Location: Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and
the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma
Geographic coordinates: 15 00 N, 100 00 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
total: 514,000 sq km
land: 511,770 sq km
water: 2,230 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly more than twice the size of
total: 4,863 km
border countries: Burma 1,800 km, Cambodia 803 km, Laos 1,754
km, Malaysia 506 km
Coastline: 3,219 km
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon
(mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to
mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid
Terrain: central plain; Khorat Plateau in the east; mountains
lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Doi Inthanon 2,576 m
Natural resources: tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum,
timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, arable land
arable land: 34%
permanent crops: 6%
permanent pastures: 2%
forests and woodland: 26%
other: 32% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 44,000 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting
from the depletion of the water table; droughts
Environment - current issues: air pollution from vehicle
emissions; water pollution from organic and factory wastes; deforestation;
soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes,
Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection,
Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Biodiversity, Climate Change-Kyoto
Protocol, Law of the Sea
Geography - note: controls only land route from Asia to
Malaysia and Singapore
The country covers an
area of 513,000 Sq Km (198,000 square miles), stretching from 5
to 21 degrees north of the equator.It lies between the Indian Ocean
and the South China Sea. It is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) to the
west and north, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the east and
Malaysia to the south.
The kingdom has four very different
regions.The North is mountainous. The Central Plains are a fertile
rice bowl. The Northeast is an upland plateau. The South is a peninsula
lined with stunning tropical beaches and enticing islands. Getting
around is easy.
All major places are connected
by a good modern road network. Air-conditioned buses run regularly
between towns and cities. Local buses are plentiful. The railway
system connects Bangkok with all four regions
Thailand has a tropical climate with
three seasons: hot from February to May, rainy from June to October
(but the downpours rarely last more than a couple of hours) and
cool from November to January. Temperatures range from 35° Celcius
in April to a pleasant 20° Celcius in December.
Thailand is a tropical country in Southeast Asia. The people of
Thailand are called Thai. Most are farmers and live in small, rural
However, Thailand has one of the fastest
growing economies in the world, and its urban centres have expanded
rapidly. Almost 6 million people live in Bangkok, Thailand's capital
and largest city.
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century;
it was known as Siam until 1939. Thailand is the only southeast
Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power.
A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy.
In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US
ally following the conflict.
Size: Approximately 514,000 square kilometers.
Topography: Chief topographic features include
central plain dominated by Mae Nam (river) Chao Phraya and its tributaries.
To northeast rises dry, undulating Khorat Plateau bordered on east
by Mekong River. Mountains along northern and western borders with
Burma extend south into narrow, largely rain-forested Malay Peninsula.
Network of rivers and canals associated with northern mountains
and central plain drain, via Chao Phraya, into Gulf of Thailand.
Mae Nam Mun and other northeastern streams drain via Mekong into
South China Sea. Soils vary. Topography and drainage define four
regions: North, Northeast, Center, and South.
Climate: Tropical monsoon climate. Southwest monsoons
arriving between May and July signal start of rainy season lasting
until October. Cycle reverses with northeast monsoon in November
and December, ushering in dry season. Cooler temperatures give way
to extremely hot, dry weather March through May. In general, rainfall
heaviest in South, lightest in Northeast.
Data as of September 1987
Thailand's 514,000 square kilometers lie in the middle of mainland
Southeast Asia. The nation's axial position influenced many aspects
of Thailand's society and culture. The earliest speakers of the
Tai (see Glossary)
language migrated from what is now China, following rivers into
northern Thailand and southward to the Mae Nam (river) Chao Phraya
Valley. The fertile floodplain and tropical monsoon climate, ideally
suited to wet-rice (thamna) cultivation, attracted settlers
to this central area rather than to the marginal uplands and mountains
of the northern region or the Khorat Plateau to the northeast. By
the twelfth century, a number of loosely connected rice-growing
and trading states flourished in the upper Chao Phraya Valley. Starting
in the middle of the fourteenth century, these central chiefdoms
gradually came under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya at
the southern extremity of the floodplain. Successive capitals, built
at various points along the river, became centers of great Thai
kingdoms based on rice cultivation and foreign commerce. Unlike
the neighboring Khmer and Burmese, the Thai continued to look outward
across the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea toward foreign ports
of trade. When European imperialism brought a new phase in Southeast
Asian commerce in the late 1800s, Thailand (known then as
Siam-- ) was able to maintain its independence as a buffer zone
between British-controlled Burma to the west and French-dominated
Indochina to the east .
Data as of September 1987
Thailand in the late 1980s shared boundaries with Burma, Malaysia,
Laos, and Cambodia. Although neither China nor Vietnam bordered
Thailand, the territory of both countries came within 100 kilometers
of Thai territory . Many parts of Thailand's boundaries followed
natural features, such as the Mekong River. Most borders had been
stabilized and demarcated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries in accordance with treaties forced on Thailand and its
neighbors by Britain and France. In some areas, however, exact boundaries,
especially along Thailand's eastern borders with Laos and Cambodia,
were still in dispute in the late 1980s.
Disputes with Cambodia after 1950 arose in part from ill-defined
boundaries; the most notable case was a dispute over the Preah Vihear
Temple area submitted to the International Court of Justice, which
ruled in favor of Cambodia in 1962. During the years that the Cambodian
capital, Phnom Penh, was controlled by the Khmer Rouge regime of
Pol Pot (1975-79), the border disputes continued. In the early 1980s,
the People's Republic of Kampuchea and its mentor, Vietnam, made
an issue of boundaries in Prachin Buri Province in eastern Thailand.
In contrast to these incidents, which attracted international attention,
boundary disputes with Malaysia and Burma were usually handled more
cooperatively. Continuing mineral exploration and fishing in the
Gulf of Thailand, however, were sources of potential conflict with
both neighbors. Adding to general border tensions were the activities
of communist-led insurgents, whose operations had been of paramount
concern to the Thai government and its security forces for several
decades. The problem of communist insurgency was compounded by the
activity of what the Thai government labeled "antistate elements."
Often the real source of border problems was ordinary criminals
or local merchants involved in illegal mining, logging, smuggling,
and narcotics production and trade .
Data as of September 1987
Topography and Drainage
The most conspicuous features of Thailand's terrain are high mountains,
a central plain, and an upland plateau . Mountains cover much of
northern Thailand and extend along the Burmese border down through
the Malay Peninsula. The central plain is a lowland area drained
by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries, the country's principal
river system, which feeds into the delta at the head of the Bight
of Bangkok. The Chao Phraya system drains about one-third of the
nation's territory. In the northeastern part of the country the
Khorat Plateau, a region of gently rolling low hills and shallow
lakes, drains into the Mekong River through the Mae Nam Mun. The
Mekong system empties into the South China Sea and includes a series
of canals and dams.
Together, the Chao Phraya and Mekong systems sustain Thailand's
agricultural economy by supporting wet-rice cultivation and providing
waterways for the transport of goods and people. In contrast, the
distinguishing natural features of peninsular Thailand are long
coastlines, offshore islands, and diminishing mangrove swamps.
Data as of September 1987
Landforms and drainage divide the country more or less into four
natural regions--the North, the Northeast, the Center, and the South.
Although Bangkok geographically is part of the central plain, as
the capital and largest city this metropolitan area may be considered
in other respects a separate region. Each of the four geographical
regions differs from the others in population, basic resources,
natural features, and level of social and economic development.
The diversity of the regions is in fact the most pronounced attribute
of Thailand's physical setting.
During the winter months, in the mountainous North the temperature
is cool enough for the cultivation of fruits such as lychees and
strawberries. These high mountains are incised by steep river valleys
and upland areas that border the central plain. A series of rivers,
including the Nan, Ping, Wang, and Yom, unite in the lowlands to
form the Chao Phraya watershed. Traditionally, these natural features
made possible several different types of agriculture, including
wet-rice farming in the valleys and
shifting cultivation in the uplands. The forested mountains
also promoted a spirit of regional independence. Forests, including
stands of teak and other economically useful hardwoods that once
dominated the North and parts of the Northeast, had diminished by
the 1980s to 13 million hectares. In 1961 they covered 56 percent
of the country, but by the mid-1980s forestland had been reduced
to less than 30 percent of Thailand's total area.
The Northeast, with its poor soils, is not favored agriculturally.
The region consists mainly of the dry Khorat Plateau and a few low
hills. The short monsoon season brings heavy flooding in the river
valleys. Unlike the more fertile areas of Thailand, the Northeast
has a long dry season, and much of the land is covered by sparse
grasses. Mountains ring the plateau on the west and the south, and
the Mekong delineates much of the eastern rim.
The "heartland" of the Central Thai, the Center is a natural self-contained
basin often termed "the rice bowl of Asia." The complex irrigation
system developed for wet-rice agriculture in this region provided
the necessary economic support to sustain the development of the
Thai state from the thirteenth-century kingdom of Sukhothai to contemporary
Bangkok. Here the rather flat unchanging landscape facilitated inland
water and road transport. The fertile area was able to sustain a
dense population, 422 persons per square kilometer in 1987, compared
with an average of 98 for the country as a whole. The terrain of
the region is dominated by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries and
by the cultivated paddy fields. Metropolitan Bangkok, the focal
point of trade, transport, and industrial activity, is situated
on the southern edge of the region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand
and includes part of the delta of the Chao Phraya system.
The South, a narrow peninsula, is distinctive in climate, terrain,
and resources. Its economy is based on rice cultivation for subsistence
and rubber production for industry. Other sources of income include
coconut plantations, tin mining, and tourism, which is particularly
lucrative on Phuket Island. Rolling and mountainous terrain and
the absence of large rivers are conspicuous features of the South.
North-south mountain barriers and impenetrable tropical forest caused
the early isolation and separate political development of this region.
International access through the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand
made the South a crossroads for both Theravada Buddhism, centered
at Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Islam, especially in the former sultanate
of Pattani on the border with Malaysia.
Thailand's regions are further divided into a total of seventy-three
provinces . The country's provinces have the same names as their
Data as of September 1987
Thailand has a tropical monsoon climate; temperatures normally
range from an average annual high of 38° C to a low of 19°
C. Southwest monsoons that arrive between May and July (except in
the South) signal the advent of the rainy season (ridu fon),
which lasts into October. November and December mark the onset of
the dry season. Temperatures begin to climb in January, and a hot
sun parches the landscape. The dry season is shortest in the South
because of the proximity of the sea to all parts of the Malay Peninsula.
With only minor exceptions, every area of the country receives adequate
rainfall, but the duration of the rainy season and the amount of
rain vary substantially from region to region and with altitude.
The Northeast experiences a long dry season, and its red, porous
(laterite) soils retain water poorly, which limits their agricultural
Data as of September 1987