Thailand is situated in Southeast Asia and is almost equidistant from both India and China. Sharing borders with Myanmar in the west and north, Laos in the northeast, Cambodia in the east and Malaysia in the south, it is about the same size as France with an area of just over five hundred thousand kilometres and is home to over sixty million residents.
Originally called Siam, its name wasn’t changed to Thailand until 1939. The then Prime Minister, Phibun Songkhram, wanted to forget the country of the past and gave it a name which translates literally as ‘Land of the Free’. Despite the desire of Songkhram to disassociate his country from the past, Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia which has never been colonized. This has resulted in more historical evidence of past native cultures than any other country in the region too. But, akin to countries around the world which have been colonized and because it has been invaded many times by many different groups, it is still home to a variety of different ethnic communities complete with the culture and tradition that comes with them. Its geographical location has made it a crossroads of the Southeast Asian region.
While the current Thai capital is Bangkok, the former capital between 1350 and 1767 was Ayutthaya which is situated about ninety kilometers north of Bangkok. During that period, Ayutthaya was regarded all over the world as the most glorious and unforgettable city on the planet which served as a centre of world class culture and commerce. In 1767, however, the city was invaded by its Burmese neighbours who conquered and destroyed the capital. The Siamese capital was moved to Bangkok which is now home to over nine million of the country’s population. Nevertheless, the ruins of Ayutthaya make for a fascinating visit and remain one of the most impressive and visited sights in Thailand.
Today, the country is divided into six principal regions. The north is the mountainous region of the country where you will see Thailand’s official symbol, the elephant, hard at work in the forests. The northeast is a vast plateau bordered by the Mekong. This is where evidence of the world’s oldest Bronze Age settlement has been discovered dating from over five thousand years ago. The central plain is one of the world’s most fertile areas for growing rice and fruit. The eastern coastal plain is where the country’s beaches, renowned all over the world, are to be found and is probably the main tourist region of Thailand. The south is home to a unique combination of breathtaking scenery and the all important tin mining and rubber cultivating industries. And finally, the western mountains where hydro electricity is the most prominent feature.