The unified Thai kingdom, also known as Siam, was established in the mid-14th century. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power. Thailand was a Japanese ally during World War II. After the war, it became closely aligned with the US.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. The current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, took over the throne in June 1946. He is the world’s longest-reigning monarch.
Since 1932, Thailand has seen at least 18 military coups. The most recent took place in September 2006, when the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was removed from power. General elections held in December 2007 brought to power a six-party coalition led by the pro-Thaksin People Power Party (PPP). The PPP leader, Samak Sundaravej, became the prime minister.
A largely Buddhist country, Thailand has a small Muslim population, mostly located in the southern provinces. A long-dormant separatist insurgency has reemerged in these southern Muslim Malay provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, resulting in nearly 3,000 deaths. There are concerns that this unrest could lead to a massive insurgency.
In the 1980s, Thailand experienced an economic boom as the country moved away from an agriculture-based economy and towards growth in the industry and service sectors. But the economy was severely hit with the Asian financial crisis of 1997, resulting in bankruptcies, recession and unemployment.
In 2009, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit was canceled when protesters stormed the hotel set to host the event. The demonstrators, thought to be involved with the coup that ousted Shinawatra, were calling for the current prime minister, Abhist Vejjajiva, to resign. Three people were injured, and Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in two citties, Pattaya and Chonburi.
Thailand’s large sex industry has led to high incidents of HIV infection. By distributing generic drugs and implementing awareness campaigns, the government has met with some success in reducing the number of new infections.
Sources: BBC, The Economist, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Kingdom of Thailand
Form of Government:
Year of Independence:
1238 (traditional founding date; never colonized)
Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, other 0.1% (2000 census)
513,115 sq km (198,115 sq miles)
Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
71 years (men), 76 years (women) (2009 est.)
1 baht = 100 satangs
Food including rice, seafood and live animals, office equipment, textiles, clothing and footwear, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$8,500 (2008 est.)
International Dialing Code: