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Thailand in Brief

 

The Royal Family | Thai History | Country Profile | International Relations | Etiquette | Thai Government | Local Government| Legal System | Animals of Thailand

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The Royal Family

    The concepts of monarchy have their origin in Sukhothai, founded in the early 13th Century and generally regarded as the first truly independent Thai capital. Here was born, particularly during the reign of King Ramkhamheang the Great (1275-1317), the ideal of a paternalistic ruler caring for the needs of his people and aware of his duty to guide them.

In 1378 Sukhothai became a tributary state of Ayutthaya, and the focus of Thai history and politics shifted to the central plains of present-day Thailand.

During the Ayutthaya period there were many kings who brought civilization and glory to the kingdom and whose achievements were far-reaching. Under their leadership the country was introduced to foreign countries and a era of commerce began. Ayutthaya became a bustling center for local and international trade.

Absolute monarchy prevailed during the first six reigns of the Chakri Dynasty and part to the seventh and contributions by each successive king have been instrumental in leading Thailand into the modern world.

At his coronation in 1950 King Bhumibol Adulyadej uttered the Oath of Succession to the Throne: “We shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people.” His activities since then have borne out the truth of those words. His moral leadership has proven immensely important, sometimes decisive, in a number of national crises since his ascension to the throne.

As the upholder of all religions His Majesty has given equal attention to the protection of all forms of worship and to problems of all religious communities in Thailand. He personally contributes to Buddhist institutions and to institutions of other religions.

His Majesty has been a significant force in rural development. Through visits to provincial and rural areas he and Queen Sirikit have gained valuable insight into the lives and problems of the Thai people. Several of his Majesty’s projects seek to relieve problems caused by deforestation. These include reforestation, improvement of existing farmland, planting of commercial fruit orchards, programs to educate the public on the importance of preserving forests and protecting the environment. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has become a father-like figure to millions of his subjects who are no longer amazed to find him in their village, available consultation about matters both trivial and serious.

Queen Sirikit complements His Majesty’s work with her program to promote supplementary occupations. Some indigenous handicrafts such as basketry, clay figure making, silk weaving, cotton weaving, pottery making, ceramics and woodcarving were in danger of disappearing when Queen Sirikit undertook her campaign to preserve them. Today training centers have been established in all regions for teaching these arts, thereby bringing additional income to people who still rely heavily on agriculture as a mean of making a living.

His Majesty and Queen Sirikit have four children. The oldest is the former Her Royal Highness Princess Ubol Ratana, who presently lives in the United States.

Next is His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who graduated from Australia’s Royal Military College and serves in the Royal Thai Army.

The next daughter is Her Royal Highness Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who holds degrees of bachelor and Master of Arts in Liberal Arts with specialization in Ancient-Oriental languages. She also holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Educational Development. She devotes most of her time to helping her father’s projects and follows his footsteps in developing the well-being of the Thai people.

The youngest child of His Majesty and Queen Sirikit is Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn. She has completed doctoral work in organic chemistry and also holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree. She is also interested in improving the standard of living in rural areas. The Royal Family of Thailand

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Thai History

    The origin of the Thai race is still a matter of debate, though many theories and hypotheses have been presented. One hypothesis contends that the Thais emigrated from Sichuan Province in central China and founded a kingdom in southern China. In 1255 they were driven farther south by the Mongol ruler, then into Indochina and present day Thailand. A theory based on linguistic evidence tells that the Thais migrated southward from the southern Chinese provinces of Kwangtung, Kwangsi and Yunnan where the Thai language is still spoken. The latest hypothesis claims that archaeological and anthropological evidence prove that the Thais have been in the area which is present day Thailand for a long time. Thus, further research is needed before any definite conclusions can be drawn.

Early Thai states, such as Lanna and Phayao, exist in present day northern Thailand. The state still regarded by Thai historic tradition as the first Thai kingdom was Sukhothai. During the first half of the 13th Century, the Thai rulers set up Sukhothai as an independent Thai kingdom. Si Inthrathit became the first king. The most famous and dynamic monarch ever to rule Sukhothai was King Ramkhamhaeng, King Si Inthrathit's son and successor. King Ramkhamhaeng's stone inscription of 1292 is considered a source of Sukhothai history and a masterpiece of Thai literature. Sukhothai was prosperous and well-governed, and this period has been regarded as a golden age in Thai history.

In 1351 King Ramathibodi I (U thong) officially founded the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, but the Sukhothai Kingdom did not completely decline. Until the 15th Century, it was incorporated into the Ayutthaya Kingdom as a province. King Ramathibodi I and his immediate successors expanded Ayutthaya's territory northward toward Sukhothai and eastward toward Angkor, the Khmer capital. The Ayutthaya area offered good geographical and economic advantages because it was at the confluence of three rivers and had easy access to the sea. The Thais began contact with the West in the 16th Century, establishing commercial ties with European and Asian nations including Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, China and Japan. this period was considered a great era of international trade. The country was known to traders as Siam ("hsien - lo" in Chinese). In 1939 it became known as Thailand, or in Thai language, Prathet Thai, which means Land of the Free.

During the 1760s, the Burmese launched a full scale attack on Ayutthaya. And in April 1767 Ayutthaya succumbed to the Burmese. Later General Phya Taksin, a savior of the Thai state, defeated the Burmese and proclaimed himself king. Internal political conflict in 1783 resulted in General Phraya Chakri being chosen king and founding the present dynasty of Thai kings.

In the 19th Century the reigns of King Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV were the first stage in the Thai Kingdom's dealings with the West during the Age of Imperialism. King Rama IV, or King Mongkut, was a scholar and the first king to concentrate seriously on reform based on Western models. His wide knowledge of the West assisted him in dealing with Britain, France and other powers when he reigned as king from 1851 to 1868. The reform and foreign policies of King Mongkut were carried on by his son and successor, King Chulalongkorn, or King Rama V. King Chulalongkorn, first king to travel abroad, faced the Western world with a positive attitude. With the influences of Buddhist morality and Western examples, he gradually abolished the institution of slavery, initiated extensive reforms of the public administration and contributed greatly to public education.

In 1893 France acquired Laos and all territory east of the Mekong River after a boundary dispute between Siam and France. In 1904 France acquired all territory west of the same river. In 1907 Siam ceded additional territory along the Mekong River to France in return for French withdrawal from the eastern Thai provinces and the abandonment of French extraterritorial claims over their protected persons. In 1909 Siam yielded four states in the Malay Peninsula to Great Britain in return for a lessening of certain treaty disabilities. It was fortunate for the Thai Kingdom that Britain and France had agreed to keep Siam as a buffer zone between their territorial possessions in Southeast Asia. The foreign policy during King Chulalongkorn's reign ensured Siam's survival as a sovereign state and was essential for its progress to modernity. The king died in 1910 and his son and successor, King Vajiravudh, or King Rama VI, acceded to the throne. He was the first king to have been educated abroad. In 1917 he led Siam into World War I on the side of the Allies and Siam earned recognition and praise from the international community. Siam became a founding member of the League of Nations.

A bloodless revolution took place in 1932 during the reign of King Prajadihipok, or King Rama VII, replacing an absolute with a constitutional monarchy. Men and women over 20 had the right to vote. Afterward came a time of balancing new political ideas and expectations with the pragmatism of power politics. The government alternated between democratically elected officials and differing scales of military rule.

In 1935 King Prajadhipok abdicated and his nephew, Prince Ananda Mahidol, succeeded to the throne. With a stronger status in the international arena, Thailand began to negotiate the revision of unequal treaties. The United States became the first country to give up special trading privileges and extraterritorial rights except in certain legal cases. By 1937 all consular court and other foreign privileges had disappeared with the help of Dr. Francis B. Sayre, an American advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 1940 Thailand demanded from France the return of some territories. Finally, the dispute between Thailand and France was settled with the assistance of Japan as mediator, and the Tokyo Convention was signed in May 1941. By the end of 1941 the war of Greater East Asia had broken out and emerged into World War II. Thailand's Alliance with Japan was concluded and war against the United States and Great Britain was declared on January 25, 1942. Free Thai movements were then organized in the United States and Great Britain. After World War II, Thailand's position was quite vulnerable and was under pressure from a few European powers who considered Thailand a defeated nation and demanded compensation. Fortunately, the United States stood by Thailand. The activities of the Free Thai movements in close cooperation with the governments of the United States and Great Britain during the war successfully supported the Thai argument of the invalidity of its declaration of war. In 1946 Thailand was accepted as the 55th member of the United Nations.

King Ananda Mahidol died in 1946 and his brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej, became sovereign. The government was seized by a military junta led by Field Marshal Pibulsonggram, who became prime minister.

In 1951 a coup d'etat reestablished the 1932 authoritarian constitution and was followed by the promulgation of the revised constitution in 1952. Thailand, along with the United States and six other nations, organized the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954 to protect its member countries against communist aggression.

Field Marshal Pibulsonggram led the cabinet from 1947-1957 and was ousted in 1958. Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat became premier in 1959.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in 1967 to promote economic, cultural and social cooperation among its members. Students led a civilian revolt against the dictatorship in 1973. Democratic elections were held until 1976, when a bloody suppression of demonstrators occurred. The military took over until 1979 when once again Thailand held democratic elections. General Prem Tinsulanonda became premier in 1979 and headed four governments until he declined another term in 1988. During these years, national stability and successful foreign policies brought about many socio-political and economic developments.

In 1988 Thailand celebrated the great occasion of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej's becoming the longest reigning monarch in Thai history.

The current prime minister, Mr. Chuan Leekpai, has completed one year of his four-year term. He became prime minister in November 1997.

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Country Profile

Official Name: Kingdom of Thailand

Geography: Area 513,115 sq.km; slightly smaller than the Yukon Territories.

Cities: Capital-Bangkok (pop. 6-9 million est.), Other major provincial cities-Chiang mai (160,000), Hat yai (140,000), Nakon Rachasima (90,000) Udon Thani (95,000).

Terrain: Flat central plain, northeastern plateau, mountain range in the west and highlands in the north, southern isthmus.

Climate: Tropical, southwest monsoon (mid May to September), dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March).

Border Countries: Burma 1,800km, Cambodia 803km, Laos 1,754km, Malaysia 506km.

Coastline: 3,219 km.

People:

Nationality: Thai

Population: 61,466,178

Growth Rate: 1.4% Annually

Ethnic groups: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, Other 11%

Religion: Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity 0.5%, Hindu 0.1%, other 0.6%

Education: 9 years compulsory, beginning at 6 years of age

Literacy Rate: 93%

Infant mortality rate: 7/1,000

Life expectancy: 66 years male, 71 years female

Language: Thai, English widely understood in major cities, Chinese and Malay are spoken among minority groups.

Government :

Constitutional Monarchy

Constitution: New constitution approved in September 1997.

Chief of state: H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Branches Executive-prime minister (head of government) Legislative-bicameral National Assembly judicial-three level of courts-Court of First Instance, Court of appeal and the Supreme Court

Sufferage Universal: at 18 years of age

Administrative:

Division: 76 provinces subdivided into 767 districts

National holiday: 5 December (H.M. the King痴 Birthday)

International organization:

Participation: APEC, ADB, ASEAN, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFDAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOM, ISO, ITU, Mekong, Group, NAM, PCA, UN, UNTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO

Economy :

GDP (1995): $USD 167 Billion

Annual Growth Rate (1995): 8.6%, (1998 projected growth rate0 1.5%

Per Capita Income (1995): $USD 2,747

Natural resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans.

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International Relations

During the period of colonization by Western powers, Siam followed a “bending with the wind" strategy by which she yielded to European demands such as granting extraterritorial rights to European citizens and surrendering vast territories to England and France. These were painful sacrifices at the time, but they led to the countrys survival as the only independent country in the region.

Recognizing the need for modernization, King Rama V (1868-1910) visited European countries to observe modernization there and sent his children to schools, universities and military academies in Europe. These Western-educated princes were subsequently responsible for the modernization of Siam's bureaucracy. The Royal Court also hired technicians and advisors, including a few American scholars, to assist in the modernization.

Siam supported the Allies in World War I and became a founding member of the League of Nations. With a stronger foothold in the international arena, Siam began negotiating the revision of treaties concluded at the heights of colonialism.

In 1946, Thailand, as Siam by now was known, was accepted as the 55th member of the United Nations. Since then Thailand has been an active participant in various United Nations' activities. It has served on many of the United Nations committees and specialized agencies such as the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Children's Fund, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Thailand has also hosted many regional offices of the United Nations and other international organizations.

In recognition of Thailand's active role in United Nations activities, the late General Kromamun Naradhip Bongsprabandh (Prince Wan Waithayakorn) was unanimously elected to serve as president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1956. He was the second Southeast Asian to have been elected since the United Nations' founding.

Thailand was a founding member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization whose apparent objective was to contain the spread of communism. Thailand has played an important role in founding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Thailand has also been a member of other organizations whose aim is to promote peace and to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region.

The final decade of the 20th Century holds a rising hope for regional peace and expansion of democracy. Thailand firmly believes that the key to genuine stability and prosperity for the whole of Southeast Asia lies in creating greater economic interdependence among the countries of the region, based on commonality of interests and mutual benefits. This will lead to increased prosperity for all and will decrease the likelihood of conflicts.

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Etiquette

The practice of Thai etiquette, dating from ancient times, reflects the gentle disposition of the people. While the pave of modern life may cause some gestures and movements to be rushed or even omitted, many Thai still observe the customs and traditions of early days.

There are various forms of gestures used in salutations such as joining the palms of the hands, half-prostration, kneeling, bowing. To choose the appropriate form, one should consider the status or rank of the person to whom the salutation is addressed and the occasion on which it is performed.

One form of salutation is the wai in which the palms of the hand are joined. The palms are raised to the level of the nose, the tips of the thumbs touching the tip of the nose and those of the index finger touching between the eyebrows. In doing this men should bow and women should curtsey. This is an act of respect and a curtsey for women.

Ways of sitting and times when they are appropriate are prescribed. There are certain rules for sitting sideways, sitting with legs crossed, sitting in a crouching position, and sitting on a chair.

An interesting aside on the propriety of gestures is that the Thai people consider the head sacred, probably because it is thought to be the seat of one痴 is vital spirit which gives strength and health to the owner. A Thai does not allow anyone, unless on intimate terms, to touch his head. In the same manner the feet are considered the lowest part of the body. A Thai does not use the feet to point at others.

The Thai people have great respect for the royal family and expect visitors to show respect. For example, in a cinema a portrait of the King is shown during the playing of the national anthem. The audience is expected to stand.

A visitor to a religious place should dress neatly. When visiting a chapel where a principal image of the Buddha is kept, visitors should remove their shoes.

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Thai Government

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The constitution calls for a civilian government, including a permanent legislative assembly which selects a new cabinet. A May 1992 constitutional amendment states that prime ministers should be elected by the legislative assembly and not appointed by the military. Government is carried out by the prime minister and the cabinet.

The king, as the constitutional monarch, serves in an advisory role. More importantly, he is a symbol of national identity and unity to the people of Thailand, providing high morale for Thai society. The constitution provides that the monarch is sacred and inviolable. His sovereign power emanates from the people, and as head of state, he exercises his legislative power through parliament, his executive power through the cabinet which is headed by a prime minister, and his judicial power through the courts. Other government officials include ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations. The National Assembly has a Senate and a House of Representatives. The representatives are elected by the people for four-year terms and can be either male or female. Goverment Links

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Local Government

Thailand is divided into 76 provinces called changwads. Each changwad is under control of a changwad governor. The changwads are divided into districts called amphurs, sub-districts called ging amphurs which are divided into tambons and villages. Each village has a headman, and each tambon has a kamnan. Cities, except Bangkok and Pattaya, are governed by the governors appointed by the Ministry of the Interior. There are several major political parties but the Communist Party is outlawed.

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Legal System

Founded upon the concept of a civil law system, the Thai administration of justice, as well as its machinery, is organized through written legislation. All case proceedings, execution of law, and the safeguarding of justice must solemnly conform to promulgated laws, including governmental rules and decrees.

According to the Law Governing Court Organization Act of 1934, three levels of courts were established, i.e., Courts of First Instance, Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court, or Sarn Dika. There are about 135 Courts of First Instance throughout the kingdom. In Bangkok Metropolis they include Civil, Criminal, Central Juvenile, Central Labour and Central Tax Courts, as well as District Courts, which have jurisdiction over minor cases. In the provinces, Courts of First Instance include Provincial, Juvenile and District Courts.

Courts of Appeal consist of one Bangkok-based Court of Appeal and three Regional Courts of Appeal. There is one Supreme Court with jurisdiction to review and adjudicate all cases, and the Court's judgments are final. However, in criminal cases, the accused may petition His Majesty the King for clemency. There are also military courts which primarily handle criminal cases involving military personnel. To ensure their impartiality and independence, Thai courts adjudicate cases according to the law in the name of the King, who is above all aspects of politics. The judges themselves are also protected from any political interference. Thus, their appointment and removal are conducted by an exclusive and independent body, the Judicial Service Commission.

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Animals of Thailand

    Over its 514,000 square miles, Thailand spans widely varying geological and climactic zones, from the temperate regions of the north to the islands of the south. In these zones live more than 10 percent of the world's animals. In fact, Thailand is home to more than 285 mammal species, 925 species of birds -- 300 more bird species than are found throughout all of Europe -- and thousands of flowering plants. Given the nation's astounding biodiversity, it is not an overstatement to call Thailand the jewel of the orient.

White-Handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)

    If you're walking through a Thai jungle, you're likely to hear a white-handed gibbon before you see it. These gibbons are singers par excellence, and use their elaborate songs to define personal territory. Their songs begin with the rising of the sun, when males sing a series of short, sharp songs. In turn, these are repeated and expounded upon by females. Together, each mating pair distinguishes its own space to would-be intruders. The white-handed gibbon has evolved into two shades, blond and black, and interestingly, lacks a tail. But lacking a tail does little to stop the gibbon from swinging acrobatically from tree branch to tree branch, feeding on a variety of fruits (including figs, its favorite).

Binturong (Arctictis binturong)

    Relaxing on tree branches is the binturong's favorite daytime activity -- understandable, since the animal is nocturnal. Also known as the "bear cat," the binturong has an unusual adaptation for a carnivore: a tail with a prehensile tip. The tail allows the binturong to balance itself while resting in or climbing trees. The binturong's diet includes insects, rodents, small birds, fish and fruit. Females of the species tend to be larger -- as much as 20 percent larger -- than their male counterparts.

Dusky langurs (Presbytis obscura)

    Dusky langurs, or "leaf monkeys," thrive on the forest's almost endless supply of nourishment. Unlike other more solitary primates like the gibbon, langurs are most comfortable in larger groups. Communal living affords many benefits, including grooming, which frees langurs from ticks and fleas, and reinforces family ties between each member of the langur troop.

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

    There are so few tigers left in Thailand -- only around 500 -- that many Thai natives are unaware of their presence in-country. Moreover, tigers lie low during the daytime, keeping them out of sight of men and animals alike. But with nightfall, the tiger emerges, and quickly lives up to its reputation as one of Thailand's fiercest predators. The tiger has superb night vision -- some six times more proficient than man's. Combined with its striped coat, which is difficult for prey to see at night, the tiger is a lethal hunter.

Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)

    Like all of its kind, the Atlas moth begins life as a caterpillar. By the time it starts to spin its cocoon, the Atlas caterpillar is more than five inches long, and only a few weeks away from its dramatic end. Whether male or female, the transformation from caterpillar to moth is a fatal one for every Atlas. When the Atlas moth emerges from its cocoon, it's an awesome sight, with beautiful ruby colored wings that span nearly a foot. But the Atlas' beauty belies a more sober reality. The Atlas moth, unlike the caterpillar, has no stomach, and from the moment of its birth, it has only a day to live. During that day, the female moth exudes a pheromone into the air. Even from miles away, the male Atlas' sensitive antennae detect the scent, and guide the male to the female. Pairs of Atlases mate, and then, with hours, they die.

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

    Within a few hours of hatching, purple swamphen chicks are active, already grooming themselves. For their first few weeks of existence, they rely on their parents for food, but after that, the reliant swamphen is ready to begin life on its own. Readily distinguishable by its large size and heavy build, the swamphen resides in marshes and lakes, where it lives among leaves and stems.

Mudskipper (Buliothalmis sp.)

    Thailand's exotic inhabitants include the mudskipper, a fish capable of walking on land. With the outgoing tide, mudskippers travel out onto exposed mudflats, eager to stake out their own patch of territory. Good mud is a bounty for a mudskipper. From the mud, the mudskipper filters algae and other nutrients. Areas that are rich in food are highly prized, and protecting them can lead to conflicts. When mudskippers face off against one another, they raise their dorsal fins and swell up their bodies. Battles are short, with the loser departing, defeated until the next tide.

Bubble Crab (Scopimera sp.)

    In a visible daily cycle, bubble crabs emerge by the thousands from their burrows in the beach. They are barely the size of a human fingernail. With a practiced sense of purpose, they gather grains of sand and work them through their mouths, gleaning off the film of algae and microbes that coat each sand grain's surface. The nutrition gained from each mouthful is minute, but through the course of the day, a crab will move thousands of sand grains, which it forms into perfect spheres.

Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)

    What belongs in the forest but has adapted to the beach? Thailand's long-tailed macaque, of course. Dwellers on Thai islands, the macaque is the only large animal that forages on the shore. These macaques range through the shallows in communal groups, numbering from 20 to 60 individuals. While females remain with the group into which they are born, male macaques tend to move between groups. Macaques are intelligent, and will use tools -- such as a sharp rock -- to break barnacles from rocks. They also enjoy shellfish and crab.

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