Thailand

From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Thailand, formally the Kingdom of Thailand, is a country in South East 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 Burma. Its capital and largest city is Bangkok.

Etymology

The country's official name was Siam (Template:Lang-th; Template:IPA2, Template:RTGS) until 24 June 1939.<ref name="ThaiCSM">Thailand (Siam) History, CSMngt-Thai.</ref> It was again called Siam between 1945 and May 11 1949, when it was once more changed by official proclamation. The word Thai (ไทย) is derived from the word Tai (ไท) meaning "freedom" in the Thai language and is also the name of the majority ethnic group.

History

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Different indigenous cultures have existed in Thailand since the time of the Baan Chiang culture. However, due to its geographical location, Thai culture has always been greatly influenced by India and China as well as the neighboring cultures of Southeast Asia. However, the first Siamese/Thai state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai founded in 1238, followed by 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 sack of Angkor by the Siamese armies in 1431, much of the Khmer court and its Hindu customs were brought to Ayuthaya, and Khmer customs and rituals were adopted into the courtly culture of Siam.

After Ayuthaya fell in 1767 to the Burmese, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great. The current (Ratthanakosin) 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 travelling to Thailand in the 16th century. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a European power. The two main reasons for this is 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 European colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British trading interests. This included the loss of the three southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states.

In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During the war, Thailand was allied with Japan. Yet after the war, it became an ally of the United States. Thailand then went through a series of coups d'état, but eventually progressed towards 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, 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 2007 AD is called 2550 BE in Thailand.

Politics and government

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History

Since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters.<ref>The Council of State, Constitutions of Thailand. This list contains 2 errors: it states that the 6th constitution was promulgated in 1912 (rather than 1952), and it states that the 11th constitution was promulgated in 1976 (rather than 1974).</ref><ref name="Thanet">Thanet Aphornsuvan, Template:PDFlink, 2001 Symposium: Constitutions and Human Rights in a Global Age: An Asia Pacific perspective</ref> Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, but all governments have acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state.<ref name="multiple">A list of previous coups in Thailand</ref><ref>A list of recent coups in Thailand's history</ref>

1997 to 2006

Template:Seealso The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution to be drafted by popularly-elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, and was popularly called the "People's Constitution".<ref name="Criminal Justice">Kittipong Kittayarak, Template:PDFlink</ref>

The 1997 Constitution created a bicameral legislature consisting of a 500-seat House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร, sapha phutan ratsadon) and a 200-seat Senate (วุฒิสภา, wuthisapha). For the first time in Thai history, both houses were directly elected. Many human rights are explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments. The House was elected by the first-past-the-post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority could be elected in one constituency. The Senate was elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one Senator depending on its population size. Members of the House of Representatives served four-year terms, while Senators served six-year terms.

The court system (ศาล, saan) included a constitutional court with jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, royal decrees, and political matters.

The January 2001 general election, the first elections under the 1997 Constitution, were called the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history.<ref>Robert B. Albritton and Thawilwadee Bureekul, Template:PDFlink, National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica Asian Barometer Project Office Working Paper Series No. 28, 2004</ref> The subsequent government was the first in Thai history to complete a 4-year term. The 2005 election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history and was noted for a marked reduction in vote-buying compared to previous elections.<ref>Pongsudhirak Thitinan, "Victory places Thaksin at crossroads", Bangkok Post, February 9, 2005</ref><ref>Template:Cite news</ref><ref name="QuoVadis">Aurel Croissant and Daniel J. Pojar, Jr., Quo Vadis Thailand? Thai Politics after the 2005 Parliamentary Election, Strategic Insights, Volume IV, Issue 6 (June 2005)</ref>

In early 2006, significant pressure from corruption allegations led Thaksin Shinawatra to call for a snap election. The opposition boycotted the elections and Thaksin was re-elected. Pressure continued to build, leading to a military coup on 19 September 2006.

After the 2006 coup

A military junta overthrew the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006. The junta abrogated the constitution, dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court, detained and later removed several members of the government, declared martial law, and appointed one of the King's Privy Councillors, General Surayud Chulanont, as Prime Minister. The junta later wrote a highly abbreviated interim constitution and appointed a panel to draft a permanent constitution. The junta also appointed a 250-member legislature, called by one critic a "chamber of generals".<ref>The Nation, NLA 'doesn't represent' all of the people, 14 October 2006</ref><ref>The Nation, Assembly will not play a major role, 14 October 2006</ref> The head of the junta was allowed to remove the Prime Minister at any time. The legislature was not allowed to hold a vote of confidence against the Cabinet and the public was not allowed to file comments on bills.<ref>The Nation, Interim charter draft, 27 September 2006</ref>

Martial law was partially revoked in January 2007. The junta continues to censor the media and was accused of several other human rights violations. The junta had also banned all political activities and meetings until May 2007.

Thailand remains an active member of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Administrative divisions

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Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (จังหวัด, changwat), which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya.

Each province is divided into smaller districts. As of 2000 there are 796 districts (อำเภอ, amphoe), 81 minor districts (กิ่งอำเภอ, king amphoe) and the 50 districts of Bangkok (เขต, khet). Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok (ปริมณฑล, pari monthon). These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city (เมือง, mueang) is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai or Chiang Mai . The 76 provinces are as follows:

File:Political map of Thailand.jpg
Political map of Thailand

Central

  1. Ang Thong
  2. Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon), Special Governed District of [1]
  3. Chai Nat
  4. Kanchanaburi [2]
  5. Lop Buri
  6. Nakhon Nayok
  7. Nakhon Pathom [1]
  8. Nonthaburi [1]
  9. Pathum Thani [1]
  10. Phetchaburi [2]
  11. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
  12. Prachuap Khiri Khan [2]
  13. Ratchaburi [2]
  14. Samut Prakan [1]
  15. Samut Sakhon [1]
  16. Samut Songkhram [2]
  17. Saraburi
  18. Sing Buri
  19. Suphan Buri

East

  1. Chachoengsao
  2. Chanthaburi
  3. Chonburi
  4. Prachinburi
  5. Rayong
  6. Sa Kaeo
  7. Trat

North

  1. Chiang Mai
  2. Chiang Rai
  3. Kamphaeng Phet
  4. Lampang
  5. Lamphun
  6. Mae Hong Son
  7. Nakhon Sawan
  8. Nan
  9. Phayao
  10. Phetchabun
  11. Phichit
  12. Phitsanulok
  13. Phrae
  14. Sukhothai
  15. Tak
  16. Uthai Thani
  17. Uttaradit

Northeast

  1. Amnat Charoen
  2. Buri Ram
  3. Chaiyaphum
  4. Kalasin
  5. Khon Kaen
  6. Loei
  7. Maha Sarakham
  8. Mukdahan
  9. Nakhon Phanom
  10. Nakhon Ratchasima
  11. Nong Bua Lamphu
  12. Nong Khai
  13. Roi Et
  14. Sakon Nakhon
  15. Si Sa Ket
  16. Surin
  17. Ubon Ratchathani
  18. Udon Thani
  19. Yasothon
File:Phra That Nakhon.jpg
Phra Boromathat Chedi or Phra That Nakhon, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province

South

  1. Chumphon
  2. Krabi
  3. Nakhon Si Thammarat
  4. Narathiwat
  5. Pattani
  6. Phang Nga
  7. Phatthalung
  8. Phuket
  9. Ranong
  10. Satun
  11. Songkhla
  12. Surat Thani
  13. Trang
  14. Yala

NOTE: In italics [1], that province represents the Greater Bangkok sub-region; in italics [2], that province represents the West sub-region.

See also: List of cities in Thailand, List of cities in Thailand by population

Geography

File:Satellite Image of Thailand.jpg
Satellite Image of Thailand

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At 514,000 km² (198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 49th-largest country. It is comparable in size to France, and somewhat larger than the US state of California.

Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,576 metres (8,451 ft). The northeast consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong river. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.

The local climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. Major cities beside the capital Bangkok include Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Phuket and Hat Yai (Songkhla Province).

See also: List of islands of Thailand

Economy

File:Bangkok market.jpg
A market (Pahurat;พาหุรัด) in Bangkok.

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Thailand is a newly industrialised country. After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 - averaging almost 9% annually - increased pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997 led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the government to float the currency. Long pegged at 25 to the US dollar, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.2% that same year. The collapse prompted a wider Asian financial crisis.

Thailand entered a recovery stage in 1998, expanding 4.2% and grew 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports - which increased about 20% in 2000. Growth was dampened by a softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in China and the various domestic stimulation programmes of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, popularly known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2003 and 2004 was over 6% annually.<ref name=CIA_Thailand>CIA world factbook - Thailand</ref>

Thailand exports over $105 billion worth of products annually <ref name=CIA_Thailand>[1]</ref>. Major exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion <ref>CIA world factbook - Greater Mekong Subregion</ref>. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production <ref name=IRRI_Thailand>IRRI country profile</ref>.

Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism contributes about 5% of the Thai economy's GDP. Long stay foreign residents and their business investments also contribute heavily to GDP.

The main natural resources of Thailand are tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, and arable land.

Demographics

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Thailand's population is dominated by various Tai-speaking peoples. Among these, the most numerous are the Central Thai, the Northeastern Thai or Isan or Lao, the Northern Thai, and the Southern Thai. The Central Thai have long dominated the nation politically, economically, and culturally, even though they make up only about one-third of Thailand's population and are slightly outnumbered by the Northeastern Thai. Due to education system and the forging of a national identity, many people are now able to speak Central Thai as well as their own local dialects.

The largest group of non-Thai people are the Chinese who have historically played a disproportionately significant role in the economy. Most have integrated completely into mainstream Thai society, and do not live in Bangkok's Chinatown on Yaowarat Road. Other ethnic groups include Malays in the south, Mon, Khmer and various hill tribes. After the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese refugees settled in Thailand, mainly in the northeastern regions.

According to the last census (2000) 95% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Some provinces and towns south of Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, including many ethnic Thai.Template:Verify source Often Muslims live in separate communities from non-Muslims. The southern tip of Thailand are mostly ethnic Malays and they are mostly concentrated in the south, where they form a strong majority in four provinces. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs and some Hindus also live in the country's cities.

The Thai language is Thailand's national language, written in its own alphabet, but many ethnic and regional dialects exist as well as areas where people speak predominantly Isan or Mon-Khmer languages. Although English is widely taught in schools, proficiency is low.

Culture

File:Phutthamonthon Buddha.gif
Theravada Buddhism is highly respected in Thailand.

Template:Main 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. Ethnic 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.

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 "Sawasdee Krup" for male speakers, and "Sawasdee Ca" 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 other cultures.

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 in and stayed at the temples. Thai people's lives are closely tied to Buddism and temples; they often send their sons to be educated with the monks. ”Muay” is also one of the subjects taught in the temples.<ref name=History>Muay Thai History</ref>.

100-200 years ago, western armies came to capture most South East Asian countries. In that time, “Muay” was taught for self-defense in everyday life, not just for fighting in the war. In Thailand, there are many “Muay” competitions. Unfortunately, some fighters have died from “Muay” competitions. Some consider it too dangerous for competition and difficult to be accepted by the world. So, it has developed into a sport called “Muay Thai”. Muay has excluded strike weapons, dangerous movements to improve the standards for the better. For example, fight in the ring like western boxing, using the boxing gloves instead of Kaad chuek (Hand wrap) to save fighter from injuries.

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. Association football, 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 <ref name=IRRI_Thailand>IRRI country profile Thailand</ref>. 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<ref>Template:PDFlink</ref>.

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.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 71 out of 157
The Economist Worldwide quality-of-life index, 2005 42 out of 111
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide press freedom index 122 out of 167
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 63 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 74 out of 177

See also

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Notes

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External links

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Official

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