|General background: A unified
Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century.
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.
Area comparative: Slightly more than twice
the size of Wyoming.
rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September);
dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March);
southern isthmus always hot and humid.
Central plain; Khorat Plateau in the east; mountains
Ethnic groups: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other
Religions: Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity
0.5%, Hinduism 0.1%, other 0.6% (1991)
Language: Thai, English (secondary language
of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects.
Government type: Constitutional monarchy
Legal system: Based on civil law system, with
influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory
Economic overview: After enjoying the world's
highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 - averaging
almost 9% annually - increased speculative pressure
on Thailand's currency in 1997 led to a crisis that
uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the
government to float the baht. Long pegged at 25 to
the dollar, the baht reached its lowest point of 56
to the dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted
by 10.2% that same year. Thailand entered a recovery
stage in 1999, expanding 4.2% and grew 4.4% in 2000,
largely due to strong exports - which increased about
20% in 2000. An ailing financial sector and the slow
pace of corporate debt restructuring, combined with
a softening of global demand, however, slowed growth
in 2001 to 1.4%.
Communication/Telephone system: Service to
general public adequate, but investment in technological
upgrades reduced by recession; bulk of service to
government activities provided by multi-channel cable
and microwave radio relay network.
Places of interest: Thailand's islands and
beaches are breathtakingly beautiful.
Travel tips: Travelers should steer well clear
of the borders or contact their embassy to receive
the latest reports on the security situation.