Thailand lies at the heart of mainland southeast Asia. Continuing rapid industrialization has resulted in massive congestion in the capital and a serious depletion of natural resources.
Geography: One-third is low plateau, drained by tributaries of the Mekong River. Central plain is the most fertile area.
Climate: Tropical. Hot, humid March–May; monsoon rains May–October; cooler season November–March.
People and Society: Buddhism is a national binding force. 600,000 hill tribes-people, with their own languages, live in the north and northeast. The Chinese minority is the most assimilated in the region. Malay Islamists in the undeveloped far south are fighting for secession. Politics has been unstable since the 2006 fall of pro-poor Prime Minister Thaksin.
Successful manufacturing. Natural gas reserves. Leading exporter of rice and rubber. Tourism, though sex industry harms image. 2004 tsunami damage.
Insight: Thailand, meaning “land of the free,” is the only SE Asian nation never to have been colonized
Official Name: Kingdom of Thailand
Date of Formation: 1238
Population: 67.8 million
Total Area: 198,455 sq. miles (514,000 sq. km)
Density: 344 people per sq. mile
Languages: Thai*, Chinese, Malay, Khmer, Mon, Karen, Miao
Religions: Buddhist 95%, Muslim 4%, other (including Christian) 1%
Ethnic Mix: Thai 83%, Chinese 12%, Malay 3%, Khmer and other 2%
Government: Parliamentary system
Currency: Baht = 100 satang