Geography and population Thailand is located in South East Asia. It is bordered by Burma on the west and north, Laos on the east and north, Cambodia on the east and Malaysia on the south. Its eastern coast runs along the Pacific Ocean, whilst its west coast abuts on the Andaman Sea.
The area of Thailand is roughly similar to those of France, that is roughly 511,000 square kilometers. In 2012, the population was estimated to be 67 million. The majority of the population still live in rural areas and are engaged in agricultural activities, although Thailand now qualifies as a ‘newly industrialized country.’
Name The name Thailand was adopted in 1939 after the change from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy, but in fact, the people have always been known as thai, meaning free. The name ‘Siam’ pronounced sayam refers to the geographical location of the country and is still used, especially in royal titles.
Capital/historical era The present era of Thai history, known as the Rattanakosin era, commenced on April 6, 1782 with the ascension to the throne of King Rama I, the founder of the present ruling Chakri dynasty, and the founding of the present capital, now called Bangkok. In Thai the name Bangkok means ‘Village of Olives.’ It was later changed to Rattanakosin meaning ‘Bejeweled City of the God Indra.’ Later other names were added to Rattanakosin. Today, most Thai people refer to their capital as Krung Thep meaning ‘City of Angels’ which is the first part of the full name of the capital. In English and other languages however, the city continues to be known by its original name: Bangkok.
Thai calendar The present dating system in Thailand uses the Buddhist Era (‘B.E.’) which is 543 years older than the Christian Era (‘A.D.’). To convert a BE date into an AD date, simply subtract 543. Thus B.E. 2553 = A.D. 2010. Before April 1, 1889, Thailand used a lunar calendar of 12 or 13 months (as necessary to synchronize the lunar calendar with the solar cycle), each of 29 or 30 days, with each month starting with the new moon of a cycle, very similar to the Jewish Calendar.
The solar calendar of 12 months and seven-day weeks, corresponding exactly to the Gregorian calendar, including leap years, was adopted on April 1, 1889. The only difference was that the year started on April 1st. On January 1, 1941, (January 1, B.E. 2484) the calendar was adjusted so that with effect from that date, the official year commenced on January 1st.
All official and most private Thai documents for domestic use are dated in accordance with the Buddhist Era calendar.
Government Thailand is a democratic country with a constitutional monarchy. The King is head of state. Sovereignty emanates from the Thai people and is exercised by the King through the National Assembly, the Senate, the cabinet and the courts of law. Thailand has a written constitution. After the coup d'etat of September 2006, the 1997 constitution was abrogated and an interim constitution was approved. A new constitution was approved by a national referendum in in 2007, prior to resignation of the military government and the holding of a General Election later that year.
Courts Each province has a provincial court that hears civil and criminal cases. Some of the larger provinces have District Courts that hear petty cases.
Bangkok has a separate Civil Court and Criminal Court, and District Courts for petty cases.
There are also special courts as follows: the Juvenile Court, the Family Court, the Labor Court, the Tax Court, the Bankruptcy Court, the Administrative Court, the Constitutional Court, and the Intellectual Property and International Trade Court.
Local government For administrative purposes, Thailand is divided into 76 provinces each of which is called a changwat, each of which is headed by a governor appointed by the Ministry of the Interior. However, in Bangkok and Pattaya City the local government is elected.
Each changwat is divided into several amphur. In Bangkok, an amphur is officially called a khet, but is still popularly called an amphur. Both words may be translated as ‘District.’ Such matters as registration of births, deaths, marriages, divorces and adoptions, tax collection, residence registrations, the issue of identity cards, house and certain land transfers are dealt with at this level of government. For ordinary citizens, the Amphur represents their most significant form of regular contact with the government.
The Amphur are divided into tambon (sub‑districts) and mooban (villages). These divisions play a greater role in rural areas, where access to the Amphur may be difficult. The Tambon usually elects a headman (kamnan) who serves as an intermediary for the villagers to the higher levels of government, often mediates disputes, acts as a witness to contracts, and also serves as a registrar to certify the births and deaths of persons in his area of administration.
Residence registration and identification cards All Thai nationals residing in Thailand, and foreigners who hold residence permits (this excludes businessmen staying in Thailand on non‑immigrant visas) must have their names appear on a residence registration certificate. In addition, Thai nationals from the age of 15 to 70 must have an identification card. Normally, the residence registration and identification card must be presented when performing any official act. In such situations, foreigners normally present their passports as proof of identity.
The Thai language The language used throughout the country is Thai, with some minor regional variations. It is a tonal language with a phonetic alphabet consisting of 44 consonants and 32 vowels. Two of the consonants are obsolete and many of the vowels consist of two or more characters, so in total there are 57 characters on a Thai typewriter keyboard, together with such items as tone and punctuation marks. Non‑Thai speakers often have difficulty when trying to read Thai words and names which have been transliterated into Roman characters. For example, in Thai, syllables ending in the Thai equivalent of the letters 'R' and 'L' are pronounced as 'N' thus Ubol is pronounced Ubon.
Syllables ending in the Thai equivalent of 'D,' 'J,' 'CH,' and 'S' are pronounced as if the word ended in the letter 'T.' ‘V’ is pronounced as a ‘W.’ Thus the name Viros would be pronounced Virot.
In most cases, two consonants cannot be pronounced as a cluster. Thus where two consonants are together there is often an unwritten but pronounced vowel "a" added. Thus the name written as Swas would be pronounced Sawat.
Very often words in Thai contain written letters that are not pronounced. This is done to preserve the original spelling. However, a mark is written over these letters, to show that they are silent. When a word or name is transliterated, the silent letters are often included. Therefore Surawongse is pronounced Surawong and Silpa is pronounced Sin.
Where a Thai name is derived from Pali or Sanskrit, the transliteration may be according to the original pronunciation, and not the actual Thai pronunciation. Accordingly, one should try to listen to how a Thai name is pronounced and less reliance should be placed on its transliteration.
A difficult aspect of the Thai language for non-Thais, is that it is tonal, that is every syllable of every word has a distinct tone. There are five tones: level, low, falling, high or rising. The tone is as much a part of the word as the pronunciation of the letters, and a change in tone can have a dramatic effect on the meaning. The word glai means near using a falling tone and far, when using a level tone.
Business language International business dealings in Thailand are often conducted in English and many Thai businessmen have high English language fluency. Most international contracts and the documentation in virtually all international banking transactions are written in English.
Although most official dealings with Thai governmental agencies are conducted in Thai, those agencies dealing with foreigners, such as the Board of Investment, the Immigration Division and the Labor Department (Work Permit Section), and others, accept documents in English. Contracts written in any language are legally enforceable, but translations may be required in some cases. Translation services are readily available.
Religion Buddhism is the state religion, but there is complete religious freedom. His Majesty the King is Buddhist, as required by the constitution. The King is the protector of all religions. Approximately 95% of the population is Buddhist. The second largest religion is Islam, representing about 4% of the population overall. There is a Muslim majority in the four southernmost provinces, where Islamic law is permitted to apply in certain family matters. Christians of all denominations comprise less than 1% of the population. Their organizations run many hospitals and schools. There are several churches that conduct services in English and other languages. The Jewish community has three synagogues in Bangkok.
Money The unit of currency is the Baht, which is divided into one hundred Satang. Occasionally one sees references to Ticals, which was the name formerly used by foreigners to describe the Baht. The Baht was originally a coin containing approximately 15.244 grams of silver.
According to the earliest published official rates of exchange, five silver Baht were worth three Mexican Eight‑Real coins, or about 60 to 62 US cents. The over issuance of paper money and other problems caused by the Second World War led the Baht to be devalued.
For many years, the Baht had a fixed exchange rate of 25 Baht: 1US$. After the financial crisis of 1997, the Baht was allowed to float on the international currency markets. In 2006, the exchange rate was 38 Baht: 1US$.
The Baht is also a unit of weight equivalent to 15.244 grams, and is still regularly used for measuring silver and gold.
The following coins are in circulation:
25 Satang - brass
50 Satang - brass
1 Baht nickel
5 Baht - copper core and nickel outer layers
10 Baht - nickel with a brass center
The following currency notes are in circulation:
20 Baht (green)
50 Baht (blue)
100 Baht (red)
500 Baht (violet)
1000 Baht (grey)
Communications Communications in Thailand are now much better than they were in the early 1990s. International phone calls can be made without difficulty. Internet and email facilities are available at most hotels and in most offices. Mobile telephones are seen everywhere and most businesses receive and send e-mail. Not only is the internet gaining in popularity, but there are an increasing number of Thai language websites.
Transportation Domestic transportation by air, rail, road as well as by waterways is well developed. International air transport facilities are excellent. The new Suvannaphoumi international airport located in eastern Bangkok opened in September 2006 and the former international airport at Don Muang now deals with domestic flights. International shipping facilities exist at Klongtoey in Bangkok, and at Laem Chabang on the Eastern Seaboard. In Bangkok, a commuter light railway known as the Skytrain opened for service in 1999 and the Underground Line opened in August 2004. Extensions have been added to the Skytrain, and there are plans for a comprehensive mass transit rail system in Bangkok, to be built over the next 20 years. These transport developments have helped considerably to alleviate Bangkok’s notorious road traffic problems.
International schools In Bangkok, there are a considerable number of international schools under American, British, Singaporean, French, Japanese and Swiss (German), or United Nations management. Children of both expatriates and Thais may attend such schools. Outside Bangkok, there are fewer international schools except in areas where there is a significant foreign community, e.g. in Pattaya, Phuket or Chiang Mai.
Economy Tourism and tourist related industries such as air transport and hotels, are a major employer of labor and the country's leading foreign exchange earner.
Agriculture and the agro‑industry is still the largest employer of labor, though it contributes proportionately less to Thailand’s GDP than other sectors. Thailand is a major producer and exporter of rice, tapioca, palm oil, rubber and tropical fruit. There is a growing tend towards producing higher value processed food and agricultural products.
In recent years, there has been major growth in fish and prawn farming, and processed meat production. As to manufactured goods, Thailand has a prominent reputation in the production and export of clothing and textiles, automobiles and auto parts, footwear, jewelry, food and drink, vehicles and vehicle parts, electronics and electrical goods, cement, and handicrafts. Diversity is one of the strengths of the Thai economy.
Foreigners doing business in Thailand Foreigners who wish to do business in Thailand are subject to several specific laws such as: the Foreign Business Act, which restricts foreign participation in certain businesses; the Foreign Employment Act, which requires that foreigners working in Thailand hold work permits; and the Immigration Act, which requires that foreigners who wish to enter or remain in Thailand must hold an appropriate visa. The Land Act and other legislation, restricts foreign ownership of land, buildings and condomoniums.
Overall, the laws that affect foreigners are fairly administered and do not appear to have discouraged investment in Thailand.
Legal system The earliest recorded evidence of the legal system in Thailand is to be found in the Sukhothai period of 1238‑1350 A.D., A number of years ago, an inscribed stone monument from this period was discovered, which described how a citizen with a complaint could ring a bell and call upon the King to resolve a dispute. Unfortunately, most Thai historical records including legal records were destroyed in 1767, during the Burmese invasion and occupation of the former capital of Ayuthaya.
During the early twentieth century, the influence of French and German jurists lead to the drafting of various written codes of law based on the continental civil law system. The present Civil and Commercial Code was issued in 1933 and the Civil Procedure Code in 1935. Later, a Criminal Code and a Criminal Procedure Code were drafted. These four Codes form the basis of Thai law. A separate Revenue Code dealing with taxation, was also drafted.
English common law has been influential in some areas, and United States law in others. Thailand has also adopted United Nations model laws, in some cases, for example in relation to arbitration and electronic commerce. But the legal system is essentially a civil law system more closely related to the legal systems of continental Europe. Judges are entitled to deliver a judgment based on the facts of the case, rather than being bound by precedent. Decisions of the highest court, the Supreme Court, are referred to as precedents, but are not binding on lower courts.
Revised 1 August 2012