Thailand Fast Facts

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Ed Miller

Facts at a Glance

Full country name: Kingdom of Thailand
Area: 310,000 sq. miles
Population: 67 million (growth rate 1.4%)
Capital city: Bangkok (pop10 million)
People: 75% Thai, 11% Chinese, 3.5% Malay, also Mon, Khmer, Phuan and Karen minorities
Language: Thai
Religion: 90% Buddhism, 10% Other
Government: Democratic constitutional monarchy
Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Most visitors can stay for 30 days without a visa
Time: PST plus 15 hours
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & Measures: Metric with local variations
Tourism: 20 million visitors in 2013

Money & Costs

Currency: Baht
Exchange rate: US$1 = 32.5thb (May 2014)

The baht lost 20% of its value overnight in mid-1997 so it's worth keeping an eye on the exchange rates printed in the Bangkok Post every day. Banks or legal moneychangers offer the best rates. For buying baht, US dollars are the most readily acceptable currency, though travelers' checks get a better rate than cash (recently the fee to cash travelers checks has risen to about $5 per check). Credit cards are becoming increasingly acceptable in quality shops, hotels and restaurants. Visa is the most useful, followed by MasterCard. ATMs which accept Visa and other credit cards are easily found in the larger cities, and many exchange booths will give you a cash advance on your credit card.

Tipping is not customary in Thailand, although Thais are getting used to the idea in upmarket hotels. Bargaining is common practice in markets and tourist shops, and when catching non-metered taxis. Treat it as a form of social discourse rather than a matter of life and death.

History

The earliest civilization in Thailand is believed to have been that of the Mons in central Thailand, who brought a Buddhist culture from the Indian subcontinent. In the 12th century, this met a Khmer culture moving from the east, the Sumatran-based Srivijaya culture moving north, and citizens of the Thai state of Nan Chao, in what is now southern China, migrating south. Thai princes created the first Siamese capital in Sukhothai, and later centers in Chiang Mai and, notably, Ayutthaya.

The Burmese invaded Siam in both the 16th and 18th centuries, capturing Chiang Mai and destroying Ayutthaya. The Thais expelled the Burmese and moved their capital to Thonburi. In 1782, the current Chakri dynasty was founded by King Rama I and the capital was moved across the river to Bangkok.

In the 19th century, Siam remained independent by deftly playing off one European power against another. In 1932, a peaceful coup converted the country into a constitutional monarchy, and in 1939 Siam became Thailand. During WW II, the Thai government allowed Japanese troops to occupy Thailand. After the war, Thailand was dominated by the military and experienced more than twenty coups and countercoups interspersed with short-lived experiments with democracy. Democratic elections in 1979 were followed by a long period of stability and prosperity as power shifted from the military to the business elite.

In February 1991 a military coup ousted the Chatichai government, but bloody demonstrations in May 1992 led to the reinstatement of a civilian government with Chuan Leekpai at the helm. This coalition government collapsed in May 1995 over a land-reform scandal but replacement Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa was no better. Dubbed a 'walking ATM' by the Thai press, he was forced to relinquish the prime ministership just over a year later after a spate of corruption scandals. Ex-general and former deputy PM Chavalit Yongchaiyudh headed a dubious coalition until late 1997 when veteran pragmatist Chuan Leekpai retook the reins.  In 1997 the Thai baht pretty much collapsed, dragging the economy (and many other South-East Asian economies) down in a screaming heap. In August the International Monetary Fund stepped in with a bailout package of austerity measures, which seemed to have turned things around by early 1998.

In 2006 another Military coup toppled the Thaksin government. The poitical situation has been in flux ever since. There has been very little effect on Tourist Services.

 

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