Lying between Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, Thailand has a system of 'semi-democracy' that has somehow preserved it from the misfortunes of its neighbors. Known as Siam until 1939, it was the home of the Buddhist kingdom of Ayutthaya from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, during which time the monarch came to be regarded as a sort of god-king, and a bureaucratic administration system was developed. The Chakkri Dynasty was founded in 1782 at Bangkok, and in the late nineteenth century its representatives ushered Siam into the modern age: treaties with the West were signed, slavery abolished, and study abroad encouraged. The king acquiesced in a bloodless coup which set up a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Since then civilian and military governments have alternated, climaxing in the events of 1992, when violent demonstrations against another general taking over the government led the king to intervene, and the constitution was amended. The prime minister now has to be an elected member of parliament. The military, however, still plays an important part in both political and industrial life.
Thailand can be divided into four regions. To the north there are forested mountain ranges which are the southernmost extension of the Himalayas. The rich intermontane valleys of the Rivers Ping, Yom, Wang, and Nan support intensive agriculture and the forests produce teak and other valuable timbers. The forests provide a home for many hill tribes who live by the shifting cultivation of dry rice and opium poppies. In the northeast lies the Khorat Plateau, a region of poor soils sparsely vegetated with savanna woodlands where crops of rice and cassava are grown. The third region is the central plains-Thailand's rice bowl-with vistas of rice fields, canals, rivers, and villages on stilts. The mountainous southern provinces on the Malay Peninsula are dominated by tropical rainforest. The hills produce tin ore and plantation rubber and the picturesque islands off the west coast draw tourists.
Agriculture is still the main employer, although its economic importance is declining. Rice is the principal crop and Thailand is still one of the world's leading exporters. Other crops include sugar, maize, rubber, manioc, pineapples, and seafoods. Mineral resources include tin ore, lead, tungsten, lignite, gypsum, tantalum, fluorite, and gemstones. Thailand is the world's second largest producer of tungsten, and the third largest tin producer. Tourism is the largest single source of foreign exchange, the development of resorts on the coast along the Andaman Sea having been a major success.
The development of urban manufacturing industry, involving the export of high-technology goods, has been the most significant feature of the economy in recent years. This and the development of the service sector have fueled a growth rate of 9% since 1989. Thailand's domestic savings rate of 35% is a leading source of capital, but the country has also received substantial investment from overseas. Beginning in 1997, Thailand was the first country in the region to be affected bj' a range of problems associated with the Asian economic downturn-a falling currency, rising inflation, and unemployment heading toward 2 million.
OFFICIAL NAME Kingdom of Thailand previously known as the Kingdom of Siam
The Kingdom of Thailand
The Kingdom of Thailand, Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย is an independent country that lies in the heart of Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Laos and Myanmar, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and Myanmar. By the maritime boundary, the country is bordered to the southeast by Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, to the southwest by Thailand and India in the Andaman Sea.
The capital and largest city of Thailand is Bangkok. It is also the country's center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. Bangkok is known in Thai as ‘Krung Thep Mahanakorn,’ or, more colloquially, ‘Krung Thep’, meaning ‘City of Angels’.
Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country in terms of total area, roughly equal in size to Spain, with a surface area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), and the 20th most-populous country, with approximately 63 million people. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thais, 14% is of Chinese origin, and 3% is ethnically Malay, the rest belong to minority groups including Mons, Khmers, and various hill tribes. The country's official language is Thai.
Thailand is one of the most devoutly Buddhist countries in the world. The national religion is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by more than 95% of all Thais. The cultures and traditions in Thailand are significantly influenced by those of India, China and many western countries.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth king of the House of Chakri, as the ruling monarch. The King has reigned for more than half a century, making him the longest reigning Thai monarch and the longest reigning current monarch in the world. The King is recognized as the Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, the Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and Defender of the Faith. Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been ruled by a European power. However, during the Second World War, and while claiming neutrality, Thailand was occupied by the armed forces of the Empire of Japan who built the infamous 'Death Railway' using captured Allied Prisoners of War and slave Asian labourers.
The country's official name was Siam (Thai: สยาม; RTGS: Sayam) until June 23, 1939, when it was changed to Thailand. It was renamed Siam from 1945 to May 11, 1949, after which it was again renamed Thailand. Also spelled Siem, Syâm or Syâma, it has been identified with the Sanskrit Śyâma, dark or brown. But the names Shan and A-hom seem to be variants of the same word, and Śyâma is possibly not its origin but a learned and artificial distortion.
The word Thai (ไทย) is not, as commonly believed, derived from the word Tai (ไท) meaning ‘free’ in the Thai language; it is, however, the name of an ethnic group from the central plains (the Thai people). A famous Thai scholar argued that Tai (ไท) simply means ‘people’ or ‘human being’ since his investigation shows that in some rural areas the word ‘Tai’ was used instead of the usual Thai word ‘khon’ (คน) for people. The phrase ‘Land of the free’ is derived from the fact that the Thai are proud of the fact that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never colonized by Europe.
Ratcha Anachak Thai (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย) means ‘Kingdom of Thailand’ or ‘Kingdom of Thai.’ Etymologically, its components are: -Ratcha- (from Sanskrit raja, meaning ‘king, royal, realm,’) ; -ana- (from Pāli āṇā, ‘authority, command, power,’ itself from Sanskrit ājñā, same meaning) -chak (from Sanskrit cakra or cakraṃ meaning ‘wheel’, a symbol of power and rule).
The region known as Thailand has been inhabited by humans since the paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. Prior to the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artifacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, which was founded in 1238.
Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th - 14th century, the Buddhist Tai Kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna and Lan Chang were on the ascension. However, a century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the new kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century.
After the fall of the Ayutthaya in 1767 to the Burmese, King Taksin the Great moved the capital of Thailand to Thonburi for a brief period. The current Rattanakosin era of Thai history began in 1782, following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.
Thailand retains a tradition of trade with its neighboring states, and the cultures of the Indian ocean and the South China sea. European trade and influence arrived to Thailand in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been colonised. Two main reasons for this were that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to exploit the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonized by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being the loss of large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step by step absorption by Britain of the Shan (Thai Yai) States (now in Burma) and the Malay Peninsula. The loss initially included Penang and Tumasik and eventually culminated in the loss of three predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states, under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During World War II, the Empire of Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai army for six to eight hours before Phibunsongkhram ordered an armistice. Shortly thereafter Japan was granted free passage, and on December 21, 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French. Subsequently, Thailand undertook to 'assist' Japan in its war against the Allies, while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold War, Thailand then went through decades of political transgression characterised by coups d'état as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.
In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht for a short time peaked at 56 baht to the US dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then, the baht has regained most of its strength and as of 26 December 2008, is valued at 34.71 baht to the US dollar.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2008 is called 2551 BE in Thailand.
Peninsular Malaysia was once known as Tanah Melayu (Malay Land). It extends from Singapore to the Ithsmus of Kra bordering Burma, Thailand and Malay Land. Phuket is Bukit (hill) in Malay, ‘Satun’ is ‘Setoi’ (a tropical fruit) was the Province of ‘Kedah’ under the Malay Sultanate and Patani (Land of Farmers) was also part of the Malay Sultanate. In these areas people once spoke both Malay as well as Sam-sam, a local version of the Siamese language. The majority of residents were Muslims. Thailand tried to dominate the Peninsula as far as Malacca in the 1400s but failed.
The Northern states of the Malay Sultanate presented an annual gift to the Thai King in the form of a golden flower, who looked on this as a form of tribute. The British intervened in the Malay State and with the Anglo-Siamese Treaty tried to build a railway from the south to Bangkok, Thailand relinquished sovereignty over what are now the northern Malay provinces of Kedah, Pelis, and Kelantan to the British. Kedah provinces and Patani were given to Thailand.
The Malay Peninsula provinces were infiltrated by the Japanese in the World War II in 1942 and also by the Malayan Communist Party (CPM) from 1948 to 1998 decided to sign for peace with the Malaysian and Thai Governments after the CPM lost its support from Vietnam and China after the Cultural Revolution.
Recent insurgent uprisings are a continuation of separatist fighting which started after World War II with Sukarno's support for the PULO and has intensified with US President Bush's initiation of the War on Terror. Since the uprisings, most victims have been Buddhist and Muslim bystanders.
Politics and government
Since the political reform of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters. Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, but all governments have acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state.
1997 to 2006
The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution to be drafted by popularly-elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, and was popularly called the ‘People's Constitution.’
The 1997 Constitution created a bicameral legislature consisting of a 500-seat House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร, sapha phutan ratsadon) and a 200-seat Senate (วุฒิสภา, wuthisapha). For the first time in Thai history, both houses were directly elected. Many human rights are explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments. The House was elected by the first-past-the-post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority could be elected in one constituency. The Senate was elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one Senator depending on its population size. Members of the House of Representatives served four-year terms, while Senators served six-year terms.
The court system (ศาล, saan) included a constitutional court with jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, royal decrees, and political matters.
The January 2001 general election, the first election under the 1997 Constitution, was called the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history. The subsequent government was the first in Thai history to complete a 4-year term. The 2005 election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history. Despite efforts to clean up the system, vote buying and electoral violence remained problems of electoral quality in 2005. The PollWatch Foundation, Thailand's most prominent election watchdog, declared that vote buying in this election, specifically in the North and the Northeast, was more serious than in the 2001 election. The organization also accused the government of violating the election law by abusing state power in presenting new projects in a bid to seek votes.
In early 2006, significant pressure from corruption allegations led Thaksin Shinawatra to call for a snap election. The opposition boycotted the elections because the election date was uncommonly scheduled very early and gave advantages to Thaksin's political party, which was still in power. Thaksin was re-elected but was also declared to be null by the Thai court of law due to vote-buying allegations. Pressure continued to build as Thaksin refused to step down from the interim position, leading to a military coup on 19 September 2006.
Without meeting much resistance, a military junta overthrew the interim government of Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006 . The junta abrogated the constitution, dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court, detained and later removed several members of the government, declared martial law, and appointed one of the King's Privy Counselors, General Surayud Chulanont, as the Prime Minister. The junta later wrote a highly abbreviated interim constitution and appointed a panel to draft a permanent constitution. The junta also appointed a 250-member legislature, called by some critics a ‘chamber of generals’ and others claimed that it lacks representatives from the poor majority. In this interim constitution draft, the head of the junta was allowed to remove the Prime Minister at any time. The legislature was not allowed to hold a vote of confidence against the Cabinet and the public was not allowed to file comments on bills. This interim constitution was later surpassed by the permanent constitution on 24 August 2007.
Martial law was partially revoked in January 2007. The ban on political activities was lifted in July 2007, following the 30 May dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai party. The new constitution has been approved by a referendum on 19 August, which led to a return to democratic elections on 23 December 2007.
The People's Power Party (Thailand), led by Samak Sundaravej formed a government with five smaller parties. Following several court rulings against him in a variety of scandals, and surviving a vote of no confidence, and protesters blockading government buildings and airports, in September 2008, Sundaravej was removed from office by the Constitutional Court of Thailand. He was replaced by PPP member Somchai Wongsawat. As of October 2008, Wongsawat was unable to access his offices, which were occupied by protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy. On December 2, 2008, Thailand's Constitutional Court banned the ruling Peoples Power Party. After defections from smaller parties the opposition Democrats Party was able to form a government, a first for the party since 2001. The leader of the Democrat party, and former Leader of the Opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed and sworn-in as the 27th Prime Minister, together with the new Cabinet on the 17 December 2008.
Thailand remains an active member of the regional Association of South-East Asian Nations.
Thailand enjoys a high level of literacy, and education is provided by a well organized school system of kindergartens, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schools, numerous vocational colleges, and universities. The private sector of education is well developed and significantly contributes to the overall provision of education which the government would not be able to meet through the public establishments. Education is compulsory up to and including Grade 9, and the government provides free education through to Grade 12.
Thailand has never been colonized, and its educational system is not based on European models to any great extent. Education in a modern sense is relatively recent and, according to some sources, still needs to overcome some major cultural hurdles in order to ensure further development and improvement to its standards, which in some respects have fallen to the lowest levels in southeast Asia.
The establishment of reliable and coherent curricula for its primary and secondary schools is subject to such rapid changes that schools and their teachers are not always sure what they are supposed to be teaching, and authors and publishers of textbooks are unable to write and print new editions quickly enough to keep up with the volatile situation. The issue concerning university entrance has therefore also been in constant upheaval for a number of years. Nevertheless, education has seen its greatest progress in the years since 2001, most of the present generation of pupils and students are computer literate, and knowledge of English is on the increase at least in quantity if not in quality.
Thailand is divided into 75 provinces (จังหวัด, changwat) , which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya, of which Bangkok is at provincial level and thus often counted as a 76th province.
Each province is divided into districts and the districts are further divided into sub-districts (tambons). As of 2006 there are 877 districts (อำเภอ, amphoe) and the 50 districts of Bangkok (เขต, khet). Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok (ปริมณฑล, pari monthon). These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city (เมือง, mueang) is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai or Chiang Mai. The 75 provinces are as follows:
1. Ang Thong
Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan Province
1. Chiang Mai
Phra That Phanom, Nakhon Phanom Province
1. Amnat Charoen
* Bangkok Metropolitan Area - 10,100,964
At 514,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), Thailand is the world's 50th largest country in land mass, whilst it is the world's 20th largest country in terms of population. It is comparable in population to countries such as France and United Kingdom, and is similar in land size to France and California in the US; it is just over twice the size of the entire United Kingdom, and 1.4 times the size of Germany.
Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,565 metres above sea level (8,415 ft). The northeast, Isan, (see special section on this region) consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong river. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula.
The local climate is tropical and characterized by monsoons. There is a rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern isthmus is always hot and humid. Major cities beside the capital Bangkok include Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, Surat Thani, Phuket and Hat Yai.
Thailand is an emerging economy and considered as a Newly Industrialized Country. After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1996 - averaging 9.4% annually - increased pressure on Thailand's currency, the baht, in 1997, the year in which the economy contracted by 1.9% led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the Chavalit Yongchaiyudh administration to float the currency, however, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was forced to resign after his cabinet came under fire for its slow response to the crisis. The Baht was pegged at 25 to the US dollar from 1978 to 1997, however, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the US dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.8% that year. This collapse prompted the Asian financial crisis.
Thailand's economy started to recover in 1999, expanding 4.2% and 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports. Growth (2.2%) was dampened by the softening of the global economy in 2001, but picked up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in Asia, a relatively weak baht encouraging exports and increasing domestic spending as a result of several mega projects and incentives of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as Thaksinomics. Growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004 was 5-7% annually. Growth in 2005, 2006 and 2007 hovered around 4-5% Due both to the weakening of the US dollar and an increasingly strong Thai currency, by March 2008, the dollar was hovering around the 33 baht mark.
Thailand exports an increasing value of over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually. Major exports include Thai rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion. About 55% of the available land area is used for rice production.
Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism makes up about 6% of the Thai economy.
Thailand uses the metric system but traditional units of measurement and imperial measure (feet, inches) are still much in use, particularly for agriculture and building materials. Years are numbered as B.E. (Buddhist Era) in education, the civil service, government, and on contracts and newspaper datelines; in banking, however, and increasingly in industry and commerce, standard Western year (Christian or Common Era) counting prevails.
The official language of Thailand is the Thai language, a Kradai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Burma, and numerous smaller languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Yunan south to the Malaysian border. It is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the Central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet, an abugida script that evolved from the Khmer script. Several other dialects exist, and coincide with the regional designations. Southern Thai is spoken in the southern provinces, and Northern Thai is spoken in the provinces that were formally part of the independent kingdom of Lannathai.
Thailand is also host to several other minority languages, the largest of which is the Lao dialect of Isan spoken in the northeastern provinces. Although sometimes considered a Thai dialect, it is a Lao dialect, and the region in where it is traditionally spoken was historically part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In the far south, Yawi, a dialect of Malay, is the primary language of the Malay Muslims. Chinese dialects are also spoken by the large Chinese population, Teochew being the dialect best represented.
Numerous tribal languages are also spoken, including those belonging to the Mon-Khmer family, such as Mon, Khmer, Viet, Mlabri; Austronesian family, such as Cham, Moken, and Orang Asli, Sino-Tibetan family such as Hmong, Lawa, Akhan, and Karen; and other Tai languages such as Nyaw, Phu Thai, and Saek.
English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers remains very low, especially outside the cities.
According to the last census (2000) 94.7% of the total population are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%. Thailand's southernmost provinces - Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay. Most often Muslims live in separate communities from non-Muslims. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnically Malay, and most Malays are Sunni Muslims. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A tiny but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country's cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century. Since 2001, Muslim activists, generally described by the Thai government as terrorists or separatists, have rallied against the central government because of alleged corruption and ethnic bias on the part of officials.
The culture of Thailand incorporates a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's main theology Theravada Buddhism is central to modern Thai identity and belief. In practice, Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism as well as ancestor worship. In areas in the southernmost parts of Thailand, Islam is prevalent. Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and have maintained a distinctly traditional way of life despite strong Thai cultural influence. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has allowed for this group to hold positions of economic and political power.
Like most Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture. Elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies.
The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is generally offered first by the youngest of the two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch their face to the hands, usually coinciding with the spoken word ‘Sawat-dii khrap’ for male speakers, and ‘Sawat-dii ka’ for females. The elder then is to respond afterwards in the same way. Social status and position, such as in government, will also have an influence on who performs the wai first. For example, although one may be considerably older than a provincial governor, when meeting it is usually the visitor who pays respect first. When children leave to go to school, they are taught to wai to their parents to represent their respect for them. They do the same when they come back. The wai is a sign of respect and reverence for another, similar to the namaste greeting of India.
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, is the national sport in Thailand and its native martial art call ‘Muay.’ In the past ‘Muay’ was taught to Royal soldiers for combat on battlefield if unarmed. After they retired from the army, these soldiers often became Buddhist monks and stayed at the temples. Most of the Thai people's lives are closely tied to Buddhism and temples; they often send their sons to be educated with the monks. ‘Muay’ is also one of the subjects taught in the temples.
Muay Thai achieved popularity all over the world in the 1990s. Although similar martial arts styles exist in other southeast Asian countries, few enjoy the recognition that Muay Thai has received with its full-contact rules allowing strikes including elbows, throws and knees. This is due to Thailand's economic standing in the world while other nation such as Cambodia, Laos and Burma are listed as the world's Least Developed Countries by the UN. Association football, however, has possibly overtaken Muay Thai's position as most widely viewed and liked sport in contemporary Thai society and it is not uncommon to see Thais cheering their favourite English Premier League teams on television and walking around in replica kits. Another widely enjoyed pastime, and once a competitive sport, is kite flying.
Taboos in Thailand include touching someone's head or pointing with the feet, as the head is considered the most sacred and the foot the dirtiest part of the body. Stepping over someone, or over food, is considered insulting. However, Thai culture as in many other Asian cultures, is succumbing to the influence of globalization with some of the traditional taboos slowly fading away with time.
Books and other documents are the most revered of secular objects. One should not slide a book across a table or place it on the floor.
Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as Hom Mali rice) which is included in almost every meal. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year. Over 5000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. The King of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI.
Thai society has been influenced in recent years by its widely-available multi-language press and media. There are numerous English, Thai and Chinese newspapers in circulation; most Thai popular magazines use English headlines as a chic glamor factor. Most large businesses in Bangkok operate in English as well as other languages. Thailand is the largest newspaper market in South East Asia with an estimated circulation of at least 13 million copies daily in 2003. Even upcountry, out of Bangkok, media flourishes. For example, according to Thailand's Public Relations Department Media Directory 2003-2004, the nineteen provinces of northeast Thailand themselves hosted 116 newspapers in addition to radio, TV and cable.
Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย, RTGS: Muai Thai, IPA: Thai Boxing) is a form of hard martial art practiced in large parts of the world, including Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. The art is similar to others in Southeast Asia such as: pradal serey in Cambodia, lethwei in Myanmar, tomoi in Malaysia, and Lao boxing in Laos. Muay Thai has a long history in Thailand and is the country's national sport.
Traditional Muay Thai practiced today varies significantly from the ancient art muay boran and uses kicks and punches in a ring with gloves similar to those used in Western boxing and this has led to Thailand gaining medals at the Olympic Games in Boxing.
Other sports in Thailand are slowly growing as the country develops it's sporting infrastructure, the success in sports like weightlifting and Taekwondo at the last two Summer Olympic Games has shown that Boxing is no longer the only medal chance for Thailand.
Rugby is also a growing sport in Thailand with the Thailand national rugby union team rising to be ranked 61st in the world. Thailand became the first country in the world to host an international 80kg welterweight rugby tournament in 2005. The national domestic Thailand Rugby Union (TRU) competition includes several universities and services teams including Chulalongkorn University, Mahasarakham University, Kasetsart University, Prince of Songkla University, Thammasat University, Rangsit University, the Thai Police, Thai Army, Thai Navy and the Royal Thai Air Force. Local sports clubs also compete in the TRU include the British Club of Bangkok, the Southerners Sports Club and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
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