Visitors to Thailand will discover a country in transition from a nation of developing status, to one of international standing in many areas. This is what makes Thailand such a great place to visit. Thailand has a rich cultural background, incredible diversity and a climate suitable for travel almost year round. In fact Bangkok is rapidly becoming a centre for business within South East Asia, due to its geographic location, but also due to the fact that Thailand has a stable political system and a strong economy.
To complement Thailand’s cultural and geographical attributes, is an increasingly modern and already efficient infrastructure. The system of highways, lesser roads and railways is fantastic and as good as any country. Domestic flights in Thailand are all quite short so flying between centres or even around the region, is definitely an option.
Thailand is the perfect destination, whether it is purely for leisure, business or as an incentive destination. Visitors to Thailand will discover a friendly, refreshing, safe and beautiful country.
Land of Smiles
If you ask any person who has visited Thailand, what it is that they loved about the country? Many people would say it is the friendly people who make for such a good experience. Thai people are known for their friendly smiles, natural grace and kindness which is probably why so many people return to Thailand for their holidays time after time.
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Location and Geography
Thailand shares borders with Burma to the West North-West, Laos to the North and East, Cambodia to the South-East and Malaysia to the South. The South China Sea becomes the Gulf of Thailand on its East side while to the West is the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean.
The geography of Thailand varies between its four regions from forested mountains and fertile valleys in the North and Central areas to the relatively flat infertile Isaan plateau. There is also some of the most amazing seascapes in the world to be found along Thailand’s extensive coastal areas such as Phang-nga and Krabi Provinces. Central Thailand is known as the rice bowl, through which four rivers join to create the Chaophraya River, which in turn flows into the gulf of Thailand passing Bangkok along the way.
There are various forms of debate about the origins of the Thai people and one thing is for sure, that is, there has been human existence within what is known as Thailand today. For example in the North east of Thailand a well known archeological site is Ban Chiang, where there is evidence of human existence as far back as 10,000 years and evidence of the earliest Bronze and Agricultural methods also exist in this area.
Thailand’s modern history is usually referenced by the movement of Tai people from Yunnan and Guanxi Provinces in China sometime between the 8th and the 10th Century. Fertile river valleys seem to have been the preferred locations where people would settle and create zones of power where a leader would rule the valley or a group of smaller areas as a sort of city state.
Various city states had been established during the centuries after this, including Sukothai (1238–1448), Ayuthaya (1351–1767), Thonburi (1768–1782) and Rattanakosin (1782–1932). During these periods there were several wars with neighboring Burma and even among states until a unified ‘Siam’ arose late in the Thonburi period.
During the Sukothai period, the once mighty Khmer empire was in decline as was the Srivijaya empire in Thailand’s south and the Thai’s used this to their advantage to solidify their presence in the North. It Is understood that the Sukothai empire under King Ramkhamhaeng included a vast area from the South, across to Myanmar and North to Laos. Many Thai people see the Sukothai period as one of the most important periods in Thai History as it was a period of power, plenty and the beginning of the use of a written form of the Thai language.
The Ayuthaya Kingdom thrived during it’s period of power with further decline (and conquest) of Khmer influence until the fall of Angkor in 1431. Ayuthaya enjoyed a four century period of Royal rule from King U Thong (1350–69) to King Ekathat in the mid 18th Century. During the 16th century Ayuthaya was beginning to receive visitors from Europe such as the Dutch, English, Danish and French. By mid 18th century the Burmese attacked Ayuthaya and eventually defeated it. The Thais moved their capital to Thonburi while further uniting the Northern Kingdoms into a unified Siam.
It is interesting to note that the Thonburi and Rattanakosin regions are on opposite sides of the Chaophraya River as it flows through Bangkok, with Rattanakosin being a small island bordered by the river and small canals and which exists on the Bangkok side to this day. Rattanakosin Island is host to the Grand Palace (Wat Phra Keow), Wat Po and a rich list of other well known monuments to Thai history.
Art and Culture
Thailand has a rich history and an equally rich art, craft and cultural heritage dating back hundreds of years. There have been various external influences to Thai art and culture including Asian and Western influence and these outside influences have become just a part of the fabric that makes Thailand what it is today.
Thai religious art is mostly defined in periods of time dating back to before the actual formation of the state we know as Thailand today and thereafter. The various styles or designs may have been a result of the patronage of the leading class or ruling capital during the period.
The notable periods which overlap in earlier times due to various regional centres of power are usually reported as the Dharavati period (Nakhon Pathom 7th to 11th centuries); Srivijaya (Nakhon Sri Thamarat 7th to 13th centuries); Khmer (Angkor 9th to 11th centuries); Lanna (Chiang Saen 11th to 13th centuries); Sukothai (13th to 15th centuries); Ayuthaya (14th to 18th centuries) and Ratanakosin or Bangkok from 18th century until today.
Visitors to Thailand will witness a country of contrasts where modern and ancient, built and natural all vie for prominence. One thing is for sure, the Thai artistic and cultural style will be evident to enhance the scene whatever it may be. Modern hotels with state of the art facilities will be enhanced with Thai pieces whether they are drawn, painted, photographed, sculptured, woven or installed.
Urban environments with their ‘modern’ built environments often unsightly will be enhanced by the occasional golden and mirror inlaid sparkling temple, sprouting amid the rooftops. The curved gables and carved deities reflecting an age old custom passed down from artisan to artisan. Temples are a showcase of various forms of art from painted murals on doors and walls, to sculptured Buddha images in different poses depicting the ‘attitudes’ attributed to the Buddha.
Visitors to the modern day Thailand will find a thriving art and craft scene where ancient methods are being maintained beside more modern aspects and often in combination with modern ideas or techniques. The incredible creativity of the modern Thai artisan can easily be witnessed during a trip to Bangkok’s famed ‘weekend market’ called Chatuchak, where visitors will be amazed at the immense selection of art and craft on sale. Methods passed from previous generations meet current ideas in an endless display of creative endeavour where the dollar is patron.
In perhaps every province of Thailand there will be districts specializing in some form of art or craft. But one Province stands alone for it’s reputation as the art and craft capital of Thailand. Chiang Mai – The Rose of the North – is nestled in a fertile valley in Thailand’s verdant Northern region and is home to a rich variety of art and crafts. Tourists from around the world visit Chiang Mai often for the sole purpose of visiting the factories or workshops where artisans create their wares. There is an amazing choice of silk, silver, ceramic, cotton, wood, natural fibre, bronze and laquerware produced by artists or artisans using techniques both young and old. Chiang Mai is also home to many old and famous temples where excellent examples of Buddhist art may be viewed. It is truly the centre of the world of Thai art and crafts.
Religion and Beliefs
Buddhism is the primary religion in Thailand with more than 90% of the population being Buddhist. There is small numbers of other religions including Islam, Christian and Hindu. In rural areas especially, Buddhism is closely entwined with other belief systems. The majority of the population follows Theravada Buddhism, the oldest form of Buddhism that was originally developed in India and based on the four noble truths that Lord Buddha had realised in order to become enlightened.
Religion and Buddhism in particular plays a very important role in the everyday life of the people of Thailand. The image of Buddhist temples both old and new literally dotted across the landscape is one of the most enduring images visitors take home with them. Whether travelling through lush green countryside or exploring small back lanes in Bangkok, there will always be a temple to interrupt the scene.
The temple takes a prominent place within the local community and often provides necessary services as well as being the main place of worship where people will go to pay respects to the Buddha and receive the blessing of monks. Many people attend the temple regularly for meditation and sessions of chanting from the texts.
Religious and other beliefs play a very strong part in the decisions of everyday life of the Thai people and it is not uncommon for people from all levels of society to consult fortune tellers prior to making important decisions. Students attending exams might pay respects at a shrine in University grounds before sitting the exam and before moving into a new house several monks form the local temple may be invited to provide a ‘house blessing’ ceremony or ‘tambun baan’ to ensure a positive atmosphere presides.
For those who are interested enough to learn more about the religion and beliefs of Thailand, there is a whole new world awaiting with interesting and sometimes very alien ideas to test ones ability to understand. In the very least to gain a basic understanding of Buddhism as it is practiced in Thailand would be to broaden ones horizon and appreciation of another culture.