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About Thailand

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Though the area that is now Thailand (once called Siam) was a focus of prehistoric habitation in Southeast Asia, the 1st true Thai kingdom did not appear until the 13th century. A number of different kingdoms ensued, generally distingushed by the cities that served as their capitals and by architectural styles.

One feature which clearly distinguishes Thailand from its neighbours is that it has never been conquored by a foreign power; unlike French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, the British East Indies, or the Portuguese East Indies (now, variously, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia), Thailand has never been subject to foreign rule (the Burmese, Khmers, and Japanese have all occupied parts of Thailand, but none succeeded in gaining control of the whole country). Thais are generally very proud of their country and its history of independence, which continues to be manifested in the people's individualism.

Ancient ruins in Ayuthaya, Thailand

Currently, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, not unlike Great Britain. In Thailand, however, the King (His Majesty King Bhumibol) is so revered that he can actually exert quite a bit of power when he chooses to do so. Although significant steps have been taken toward legitimate democracy in the past decade, corruption, nepotism, and military involvement continue to undermine the credibility of the Thai government.

Nationalism is one major factor in molding Thai culture; another is Buddhism, specifically, Theravada Buddhism. Theravada doctrine stresses 3 aspects of existence:

dukkha:
stress, unsatisfactoriness, disease
anicca:
impermanence, transience of all things
anatta:
non-substantiality or non-essientiality of reality

This sounds fairly complicated, but can in fact be summed up quite neatly in one Thai phrase, "mai pen rai," which translates, roughly, as "it's nothing," or, perhaps more accurately (and colloquially), "no worries." Although generalization is always dangerous, it can fairly safely be said that, as a general rule, Thais are very relaxed people. After all, Theravada Buddhism teaches nothing on earth has any permanence or substance, so why bother getting all worked up about it?

Old Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand's climate can be summed up fairly thoroughly in 2 words: "stinkin' hot." In the southern part of the country there are 2 distinct seasons, wet and dry; central and northern Thailand have a third season, also dry, which is charcterized by cooler temperatures (of course, in this context cooler means daily highs only in the 30° range).

The geography consists mainly of tropical rainforest and semi-swamp agricultural plains; quite a bit of the forrested areas are mountanous, particularly in the northwestern part of the country. Thailand shares borders with Burma (Myanmar) to the west and north, Laos to the north and east, and Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia to the south. Bangkok is the capital and largest city (by several orders of magnitude).

The above is not exactly a comprehensive discussion of Thai history, culture, politics, religion, climate, and geography. If you'd like more information about Thailand, try one of these sites:

If your looking for something 1st-hand, here are some stories from our time in Thailand:

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