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Thailand Flag



Full Country Name: Kingdom of Thailand

Country Profile: Thailand


Thailand Map


Area: 513,115 sq km (196,512 sq mi)
Population: 62 million (end of 2004)
Capital City: Bangkok (9.4m)
People (main ethnicity): Thai, Chinese, Malay
Languages: Thai
Religion(s): Buddhist (94%), Muslim (5%), Other (inc. Christian, Hindu 1%)
Currency: Baht
Major political parties: Ruling party: Thai Rak Thai Party
Opposition: Democrat Party, Chart Thai Party
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Head of State: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Prime Minister/Premier: Dr Thaksin Shinawatra
Foreign Minister: Mr Kantathi Suphamongkon
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), World Trade Organisation (WTO), BIMSTEC, Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) (observer), Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) (observer).

(Note on Thai Names: Thai people generally have two names, the first being the given name and the second the family name. Nevertheless, if only one name is used, it should be the first, eg. Prime Minister Thaksin.)


Area: 513,155 sq km, divided into four administrative regions and 76 administrative provinces (plus Bangkok).
Cities: Bangkok (pop. 9.4m), Nakorn Ratchasima (430,000), Chiang Mai (257,000)
Terrain: Central plain; plateau in Northeast; mountain range in North and West; Gulf of Thailand; islands and isthmus joining Malaysia in South
Climate: Tropical; three seasons – monsoon (June to October), cool (November to February), hot (March to May)
Neighbouring Countries: Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia


Recent History

The Kingdom of Thailand has been ruled since 1782 by the Chakri dynasty based in Bangkok. Formerly called Siam, the country was officially renamed Thailand in 1939 (although the old name was briefly reinstated from 1945-49). 'Thai' refers to the ethnicity of most of the population, as well as having connotations of freedom. Thailand is the only South-East Asian country to have avoided colonisation. In 1932 a bloodless coup stripped the King of his absolute powers, transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy and handing power to a mixed military-civilian government. The military faction soon gained the upper hand and retained it for most of the next 60 years, intervening frequently to end brief periods of civilian rule. While stifling democracy, the military sided with business and bureaucrats in promoting economic development, partly to limit the spread of communism. The resulting expansion of the middle class contributed to growing pressure for civilian rule and a series of confrontations between the military and pro-democracy activists. The most recent confrontation, in May 1992, led to the resignation of the military leadership and unbroken civilian rule, which has seen five peaceful changes of government. Thailand is now one of the liveliest democracies in South-East Asia.

Longer Historical Perspective

The geographical area of Thailand has been inhabited for thousands of years, but the country's emergence as a nation is usually traced back to the Sukothai Kingdom (1238-1376), which saw the introduction of the Thai writing system and the first efforts to codify the Thai form of Theravada Buddhism. Sukothai was later eclipsed by Ayuthaya, which served as Siam's capital for over 400 years before its destruction in 1765 by Burmese invaders. After a brief period of rule from Thonburi (1769-82), the first Chakri monarch ascended the throne in 1782 and moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok. The Chakri kings consolidated Siam's territorial boundaries and introduced a wide range of social, legal and administrative reforms, including the establishment of a professional civil service. King Mongkut (1851-68) and King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) played key roles in this process, opening Siam to outside influence while managing, through skilful diplomacy, to preserve its independence.


Recent Political Developments

Since the last military coup in May 1992, Thailand has enjoyed over a decade of rule by democratically elected governments and a far-reaching process of political reform. The year 1997 saw two watershed events: the economic crisis in July, and the adoption of a new Constitution in October. The progressively worded Constitution aimed at improving the selection of political office holders, reducing the scope for corruption and promoting human rights. Implementation of the new provisions has not always lived up to expectations, partly due to the time involved in revising legislation, but the overall impact on Thailand's political landscape has been significant.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai ('Thais Love Thais') Party has been in power since January 2001. Prime Minister Thaksin, a former police officer who made his fortune in the mobile phone business before entering politics in his early 40s, dominates the domestic political landscape. In February 2005, he became the first democratically-elected Prime Minister to complete a four-year term and win re-election. Thai Rak Thai won an increased majority, and now hold 377 seats out of 500 in the House of Representatives. His electoral success reflects his popular appeal (and astute marketing) as a 'hands-on' manager who can get things done, his party's superior organisation and resources and the economic growth Thailand enjoyed in his first term. The policy platform appealed to voters from all sectors of society and all parts of Thailand except the South, where Thai Rak Thai won only one of 54 seats (the Democrats won 52).


The 1997 Constitution established an Electoral Commission to enforce new rules aimed at discouraging vote-buying and other fraud. Under the new Constitution, Senators are forbidden to have party political links and can serve only one six-year term. The next Senate election is due in March 2006. On 6 January 2001, the Electoral Commission organised the first ever general election under the new Constitutional rules. 500 seats were on offer in the House of Representatives (400 constituency MPs plus 100 MPs appointed from party lists based on each party's proportion of the national vote).

The 1997 Constitution was also designed to consolidate and strength the numerous and weak political party system that had existed previously. This succeeded beyond the drafters' expectations; during Prime Minister Thaksin's first term, the Thai Rak Thai Party absorbed three small- to medium-sized parties (New Aspiration, Chart Pattana and Seritham). After the 2005 election, only the Democrat and Chart Thai Parties are credible alternatives.

In addition to national Parliamentary elections, Thailand has seen a variety of local elections over the past few years. Apirak Kosayodhin, a Democrat, became Governor of Bangkok in August 2004.


Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 163.5bn (2004)
GDP per head: US$ 2,637 (2004)
Annual growth: 6.1% (2004)
Inflation: 2.75% (2004)
Major industries: Service including tourism, Manufacturing including computers and computer parts, vehicles, circuits and rubber.
Major trading partners (ranked by value): US, Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and UK
Aid & development: Total international aid & Assistance = US$56 million (Oct 03 – Sep 04)
Exchange rate: £1=Bt73.4 (June 2005)

It is not possible to change Scottish or Northern Irish bank notes.

Thailand's economy has made a good recovery since Asian financial crisis in 1997 with its average growth of around 6% for the past 3 years. But the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) has recently cut its estimate of growth for 2005 to the range of 4.5-5.5%. Potential growth is constrained by the world economic slowdown, the high average price of crude oil, the prolonged bird flu epidemic, the impact of the 26 December tsunami and drought. Continuing violence in the far South has also weakened consumer and investor confidence.

To strengthen the country's competitiveness, Prime Minister Thaksin has aimed to promote supply side policies. He introduced 5-year plan investment 'mega-projects' valued at around US$40 billion, mainly investing in infrastructure such as public transport, a water pipeline system, schools, housing and energy. The Government has also continued its populist programmes by relieving farmers' debt burden and helping them generate sustainable income. The Bank of Thailand introduced a Financial Master Plan in early 2004 aiming at raising the efficiency of financial institutions. The Government has also improved the financial infrastructure, through agencies such as the Credit Bureau, Islamic bank and Real Estate Information Centre, and has strengthened the risk management system in order to meet international standards. Given its many investment projects, Thailand has to import a lot of capital goods and raw materials. Thus, Thailand inevitably expects to record a smaller current account surplus in 2005. To counter this, the Government is trying to increase export revenues through many FTA trade deals. Even though the baht had appreciated from around 41.3 baht/USD in Q4/2004 to 38.5 baht/USD recently, due mainly to the weaker US dollar, The Bank of Thailand has been closely monitoring the baht stability to remain competitive in the export markets.


Thailand's Relations with Neighbours

Prime Minister Thaksin's foreign policy has focused primarily on enhancing increasingly close ties with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) neighbours, China and India. Thailand is a founder member of ASEAN, and takes a leading role in the region.

Thailand's biggest foreign policy challenge is Burma. The long, fluid border between the two countries sees large numbers of refugees, illegal immigrants and drugs pass from Burma into Thailand. There have been occasional cross border skirmishes between their respective armed forces and terrorist incidents, with several dozen deaths. The Thai/Burmese border was closed between May and October 2002 after one such incident. In December 2003 Thailand initiated the 'Bangkok Process' with Burma and other 'Like Minded Countries' to take forward the process of National Reconciliation in Burma.

Relations with Cambodia deteriorated sharply in January 2003 when anti-Thai riots erupted in Phnom Penh leading to the burning down of the Thai Embassy and the premises of a number of Thai businesses. Relations have improved since then.

Thailand's Relations with the International Community

Thailand was a close ally of the West during the cold war and is a long-term member of the United Nations. It is increasingly active in the international arena and looks to maintain a balance between key partners: US, China, Japan, EU and ASEAN. Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former Deputy Prime Minister, became the Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2002, a first for Thailand. Thai armed forces have undertaken peacekeeping duties in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan, Aceh, Indonesia and more recently, Iraq and Burundi. Thailand was granted partner status in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in November 2000 and held a seat on the UN Commission on Human Rights from 2001-2003. The US granted Thailand the status of Major Non-NATO Ally in January 2004.


Thailand has a generally good human rights record. It remains one of the liveliest democracies in the region. The military remains influential but, since 1992, has respected the principle of civilian rule. The media is relatively free and vibrant by regional standards, but Government interference and self-censorship are increasing. Demonstrations for or against the government are common. Several regional human rights NGOs are based in Bangkok and Thailand is a popular venue for international human rights meetings. But the increasingly hostile climate for those in civil society critical of the Government has damaged Thailand's reputation on human rights.

The Thai government's 'Campaign against Drugs' in 2003 attracted adverse international attention. Although official figures record the deaths of over 2,600 people, including over 40 killed by the police, the Thai authorities claim that only a small number of these individuals were killed by the police acting in self-defence and the remainder by rival drug gangs or by their own gang-leaders in fear of them turning informants. However, satisfactory investigation into all these deaths have not been conducted.

The Thai government's 'Campaign against Drugs' in 2003 attracted adverse international attention. Although official figures record the deaths of over 2600 people including over 40 killed by the police, the Thai authorities claim that only a small number of these individuals were killed by the police acting in self-defence and the remainder by rival drug gangs or by their own gang-leaders in fear of them turning informants.

There has been a resurgence of violence in the predominantly-Muslim far south of Thailand, where over 700 people have been killed since January 2004. On 28 April 2004, there were attacks on security forces in 10 locations in the far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. Over 100 militants were killed, as well as 5 members of the security forces. 32 people were killed in the Krue Se mosque in Pattani. An independent commission set up to investigate the mosque incident reported on 29 July that Thai security forces had used disproportionate force, but cited certain mitigating factors.

The military were also involved in handling a demonstration in Tak Bai, Narathiwat, on 25 October 2004. Seven demonstrators were shot by members of the security forces and a further 78 people detainees died while being transported by truck to an army camp. The official report into the Tak Bai demonstration named several officials as responsible for mishandling crowd control and the anti-riot operation. Three Army commanders have been transferred but no further action has yet been taken. The Thai government has a good history of offering save haven to Burmese refugees (currently 140,000 live in Thailand) but in the past two years the Thai have refused to allow other refugees to cross into Thailand to escape fighting in Burma.

The Thai government has used the death penalty as a high profile part of its fight against drugs. In 2002, there were 11 executions, mostly for drugs related offences. There were four executions in 2003 for murder and drugs related offences. In October 2003 lethal injection replaced shooting as Thailand's method of execution. There were no executions in 2004.

Thailand's Constitution, adopted in October 1997, remains a strong foundation for the protection of human rights. It created or strengthened independent agencies designed to suppress corruption and protect citizens against abuses of government power. But implementation of the Constitution is weak in some key areas. Of the six core UN human rights treaties, Thailand has ratified five. This leaves only the UN Convention against Torture.


Thailand has a well-developed system of health care through a mixture of public and private hospitals. Cover is provided under compulsory insurance schemes, or on a payment basis. To make care more affordable the Thaksin administration has introduced a 30 Baht per visit health scheme. The average life expectancy at birth is 67.3 years for men and 73.2 years for women which is good for the region. Infant mortality rates have improved dramatically over the past 30 years, from 74 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1970, to 21.5 in 2001.

Thailand's successful efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS have been recognised internationally. However it is estimated that 700,000 people (more than 1% of the population) are currently infected with HIV or have developed AIDS. Approximately 290,000 people have died of AIDS related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

An outbreak of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in early 2004 led to the confirmed deaths of 8 people in Thailand. The disease now appears to be under control.


Airport tax

An airport tax of 500 Baht per person, not incorporated in tickets is payable on departure. Foreign currency is not accepted. Airport tax for domestic flights is included in tickets. The exception is Koh Samui where there is a domestic departure tax of 400 Baht per person.

Employment in Thailand

You need a work permit, which is difficult to obtain, for legal employment in Thailand. If you enter Thailand on a tourist visa you are not allowed to take up employment. Failure to observe this rule can lead to arrest and deportation. The process to obtain a work permit is long and bureaucratic. Treat advertisements, for example, for sales staff or currency trading advisers offering free flights and five star accommodation in Bangkok with the utmost scepticism. Do not believe employers' claims to be able to circumvent the Thai Immigration Regulations.


Elephant riding can be dangerous, and has been the cause of several serious accidents and at least one recent death of a British citizen.


If you are a British national and plan to stay for an extended period in Thailand you are strongly advised to register with the British Embassy in Bangkok upon arrival.

Last updated: 7 June 2005


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