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Atlas Thailand

Country (long form)
Kingdom of Thailand
Total Area
198,456.51 sq mi
514,000.00 sq km
61,230,874 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
93.8% total, 96.0% male, 91.6% female (1995 est.)
Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity 0.5%, Hinduism 0.1%, other 0.6% (1991)
Life Expectancy
65.29 male, 71.97 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
constitutional monarchy
1 baht (B) = 100 satang
GDP (per capita)
$6,400 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 54%, industry 15%, services 31% (1996 est.)
tourism; textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing, such as jewelry; electric appliances and components, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics; world's second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer
rice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans
Arable Land
computers and parts, textiles, rice
capital goods, intermediate goods and raw materials, consumer goods, fuels
Natural Resources
tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, arable land
Current Environmental Issues
air pollution from vehicle emissions; water pollution from organic and factory wastes; deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting
Telephones (main lines in use)
5.4 million (1998)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
2.3 million (1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
13 (1999)

Thailand, or Siam as it was called until 1939, has never been colonised by a foreign power, unlike its south and southeast Asian neighbours. Despite periodic invasion by the Burmese and the Khmers, and brief occupation by the Japanese in WWII, the kingdom has never been externally controlled for long enough to dampen the Thai's individualism.

The earliest civilisation 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 centres in Chiang Mai and, notably, Ayuthaya.

The Burmese invaded Siam in both the 16th and 18th centuries, capturing Chiang Mai and destroying Ayuthaya. 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.

The 20th century brought great change to Thailand. In 1932, a peaceful coup converted the country into a constitutional monarchy and in 1939 Siam became Thailand. During WWII, the Thai government sided with the Japanese. 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 southeast Asian economies) down in a screaming heap. In August the International Monetary Fund stepped in with a bailout package of austerity measures, which - although it slowed Thailand's growth dramatically and hit the poor hardest - seemed to have turned things around by early 1998. By the turn of the new century, Thailand's economy had stopped going into free fall, but rebuilding had only just begun. Genuine attempts to weed out corruption seem underway, but the poverty-stricken of Thailand are still wary of promises and agitating for more reforms.

The relatively new Thai Rak Thai Party (Thais Love Thais), led by Thaksin Shinawatra, emerged as a force in Thai politics and saw many sitting MPs defect to its ranks. In parliamentary elections held in January 2001, Thai Rak Thai trounced Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai's democrats.

Although Thaksin has thus far been able broadly to deliver on his promises, he has faced opposition from anti-reform elements within his own Thai Rak Thai party, as well as accusations of corruption during his time as deputy prime minister in 1997. One worrying recent development has been Thaksin's widespread suppression of the Thai media. As owner of Thailand's only independent TV station, he sacked 23 journalists during the election that brought him to power, and has since come down heavily on all forms of political commentary on radio or TV. Thaksin also instigated the recent 'war on drugs', which has left thousands dead, many apparently victims of a shoot-to-kill policy by the Thai police.

Thailand's future economic growth will depend partly on its ability to remain peaceful over the next few years. Tourism is now one of the largest sectors of the Thai economy, but the industry has already suffered huge losses due the 2003 epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), even though Thailand remained free of the disease throughout the crisis. The recent arrest of members of the Islamic fundamentalist group Jemaah Islamiyah has worrying implications for the future safety of the kingdom. However, Thais continue to glide through it all with their customary calm.