Introduction to the Land of smiles

Thailand, row of Buddha images in Ayutthaya old Temple

The Kingdom of Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and one of the best countries in the world in which to spend a vacation. Blessed with a tropical climate, it is possible to travel comfortably throughout the country at any time of the year. Travelers, as soon as they arrive , are safe from the turmoil of life. Even in the big city of Bangkok, the uniqueness of the food, architecture, language, customs, and religion stimulates the senses. Away from the capital city, on the pristine sandy beaches and emerald seas in the south or in the mountains of the North, visitors can drowse their days away in a long, deep, peaceful dream.

The population is made up of a rich mix of ethnic groups – mainly Thai, Mon, khmer, Laotian, Chinese, Malay, Persian, and Indian. Thai culture is evident everywhere in the kingdom, in Buddhist rites which take place in numerous temples, in the succession of festivals that occur throughout the year, and at the country markets where locals haggle, politely, for everything from food to clothing.

Thailand is Divided Into Four Main Regions

Central Plains :- Twenty – six provinces make up Central Thailand with Bangkok as its centre. The rain – fed net- work of rivers and canals makes this the most fertile part of Thailand, supporting vast fields of rice, sugar cane, and a variety of fruit.

North :-  The North’s hilly ranges are home to most of Thailand’s hill – tribe population. Lightly populated and undisturbed by modern times, these mountain ranges have vast rugged vistas, waterfalls, and trails where one can discover remarkable sights. The region is rich in traditional culture and architecture, including some of the country’s most majestic temples.

Northeast:- Known as “I-san,” this area sits on the Khorat Plateau and traditional Thai customs strongly flourish. Compared to the rest of Thailand, I-san has a slower pace but the people retain the same friendliness that is found throughout the kingdom. Both Lao and Khmer influences can be experienced in the region’s ancient temple ruins, distinctive food, architecture, and dialects.

South:- Bound by the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman sea, the south is a beach person’s paradise. Scattered islands off the coast decorate this tropical haven. Brightly painted fishing boats catch a myriad of sea-food, and long stretches of white sandy beaches beckon.

Climate:- Thailand’s weather is tropical, hot and humid all year round, with a plentiful rainfall that brings cooler conditions.

Time:- Time in the kingdom of Thailand is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time ( GMT+7).

Government:-  The government of Thailand is a constitutional monarchy inspired by the British democratic model. The national voting age is 18.

The Monarchy:-  His Majesty king Bhumibol Adulyadej is the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, which was founded in 1782 by king Rama IX, is the longest regning king in Thai history. Though Thailand’s political system is officially classified as a constitutional monarchy, the Thai constitution states that the king be “enthroned in a position of revered worship” and not be exposed to any sort of accusation or  “action”. Thai citizens hold the king in the highest regard for his dedication to his people through an impressive list of public works projects, and his humanitarian acts of goodwill.

Holidays and Festivals

Exact dates for festivals vary from year to year as many are based on the lunar cycle. The following are just a few of the major holidays and festivals in Thailand:-

New year’s Day (1 January )

Magha Puja Day ( full moon, third lunar month) – A public holiday commemorating the gathering of the Lord Buddha’s disciples that culminates with candlelit walk around the main chapel of every temple across the country.

Chinese New Year (Late January to early February ) :- A week of festivities and firework displays in the Chinese neighborhoods throughout Thailand.

Chakri Day ( 6 April )-  A public holiday commemorating the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, king Rama.

Songkran Festival ( 13-15 April ) :-  During this Thai New year, people pour scented water into the hands of parents and the elderly and ask for their blessings. Water is splashed on other as a “gesture of good luck”. Be prepared to get wet.

Labour Day (1 May)

Coronation Day (5 May ) :- A public holiday celebrating the coronation of H.M.King Bhumibol Adulyadej (king Rama IX ).

Royal ploughing ceremony Day :-  Held in May when the rice- growing season begins.

Vishakha Puja Day (full moon, sixth lunar month) – A public holiday commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha.

Asalha Puja Day (full moon, eighth lunar month) :-  A public holiday marketing the Lord Buddha’s first sermon.

Khao Phansa (July) :- A public holiday celebrating the beginning of Buddhist Lent.

H.M the Queen’s Birthday / Mother’s Day (12 August) :-  A public holiday celebrating the birth of Queen Siriket of Thailand.

Ok Phansa (October) :- End of Buddhist Lent.

Chulalongkorn Day ( 23 October ):- A public holiday to commemorate the death of king Chulalongkorn ( king Rama V).

Loi krathong Festival ( full moon, twelth lunar month ) :-  This most charming of all Thai celebrations usually falls in November. People launch krathongs, lotus-blossom-shaped vessels made of banana leaves containing a candle, incense sticks, flowers, and coins onto the rivers, lakes, and / or canals to pay respect to the goddess of water.

H.M. the king’s Birthday (5 December ) :- A public holiday to celebrate H.M king Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday.

Constitution Day ( 10 December):-  A public holiday celebrating Thailand’s democratic constitution.

New Year’s Eve (31 December) :- Celebrations across the country to ring in the New Year.

History

The earliest archaeological signs of human habitation in Thailand can be found in the Northest villages of Ban Chiang and Ban Prasat, where evidence of rice cultivation dates back to 4000 BC.

Over the next several thousand years, three major group of people, the Mon, Khmer, and Thai, migrated south from China to present – day Thailand. The Mon settled in present day Myanmar, the khmer moved to what is now Cambodia, and the Thais by 1200 had established dominance in three northern Thai states, Lanna, Sukhothai, and Phayao.

Sukhothai (Dawn of happiness), which declared its independence in 1238, saw the Thais’ gradual expansion throughout the entire Chao Phraya River basin, the esta blishment of Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion, the creation of the Thai alphabet, and the emergence of true Thai art forms, including painting, music, architecture and literature. The sukhothai era declined in the 11300s and eventually became a vassal state of Ayutthaya, a dynamic kingdom further south. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya 86 km north of Bangkok, was regarded by both Asian and Europeans as one of the most progressive and wealthiest kingdoms in the world during that period.

During Ayutthaya’s 417 years of prominence, the Thais brought their distinctive culture to fruition, riding their lands of the khmer presence and fostering contact with Arabian, Indian , Chinese , Japanese , and European powers , especially Portugal and Holland.

Ayutthaya’s destruction in 1767 by the Burmese could not maintain control of the kingdom. In 1769, king Taksin the great, ruling from the new capital in Thon Buri, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, regained control of the kingdom. In 1782, king Rama the great, the first ruler of the Chakri Dynasty moved the royal capital across the river to Bangkok.

Two Chakri monarchs, King Mongkut (Rama IV), who reigned between 1851 and 1868, and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who reigned from 1869 to 1910, saved Thailand from western colonization through brilliant diplomacy and selective modernization. It is largely due to these two monarchs that Thailand was able to retain dominance over its own destiny without the interference of foreign powers.

Today, Thailand has a constitutional monarchy. Since 1932, Thai kings, including the present monarch, H.M.King Bhumibol Adulyadej, have exercised their legislative powers by means of a cabinet headed by a prime minister and their judicial powers through the law courts.

Symbols of Thailand

Thailand’s Flag :- The flag consist of five horizontal stripes, made up of red, white, blue, white, and red colours with the middle blue stripe being twice as wide as the other stripes. The red, white and blue colours signify the nation, Buddhism, and the monarchy respectively.

National Flower :- Ratchaphruek or the golden shower tree is the national flower. This yellow flower symbolises Buddhism,  he national religion, and H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was born on Monday (Monday’s colour is yellow).

National Animal:- The Thai Elephant is the national animal of Thailand as it has played an important role in Thai history and has a unique bond with the Thai people. The elephants fought alongside past kings to protect the naation’s freedom. Moreover, a white elephant was portrayed in the former national flag as it has royal significance, being comsidered a noble creature that symbolises the king’s honour and glory.

National Architecture :- Sala Thai, an open – sided pavilion, is the national architecture of Thailand. This beautiful architecture features a traditional Thai structure that represents the exquisite skills of the country’s craftspeople. The sala Thai can be found in temples, along river banks in public and private gardens or even in the middle of rice fields.

How to Get to Thailand

By Air

Bangkok is Thailand’s major gateway. Most visitors arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport because it is directly connected to Europe, Asia, North America and Australia by daily flights by the world’s major airlines.

Further international flights, mainly from Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, land at phuket and Hat Yai International Airports in the South and Chiang  Mai in the North.

By Rail

A regular rail service links Singapore and Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth in Malaysia. This service leaves daily and also connects with many major towns in South Thailand.

By Road

From Malaysia : it is possible to enter Thailand through a number of crossing in Songkhla, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces.

From Lao PDR : it is possible to enter Thailand through Nong Khai, Chiang Saen, Bueng Kan, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, and Chong Mek.

From Cambodia : it is possible to enter Thailand through Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaeo province, Ko Kong in Trat province and Chong Chom in Surin province.

From Myanmar : it is possible to enter Thailand through Mae Sai and Mae sot.

By Sea

There are no regular steamship connections to Thailand. Cargo ships calling at Bangkok’s khlong Toei port sometimes have passenger cabin facilities.

Cruise ships : call at Laem Chabang port (roughly 2 hours south of Bangkok) from Vietnam and Singapore. Please contact a travel agent for details.

Suvarnabhumi Airport

Suvarnabhumi Airport is the country’s latest international airport. It is able to service 76 flights an hpur, and up to 45 million passengers as well as three million tons of goods annually. Suvarnabhumi Airport is positioned to become the future aviation hub of south-east Asia.

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