The Thais are heirs to an ancient animistic culture and animistic beliefs persist at all social levels lying deep in the psyche though tempered by Buddhist teachings. Animism is the belief that inanimate objects are imbued with some numismatic power or are the dwelling place of a deity or spirit.
One spirit that people have to take notice of every day is the phra phum or spirit of the land. The phra phum is considered to have occupies a plot long before people arrived and must be appeased daily with offerings of food, jasmine garlands and incense for the residents to continue living there happily. Accordingly a house is built for him in the compound generally in the form of a temple or old Thai house perched on a pole just above eye level.
Erecting a spirit house involves a Brahmin ceremony which takes place at an auspicious time calculated by an astrologer and must be before 11.00 am. The spirit house must be located out of the building’s shadow and the color is determined by the day of the week in which the owner was born e.g. red for Sunday. An owner who moves up in the world will mark his success by erecting increasingly grand spirit house.
Even in contemporary Bangkok, the most modern office block will have spirit house following a long tradition dating back to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.
Other spirits are believed to dwell in rivers, fields, trees, in fact anywhere. Many trees will be have saffron sashes or colored gauzes around them and be dotted with incense sticks while discarded Buddha statues and old spirit houses may be clustered around the base. Such is the belief that even in modern Bangkok the felling of a large tree is still no simple matter as angels, nymphs and other spirits are believed to dwell inside. These spirits may be lucky, kind, mean or dangerous. When a tree is cut down, the spirit moves to another tree or remains inside the logs or planks. Most forest trees contain a female ghost named Nang Mai, generally considered benevolent. Nang Mai also occupies the main post in the Thai house and the fortune of the household depends on appeasing her.
A most unusual shrine is located in a corner of the compound or the Bangkok Hilton Hotel, on the bank of the Saen Saeb cana. This is devoted to the goddess Chao Mae Tubtim. Oblations to her are made in the form of phallic images and the shrine is dotted with numerous examples of countless colors and dimensions. This long established shrine once a full-time medium and phallus carver and is popular among boat people and those who dwell along rivers and canal.
Rare is the Thais without and amulet. Known in Thai as phra khruang, amulets consist of figures representing attitudes or episodes from the life of the Buddha, and are believed to bring love, fortune, power and wealth to the wearer. So sacred are they considered to be that Thais don’t talk of buying or selling amulets but of renting or leasing them (Chao Phra).
Generally take the form of the Buddha, a revered monk or a Hindu divinity, amulets have to be invested with sacred power to ensure their potency and are thought to be imbued with the vital energy of the monk who sanctified them. Their power is said to depend on the moral behavior of the wearer. The wearing of sacred amulets dates back to ancient India when the devout would wear them for protection against the many perils encountered on pilgrimages. Often sacred marks or patterns are tattooed onto the body.
The Playful Boldness of Man
Thailand is home to around 27,000 Buddhist temples or wats with over 300 in Bangkok alone. Communities traditionally centered around the temple which provided a focal point for the lives of the inhabitants.
The word “temple” is something of a misnomer when applied to the Thai wat. A wat is actually a complex of structures each with its own function. The heart of the temple is the bot or ubosoth which corresponds to the Christian church or chapel. It is here that the major Buddha image is enshrined, where major acts of devotion and ordination ceremonies are held. Its limits are defined by eight boundary stones known as sima found at the four comers and four cardinal points.
Sermons are given at another structure known as the viharn also containing a major Buddha image. The bell-shape chedi or stupa is the reliquary for sacred objects of the Buddha. Another type of stupa, shaped like finger pointing at the sky, and known as a prang, is Khmer in origin and represents a sacred mountain.
Other buildings include salas which are resting places for celebrants (former for monks’ and novices’ studying Buddha’s teachings) and the monks’ quarters known as kuti. Many temples also have libraries known as mondop as well as schools as once they were the repositories of all knowledge. Most temple compounds usually have a Bo or Bodhi tree. This is the sacred focus religion under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
Temples are often populated with stone statues representing mythical beings.
These include yaksha which are guardian giants generally wielding clubs, nagas the celestial serpents, and garudas the winged vehicle of Vishnu, the demi-avian kinnorn and their consorts the kinnaree.
Other embellishments include mother-of-pearl, lacquer, and wood carving which transform sites of ceremony and worship into objects of delight fit for divinities. Decorative crafts are elevated to an art form in their ornamentation of doors, windows, gables and other structures.
The original temples at Sukhothai the temples were muted, Spartan affairs but by the Ayutthaya period through the Thai’s natural ingenuity and the influx of Chinese influences they developed into elaborate, polychromatic structures glittering with ornamental mosaics. Particularly noticeable is the lightness and exuberant sense of color compared to the more subdued Khmer model. This is seen particularly the soaring, layered roof emblazoned with blue, orange, green and yellow porcelain tiles that exemplify the joyous, uplifting form and infinite detail with which the Thai have wrought their temples. Their visual power derives from the blend of serenity and flamboyant form that they exude. The roofs peak in a beguiled finial known as the cho fa said to represent the form of a bird.
Somerset Maugham vividly caught the spirit of Thai temple architecture on a visit earlier this century. “It makes you laugh with delight to think that anything so fantastic could exist on this somber earth. They are gorgeous; they glitter with gold and whitewash, yet are not garish; against the vivid sky, in that dazzling sunlight, they hold their own, defying the brilliance of nature and supplementing it with the ingenuity and the playful boldness of man. The artists who developed them step by step from the buildings of the ancient Khmers had the courage to pursue their fantasy to the limit.”
The Traditional Thai House
The traditional wooden, Thai house now enjoying a resurgence of popularity among the city elite has its origins in a highly pragmatic design by humble country folk.
Until well into the Ayutthaya period, the use of durable materials for any non-religious structure was forbidden by law. Faded murals from the Ayutthaya period reveal that the traditional Thai house seen now in villages of the central region has changed little from those far off days. In the days before deforestation, teak was the most abundant wood though stronger woods were used for the pillars. The prefabricated nature of the houses means that they can be disassembled and easily re-erected elsewhere.
The original design emerged from a need to cope with Thailands climate – that of constant heat and regular flooding during the rainy season. The house stands on an upper platform supported on piles with a ladder leading down to the ground or canal. This serves as an anti-flooding measure and also a place to keep animals. An airy veranda with overhanging roof provides protection against sun and rain, and the high rooms and numerous windows provide coolness. The most distinctive decorative characteristic is the bargeboards which curve up at each end to an adornment known as the ngao believe to be Khmer in origin.
Ritual accompanies the building of a house. The appropriate month for construction must be divined by an astrologer, a ceremony to appease the spirit of the land must take place, and of course a spirit house must be constructed for him. The direction in which the house faces is also of paramount importance – the entrance should be at the south and the bedroom at the northern end, and the kitchen should be on the western side, for example.
At the turn of the century such traditional houses were the norm for Bangkok; a generation later they had all but vanished from the capital under the onslaught of Western architectural influences. Over recent decades they have made a comeback, now often dwarfed by office building. Teak is now scarce and expensive making the traditional house the preserve of the wealthy but architects are incorporating. Thai motifs into houses to be constructed from reinforced concrete in an attempt to resurrect the spirit of a vanishing past.
The most prized Thai characteristic is that of jai yen, literally a cool heart. It involves reacting to any event, whether fortune or adversity in a calm and emotionally collected manner. It reflects the Buddhist concept of upekkha or equanimity. Likewise its counterpart of hot heart (jai rawn), getting visibly angry and losing emotional control is not respected.
Another prime Thai characteristic involving the heart is that of krengjai. It generally translates as having a respectful consideration for, and reflects a reluctance to cause inconvenience to another, usually a superior. Krengjai confers a remarkably civility and smoothness to Thai social situations.
The concept of the heart is an important one in Thai with the language containing a plethora of compounds of jai. Nam jai, literally heart water means consideration of another person’s feelings and status and is manifested by kind words and in the giving of small gifts. Likewise, hen jai, to see the heart means sympathy.
The Thai character has been traditionally summed up in what is known as the five S’s – Sa-ad, Suphap, Samruam, Sanuk, Saduak, Sa-ad refers to cleanliness, both moral and physical, Suphap topoliteness, Samruam to decorousness of behavior, Sanuk involves infusing any situation with a sense of fun, of turning work into play, and binging a sense of ebullience to any activity, Saduak or convenience is a policy of not banging one’s head against obstacles rather moving around them or waiting until they abate. A sixth S, Sabai, meaning comfort or a feeling of well-being is also highly prized.
Symbols of Thailand
A common feature of temple architecture is the naga or cosmic serpent seen undulating along balustrades or along stairways. Cognate with the Chinese dragon the naga is one of the many demigods that meander throughout the Asian mythology. They have their origins in the Aryan serpent worship when they were regarded as demigods. The Naga features in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology; Vishnu sleeps on the cosmic serpent Ananta during the intervals of creation, and the Naga king Muchalinda used his hood to protect the meditating Buddha during a storm. The naga is closely associated with water.
As the naga represents the watery element, the garuda is symbol of the air. He is the winged vehicle of Vishnu. As the king is regarded as a manifestation of Vishnu, the garuda is a royal symbol. It adorns the king’s scepter and royal standard and is a commercial symbol by royal appointment to outstanding companies and as such may be seen to adorn banks and other select businesses.
The lotus is the quintessential symbol of Buddhism but predates it as a religious motif. It was sacred to the Hindus, who believed that the god Brahma had been born in a lotus that that sprung from the navel of Vishnu. In the art of both Hinduism and Buddhism, deities are frequently represented seated on a lotus throne. When the infant Buddha took his first steps, lotus flowers are said to have sprung up under his feet and later, the lotus became the symbol of his enlightenment; the flower emerging from the mud or ignorance and rising through the water to open to light was a metaphor for enlightenment. Lotuses are used widely in Buddhist ceremonies where together with incense and candles form a triple offering.
The elephant has played a major role in Thai history having come to symbolize good luck and a number of superstitions surround them. They have served as war animals, as beasts of burden, and have been closely associated with the monarchy, especially the albino variety known as the white elephant. This relationship continues with the elephant maintenance act of 1921 stating that white elephants must legally be offered to the king. The discovery of a white elephant is considered and auspicious omen and an indication that the monarchy will prosper. The present king has 17 white elephants. The national standard of Siam was once a white elephant on a crimson ground until the king considered it too gaudy and it was replaced by the present tricolors.
On a more secular level, another motif that the sharp-eyed visitor will spot is that of Nang Gwak, the beckoning lady. Generally she will e found in and around shops as her beckoning is intended to bring customers. She also reputedly has aphrodisiac properties and Thais who wish to enhance their love life will wear her image on a medallion.
The orchid is Thailand’s national flower. It is emblazoned on the tail of the flag carrier Thai Airways International whose female passengers are presented with an orchid bouquet upon boarding.
All cultures have their proverbs – centuries of wisdom encapsulated in a pithy colorful phrase. Thailand with its long history has an abundance of folkloric maxims, adages, and truisms that express the collective wisdom of centuries with a resonance that is uniquely Thia. It is passed down in a collection of folk sayings including proverbs and nursery rhymes, verbal charms, and riddles.
As a country that was until recently an agricultural one, it’s not surprising that the bulk of Thai proverbs are rooted in country wisdom and motifs and they bear an amusing similarity to those of the west. The familiar taking coals in Newcastle is rendered as ‘taking coconuts to a coconut grove’; a jack of all trades is said to ‘know it like a duck’, while to play with fire has the equivalent of ‘to raise tigers and crocodiles’. An especially colorful phrase describes a poor man who auddenly becomes rich as ‘a toad on a palanquin’.
Sanuk, the quintessential Thai spirit of fun permeates many many proverbs. While in the West they say that a bad workman always blames his tool, the Thais say that ‘the bad dancer always blames the flute and drum’. Then, when in Rome do as the Romans do, has the visually comic equivalent of ‘When you enter a town where people wink, wink as they do.’
They are also somber touches that remind us that proverbs are drawn from the realities of life. To cry ones eyes or heart out it rendered as ‘to cry until ones tears turn to a stream of bloof’ or the more vivid and disturbing ‘to cry like a turtle being grilled’. A man without offspring is descrbed as ‘a palm tree without leaves or fruit’ and ‘to go back to one’s old house’ means to pass away from the world.
But in general, Thai proverbs reflect the serenity and equanimity of a Buddhist nation that knows it is futile to take things seriously. A skillful liar is one who makes sculptures out of water, the fickleness of a woman’s heart is likened to a drop of water on a lotus leaf, a short fat person is referred to as a jar of pickled garlic with legs, and a garland man is one who lets his life drift by aimlessly.
Thai art originated in scultures of the Buddha during the Sukhothai period. Buddhism dominated Thai arts until well into this century generally under the patronage of the court. Sukhothai images are considered the apex of Thai sculture.
Painting was originally confined to temple and palace interiors and with the objective of enhancing the beauty of the structures. Such murals were characterized by a lack of perspective with a figure’s size dependent on his status. The artist worked with natural pigments in five primary colors corresponding to scarlet take, yellow ochre, ultramarine, pipe-clay white, and pot-black.
The import of pigments from China during the Bangkok period allowed the artist to expand his range of hues. Then in the middle of the 19th century, synthetic paints arrived from the west and Thai artists began to experiment with western perspective.
Modern Thai arts came of age when Italian artist Corado Ferocci founded the Film Art School in 1933 which was to become Silkpakorn University. Perocci was to acquire Thai citizenship and change his name to Silpa Bhiirasri and is today remembered as the father of Thai art.
The period from the 1932 revolution until the mid 1950s, however, was marked by realism and the striving for European ideals in art. The government was authoritarian and decided on what was culturally appropriate. During the 1950s, Thai artists began to experiment with impressionism and cubism, frequently drawing on rural themes in a realistic mould.
In the 1970s, Thai artists strove to blend traditional Thai themes with Western techniques Chakrapan Posayakrit could produce paintings of scenes and characters drawn from literalture that have an impact that is at once modern and traditional. Later, painters such as Thawan Duchanee sought to Interpret Buddhism thus forming an uniquely Thai style of art. Thawan was a seminal figure in the concept of Visual Dhamma School. Dhamma geerally refers to the central law of Buddhism but Thawan and his followers interpreted it as meaning a natural law of the universe and his painting focus on the inner battle between the sensual and spiritual in man.
Thai Buddhist Arts
Thai Buddhist Art – Giving form to the Divine.Thai Buddhist art comprises principally sculpture and architecture as painting, other than murals, was relatively uncommon before the Ratanakosin era. It is traditionally categorized chronologically as follows;
Dvaravati (6th – 11th centuries)
The Mons who dominated this period of Thai history were highly skilled artisans who worked in stone, stucco and terra cotta. Their artistic style was highly influenced by Indian arts expecially the Gupta and post-Gupta styles which flowered in India between the 4th and 8th centuries but usually with the indigenous facial features of the Mon – large face, prominent eyes and, broad nose, and thick lips. An instance of Dvaravati art unique to Southeast Asia is that of the Whell of the Law used as a motif on tall pillars or in temple compounds.
Sri Vijaya (8th – 13th centuries)
Art works from the Sri Vijaya Kingdom which held away in southern Thailand reveal that Mahayana Buddhism was the dominant spiritual force. Earlier an works show a strong Mon influence, while elements of Khmer style are visible in later artifacts, but on the whole the influences are Indo-Javanese. Images dating from this period include bronze Boddhistattva and clay votive tablets.Lopburi (11th – 14th centuries)Lopburi was long a Khmer stronghold and much of their sculpture was in stone including images of Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist deities. Images of the Buddha generally show him seated upon a naga. Also found are bronze images of dancing tantric budduhist deities and the celestial maidens known as apsaras.
SuKhothai (12th – 15th centuries)
Thai Buddhist iconography reached its apex during the Sukhothai era, especially under during the reign of King Lithai. Thai art finally attained a perfect synthesis of all regional influences to produce luminous images in bronze that radiated spiritual energy.
Classic Sukhothai images are generally seated in the posture known as “Calling the Earth to Witness” which represents the Buddha’s victory over Mara and his final enlightenment. The head is crowned with the ushnisha, a Sukhothai innovation representing the buddha’s spiritual force.
Ayutthaya (15th to late 18th centuries)
Ayutthaya Buddhist art drew on Sukhothai influences to produce items that are far more varied in attitude and gesture than previously. The range of materials also expanded to include sandstone, wood and stucco. Images of the Buddha in the pose of Subduing Mara were popular as were standing images which showed a wide variety of hand gestures. Towards the end of the Ayutthaya period, images of a crowned Buddha came into prominence.
Ratanakosin (late 18th century to present)
Following the establishment of Bangkok in 1782, over a thousand images from temples around the country were brought to the new capital and enshrined in its new temples. There was thus little impetus for the creation of new images and those produced were generally copies of those of Ayutthaya.
Later in the Bangkok period, images became more realistic and historically accurate owing to the influence of King Mongkut who sought to demystify the religion. Also popular during this era were images of hermits. Hindu deities, and various demigods such as Yaksha (giants), nagas, garudas, and kinnaree.
The best introduction to this field of Thai arts can be gained at the National Museum which offers guided tours in various languages on weekdays.
The Thai language is tonal, uninflected and predominantly monosyllabic, the exception being compound words derived from Khmer, Pali or Sanskrit. These latter words are often specialized vocabulary dealing with religion, philosophy and science. There are five tones in standard Thai, neutral, high, low, rising, and falling which function to differentiate words having similar sounds. Thus ma neutral means ‘come’, ma high means ‘horse’, ma rising means ‘dog’, and so on.
The grammar is very simple and the lack of inflection leads to compound words to transform verbs and adjectives into nouns and gerunds. Thus suk meaning happy is transformed into the attachment of the prefix kwam to form kwam suk – happiness. Verbs are modified by prefixing garn. Thus doen the verb to walk becomes the gerund garn doen meaning walking.
Thai is a melodious, expressive language in which euphony is highly regarded. There are many word pairs in which one does not contribute in to the meaning but they are combined to produce an euphonic result. An example is sanuk sanan meaning fun (from sanuk, meaning fun, and sanan, meaning to bathe and added merely for euphony).
Central Thai spoken in Bangkok is the official language but there are many dialects. That of the northeast is closely akin to Lao, that of the north has its own charm, while that of the smooth is often incomprehensible to people of the central region having, among other things, a sixth tone. Sukhothai is properly considered the cradle of the Thai nation as that is where the written Thai language was developed. King Ramkamhaeng is credited with the creation of the Thai script based on the Khmer model, itself derived from the ancient alphabets of India. The present Thai alphabet has 44 consonants and 21 vowels together with five tone marks and others diacritical marks that indicate abbreviation and other functions. Thai is written from left to write with the words generally unseparated. This lack of punctuation can make it difficult to learn at the offset.
The first primer of the Thai language, known as the Chinda Manee was prepared during the reign of King Narai in the Ayutthaya era.
Like all Thai arts, literature has a religious origin and for a long time it was centered in the court as the aristocracy were the only educated classes.
An earlier Thai version of the Ramayana had been destroyed at the sacking of Ayutthaya and a later version was composed in 1798 by King Rama I and intimates who had knowledge of the earlier version. Thai and Buddhist elements were incorporated into the Hindu epic to preserve details of Ayutthayan rites and traditions.
King Rama 2 composed another version of the Ramakian to be used in classical drama. He also wrote epic poems, the most famous of which is Inao. King Rama 2’s court was a heaven for the poets and artists of the day, the most prominent of which was Sunthon Phu, a lyrical poet with a gift for writing about matters of love. His speciality was the nirat, a poetic travelogue.
Sunthon Phu was born a commoner, but his talent gained him entree to the privileged literary circle of the court and brought him to the attention of King Rama 2 who granted him a house and title. He later lost these after criticizing the verse of a certain Prince Chetsada, who was later to become King Rama 3.
Following the death King Rama 2, Phu became a monk, traditional refuge for those beyond the official pale. Life as commoner, courtier, and monk exposed him to all levels of society, but he most excelled at delineating the joy and sorrow of the common man, giving image to the panorama of Thai life.
He exploited the full potential of euphony in the Thai language but is most revered for giving voice to Siam’s developing national awareness. His works form a rich lode of proverb and aphorism, and to this day Thai children use them to learn the system of intonation and spelling of their language.
The Thai novel made its appearance in the early 20th century with works by ML Boopha Nimanheminda, Mai Muang Doem, and Malai choophinit who wrote both novel and short stories on rural life.
A major exponent of Thai literature was former prime minister MR Kukrit Pramot. His short story collection Lai Chivit (Many Lives) is considered an example of the apex of modern Thai prose. His most famous work is the quartet Si Phaendin (Four Reigns). Delineating court life during the reigns of Kings of King Rama 5 to Rama 8, these works offer fascinating glimpses of the royal court during interesting times.
Later writers have chosen the more realistic genres of fiction.
A Note on TransliterationDespite the efforts of various learned bodies to introduce some consistency to the English spelling of Thai words, there is still much variation. Thus Banglamphu many be seen spelt Banglumpu, Banglamphu or Banglamphoo (or Banglumpoo, Banglumphu) and several other variants.
Below is a glossary of Thai words that the visitor is likely to come across in the course of his travels, Ao – a bay Bang – a village on the water Buri – town Changwat – province, of which Thailand has 79. Each province is subdivided into amphoe (district), the most important of which is Muang (containing the provincial capital). Thus Amphoe Muang, Changwat Sukhothai refers to the main district of Sukhothai where Sukhothai town is located. Amphoes are further subdivided into tambon (sub-district), and ban or moo ban (village).
Chedi – a pagoda, usually round and tapering to a spire, (also known as stupa),
Chiang – a town in northern Thailand, Doi – a mountain or hill in the north of Thailand,
Khao or PhuKhao – a hill or mountain, Khlong – a canal, Koh – an island,
Mae Nam or Menam – a river (Literally, ‘Mother of the waters’),
Muang – Town or city, Nam Tok – waterfall, Phra – monk (from the Pali and Sanskrit vara meaning exalted, excellent, or most excellent),
Phra is also used as a prefix to words connected with religion or royalty. Thus phra chedi, a pagoda, phra racha, king.
Prang – Mahayana or Hindu style pagoda, Prasat – literally castle, a tower at a Hindu or Mahayana temple, Sala – an open-sided meeting or resting place, Soi – a lane, Suan – garden or park, Talat – a market, Thaleh – sea or ocean, Tha or Tha Rua – a boat landing, Tham – a cave, Uthayan – a park etc.
Thailand has a GDP worth 8.5 trillion Baht (on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis), or US$627 billion (PPP). This classifies Thailand as the 2nd largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Despite this, Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.
It functions as an anchor economy for the neighboring developing economies of Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. Thailand's recovery from the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis depended mainly on exports, among various other factors. Thailand ranks high among the world's automotive export industries along with manufacturing of electronic goods.
Most of Thailand's labor force is working in agriculture. However, the relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased.
Tourism revenues are on the rise. With the instability surrounding the recent coup and the military rule, however, the GDP growth of Thailand has settled at around 4-5% from previous highs of 5-7% under the previous civilian administration, as investor and consumer confidence has been degraded somewhat due to political uncertainty.
The incumbent elected civilian administration under Samak Sundaravej in power from January 29 to September 9, 2008 stated that the economy will have grown by 5.5% to 6% by the end of 2008. Due to rising oil and food prices, the annual inflation rate for 2008 shot up to 9.2% in July; a 10-year high, but it will unlikely reach double digit rates later this year as oil and food prices are stabilizing.
Thailand had historically been a tiger economy with average growth rates of 9.4% from 1985 to 1996. The military administration under prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda in power from 1980 to 1988 began to open up the country's economy to international trade.
However, after the 1997–1998 currency crisis, millions of people were unemployed and impoverished and it wasn't until 2001 that Thailand regained momentum over the baht and economy.
Thailand's 23rd prime minister, businessman Thaksin took office in February 2001 with the intention of increasing domestic activity and reducing Thailand's reliance on foreign trade and investment. Since then, the Thaksin administration has refined its economic message, embracing a "dual track" economic policy that combines increased domestic activity with Thailand's traditional promotion of open markets and foreign investment.
This set of policies is popularly known as Thaksinomics. Weak export demand held 2001 GDP growth to 2.2%. In 2002/03/04, however, increased domestic activity and an export revival fuelled better performance, with real GDP growth at 5.3%, 7.1% and 6.3% respectively. However, in 2005, under rising oil prices and trade deficits, severe droughts and floods, the Southern Thailand Insurgency reaching its peak, uncertainty of the future of Thaksin's government and the tourism aftershocks of the Indian Ocean Earthquake Tsunami on December 26, 2004, economic growth slumped to 4.5%.
In 2005 Thailand also had a current account deficit of -4.3% of GDP, or US$ -7.6 billion. Ever since 2006 Thailand has once again a surplus in its current account and in 2006 the economy was buoyed by strong export growth, however, the military coup d'état on September 19, 2006, which ousted the prime minister and abrogated the 1997 constitution, along with the December 2007 elections, cast uncertainty.
The present elected civilian administration under Samak Sundaravej in power since January 29, 2008 estimates that by the end of this year the economy will have grown by about 5.5% to 6%. Despite the rapid growth of the industrial and financial sectors over the last decades, agriculture and tourism remain the most important sources of revenue.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishingMain article: Agriculture in ThailandIn 2008 agriculture, forestry, and fishing contributed only 8.4% percent to GDP. Thailand is the world's leading exporter of rice and a major exporter of shrimp. Other crops include coconuts, corn, rubber, soybeans, sugarcane and tapioca.
In 1985 Thailand officially designated 25 percent of the nation's land area for protected forests and 15 percent for timber production. Protected forests have been set aside for conservation and recreation, while production forests are available for the forestry industry. Between 1992 and 2001, exports of logs and sawn timber increased from 50,000 cubic meters to 2 million cubic meters per year.
The regional avian flu outbreak led to a contraction of Thailand's agricultural sector during 2004, and the tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004, devastated the west coast fisheries industry. In 2005 and 2006 agricultural GDP was stated to have contracted by 10 percent.
Mining and minerals
Thailand's major minerals include fluorite, gypsum, lead, lignite, natural gas, rubber, tantalum, tin and tungsten. The tin mining industry has declined sharply since 1985, and so Thailand has become a net importer of tin. As of 2008, the main mineral export was gypsum.
Thailand is the world's second largest exporter of gypsum after Canada, even though government policy limits gypsum exports to prevent price cuts. In 2003 Thailand produced more than 40 types of minerals with an annual value of about US$740 million. However, more than 80 percent of these minerals were consumed domestically.
In September 2003, in order to encourage foreign investment in the mining industry, the government relaxed severe restrictions on mining by foreign companies and reduced mineral royalties payable to the state.
Industry and manufacturing
Production line workers at a factory in Chachoengsao.
In 2007 industry contributed 43.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) but employed only 14% of the workforce. This proportion is the opposite of the one applying to agriculture. Industry expanded at an average annual rate of 3.4 percent during the 1995–2005 period. The most important subsector of industry is manufacturing, which accounted for 34.5 percent of GDP in 2004.
Thailand is becoming a center of automobile manufacturing for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market. By 2004 automobile production had reached 930,000 units, more than twice as much as in 2001. Two automakers active in Thailand are Toyota and Ford. The expansion of the automotive industry has led to a boom in domestic steel production.
Thailand's electronics industry faces competition from Malaysia and Singapore, while its textile industry faces competition from China and Vietnam.
Rambutan Fair, Surat Thani – The first rambutan tree was planted in Surat Thani in 1926, and this fair celebrates the delicious fruit, which now grows widely in the area. Highlights include exhibitions of local products and ornamental plants, floats adorned with rambutan and other fruits, and demonstrations of trained monkeys who harvest coconuts from trees.
Longan Fair, Lamphu – Longan, known in Thai as lamyai, is one of the prize fruits grown in northern Thailand, and the peak of the harvest season occurs during august. This fair, held in the provincial capital of Lamphun features a contest to judge the best fruit and another to select the annual Miss Lamyai.
H.M The Queens Birthday Celebrations August 12, Nationwide – Throughout Thailand, public buildings are decorated to honor Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on the occasion of her birthday. The most splendid are seen in Bangkok, particularly along Ratchadamnoen Avenue and in the area around the Grand Palace, where both government offices and streets are garlanded with colored lights.
SeptemberPhichit Boat Races, Phichit – Phichit is located in one of the most beautiful parts of Thailand, with green valleys and picturesque wooded hills. This annual regatta takes place on the Nan River which runs through the provincial capital and features races between numerous low-slung wooden boats.
Langsat Fair, September, Uttatadit – Langsat, a fruit eaten raw, is a specialty of Uttaradit and celebrated in this typical provincial fair. Among the features are a display and sale of products made by the people of Lap Lae, a village noted for its handicrafts, numerous forms of local entertainment, and a contest to select a beauty queen.
Chinese Lunar Festival, Songkla – Thais of Chinese ancestry make offerings to the Moon or Queen of the Heavens in gratitude for past and future fortune. Traditional festivities include lion and dragon dances, lantern processions and contests, displays and folk entertainment.
Phitsanulok Boat Races, Phitsanulok – This annual regatta features long boat racing on the Nan River. Other celebrations include decorative boat competitions.
Korlae Boat Racing & Narathiwat Produce Festival, September, Narathiwat – Staged at the Bangnara River, the festival features boat racing and dove cooing contests, and the sale of Narathiwat produce, including longans, bulrush (genus Scinpus) products, and other local handicrafts.
OctoberPhuket and Trang Vegetarian Festivals, Phuket, Trang – This annual festival originated among migrant workers during the 19th century. Residents of Chinese ancestry go on a ten-day vegetarian diet and there are ceremonies at local Chinese temples as well as parades that feature remarkable feast by acetic believers.
Lanna Boat Races, October, Nan – This well-known regatta is part of the festivities that accompany the annual Kathin season, when groups of lay folk present new robes to the monks of local temples in merit-making ceremonies. The races are enhanced by the distinctive Nan boats, long, hollowed-out logs painted with bright colors and adorned with elaborate designs.
Chon Buri Buffalo Races, Chon Buri – The water buffalo, one of the mainstays in the life of a Thai farmer, participates in buffalo races and contests pitting buffalo against man. Beauty contests add to the fun of a festival that attracts crowds from nearby seaside resorts.
Wax Castle & Boat Racing Festival, Sakon Nakhon – Northeasterners celebrate the end of the annual Buddhist Rains Retreat (Ok Phansa) by constructing bee’s wax creations in the form of miniature Buddhist temples and shrines (wax castles) in the belief that the accrued merit enables them to personally determine their future rebirth. The castles are then ceremoniously paraded throughout the provincial, and presented to temples. The provinces annual regatta takes place amid cheerful festivities the following day.
Chak Phra & Thot Phapa Festival, Surat Thani – Chak Phra, occurring on the same day as the Thot Phapa ceremony at the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, is a form of merit-making whereby Buddhists offer saffron robes to monks and donate money to temples. Thot Phapa takes place at dawn and is followed by Chak Phra, the ceremony in which Buddha images on elaborately decorated carriages are pulled by local people in land and water-borne processions. There are also traditional forms of evening entertainment.
Illuminated Boat Procession, October, Nakhon Phanom – Located on the bnak of Mekhong River, the provincial capital of Nakhon Phanom observes Ok Phansa by setting intricately decorated boats, each containing a lighted candle, adrift on the river when night falls. Various entertainments are also provided in the town during the several days of the festival.
Tak Bat Thevo, Uthai Thani – Tak Bat Thevo means to fill the bowls of the gods, and in this festival, held a day after Ok Phansa, monks descend from a hilltop temple to receive offerings from local people, as the Buddha himself is believed to have done after preaching to his mother in heaven. Folk theatre and other entertainment is also provided.
Phon Drum-Beating Contest & Buddha Image Parade, Phattalung – Celebrations at the Provincial Hall and Saensuklampam Beach include exciting drum-beating and decorated-boat contests, a Buddha image parade, and merit-making known as Tak Bat Thevo at Wat Wangsantibanphot.
Laguna Phuket Triathlon, Phuket – The triathlon (an 1000-meter swim, 5-kilometer bike race and 12 kilometer run) attracts world-class triathletes from all over the world, receives international and domestic television coverage, and qualifies winners for the prestigious Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.
NovemberBuri Ram Traditional Boat Races, Buri Ram – This annual regatta is staged on the Mun River in Buri Ram, Satuek district. Celebrations include processions and cultural performances featuring elephants.
Phimai Long-Boat Races & Festival, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) – Featuring a light & sound presentation at Prasat Hin Phimai, local art and cultural performances, cooking and folk-song competitions, local products sales and exhibitions, and traditional long-boat races.
Loi Krathong and Candle Festival, Sukhothai – According to tradition, Loi Krathong originated in Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, and so it is appropriate to hold this memorable festival in the ancient city. Highlights include displays of lighted candles and fireworks, folk dancing, and a spectacular light and sound presentation.
Northern Lantern Festival and Yipeng Loi Krathong, Chiang Mai – Little floats with candles are laid on the river under the full moon creating a beautiful spectacle. In addition, there are float contests and beauty contest. Lanterns similar to balloons are also lit and sent drifting up to the sky.
Bang Sai Loi Krathong, Ayutthaya – Celebrations include traditional float (krathong) and beauty contests, handicrafts demonstrations and exhibitions, special events, and krathong-launching beneath the full moon.
Tak Loi Krathong, November - Tak Loi Krathong is celebrated in a unique manner in Tak. Local people thread their krathongs together and simultaneously launch them on the Ping River where they appear as lighted necklaces.
Mexican Sunflower Blooming Season, Mae Hong Son – Northern Thai hills turn golden-yellow when the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Diversifolia) blooms each year. When the flowers fade, the seeds are used to make insecticides. The photogenic sight of blooming sunflowers is best seen in Mae Hong Son provinces Doi Mae U-Kor in Amphur Khun Yuam.
Surin Elephant Round-up show, Surin – This internationally-famous event brings crowds of visitors to the provincial city of Surin, where some 100 trained elephants are assembled. Among the spectacular features are wild elephants hunts, tugs of war, demonstrations of log pulling skills, and it parade of elephants outfitted for warfare.
River Kwae Bridge Week, Kanchanaburi – Highlights include a light and sound presentation at the bridge, archaeological and historical exhibitions, and rides on vintage trains.
Silk Fair, Khon Kaen – Khon Kaen is one of the major centers of Thai silk production. Many shops offer the beautiful fabric at this fair, which is combined with the traditional Phuk Sieo (friendship-making) ritual. Festival processions and cultural shows enhance the atmosphere.
Chinese Banquet for Monkeys, Lop Buri – Over 500 monkeys enjoy a delectable vegetarian Chinese style banquet replete with Thai fruits and popular desserts, at the city Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kan Shrine. The banquet is staged at 10.00 am. – 12.00 noon and 2.00 pm. Special gifts, including mirrors and toys, will be presented to the monkeys.
Thailand Food Festival, November, the Siam Commercial Bank Plaza, Bangkok – The festival features Thai and international cuisines in culinary demonstrations, contests and exhibitions, besides offering quality gourmet food for sale, diet counseling from food and nutrition experts, and cultural performances and entertainment.
DecemberPhuket Kings Cup Regatta, Phuket – This is an annual event held in the blue waters of the Andaman Sea off the island of Phuket, sponsored by the Phuket Yacht Club and other groups. Competitors come from many countries to compete for trophies awarded in several categories.
Trooping of the Colors, Bangkok – Their Majesties the King and Queen Preside over this impressive annual event, held in the Royal Plaza near the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn. Dressed in colorful uniforms, amid much pomp and ceremony, members of the elite Royal Guards swear allegiance to the King and march past members of the Royal Family.
Nakhon Pathom Agrotech Fair, December, Nakhon Pathom – This annual fair displays the wide range of fruits that grow in the provinces. In addition, there are demonstrations of Thai and Chinese food preparation, floral floats, and numerous other entertainments.
H.M. The King Birthday Celebrations, Nationwide – The deep reverence felt by all Thais for their King is perhaps unique in the modern world, and his birthday provides an occasion for public expression. Government buildings, businesses, and homes all over the country are elaborately decorated and the area around the Grand Palace is spectacularly illuminated.
I-San Kite Festival, Buri Ram – This annual competition features various forms of traditional Thai kites and includes surrogate battles of the sexes featuring Chula (male) and Pakpao (female) kites.
Ayutthaya World Heritage Site Celebrations, Historical Park, Ayutthaya – Ayutthaya celebrates its glorious past with historical exhibitions, traditional cultural procession and performances, light & sound presentations among city ruins, and numerous forms of entertainment.
Chiang Mai Food Festival, Chiang Mai – An annual festival of Chiang Mai great dishes features demonstrations of fruit carving and ancient Thai desserts, and beauty Lanna cultural shows. Good food is sold at cheap price at Tha Phae Gate.
Other regional festivals and events featuring cultural performances, contests, processions and handicraft demonstrations are exhibited, namely;
- Mukdahan Tribal & Sweet Tamarind Fair, Mukdahan
- Heroic Feat of Thai Marines in a Naval Battle at Koh Chang, Trat
February- Muang Sam Mok Fair, Mae Hong Son
- The International Amateur Muaythai, Bangkok
- Bun Boek Fa & Red Cross Fair, Mahasarakham
- Local Cotton Flower Festival, Loei
- Holy Relic Homage Paying Fair at Wat Phra That Cho Hae, Phrae
- Pong Lang, Phrae Wa and Red Cross Fair, Kalasin
- Feb-Mar Boon Khao Ji & Phochai Product Fair, Roi-Et
- Sea Turtle Conservation Fair, Thai Muang, Phang Nga
- Roi-Et Phawai Fair, Roi-Et
- Marine Festival, Chumphon
- Trat Independence Day, Trat
- Traditional Buddhist Ordination Ceremonies (featuring ordination candidate processions elephants), Sukhothai
- Salung Luang Procession Festival, Lampang
- The Great Songkran Festival Kaeng Sa Phue, Ubon Ratchathani
- Lampang Songkran Festival, Lmapang
May- Holy Relic Homage-paying Fair at Wat Phrathat, Hariphunchai, Lampang
- Rocket Festival, Kalasin
- Rocket Festival, Roi-Et
- Welcome to Saiyoke Noi Festival, Kanchanaburi
- Candle Festival, Kalasin
- Thai Tanoasi Fair, Ratchaburi
- Lanna Flower Fair, Chiang Mai
- The 2nd Half and Quarter Marathon to Pha Mor E Daeng, Si Sa Ket
September- Saraburi Long Boat Races, Saraburi
- Sing Buri Boat Races, Sing Buri
- Kluai Khai Banana Festival, Kamphaeng Phet
- Tak Bat Phra Roi, Pathum Thani
- Poi Doen Sip Et, Mae Hong Son
November- Hua Hin Cha-am Food Festival, Prachuap Khiri Khan
- Phra Pathom Chedi Homage-paying Fair, Nakhon Pathom
December- Hit Sip Song Festival and Red Cross Fair, Amnat Charoen
- Ceramics Fair, Lampang
- Dec – Jan King Taksin the Great Memorial Fair, Tak
Note : Certain dates, particularly those of provincial festivals, are subject to change without notice. It is advisable to check with the nearest TAT office before planning your trip.
In 2004 Thailand's total energy consumption was estimated at 3.4 quadrillion British thermal units, representing about 0.7 percent of total world energy consumption. Thailand is a net importer of oil and natural gas, but the government is promoting the use of ethanol to reduce imports of petroleum and the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether.
In 2005 daily oil consumption of 838,000 barrels per day (133,200 m3/d) exceeded domestic production of 306,000 barrels per day (48,700 m3/d). Thailand's four oil refineries have a combined capacity of 703,100 barrels per day (111,780 m3/d). Thailand's government is considering establishing a regional oil processing and transportation hub, serving the needs of south-central China. In 2004 natural gas consumption of 1,055 billion cubic feet (2.99×1010 m3) exceeded domestic production of 790 billion cubic feet (2.2×1010 m3).
Also in 2004, estimated coal consumption of 30.4 million short tons exceeded coal production of 22.1 million short tons. As of January 2007, proven oil reserves totaled 290 million barrels (46,000,000 m3), and proven natural gas reserves were 14.8 trillion cubic feet (420 km3). In 2003 recoverable coal reserves totaled 1,492.5 million short tons.
In 2005 Thailand consumed about 117.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. Electricity consumption rose by 4.7 percent in 2006 to 133 billion kilowatt-hours. According to the state electricity utility, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, power consumption by residential consumers has been increasing because of more favorable rates given to residential customers over the industry and business sectors. Thailand's state-controlled electric utility and petroleum monopolies are undergoing restructuring.
In 2007 the services sector, which ranges from tourism to banking and finance, contributed 44.7% of gross domestic product and employed 37 percent of the workforce.
Main article: Tourism in Thailand
Tourism makes a larger contribution to Thailand's economy (typically about 6 percent of gross domestic product) than that of any other Asian nation. Most tourists come to Thailand for various reasons -- mostly for the beaches and relaxation, although with the ongoing insurgency in the deep South, Bangkok has seen a large increase in tourism over the past years.
Also, a sharp increase in tourism from other Asian countries has contributed largely to Thailand's economy even though the Baht has gained strength compared to most other currencies in the past two years. In 2007 some 14 million tourists visited Thailand. The Thai tourism industry includes a thriving sex industry. Successive Thai governments, however, continue to neglect sex workers rights under labor laws persist in the criminalization of sex workers, allowing corrupt authorities and employers to exploit sex-workers' labor.
The easing of the monetary crisis, the renewed vigorous growth of the Chinese economy, the relatively stable internal political situation following the 2008–2009 Thai political crisis, and the 2009 flu pandemic having less of an impact as initially feared, have changed the tourism outlook for 2010. Thailand experienced a decrease of international visitors of 16% over the first six months of 2009 but the last four months of 2009 have seen a return of foreign tourists to Thailand with a marked increase in the months of November and December. The provisional numbers for 2009 have now been revised upwards to close to 14 million international visitors, which is a decrease of only 4% compared to 2008.Banking and financesDangerous levels of nonperforming assets at Thai banks helped trigger the attack on the Thai baht by currency speculators that led to the Asian financial crisis in 1997–1998. By 2003 nonperforming assets had been cut in half to about 30 percent.
Despite a return to profitability, however, Thailand's banks continue to struggle with the legacy of the financial crisis in the form of unrealized losses and inadequate capital. Therefore, the government is considering various reforms, including establishing an integrated financial regulatory agency that would free up the Bank of Thailand to focus on monetary policy.
In addition, the Thai government is attempting to strengthen the financial sector through the consolidation of commercial, state-owned, and foreign-owned institutions. Specifically, the government's Financial Sector Reform Master Plan, which was first introduced in early 2004, provides tax breaks to financial institutions that engage in mergers and acquisitions.
The reform program has been deemed successful by outside experts. In 2007, there were three state-owned commercial banks and five state-owned specialized banks, 15 Thai commercial banks, and 17 foreign banks in Thailand.
The Bank of Thailand sought to stem the flow of foreign funds into the country in December 2006. This led within one day to the largest drop in stock prices on the Stock Exchange of Thailand since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The massive selling by foreign investors amounted more than US$708 million.
Thailand's labor force was estimated at 36.9 million in 2007. About 49% were employed in agriculture, 37% in services, and 14% in industry. In 2005 women constituted 48 percent of the labor force and held an increasing share of professional jobs. Less than 4% of the workforce is unionized, but 11% of industrial workers and 50% of state enterprise employees are unionized.
Although laws applying to private-sector workers' rights to form and join trade unions were unaffected by the September 19, 2006, military coup and its aftermath, workers who participate in union activities continue to have inadequate legal protection. According to the U.S. Department of State, union workers are inadequately protected. Thailand's unemployment rate lies at 1.5% percent of the labor force.
External tradeThai exports in 2006The United States is Thailand's largest export market and second-largest supplier after Japan. While Thailand's traditional major markets have been North America, Japan, and Europe, economic recovery among Thailand's regional trading partners has helped Thai export growth.
Recovery from the financial crisis depended heavily on increased exports to the rest of Asia and the United States. Since 2005, the rapid ramp-up in export of automobiles of Japanese makes (esp. Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu) has helped to dramatically improve the trade balance, with over 1 million cars produced annually since then. As such, Thailand has joined the ranks of the world's top ten automobile exporting nations.
Machinery and parts, vehicles, electronic integrated circuits, chemicals, crude oil and fuels, and iron and steel are among Thailand's principal imports. The recent increase in import levels reflects the need to fuel the production of high-technology items and vehicles.
Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters. Thailand is part of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). Thailand has actively pursued free trade agreements. A China-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) commenced in October 2003. This agreement was limited to agricultural products, with a more comprehensive FTA to be agreed upon by 2010. Thailand also has a limited Free Trade Agreement with India, which commenced in 2003; and a comprehensive Australia-Thailand Free Trade Agreement which started 1 January 2005.
Thailand started free trade negotiations with Japan in February 2004, and an in-principle agreement was agreed in September 2005. Negotiations for a US-Thailand Free Trade Agreement are underway, with the fifth round of meetings held in November 2005.
Tourism contributes significantly to the Thai economy, and the industry has benefited from the Thai baht's depreciation and Thailand's stability. Tourist arrivals in 2002 (10.9 million) reflected a 7.3% increase from the previous year (10.1 million in 2001).
Bangkok is one of the most prosperous parts of Thailand, and heavily dominates the national economy, with the infertile northeast being the poorest. An overriding concern of successive Thai Governments, and a particularly strong focus of the recently ousted Thaksin government, has been to reduce these regional disparities, which have been exacerbated by rapid economic growth in Bangkok and the financial crisis.
Although little economic investment reaches other parts of the country except for tourist zones, the government has been successful in stimulating provincial economic growth in the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand, and the Chiang Mai area. Despite much talk of other regional developments, these 3 regions and other tourist zones still dominate the national economy.
Although the economy has demonstrated moderate positive growth since 1999, future performance depends on continued reform of the financial sector, corporate debt restructuring, attracting foreign investment, and increasing exports. Telecommunications, roadways, electricity generation, and ports showed increasing strain during the period of sustained economic growth and may pose a future challenge. Thailand's growing shortage of engineers and skilled technical personnel may limit its future technological creativity and productivity.
Seasons of Thailand
Characterized by a hot and humid tropical climate, Thailand has three seasons – hot lasting from February to May, rainy from June to October and cool, from November to January. The cool season is the best time for a visit though temperatures can still get uncomfortably hot. Temperatures tend to be hotter in Bangkok and cooler in the hilly regions of the north and along the coast.
Long attuned to the rhythms of the solar cycle and the arrival of the monsoon rains. Thailand’s seasons have been bound to rice planting and harvest cycle. An abundance of beliefs and legends have sprung up around this ancient cycle that gives force to many festivals that are held to mark the stages in this vital event.
The majority of Thai festivals is tied to the Lunar calendar and coincide with the full moon. These are the ancient original Buddhist and animistic festivals. Later royal festivals introduced by court astrologers follow the solar calendar and originated in India. Finally, many Western events such as the international new year have been taken up with gusto by the Thais. Every month sees at least one festival with May and October marking the beginning and end of the rains witnessing the greatest number.
Bishop Pallegoix described 19th century Siam as a country of unceasing pageantry and this love of celebration continues unabated in modern Thailand. Some are national holidays and celebrated nationwide. Others are confined to one province or locality. Some are truly spectacular. Others are more modest. Most are characterized by good humor, religious devotion and offer colorful insights into local lifestyles and culture.
Rice planting generally begins in April or May, just before the annual monsoons arrive to inundate the paddy fields. The most sacred Buddhist festival of Visakha Bucha takes place during this period. Commemorating the date of the Buddha’s birth, burst forth in the fields, families are involved in the observances of the phansa or rains retreat. The Buddha decreed that his followers should not make overnight journeys during the rainy season for fear of damaging the rice shoots. Thus the tradition was born that monks remain in their monasteries during this period making it a period of increased piety for the layman too. A festival known as khao phansa is held to mark the beginning or the rains retreat.
A u-gust the fifth marks the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, the much-loved mother of Thailand. This is celebrated as a national holiday.
Chulalongkorn Day on 23 October commemorates the day of the death of beloved King Chulalongkorn in 1910.
The end of the rains witnesses many festivals. Ok Phansa marks the end of the rains retreat while on full moon of the 10th lunar month is the Loi Krathong festival. Loi means to float and krathong is a lotus shaped vessel traditionally made of banana leaves but now generally made of polystyrene (now attempting to use banana leaves and trees as usual for conserving a river through pollution).
The krathong is an oblation to the Water Goddess to implore her to take away the sins of the past year and to request fortune in the year ahead. The krathong will contain a candle, incense and perhaps some coins, in the casions as a myriad lights representing the hopes and wishes of the people flicker on the waterways throughout the land.
December is a festive month with the celebrations for HM the King’s birthday on 5 December celebrated with enthusiasm throughout the kingdom. Government buildings, officers and homes are emblazoned with the royal motif and often lit up with lights. The whole of the royal quarter is illuminated most spectacularly. The third of December marks the Trooping of the Colors held in the Royal Plaza. Presided over by the King and Queen, this event is the epitome of pomp and ceremony as the elite Royal Guards march past to swear their allegiance to the King.
Magha Puja is the first important Buddhist festival of the year held on the full moon of the third lunar month. It commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1250 of the Buddha’s disciples to hear his sermon.
Chakri Day on 6 April commemorates the formation of the Chakri dynasty in 1782. The present, much-beloved monarch King Bhumibol is the ninth member to this dynasty to occupy the Thai throne. This marks the only day that the Royal Pantheon at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is open to the public.
King Bhumibol’s coronation is commemorated on 5 May and the king also presides over the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, a Brahmin ritual held at Sanam Luang on 9 May. This officially mark the beginning of the rice planting season.
The end of the hot season is market by what is probably the kingdom’s most enthusiastically celebrated event – Songkran or Thai New Year.
At the very zenith of torpid summer when the mercury climbs well over forty Celsius, a fiesta like no other bursts into vibrant life throughout the kingdom of Thailand. For Songkran, the Thai lunar new year marking the sun’s passage from Aries to Taurus, is an exultant celebration of water.
Of all the many festival that peppers the Thai calendar none has such as air of revelry and abandon, as unrestrained water fights take place. Some say Songkran’s origins in an ancient belief that the rains spring from nagas – celestial serpents that sport among themselves spouting water. Others that it originated in blessing elders by sprinkling water scented with rose or jasmine petals. Whatever the reason, the festival brings out the spirit of play, a quintessential part of the Thai psyche. It’s a time when the city of Bangkok kicks off its shoes, forgets moneymaking, and becomes a child for a day. The sound of laughter is never so loud in this land of smiles. Songkran formerly followed the lunar calendar but its date is now fixed on 13th Aril.
Songkran starts early in Buddhist temples with the ceremonial bathing of Buddha images and sprinkling of perfumed water on monks and other respected elders. But as the blistering tropic sun rises higher, water throwing becomes more frenzied, finally erupting into an uncontrolled water war where everyone is fair game including western tourists who venture out of their hotels. For the fortunate, a smiling face with almost a hint of apology raises a silver bowl and an dousing follows. As a follow up, fragrant paste is smeared over limbs and face keeping the body cool between splashes of water. For those not so lucky a blast of icy water from a water canon awaits.
Buses have their windows battened down and are smeared with whitewash. Passengers have a wary look as water-toting bandits are likely to spring an ambush at every stop.
Songkran also marks the middle of the Mango season, when the fruit is at its sweetest, a bursting ripe orange, served with sticky rice and coconut milk offers sweet sustenance to the battlers.
Bo sang Umbrella Fair & Sankampaeng Handicraft Festival, Tambon Bo Sang, Amphur Sankampaeng, Chanway Chiang Mai -
Almost everyone in the small village of Bo Sang, near Chiang Mai, derives a livelihood from making gaily painted paper umbrella. This fair, held on the main street, celebrates traditional skills and features contests, exhibitions, stalls selling umbrellas and other handicraft, and the selection of Miss Bo Sang.
Dragon And Lion Parade, Nakhon Sawan - This festival is held every year by local residents of Chinese ancestry to honor the golden dragon deity in gratitude for his benevolence. A procession in colorful costumes makes its way through the streets of the provincial capital with marching bands, lion and dragon dances, and figures of venerated deities.
Don Chedi Memorial Fair, Suphan Buri - In 1992 at Don Chedi, King Naresuan (or Naret, Naret Sa Worn) the Great of Ayutthaya won a famous duel on elephant with the leader of an enemy force, thus liberating the Thai Kingdom. This fair commemorates the momentous event wth historical exhibitions and outdoor entertainments.
Straw bird fair, Chai Nat - Straw is a plentiful by product in rice farming, and local villagers construct large, brightly colored straw birds reflecting the more than 85 species inhabiting Chai Nat Birds Park. The straw birds are paraded in a fair which also features local handicrafts and culinary delicacies.
Ban Thawai Wood Carving Fair, Chiang Mai - This fair features demonstrations, contests and sales of wood carving and local handicrafts, and includes local folk performances and a procession high-lighting the entire range of popular northern Thai wood crafts.
Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair, Phetchaburi - The old city of Phetchaburi, some two hours southwest of Bangkok, is overlooked by Phra Nakhon Khiri (City on the Mount), a hill on which number of religious structures and a 19th century palace are located. A light and sound presentation celebrating local history is one of the attractions of the popular fair.
Lampangs Annual Elephant Khantoke Fair, Lampang - Every year the Thai Elephant Conservation Center at Lamphang organizes an elephant fair featuring processions and a traditional dinner. Income from the proceedings goes to the Food for Elephant Fund and elephant conservation projects.
Flower Festival, Chiang Mai - The North is noted for its rich variety of flowering plants, particular temperate-zone species which are at their best during this cool month. Spectacular floral floats are a memorable feature of this annual event held in Chaing Mai, together with displays of flower, handicraft sales, and beauty contests.
Phra Buddha Bat Fair, Saraburi - Buddhist devotees make annual pilgrimages to the Holy Footprint at a hillside shrine near Saraburi, 236 kilometers north of Bangkok. The Festival features folk music, plays and a bazaar.
King Rama II Memorial Park Fair, King Buddhalertla Naphalai Memorial Park, Samut Songkhram - The fair celebrates Thailands poet king Rama II with artistic, culinary, handicraft, horticultural exhibitions and contests, and traditional Thai musical and dramatic performances, including dancing, puppetry and burlesque, in the reverie parks bucolic setting.
Phra Buddha Chinarat Fair, Phitsanulok - This fair honors Phra Buddha Chinarat, one of Thailand’s most sacred Buddha images, enshrined at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat in Phitsanulok. Festive as well as religious, the fair features assorted kinds of entertainment, including folk theatre and ram-wong dancing, and stalls settling local products.
Hae Pha Khun That (Homage – Paying Fair) Nakhon Si Thammarat - During this three-day event, the people of Nakhon Si Thammarat pay homage to locally enshrined relics of the Buddha. There are a number of religious ceremonies, among them a traditional merit-making procession which brings a Phra Bot – a cloth painting of the Lord Buddhas life story – to be placed over the relics.
Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo Fair, Pattani - Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo, a goddess believed to possess potent magic powers, is revered in Pattani and other provinces of the far south. This annual fair paying homage to her features ascetics able to perform extraordinary feats of endurance and a lively procession of devotees through the provincial capital.
Magha Puja, Nationwide - An important Buddhist holy day, this celebrates the occasion when 1,250 of the Lord Buddha’s disciples spontaneously gathered to hear him preach. Merit-making ceremonies take place during the day at temples throughout the country, while at night triple candlelit circumambulations are staged around monastery chapels.
MarchAsean Barred Ground Dove Festival, Yala - Dove-lovers from all over Thailand and other Asean countries, come to Yala for this event. The highlight is a dove-cooing contest involving more than 1,400 competitors. Young prize doves are on sale along with local products and sports contests are held.
The Four Tribes Of Si Sa Ket Annual Cultural Festival, The Princess Mother Park, Si Sa Ket - The three-day festival features performances by four different ethnic groups, a light & sound drama, a beauty contest, and sales of local products.
Thao Suranari Fair, Nakhon Ratchasima - This annual fair celebrates the local heroine who rallied townspeople against foreign invaders during the 1800s. celebrations customarily feature fireworks displays, colorful processions, cultural displays and exhibitions, and beauty contests.
Poi Sang Long, Mae Hong Son - Held in one of Thailand most scenic areas, this celebrates the ordination of novices belonging to the Thai Yai tribal group. Offering for monks are carried through the town in a gala procession.
Phanom Rung Fair, Buri Ram - Located on a hilltop with splendid views, Phanom Rung is an impressive Khmer temple dating from the early part of the Angkor period, adorned with superb stone carvings. The temple complex, is the centerpiece of this fair, which also features various exhibits.
Songkran Festival, Nationwide - The traditional Thai New Year is and occasion for merrymaking in Bangkok as well as in other parts of the country, with religious ceremonies as well as public festivities. Anyone who ventures out on the streets is likely to get a through soaking, but all in a spirit of fun, and welcome at the peak of the hot season.
Bangkok Songkran Festival, Bangkok - The traditional Thai New Year, is celebrated citywide, most notably at Sanam Luang, fronting the Grand Palace, where the revered Phra Buddha Sihing image is displayed and bathed by devotees, at Khaosarn Road, where many foreigners gather to play and sprinkle water entertainingly, this is well-known throughout the world, and at Wisutkasat, where a Miss Songkran beauty contest is accompanied by merit-making, paying respect to elders, and numerous forms of entertainment, including high-spirited water throwing.
Dok Khoon-Siang Khaen Festival, Khon Kaen - This festival coincides with Songkran and includes traditional merit-making ceremonies such as paying homage to revered Buddha images, and shrines, respectfully pouring water on elders’ hands, offering food to monks, a beauty contest, floral float processions, and northeastern folk entertainment.
Chiang Mai Songkran Festival, Chiang Mai - Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year, is celebrated all over the country but nowhere with more enthusiasm than in Chiang Mai. Part of the celebration is religious, marked by merit-making ceremonies at local temples, and part is pure pleasure, with good-natured water throwing, parades, and beauty contests.
Mai Kharm Bho Procession Festival, Chom Thong, Chiang Mai - Mai Kharm Bho, literally wooden supports for holy Bho (bodhi) trees in temple courtyards, are employed in meritorious acts believed to bring participants long and happy lives, Mai Kham Bho Festival is prepared on April 13 and 14, accompanied by cultural performances. April 15 sees a procession of Mai Kharm Bho to local temples.
Pattaya Festival, Pattaya City, Chon Buri - Thailands world-famous seaside resort puts on its most festival face for this annual event, help of the height of the Summer season floats, beauty contests, stalls selling local delicacies, and a spectacular display of fireworks on the beach are only a few of the highlights that attract merrymakers.
Phra Padaeng Songkran Festival, Samut Prakan - The Mons were among Thailands earliest settlers and a large community of them still lives in the Phra Padaeng district, of Samut Prakan province just south of Bangkok. They, too, celebrate the start of the solar new year with a thorough cleaning of the house, religious observances, and colorful parades.
Ancestral Spirits Ceremony, Si Racha, Chon Buri - Local people celebrate the start of the traditional Thai New Year, customarily a time for paying respect to ones elders, by offering food to ancestral spirits. Festivities include a colorful procession, ceremonial food offerings, a beauty contest, culinary demonstrations, sports competitions, and musical and cultural performances.
Rayong, Chanthaburi, Trat ruits Fairs Rayong : May, Chanthaburi : May, Trat : May, June – These annual fair are held in the eastern provinces of Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat to celebrate the abundance of local fruits such as rambutan, durian, mangosteen and zalacca. Besides stalls selling the produce of surrounding orchards, and local products, there are colorful processions of floats decorated with fruits, contests, cultural shows, exhibitions of provincial handicraft and agricultural produce, and local entertainment.
Yasonthon Bun Bangfai Rocket Festival, May, Yasothon – For this annual festival, villagers of the Northeast fashion rockets of all kinds, some of them several meters long, the launching of which is believed to ensure plentiful rains during the forthcoming rice-planting season. High-spirited revelry accompanies the event, with beauty parades, folk dancing, and stage shows.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony, May 9, Bangkok – An ancient Brahmin ritual, this celebrated the official commencement of the rice-planting season and is held at Sanam Luang in front of the Grand Palace. Colorful costumes are worn by the participants who perform various ceremonies believed to forecast the abundance of the next rice crop.
Visakha Puja Nationwide – This is the holiest of all Buddhist religious days, marking the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha. As on Magha Puja, temples throughout the country are crowded with people who listen to sermons by revered monks. In the evening there is a solemn candlelit procession around main chapels.
Lychee Fair, Chiang Rai – Thailands northernmost province is known for the high quality of the lychees that grow in its orchards, and this fair celebrates the harvest season. In addition to sales of fruit, there are displays of other agricultural products and local handicrafts and a beauty contest to select Miss Lychee.
Phi Ta Khon Festival, June, Loei – This festival has its origin in a traditional Buddhist tale. When prince Vetsandon, the Buddha’s penultimate incarnation, returned to his city, the welcoming procession was so delightful that spirits emerged to celebrate. Phi Ta Khon is celebrated largely by young men who dress as spirits to parade a sacred Buddha image and tease villagers. Monks recite the story of the Buddha’s last great incarnation before attaining Enlightenment.
5,000-Year Ban Chiang Civilization Celebrations, June, Ban Chiang World Heritage Site, Udon Thani – Celebrations at this Bronze Age site include art and cultural processions, handicraft show, exhibitions, international and local sports events, light & sound presentations. Thai dance performance, and an academic seminar.
Sunthon Phu Day, June 26, Rayong – This annual celebration commemorates the birthday of the celebrated Rattanakosin poet, Sunthon Phu (1787 – 1855), designated as an eminent classical poet by UNESCO. The celebration, takes place at the Sunthon Phu Memorial Park at Ban Kram village, Amphur Klaeng, birthplace of the poets father. Highlights include dramatic performances and puppet shows depicting Sunthon Phu literary works, poetry recitals and folk entertainment.
JulyNakhon Nayok Canoe Races, July (during Khao Phansa) Nakhon Nayok River – Canoe races are held from the Wangtakhrai Canal Bridge in Sarika district towards the Nakhon Nayok River near the provincial capital.
Candle Festival, Junly, Ubon Ratchathani – The commencement of Phansa, or the Buddhist Rains Retreat, is observed in the northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani with this lovely festival that displays artistic skills as well as piety. Beautifully carved bee’s was candles, some of them several meters tall, are exhibited in colorful parades before being presents to local temples.
Asanha Puja, Nationwide – The full-moon day of the eight lunar month commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon to his first five disciples after attaining Enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago. Evening candlelit processions are staged in all temples.
Khao Phansa – This day marks commencement of the annual three-month Rains Retreat when Buddhist monks customarily stay inside their monasteries to study and meditate. Phansa is the most auspicious time for Buddhist ordinations since it comprises a period of renewed a spiritual vigour.
Tak Bay Dok Mai (Merit-Making Festival), Saraburi – This impressive merit-making ceremony coincides with the start of the rains retreat. Devotees offer flowers and incense to a procession of monks who then ascend to the Shrine of the Holy Footprint where they present the offerings as tribute.
Pattaya Marathon, Chon Buri – This annual event in Thailand’s eastern Riviera attracts world-class runners and local competitors who compete on one of the most picturesque courses in Southeast Asia. The event comprises both full and mini-marathons of several different classes.
The largest ethnic minority is the Chinese and other ethnic groups include Malays, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Indians.
According to estimates of United Nations Population Information Network, the population of Thailand would be about 74 million in the year 2050.
Approximately 68% of the population lives in rural areas and the majority are farmers with incomes reliant upon subsistence agriculture. Rapid change has had a disruptive effect on social structures. Urban migration to Bangkok, the capital city, has led to serious problems of congestion, land shortage, and water and air pollution. Although a period of fast economic and social transformation has improved the quality of life, there is now evidence that the income inequalities both within and between regions and between rich and poor groups are widening. The replacement of the extended family by the nuclear family has weakened the sense of community and traditional forms of co- operation and safety nets, increasing the vulnerability of disadvantaged groups. Drug addiction and crime are on the increase
Geography (some articles from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Thailand is home to several distinct geographic regions, partly corresponding to the provincial groups. The north of the country is mountainous, with the highest point being Doi Inthanon at 2,565 metres (8,420 ft) above sea level. The northeast, Isan, consists of the Khorat Plateau, bordered to the east by the Mekong River. The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley, which runs into the Gulf of Thailand. The south consists of the narrow Kra Isthmus that widens into the Malay Peninsula. Politically, there are six geographical regions which differ from the others in population, basic resources, natural features, and level of social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is the most pronounced attribute of Thailand's physical setting.
The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the sustainable resource of rural Thailand. Industrial scale production of crops use both rivers and their tributaries. The Gulf of Thailand covers 320,000 square kilometres (124,000 sq mi) and is fed by the Chao Phraya, Mae Klong, Bang Pakong and Tapi Rivers. It contributes to the tourism sector owing to its clear shallow waters along the coasts in the Southern Region and the Kra Isthmus. The Gulf of Thailand is also an industrial center of Thailand with the kingdom's main port in Sattahip along with being the entry gates for Bangkok's Inland Seaport. The Andaman Sea is regarded as Thailand's most precious natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang and their lush islands all lay along the coasts of the Andaman Sea and despite the 2004 Tsunami, they continue to be and ever more so, the playground of the rich and elite of Asia and the world.
Plans have resurfaced of a logistical connection of the two bodies of water which would be coined the Thai Canal, analogous to the Suez and the Panama Canal. Such an idea has been greeted with positive accounts by Thai politicians as it would cut fees charged by the Ports of Singapore, improve ties with China and India, lower shipping times and increase ship safety owing to pirate fears in the Strait of Melaka and, support the Thai government's policy of being the logistical hub for Southeast Asia. The ports would improve economic conditions in the south of Thailand, which relies heavily on tourism income, and it would also change the structure of the Thai economy moving it closer to a services center of Asia. The canal would be a major engineering project and has expected costs of 20–30 billion dollars.
Economy The bounty harvested from Thailand’s rich swathes of agricultural lands and coastal regions dominated the economy until very recently. This abundance and diversity of natural resources has made the country not just self-sufficient in food and other natural products but also Asia’s only net food exporter. Major export products include rice, shrimp, tuna, rubber, sugar and cut flowers.
Thailand has a long tradition of international trade dating back to Sukhothai when commercial relations were established with China and other Asian countries. Foreign trade expanded rapidly during the Ayutthaya era with merchants arriving from Japan, Arabia and eventually Europe. Following political machinations, the Europeans were made unwelcome in Siam until the enlightened King Rama 4 took the throne. A treaty concluded with the British in 1855 lowered import duties to a flat three per cent ad valorem and permitted the export of rice. Bangkok was soon transformed into a thriving business enter.
While natural products still underpin the economy, employing 57 per cent of the workforce and accounting for around 12 per cent of national income, the last 20 years had witnessed a massive industrialization.
In the post-war period, industry focused mainly on the food processing sector. While a number of multinational countries were attracted to Thailand during the 1960s, it was really the 1985 Plaza Agreement to devalue the US dollar that kick started Thailand’s investment boom. Inhibited by the strong yen at home, Japanese manufactures moved production offshore and Thailand with its low labor costs and welcoming policy to inward investment was a prime choice.
The Japanese were soon followed by the Korean and Taiwanese and industrial estates mushroomed on the fringes of Bangkok and regions such as the eastern Seaboard. Favored industries were electronics, integrated circuits, computers, cars and garments. This resulted in a far more diversified manufacturing base. Manufacturing soon overtook agriculture as the country’s main earner of foreign exchange and tourism also emerged as a major industry overtaking agriculture as a foreign currency earner with 7.2 million visitors arriving in 1996.
Throughout the second half of the last decade Thailand’s GDP was among the world’s highest averaging 13 per cent, 11 per cent, and ten per cent in 1988, 1989, and 1990 respectively. Soon the country began to be counted among the Asian Tiger economies. The country entered the 1990s in a mood of buoyant optimism. A coup d’etat in 1991 proved to be merely a hiccup and investor confidence soon returned and seemed to be well on course to becoming a Newly Industrialized Country. GDP growth continued at an average of almost eight per cent until 1996.
In 1992 the government approved the Bangkok International Banking Facility as a partial liberalization of the foreign banking sector. This allowed Thai companies to obtain lower interest off-shore loans denominated in US dollars.
Companies also fuelled expansion by issuing bonds, convertibles and warrants. While some of these funds were invested substantial portion was channeled into speculative property ventures. New hotels, housing estates, and office blocks sprung up around Bangkok without thought as to who would occupy them.
By 1995, things didn’t look quite so rosy for the Thai economy. Bottlenecks in transport and communications impaired expansion. Wages were no longer cheap, lower cost centers had emerged in China, India and Vietnam, ad well as Eastern Europe, and Thailand lacked the infrastructure and qualified personnel to move into higher technology sectors. There were also ominous rumblings that all was not well in the finance sector.
One factor that had long underpinned the Thai economy was the conservative monetary policies adopted by the central bank. The baht had long been pegged at 25 to the US Dollar. This sure hand slipped as qualified technocrats were lured into the private sector in search of quick wealth. Intimations of problems came in 1996 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of over borrowing.