The Khmers are believed to be Thailand’s earliest inhabitants. The Khmers were overthrown in the 13th century when the Thais established their first kingdom, Siam. In 1939, Siam became Thailand, meaning “Land of the Free”. Thailand is the only country in southeast Asia that has never been under European colonial rule – a fact that Thai people take great pride in.
The country experienced many coups and countercoups between 1932 and 1992. After 14 years of stable government, another coup in 2006 led to the removal of the Prime Minister before a civilian coalition government was formed after delayed elections. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) has served as head of state for 64 years and remains extremely influential. Born on 5 December 1927, his birthday is a day of national celebration.
Prolonged political protests in Bangkok in March to May 2010 led to the declaration of a state of emergency and an enforced curfew, as well as much violence. Bangkok has since returned to relative stability.
Thailand is located in southeast Asia and covers an area of 14,000 square kilometres. The capital, Bangkok, is by far its largest city and is home to more than 10 million people. It is famous for its Buddhist temples and monuments, however the city is congested, with air pollution and subsidence (sinking land) being major ongoing concerns. Natural disasters, such as droughts in the northeast and floods in the central area, continue to fuel urban migration.
The country has four main geographic regions: the mountainous north, the dry northeast, the fertile central plain drained by the Chao Phraya River and the southern peninsula with its white sandy beaches. The climate is tropical, with hot humid conditions and monsoons half the year-round.