Siam is the name by which Thailand was known to the world until 1939 and again between 1945 and 1949. On May 11, 1949, an official proclamation changed the name of the country to "Prathet Thai", or "Thailand", by which it has since been known. The word "Thai" means "free", and therefore "Thailand" means "Land of the Free."
The Kingdom of Thailand, located in Southeast Asia on the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, shares boundaries with Myanmar (Burma) on the west and northwest, Laos on the east and northeast, Cambodia (Kampuchea) on the southeast, and Malaysia on the south. Thailand, although rich in rubber and in mineral resources, was never colonized by Europeans and has existed as a unified monarchy since 1350. The capital, Bangkok, an attractive blend of Western and Thai architecture, was established in 1782.
Thailand covers a land area of 513,115 square kilometers, and extends about 2,500 kilometers from north to south and 1,250 kilometers from east to west, with a coastline of approximately 1,840 kilometers on the Gulf of Thailand and 865 kilometers along the Indian Ocean.
Thailand is divided into four natural regions:
The Central Plains or Chao Phraya River Basin
The Northeast or the Korat Plateau
The South or the Southern Peninsula
Climate: Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons-hot and dry from February to May (average temperature 34 degrees Celsius and 75% humidity); rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to October (average day temperature 29 degrees Celsius and 87% humidity); and cool from November to January (temperatures range from 32 degrees Celsius to below 20 degrees Celsius with a drop in humidity).
Much lower temperatures are experienced in the North and Northeast during nighttime. The South has a tropical rainforest climate with temperatures averaging 28 degrees Celsius almost all year round.
Population: Thais are well known for their friendliness and hospitality. A large majority of over 62 million citizens of Thailand are ethnic Thai, along with strong communities whose ethnic origins lie in China, India and elsewhere. About 7 million people reside in the capital city of Bangkok.
People: Thai (80%), Chinese (10%), Malay (3%), and the rest are minorities (Mons, Khmers, hilltribes) Ethnic Thais form the majority, though the area has historically been a migratory crossroads, and has thus produced a degree of ethnic diversity. Integration is such, however, that culturally and socially there is enormous unity.
Language: Spoken and written Thai is largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. English and some European Languages are spoken in most hotels, shops and restaurants in major tourist destinations, and Thai-English road and street signs are found nationwide.
Religion: Buddhism (95%), Muslim (4%), others (1%)
Government: Thailand has had a constitutional monarchy since 1932. Parliament is composed of 2 houses, The House of Representatives and the Senate. Both representatives and senators are elected by the people. A prime minister elected from among the representatives leads the government. The country is divided into 76 provinces. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration comes under an elected governor. Appointed provincial governors administer the other 75 provinces (Changwat), which are divided into districts (Amphoe), sub-districts (Tambon) and villages (Mu Ban).
Head of State: H.R.H. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty)
Administration: 76 provinces, each subdivided into amphoe (district), tambon (sub-disrict) and muban (village)
National Flag: The red, white, and blue stripes symbolize the nation, Buddhism, and the monarchy, respectively.
Time: The time in Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 hours GMT).
Electricity: The electric current is 220 volt AC (50 cycles) throughout the country. Many different types of plugs and sockets are in use. Travellers with electric shavers, hair dryers, tape recorders and other appliances should carry a plug adapter kit. The better hotels will make available 110-volt transformers.
Tap water : Tap water is clean but drinking from it directly should be avoided. Bottled water is recommended
Clothing : Light, cool clothes are sensible and a jacket is needed for formal meetings and dining in top restaurants. Shorts (except knee length walking shorts), sleeveless shirts, tank tops and other beach-style attire are considered inappropriate dress when not actually at the beach or in a resort area.
Weights & measures : The metric system is used throughout Thailand. Numerals on vehicle speed ometers, highway markers and speed limits all indicate kilometres.
Business hours : Most comercial concerns in Bangkok operate on a five-day week, usually from 8 am to 5 pm. Many stores open seven days a week from 10 am to 10 pm. Government offices are generally open between 8.30 am and 4.30 pm with a noon to 1 pm lunch break, Monday to Friday except on public holidays. Banks are open Mondays to Fridays from 9.30 am to 3.30 pm except on public holidays.
Postal Services : Thailand's mail service is reliable and efficient. Major hotels provide basic postal services on their premises. Provincial post offices are usually open from 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
International Roaming Mobile Phone : A Subscriber Identity Module Card (SIM Card) is now available for Thai and foreigh customers who are travelling around for work. The SIM Card must be used in conjunction with a Digital GSM mobile phone within the 900-MHz range or a Digital PCN mobile phone within the 1800-MHz range.
Fax and E-mail : All of Thailand's leading hotels offer facsimile (fax) and e-mail services. Numerous private businesses offer such facilities, most often in conjunction with translation services.
Internet Services : Thailand has been expanding its information service for residents and tourists alike through the Internet system. Services are now available at Thailand's leading hotels and at the many " cybercafes " that are cropping up in all major tourist destinations.
Telephone services : At present, all telephone numbers (for local calls and long distance calls within the country) have nine digits.