Thailand (formerly Siam Thai Sayam), officially the Kingdom of Thailand, is a country located at the center of Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, 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 the southern extremity of Burma. Its maritime boundaries include Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast and Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea to the southwest.
The country is a kingdom, with most recorded reigns in the world; a constitutional monarchy with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth king of the House of Chakri, who has reigned since 1946, making him the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. The king is officially titled Head of State, the Head of the Armed Forces, an Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths.
Thailand is the world's 50th largest country in terms of total area (slightly smaller than Yemen and slightly larger than Spain), with a surface area of approximately 513,000 km2 (198,000 sq mi), and the 21st most-populous country, with approximately 64 million people. The largest city is Bangkok, the capital, which is also the country's center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thai, 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. The primary religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by around 95% of all Thais.
Thailand experienced rapid economic growth between 1985 and 1995 and is a newly industrialized country with tourism, due to well-known tourist destinations such as Ayutthaya, Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Ko Samui, and exports contributing significantly to the economy. There are approximately 2.2 million legal and illegal migrants in Thailand. Thailand has also attracted a number of expatriates from developed countries.
Thailand has a rich and colorful culture, and many exotic monuments and stunning beaches, which draw millions of visitors each year, ranging from budget-conscious backpackers to those seeking luxurious pampering in a spa.
Where else but Thailand can visitors cruise on a converted rice barge, roar upriver in a long-tail boat and take a white-knuckle ride on a bamboo raft, then stay in jungle tree houses as guests in the homes of hill tribe villagers, or on raft houses floating on a river? Equally memorable are the trails leading deep into the rainforest past cooling waterfalls, and the simple beauty of the translucent sea lapping onto endless white, soft sand. Not to be missed is dynamic Bangkok, a city that is larger than life, with its futuristic high-rise buildings juxtaposed against the glittering Grand Palace.
Early morning is when the saffron-robed monks leave the sanctuary of their wats (temples) to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and with the reverence the people have for the monarchy, a dynasty that has maintained the independence of the country for centuries, the result for the Thais is a blend of tradition with contemporary living.
His Majesty King Bhumibol is the longest reigning monarch in the world, having come to power in 1946. Following the end of absolute monarchy, Thailand moved towards democracy, but this was thwarted by the military, which has often staged coups in protest at government policies. The most recent was in September 2006 when a bloodless coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and replaced him with an interim prime minister until elections could take place, probably in October 2007.
For all this, Thailand has risen above economic collapse in 1997, SARS, avian influenza and the devastating tsunami in December 2004 to become a hugely popular destination on the long-haul tourist trail, possessed as it is of great natural beauty and a very rich cultural heritage.