With its spectacular scenery, fascinating culture and friendly, welcoming people, Thailand has become one of the most popular destinations for travelers the world over.
The country, which was known as Siam until 1939, has a total surface area of over 513,000 km2 and a population estimated at almost 67 million. It has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932. Uniquely within the South and South-east Asian region, Thailand has never been colonised by a foreign power. Bangkok, the capital, is by far the biggest city, with over 9m inhabitants. Thais, a group of people of either Thai or Lao stock with roots in south-west China, make up 80 per cent of the national population. Chinese people are the biggest minority, and there are significant Malay, Cambodian, and Vietnamian communities, as well as a variety of mountain tribes in the North.
The baht is the currency of Thailand. Thai is the country’s official language, but Lao, Chinese, Mon-khmer, and Malay are also widely spoken. Ninety five per cent of Thailand's population are Buddhist, and there are some 18,000 Buddhist temples and 140,000 Buddhist priests around the country. Islam is the second-biggest religion, accounting for four per cent of the population. Thailand’s biggest cities are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Songkhla, and Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Situated in south-east Asia, Thailand is bordered by Burma to the north and west, by Laos in the north-east, Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand to the south-west, by Malaysia to the south, and by the Andaman Sea and Burma to the south-west.
Most of Thailand lies along the Indo-Chinese peninsula, though the southern part stretches onto the Malay peninsula. Almost twice as long (1770 km from North to South) as it is wide (805 km from East to West), Thailand is a country of contrasts. Mountain ranges dominate the North and South, while the central part features fertile river plains, making it the best land for agriculture, which accounts for 90% of the country's economic activity. Monsoon winds give it a humid and tropical climate.
There is a diversity of luscious landscapes: sumptuous beaches in the South, northern mountains rising up to 2,500 metres, and, along coastal regions, inhabited but undisturbed forests with exceptional wildlife. This natural wealth has helped make tourism the country's second-biggest economic sector. Agriculture remains the major source of income, with Thailand ranking amongst the planet's biggest rice producers.