Thailand is a country located in the center of mainland Southeast Asia. Located entirely within the tropics, Thailand encompasses diverse ecosystems, including the forested mountainous areas of the northern border, the fertile rice fields of the central plains, the broad plateau of the northeast, and the rugged coastlines along the narrow southern peninsula.
Until the second half of the 20th century, Thailand was mainly an agricultural country, but since the 1960s an increasing number of people have moved to Bangkok, the capital, and other cities. Although the Bangkok metropolitan area remains the country’s preeminent urban center, there are other major cities, including Chiang Mai in the north, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), Khon Kaen and Udon Thani in the northeast, Pattaya in the southeast, and Hat Yai. in the extreme south.
Siam, as Thailand was officially called until 1939, was never under European colonial rule. Independent Siam was ruled by an absolute monarchy until there was a revolution in 1932. Since then, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy, and all subsequent constitutions have provided for an elected parliament. However, political authority has often been in the hands of the military, who have seized power through coups.
During the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, parliamentary democracy gained increasingly widespread popular support. Although a crisis arose in 2006, when the military, aligned with the monarchy, overthrew an elected government, new parliamentary elections were held in 2007, as promised by the interim government.
Land of Thailand
Thailand, which has roughly the same land area as Spain or France, consists of two broad geographic areas: a larger main section in the north and a smaller peninsular extension in the south. The main body of the country is surrounded by Myanmar (Burma) to the west, Laos to the north and east, Cambodia to the southeast, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south.
Peninsular Thailand stretches south from the southwestern corner of the country along the eastern edge of the Malay Peninsula; Myanmar extends along the western part of the peninsula to the Kra Isthmus, after which Thailand occupies the entire peninsula until it reaches its southern border with Malaysia at approximately 6°N latitude.
Thailand’s landscapes range from low-lying mountains to fertile floodplains dotted with paddy fields and sandy beaches located in the middle of the equatorial latitudes of the Asian monsoons. The country is divided into five distinct physiographic regions: the Fold Mountains in the north and west, the Khorat Plateau in the northeast, the Chao Phraya River basin in the center, the maritime corner of the central region in the southeast, and the long, slender peninsular portion in the southwest.
The northern mountains, the southeastern continuation of the uplifting process that formed the Himalayas, stretches south along the Thai-Myanmar border and reach as far south as northern Malaysia. Long granitic ridges were formed when large masses of molten rock forced their way up through older sedimentary strata. The peaks average around 5,200 feet (1,600 meters) above sea level.
Mount Inthanon, at 8,481 feet (2,585 meters), the highest in the country, is located in northwestern Thailand, near the historic city of Chiang Mai. The city is dwarfed by Mount Suthep, the site of a famous Buddhist shrine and the royal summer palace. Some of the rugged limestone hills contain caves from which the remains of prehistoric humans have been excavated.
The northeast is bordered by the Khorat Plateau, a vast plateau bounded by the Mekong River to the north and east. It was formed by uplift along two perpendicularly disposed of crustal faults, one trending north-south in the west and the other east-west in the south. As a result, the underlying sedimentary rocks tilted instead of being uniformly uplifted.
This tilt created chains of low hills and mountains along the western and southern edges of the plateau: the Phetchabun and Dangrek (Thai: Dong Rak) mountains, respectively. The escarpments of these highlands dominate the Chao Phraya Basin Plain to the west and the Cambodian Plain to the south. Surface elevations on the Khorat Plateau range from about 650 feet (200 meters) in the northwest to about 300 feet (90 meters) in the southeast. The terrain is undulating, and the tops of the hills generally slope to the southeast in accordance with the slope of the terrain.
Situated between the northern and western mountain ranges and the Khorat Plateau, lies the vast Chao Phraya River Basin, which is the cultural and economic heart of Thailand. The region, sometimes called the Central Plain, consists of two parts: highly dissected rolling plains in the north and the flat, low-lying alluvial plain and Chao Phraya delta in the south. It was formed by the outflow of immense amounts of sediment brought from the mountains by the tributaries of the Chao Phraya, which produced large fan-shaped alluvial deposits.
The generally undulating countryside of the southeast has high hills in the center and along the eastern border with Cambodia. Notable peaks are Mount Khieo, which rises to 2,614 feet (797 meters), and Mount Soi Dao, which reaches a height of 5,471 feet (1,668 meters). The hills, reaching almost to the sea, create a sharply indented coastline bordered by many islands. With their long stretches of sandy beach, coastal towns such as Chon Buri and Rayong and some of the islands have become popular year-round resorts.
The southwestern portion of the country consists of a peninsula with a mountainous backbone and a gently sloping sandy coastline. Higher mountains reaching about 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) border the peninsula in the west and contain narrow passes linking Thailand and Myanmar. These ranges separate the Andaman and South China Seas as the peninsula narrows near the Malaysian border.
Off the rugged and highly indented west coast are numerous large islands, including the tin-rich island of Phuket, which, along with other islands such as Samui and Phiphi, have become tourist destinations, surpassing Hua Hin in popularity. the old seaside resort located in the northern part of the peninsula.
Thailand is largely drained by two river systems: the Chao Phraya in the west and the Mekong in the east. Three major rivers in the northern mountains, from west to east, the Ping (and its tributary the Wang), the Yom, and the Nan, flow generally south through narrow valleys into the plains and then join together to form the Chao Phraya, the main river in Thailand. river. The floodplain of the Chao Phraya Delta is braided into numerous small channels and joined by other rivers, notably the Pa Sak, as the river flows towards its mouth in the Gulf of Thailand.
The flooding of the flat delta in the rainy season is an advantage for rice cultivation, although the higher ground at the eastern and western ends of the plain requires irrigation. The entire delta was once part of the Gulf of Thailand, but over time sediment washed in from the north has filled it in. Such sedimentation is a continual obstruction to river navigation, but it also extends the mouth of the river into the gulf by several feet. every year.
The rivers of the Khorat Plateau generally flow southeast and empty into the Mekong. The flooding of these rivers has been an important source of water for rice production in the area. However, floods have long been unpredictable, both in terms of quantity and frequency, and flood problems have worsened as more land has been cleared and farmed. The region also has a high water table that contains mostly brackish non-potable water. Much of the Mekong itself, which straddles the Thai-Lao border, is dotted with islands or interrupted by impassable rapids.
The southeast and the peninsula are drained by streams and short rivers. In the southeast, the northern rivers flow into the Chao Phraya delta, while the western and southern ones flow directly into the sea, where they have formed small alluvial basins and deltas along the coast. The mouths of the rivers along the southern coast are formed by intertidal flats and mangroves. Almost all the rivers of the peninsula flow into the Gulf of Thailand.