, is a means of self reflection in order to identify the causes of individual desire and ultimately alleviate ones suffering. Visitors can learn the fundamentals of this practice at a number of wats across the kingdom. Some temples, particularly in Chiang Mai, allow visitors to chat with monks in order to gain general knowledge about Buddhism or to study Buddhism more seriously.

While Theravada Buddhism may technically be considered a philosophy rather than a religion (there is no ‘God’) Thai Buddhism is infused with many spiritual beliefs which are likely the result of lingering animist and Hindu beliefs from centuries earlier.  Most Thai homes and places of business feature a ‘spirit house’ just outside the building, where offerings are made to appease spirits that might otherwise inhabit their homes or workplaces.  Furthermore, Buddhist monks are often brought to new homes and businesses to ‘bless them’, and Thai people frequently light incense and make prayers to both Buddha images and a host of Hindu gods whose shrines are located throughout Bangkok and the countryside.    The next largest religion in Thailand, Islam, is practiced by only about 4% of the population; the majority of Thai Muslims live in the most southerly provinces near the Malaysian border.   Other religions in Thailand include Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity, which are generally practiced by those living in Bangkok, where a multi-cultural population includes citizens of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and European descent.

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Language


While the official Thai language is widely spoken throughout Thailand, many Thais also speak and understand English, though more so in Bangkok and the major tourist areas.  As visitors to Thailand also include many Europeans and other Asians, Thai people's language skills often also include these other languages to varying degrees.  The Thai language itself is challenging to master, but Thai people are happy to help foreigners learn a few words to help them get around.  However, English is typically the common currency for cross-cultural conversation as Thailand hosts visitors from around the world.

With so many visitors, the Thailand communications system has many features that make it very accessible to foreigners.  In regards to telephone use, it is possible to get a Thai SIM card at most international airports and both rental mobile phones and SIM cards are readily available in destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.  Workers in post offices generally speak some English, and there are internet cafes throughout Thailand that feature Skype headsets specifically to cater to visitors wishing to communicate with friends and family back home.  The Thailand communications system is both modern and convenient for visitors to use.  

Thai Language
While the Thai language is the official language of Thailand, one could say English is its unofficial second language.  As tourist and business visitors from around the world have traveled to Thailand, English naturally has become the common linguistic “currency” even while many of those visitors learned how to speak Thai. Consequently, population centers that host many foreigners, such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the islands have many people who can speak both Thai and English quite well.  That said, visitors may experience difficulty picking up the Thai language as it is considerably different from many foreign languages.  The Thai language features five tones: high, mid, low, rising, and falling, each of which changes the meaning of particular ‘words’.  Visitors unfamiliar with tonal languages often have difficulty pronouncing even the most basic terms when learning to speak Thai, but with some practice visitors find that Thai people enjoy helping them with their pronunciation of the Thai language. Written Thai is based on an alphabet adopted from the Khmers of Cambodia and is said to have become standardized during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng during the Sukhothai period.  The Thai alphabet consists of 44 consonants, 18 vowels, and 4 diphthong (tonal) notations.  Learning to read Thai can be more complicated than learning to speak it as the pronunciation of written words does not follow a straightforward progression of letters and written Thai does not place spaces in between words.  Fortunately, road signs are written in both Thai and English, and many tourist areas provide maps, menus, and other literature in both Thai and various other foreign languages.  One problem that does occur for foreigners trying to pronounce Thai words correctly is caused by the transliteration of Thai words into Romanized characters.  An obvious example would be the island of Phuket, pronounced “poo-ket” rather than “foo-ket” as it would be pronounced in English.  Furthermore, there is no official standard for the transliteration of words and thus many Thai words are spelled differently on different maps or street signs (i.e. Even the BTS Skytrain features both Chitlom and Chidlom stations). In addition, while most Thai’s speak and understand the central Thai dialect, there are various regional dialects, including those of Southern Thailand and Northeastern Thailand, the latter of which is essentially just the Lao language (as most of the population is of Lao descent).   In northern Thailand, which had been the independent kingdoms of Lan Na and Chiang Mai from 1259-1939, a distinctive form of Thai is still spoken by the local inhabitants, all of whom can also speak central Thai.  All variants of Thai use the same alphabet.  

Thailand Communications Network
The Thailand Communications network is both easy and convenient for foreigners to utilize.  Thailand features numerous public telephones, mobile phones are easy for visitors to procure, internet cafes and wireless internet services are widespread, and there is a post office in every major town in the Kingdom.  From telephones to the internet, the Thailand communications network allows visitors to stay in touch with comfort and ease.

Telephone (Thailand Phones)
The telephone system in Thailand is both modern and widespread, with reliable pay phones found throughout the kingdom and Thailand cell phone reception covering all but the most remote Thai islands.  Furthermore, purchasing a second-hand Thai phone and a SIM card is both cheap and easy, and internet cafes in most urban areas and all tourist areas have Skype installed on their public computers. 

If you are using a Thai phone to call home or call Thailand from overseas, both are quite easy. Thailand’s international country code for calling Thailand from overseas is +66, and the code for placing a call to another country from a Thai phone is 001 followed by the country code of the nation you are dialing, (though other long distances providers allow you to dial 007, 008, or 009 rather than 001, but at different, typically higher rates).  International operator assistance is available by dialing 110.

When calling Thailand from overseas or calling a Thai phone from within Thailand there is a slight difference.  Phone numbers within Thailand begin with an area/city code or a cell phone prefix that is not always used when calling from overseas; For example, the city code for Bangkok is (0)2, the city code for Chiang Mai is (0)53, and the prefix for cell phones is (0)8.  When dialing from a Thai phone, one includes the 0, while those calling Thailand from overseas should not include the 0.  Consequently, an overseas call to Bangkok would be +66-2…, whereas a call from within Thailand would begin 02….

Emergency numbers are often three or four digit numbers, including Tourist Police, which is 1155. 

Public Telephones
Coin operated pay phones are available throughout the country and cost around 1 baht per minute for local calls.  Card phones, which operate with either prepaid phone cards or, less frequently, credit cards are also widely available, particularly in large urban and tourist areas; Card phones have variable rates, but can cost up to 18 baht (.50 USD) per minute.  Prepaid phone cards, which are generally available in 300 baht denominations (just under 10 USD), are available at convenience stores such as 7-11 and phones accepting these cards are painted yellow and are usually not far from the local 7-11 store.Public telephones that charge by the minute for local and overseas calls are also available at general post offices throughout the kingdom.

Thai Cell Phones
The Thailand cell phone coverage is widespread, with reception available in all areas except at the most remote islands and isolated mountainous regions.  Many overseas cell phones will work in Thailand, provided they are GSM compatible, as Thailand features both GSM 900 and 1800 networks.  While it may be convenient to have friends and family call Thailand to reach you on your “home” cell phone number, receiving and sending calls is likely to be quite expensive.  If your cell phone has a slot to insert a SIM card, such cards are available for a few dollars, either at the airport or in IT markets throughout the country.  These SIM cards are funded by prepaid phone cards that are available at nearly all convenience stores in the country.  If your phone doesn’t have a slot for a SIM card, a Thailand cell phone can be picked up at the airport for a reasonable rate or an inexpensive new or second hand cell phone can be easily obtained at locations such as MBK shopping mall in Bangkok.

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)

Currency


The currency of Thailand is the Thai Baht. Baht come in both coin and banknote form. The size of Thai currency, both coins and bills increases with value and varies in color

Reference: The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
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