Humanities › History & Culture Thailand Facts and History Share Flipboard Email Print Reinhard Link / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 History & Culture Asian History Southeast Asia Basics Figures & Events East Asia South Asia Middle East Central Asia Asian Wars and Battles American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Kallie Szczepanski History Expert Ph.D., History, Boston University J.D., University of Washington School of Law B.A., History, Western Washington University Dr. Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. our editorial process Kallie Szczepanski Updated January 16, 2020 Thailand covers 514,000 square kilometers (198,000 square miles) at the heart of Southeast Asia. It is bordered by Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Capital Bangkok, population 8 million Major Cities Nonthaburi, population 265,000Pak Kret, population 175,000Hat Yai, population 158,000Chiang Mai, population 146,000 Government Thailand is a constitutional monarchy under the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946. King Bhumibol is the world's longest-serving head of state. Thailand's current Prime Minister is Yingluck Shinawatra, who assumed office as the first-ever female in that role on August 5, 2011. Language Thailand's official language is Thai, a tonal language from the Tai-Kadai family of East Asia. Thai has a unique alphabet derived from the Khmer script, which is itself descended from the Brahmic Indian writing system. Written Thai first appeared around 1292 A.D. Commonly used minority languages in Thailand include Lao, Yawi (Malay), Teochew, Mon, Khmer, Viet, Cham, Hmong, Akhan, and Karen. Population Thailand's estimated population as of 2007 was 63,038,247. The population density is 317 people per square mile. The vast majority are ethnic Thais, who make up about 80 percent of the population. There is also a large ethnic Chinese minority, comprising about 14 percent of the population. Unlike the Chinese in many neighboring Southeast Asian countries, the Sino-Thai are well-integrated into their communities. Other ethnic minorities include the Malay, Khmer, Mon, and Vietnamese. Northern Thailand also is home to small mountain tribes such as the Hmong, Karen, and Mein, with a total population of less than 800,000. Religion Thailand is a deeply spiritual country, with 95 percent of the population belonging to the Theravada branch of Buddhism. Visitors will see gold-spired Buddhist stupas scattered all across the country. Muslims, mostly of Malay origin, make up 4.5 percent of the population. They are located primarily in the far south of the country in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla Chumphon. Thailand also hosts tiny populations of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians (mostly Catholics), and Jews. Geography The Thai coastline stretches for 3,219 km (2,000 miles) along both the Gulf of Thailand on the Pacific side and the Andaman Sea on the Indian Ocean side. The west coast was devastated by the Southeast Asian tsunami in December of 2004, which swept across the Indian Ocean from its epicenter off Indonesia. The highest point in Thailand is Doi Inthanon, at 2,565 meters (8,415 feet). The lowest point is the Gulf of Thailand, which is at sea level. Climate Thailand's weather is ruled by the tropical monsoons, with a rainy season from June through October, and a dry season beginning in November. Average annual temperatures are a high of 38 degrees C (100 degrees F), with a low of 19 degrees C (66 degrees F). The mountains of northern Thailand tend to be much cooler and somewhat drier than the central plain and coastal regions. Economy Thailand's "Tiger Economy" was humbled by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, when the GDP growth rate plummeted from +9 percent in 1996 to -10 percent in 1998. Since then, Thailand has recovered well, with growth at a manageable four to seven percent. The Thai economy depends mainly on automotive and electronics manufacturing exports (19 percent), financial services (9 percent), and tourism (6 percent). About half of the workforce is employed in the agriculture sector. Thailand is the world's top exporter of rice. The country also exports processed foods like frozen shrimp, canned pineapple, and canned tuna. Thailand's currency is the baht. History of Thailand Modern humans first settled the area that is now Thailand in the Paleolithic Era, perhaps as early as 100,000 years ago. For up to one million years prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens, the region was home to Homo erectus, such as Lampang Man, whose fossilized remains were discovered in 1999. As Homo sapiens moved into Southeast Asia, they began to develop appropriate technologies: watercraft for navigating the rivers, intricate woven fishnets, and so on. People also domesticated plants and animals, including rice, cucumbers, and chickens. Small settlements grew up around fertile land or rich fishing spots and developed into the first kingdoms. The early kingdoms were ethnically Malay, Khmer, and Mon. Regional rulers vied with one another for resources and land, but all were displaced when the Thai people immigrated to the area from southern China. Around the 10th century A.D., ethnic Thais invaded, fighting off the governing Khmer empire and establishing the Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1448), and its rival, the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767). Over time, the Ayutthaya grew more powerful, subjecting the Sukhothai and dominating most of southern and central Thailand. In 1767, an invading Burmese army sacked the Ayutthaya capital and divided up the kingdom. The Burmese held central Thailand for only two years before they were defeated in turn by the Siamese leader General Taksin. However, Taksin soon went mad and was replaced by Rama I, the founder of the Chakri dynasty that continues to rule Thailand today. Rama I moved the capital to its present site at Bangkok. During the 19th century, the Chakri rulers of Siam watched European colonialism sweep across neighboring countries of Southeast and Southern Asia. Burma and Malaysia became British, while the French took Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Siam alone, through skilled royal diplomacy and internal strength, was able to fend off colonization. In 1932, the military forces staged a coup d'etat that transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy. Nine years later, the Japanese invaded the country, inciting the Thais to attack and take Laos from the French. Following Japan's defeat in 1945, the Thais were forced to return the land they'd taken. The current monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, came to the throne in 1946 after the mysterious shooting death of his older brother. Since 1973, power has moved from military to civilian hands repeatedly.