The Kingdom of Thailand, Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย is a country in Southeast Asia. To its east lie Laos and Cambodia; to its south, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia; and to its west, the Andaman Sea and Myanmar. Its capital and largest city is Bangkok.
The country's official name was Siam (Thai: สยาม; IPA: [saˈjaːm], RTGS: Sayam origin unknown) until June 24, 1939, and between 1945 and May 11, 1949, when it was changed to Thailand by official proclamation. The word Thai (ไทย) is not, as commonly believed to be, derived from the word Thai (ไท) meaning "freedom" in the Thai language; it is, however, the name of an ethnic group from the central plains (the Thai people). With that in mind the locals seemed to have also accepted the alternative meaning and will verbally state that it means "Land of the free". This might be due to language barriers and the avoidance of long difficult explanations.
Ratcha Anachak Thai means "Kingdom of Thailand" or "Kingdom of Thai". Etymologically, its components are: -Ratcha- (from Sanskrit raja, meaning "king, royal, realm", from Sanskrit) ; -ana- (from Pāli āṇā, "authority, command, power", itself from Sanskrit ājñā, same meaning) -chak (from Sanskrit chakra, meaning "wheel", a symbol of power and rule).
The region known today as Thailand has been inhabited by humans since the paleolithic period (about 500,000 - 10,000 years ago). Prior to the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artifacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, which was founded in 1238, following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th - 15th century AD.
A century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the larger Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century. After the fall of Angkor, the Siamese helped the survivors reestablish a new Khmer kingdom as Cambodia, a new country on the coast of Cochin China. Much of the Khmer court and its Hindu customs were already a part of Ayutthayan culture, and the Khmer people were retaught the customs and rituals of their ancestors.
After Ayutthaya fell in 1767 to the Burmese, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great. The current (Rattanakosin) era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.
European powers began traveling to Thailand in the 16th century. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been colonized by a European country. Two main reasons for this were that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to exploit the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being the loss of large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step by step absorption by Britan of the Shan (Thai Yai) States (now in Myanmar) and the Malay Peninsula. The loss initially included Penang and Tumasik and eventually culminated in the loss of three predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states, under the (Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909).
In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During World War II, Thailand was an ally with Japan while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold war, Thailand then went through decades of political transgression characterised by coups d'états as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.
In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht for a short time peaked at 56 baht to the U.S. dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then, the baht has regained most of its strength and as of May 23, 2007, is valued at 33 baht to the US dollar.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2007 is called 2550 BE in Thailand.
The culture of Thailand incorporates a great deal of influence from India, China, and the rest of southeast Asia.Theravada Buddhism is central to modern Thai identity and belief. In practice, Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from animism as well as ancestor worship. In areas in the southernmost parts of Thailand, Islam is prevalent. Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and have maintained a distinctly traditional way-of-life despite strong Thai cultural influence. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has allowed for this group to hold positions of economic and political power, the most noteworthy of these being the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who held power from 2001 until September 19, 2006 when he was ousted by a military coup d'état.
Like most Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture. The elders always rule in family decisions or ceremonies.
Theravada Buddhism is highly respected in Thailand.The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is offered first by the youngest of the two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch their face to the hands, usually coinciding with the spoken word "Sawat-dii khrap" for male speakers, and "Sawat-dii ka" for females. The elder then is to respond afterwards in the same way. When children leave to go to school, they wai to their parents to represent their respect for them. They do the same when they come back. It is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting of India.
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is the national sport in Thailand and its native martial art call "Muay". In the past, "Muay" was taught to Royal soldiers for combat on battlefield if unarmed. After they retired from the army, they often became Buddhist monks and stayed at the temples. Thai people's lives are closely tied to Buddhism and temples; they often send their sons to be educated with the monks. ”Muay” is also one of the subjects taught in the temples..
Muay Thai achieved popularity all over the world in the 1990s. Although similar martial arts styles exist in other southeast Asian countries, few enjoy the recognition that Muay Thai has received with its full-contact rules allowing strikes including elbows, throws and knees. Football (soccer), however, has possibly overtaken Muay Thai's position as most widely viewed and liked sport in contemporary Thai society and it is not uncommon to see Thais cheering their favourite English Premier League teams on television and walking around in replica kits. Another widely enjoyed pastime, and once a competitive sport, is kite flying.
Taboos include touching someone's head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the most sacred and the foot the dirtiest part of the body. Stepping over someone, or over food, is considered insulting. However, Thai culture as in many other Asian cultures, is succumbing to the influence of westernization and some of the traditional taboos are slowly fading away with time.
Books and other documents are the most revered of secular objects - therefore one should not slide a book across a table or place it on the floor.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as Hom Mali rice) which is included in almost every meal. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year . Over 5000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) , based in the Philippines. The King of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.
Thai society has been influenced in recent years by its widely-available multi-language press and media. There are numerous English, Thai and Chinese newspapers in circulation; most Thai popular magazines use English headlines as a chic glam factor. Most all big businesses in Bangkok operate in English, spoken even between Thais, as a way of showing off their educated, high-society status. Thailand is the largest newspaper market in South East Asia with an estimated circulation of at least 13 million copies daily in 2003.