For tourists and common backpackers Thailand is defenitely the best choice among the Southeast Asian countries to go. The country is big, the people are generally friendly and really helpful to foreigners, there is a wide variety of different landscapes from the mountains in the north to the long coasts with their white, pristine beaches in the south. There is a lot of culture and history and, last but not least, it's still one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia.
2015 set a new record in tourist arrivals in Thailand. Compared with 2000, the number of visitors has trippled. There is a further increase of Chinese visitors (almost 6 mill., 26,55%). The number would have been higher, but was apparently impaired by the bombing of the Erawan Shrine on August 17th with 20 death.
The number of Russian visitors dropped from 1,6 mill. in 2014 to 885,000.
Alltogether the number of arrivals is currently increasing in 2016, that a total number of between 32 to 35 mill. visitors are to expect.
The number of annual arrivals in Thailand is really high. But, that does not mean that Thailand is generally overrun by tourists as Bali in Indonesia is, for example. It's rather so, that the mass of the tourists concentrates in certain touristic places. That's (partially) Bangkok itself, Hua Hin or Phuket Island in the south, what is factually a special economic zone with a very high percentage of foreign investment, property and foreign inhabitants; it's Pattaya (sin city) in east Thailand and the notorious touristic islands as Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao etc. Chiang Mai in the north is to a certain degree touristic as well. Other touristic destinations are much more moderately visited by tourists, and a great part of the country does not see many tourists at all.
The average tourist in 2012 spent ten days in Thailand and almost 140 $US per day.
Besides, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport is the biggest airport in Southeast Asia and as a central destination receives many arrivals of people who intend to spent also more time in neighbouring countries like Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam instead of Thailand only. However, they pass through it and are part of the statistics. The statistics also includes those who stay for longer in Thailand and do the 'visa run' to neighbouring countries. Every time someone is entering Thailand he/she is counted again.
By the way: Entrance Fees in Thailand
When a Westerner want's to enter a local sight, he has all too often to pay at a ticket booth. The fee for a foreigner is written in English. It's always, that's a pattern, five times as much as a Thai has to pay to enter the same site. The price for Thai People is usually written in Thai script - that's not only a certain script for letters, unreadable for most of the foreigners, there is also a Thai script for figures. Foreigners normally don't realize the difference. So, a Thai visitor pays 30 baht, a foreigner pays 150. And that add's up, because there are many sights in the country, and those who are interested have to pay all the time again and again.
Some Westerners frequently argue at this point that, 'of course', Westerners would earn much more money and can afford the price. They are first so confident in their economic superiority that it looks ridiculous, and second so brainwashed, that they accept annoyances and injustices of all kind, and invent themselves dull justifications for their own discrimination.
The Thai authorities have nothing less in mind than to implement a compensation for an income gap between foreigners and Thai People. They see that it is easy to suck out more money of foreigners and flatter their subjects by privileging them.
Besides it's not at all so that Thai People nowadays earn less than Westerners. Contemporary Thailand is a rich country. There is an emerging middle-class here which has successfull businesses running. They make a lot of money and can cope financially with the declining western middle-classes. They go to historical sites for reasons of national pride and status, not for educational purposes. They usually have no idea about history nor any interest in it; ask them what you want, the answers are generally devastating. They believe merely in ideology, stereotypes and superstition. History is, what their authorities say it is. Very much of what is taught as history in Thailand meets the concept of 'invented history' (Eric Hobsbawm).
The common, poor people of Thailand, what is the mass of the population, don't go into museums and historical sites. They are not interested at all in culture and history but run their small businesses for daily survival. Some also might make more money than one would expect.
So, what's the point? It's just a mean of discrimination of foreigners to charge people from non-ASEAN states more money than others. Imagine that in a western country. Everybody has to pay, let's say, two dollars entrance for whatever, but people from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and so on have to pay ten dollars. Just impossible. It's a basic principle, rooting in the European Enlightenment and brought into political praxis by the French Revolution, that any citizen has to be equally treated. In Southeast Asia, in reverse, these traditions are alien, everywhere. Not only in Thailand.
Thailand's area comprises 513,115 km2, and almost 70,000,000 people (135 people per km2) are living here (2013). Therefore it's much bigger than Germany (357,121 km2, 82,000,000 people, 229 people per km2) and England (130,395 km2, 50,431,000 people, 377 per km2) and smaller than France (668,763 km2, 65,447,000 people, 97 people per km2).
Central Thailand is a big plain with a number of rivers coming from the north and leading into the Gulf of Thailand; the biggest of them is the Chao Phraya River. This part of Thailand is the core of the country, with most of the historic Thai capital cities in it as well as the contemporary one, Bangkok.
In the west the country is separated from Burma/Myanmar by huge and thousands of kilometer long mountain ranges, the Tenasserim Mountain Range in the south and the Dawna Range in the north. Few passes go through them and allow traffic; one of them is the 'Three Pagodas Pass' at Sangkhlaburi.
The eastern border is still the old colonial border which France drew between so called 'French Indochina' and Siam in the decades around 1900. The Mekong River is Thailand's border in the very north to Laos, and there along greater parts of north Thailand (Lanna). Partially the lands west of the Mekong were swallowed by France and are Laotian now (e.g. Sanyabury). The north is is montainous and the largest city, Chiang Mai, is sometimes called a 'second capital'.
The grand river becomes again the border at Sanakam/Loei and marks the border between the two countries almost all along the northeastern region Isan. Isan is widely identical with the geographic area of the Khorat Plateau, a saucer shaped high plain which is bordered by mountains in the west and south (Dangrek Mountains), and the Mekong in the north and east. This area is traditionally acreage for rice farming; nowadays some other crops, particularly cash-crops like cassava and sugar cane are also cultivated.
Thailand's south reaches deep into the Malay Peninsula and is flanked by almost 3,000 kilometers of coastline at the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman coast. The coastlines are over large stretches sand beaches, the sea dotted with many islands. Other parts of the coast are overgrown by long and wide mangrove forests.
For more information on the animals of the region, click the link.
Map of Thailand
Thailand's climate is tropical and coined by annual monsoons.
The southwest monsoon starts at about May/June and lasts until August, September in the very north, until October/November and partially December in the south and deep south of the country.
The dry season brings particularly in the north a moderate climate, it's even getting sometimes quite chilly in the evenings, the nights and the mornings. March and April are the hottest months. In the north it get's up to 40 degree celsius and after months of no rain it's very dry, dusty, and much of the vegetation appears in yellow-brownish colours. The teak trees drop their big leaves so that the forests partially look a bit spooky and remind to a northern winter. But it's hot.
Evidence for prehuman history is given in many sites of the country where the natural history of Thailand is documented.
The historic sites in Thailand are generally well cared for. They are professionally researched, restorated, preserved and often are accompanied by a museum. They are kept nicely clean, one has to add.
One of the oldest settlements of homo sapiens in Southeast Asia is just a few kilometers outside of Krabi in south Thailand. The cave of Lang Rongrien has housed people already 25,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The most significant prehistorical site in Southeast Asia is Ban Chiang in Isan. Here lived people for at least 1,700 years permanently. Archeological findings trace the transition of nomadic living neolithic people to sedentariness, bronze and later iron age.
The first civilizations in the area were Mon and Khmer ones. Their cultures were clearly of Indian origin, at least so far it concerns the ruling classes. The Dvaravati Culture left legacy in Nakhon Pathom, Lopburi and Mueang Fadaet (Kalasin, Isan) and other places. The ancient cities of Lopburi, Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai are just three examples of many more who were for some time outposts of the mighty empire of Angkor.
The first Tai (yet without 'h') tribes came from the south of China, passing through the mountains of Yunnan to what is nowadays north Vietnam, north Laos, the Shan states of Burma/Myanmar and north Thailand. In the early 8th century they founded settlements, among them Luang Prabang and Ngoen Yang (the predecessor of Chiang Saen). In the following centuries they spread more and more out further south and east.
It's not easy to get a clear picture of pre-Bangkok's history of Thailand, because there were so many powers, kings, kingdoms and principalities with manyfold relations among them. Generally spoken it was a scenery comparable to the situation in ancient Europe in the old Greek time. The kingdoms were small city states with influences around the city-capital, which was fortified with brick-built city walls or wooden palisades and towers. The city states controlled the plains and open land around their capital, but usually not much more. They were no territorial states, and they particularly weren't able to control the mountains and the people living in them. Over the centuries they grew and expanded the areas under their control. Certain city states dominated others, who paid tribute to them. That was mostly the case in the plains of north and central Thailand.
Chiang Saen seems to have been one of the first Tai settlements on the territory what is nowadays Thailand. In the following centuries the Tai tribes expanded more and more to the south, into Mon and Khmer territories. A number of Tai kingdoms appear in historical records. The most important of them were the kingdom of Luovo (Lopburi, what was of Dvaravati origin and for a time a second capital of the Khmer empire of Angkor), Sukhothai (from 1238 CE on), Lanna (with first Chiang Rai and then Chiang Mai as capitals) and later Ayutthaya, which became the biggest and most meaningful Thai state and made the others it's vassals. It were Siamese troops from the kingdom of Ayutthaya who captured the Khmer capital of Angkor Thom in 1431/32 CE and set a historical end for the until then dominating Khmer empire. Ayutthaya ruled over a number of other city states and already a considerable territory in the Chao Phraya plains and east of it.
Over the centuries there were repeatedly struggles with Burmese kingdoms in the west. A number of Burmese invasions into central Thailand is recorded. They aimed more and more for the city of Ayutthaya. Other invasions aimed also for Lanna, a Tai kingdom in the north of Thailand. Lanna came under Burmese influence and control from 1548 CE on. The Burmese predominance there lasted until the late 19th century, when Siam's king Chulalongkorn (Rama V) made it economically dependent and started to integrate it into the new, expanding and emerging Bangkok/Siam.
In 1767 CE a Burmese king entered Siam with a huge army via the Three-Pagodas-Pass and marched towards Ayutthaya. It was besieged, sacked and totally ravaged. I think that layed the foundation for the still lasting aversion of the Thai People against their Burmese neighbours. The fall of Ayutthaya almost led to the complete extinction of the Siamese/Thai civilization in general. This violent attack is therefore deeply engraved in the collective memory of Thai People (and certainly still kept awake by propaganda and teachings in Thai schools).
Bangkok / Siam | Early Rattanakosin Era
After the devastation of Ayutthaya and the dead of it's king, a group of scattered Siamese generals gathered troops and escaped the Burmese threat. They made general Taksin (same name as the former prime minister, but without an 'h') a new king. Taksin founded Thonburi at the eastern bank of the lower Chao Phraya River (now a part of Bangkok) as a new capital. Taksin managed to trigger an uprise in Lanna against the Burmese power and stabilized the remaining Siamese civilization.
In 1782 Taksin was declared mad and killed. His successor was a general from another familiy. He became king Yodfa, the first of the Chakri dynasty (Rama I) of which the long-reigning king Bhumibol (Rama IX) was a decendent. Yodfa founded another settlement on the western banks of the Chao Phraya on Rattanakosin Island, opposite to Thonburi. In it's center is the royal palace situated, what is still nowadays a main sight in Bangkok, not far of notorious Khao San Road, where masses of backpackers stay after their arrival in Bangkok, or before they leave it.
In the following years this new Bangkok/Siam expanded in all directions, bringing huge territories under it's control. It expanded partially far beyond the contemporary borders of Thailand. From around the 1860s on it came in ongoing competition with two new powers in Indochina: the British empire, which expanded it's colonies in Malaya and from India into Burma, and the French empire wich invaded first the Vietnamese coasts and penetrated deeper and deeper into Indochina, including Siamese controlled areas in nowadays Laos, north Vietnam and Cambodia.
In the following decades Siam had to make a number of concessions to the two European powers. French and British traders got full rights of trade into Siam. Whatever they committed in Siam, they were immune against Siamese law (like diplomats under international law nowadays, who can theoretically commit any crime without being prosecuted by their guest state's authorities). Siam had to give considerable territories to the British in the south (parts of Malaya as Kedah and Perak, including Langkawi Island) and to the French in the east (large parts of nowadays Laos and Cambodia).
In 1893 the French empire seemed to be determined to capture the whole of Siam or at least all the northern parts of it. Even one of these notorious war-triggering incidents was iniciated: the Pak Nam incident, where aggressive French battleships on the Chao Phraya River came under Siamese fire. Though, Siam got away with a diplomatic solution including larger territorial and other contributions to the French. The French aggressions spoiled the relationship between France and Siam/Thailand until the post World-War II era. It's partially due to the diplomatic skills of king Chulalongkorn (reigning from 1868-1910) and partially because of the rivaltry between the French and the British empires, who agreed to make Siam a buffer state between their colonies, that Siam could avoid to become fully colonialized.
The World Wars
In the First World War Siam joined the allied forces and sent a small troop contingent into the trenches in north France. It was also among the founding members of the 'League of Nations'.
In 1932 there happened a significant coup de etat from the military. The absolute monarchy was set out of power and a new government ruled the country, orientated on western patterns of modernization as liberalism and the examples of Italian and German fascism. The two most significant personalities of the time were Pridi Banomyong and Plaek Phibunsongkram.
The country's name was in the following years changed from 'Siam' to 'Thailand' (1939-1945, then back to 'Siam' again until 1949, and from then on eventually 'Thailand').
On the 8th of December 1941, simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbour/Hawaii (USA), Japanese troops started to invade Thailand at eleven points along the Gulf of Thailand (see also the Battle at Prachuap Khiri Khan). Under these circumstances Thailand was rather enforced to enter the war on the Japanese side and the 'axis powers', than to start war as a political decision. The Japanese aimed to Burma and India to fight the British empire there, after the fall of Singapore, the capture of Malaysia, French Indochina and Indonesia. From 1942 on the notorious 'death railway' via Kanchanaburi and the Three Pagodas Pass into Burma was built.
Post Second World War
Although being on the looser's side at the end of the war, Thailand became an American ally in the post-war era. It was a bitterly poor country, until American investment brought much money in. Thailand's northeastern region Isan first profited by getting a basic (military) infrastructure (and the first good roads) built with American means, preparing for the American Vietnam War in the early 1960s. Pattaya became an important US navy base. The Vietnam War triggered Thailands prosperity; America invested much more into Thailand as it ever got back. Then thousands of GIs spent a lot of consumer money in the country - in fact until today. After the war, American business retreated, fearfully expecting the consequences of the 'domino theory', that whole Indochina would become communist controlled.
That didn't come true, and the American investment was replaced by Japanese investment from the early 1980's on, building up big car and motorbike industries, as well as household industries and later computer industries. Western tourism started in the 1970's, triggered by the GI's recreation programmes of the Vietnam War. Nowadays Thailand is nowadays one of the most important tourist destinations in the world. It has undergone a huge social change in the last sixty years and became in recent years a newly industrialized country.
The country saw 19 military coups following the first one in 1932. The Thai army plays a central role in Thai politics since. The democracy movements suffered always heavy oppression by the mostly very authoritarian regimes. One of the worst anticommunist and antidemocratic excesses was the Massacre at Thammasat University on October 6th, 1976.
The growing economic and social inequality in Thailand, particularly after the Asian Crisis of 1997, was the hotbed on which the popularity of telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra grew, a strong man who became elected primeminister in 2001. Thaksin's 'dual politics' was not merely neoliberal, as it is mostly so worldwide in our times, but also keynseanistic.
Thaksonomics flushed some money through the pockets of the rural poor and organized a really good healthcare scheme. Thaksin's growing influence and rising rivaltry to the established elites led to the September 26th 2006 coup and all the ongoing unrest in the country since, including repeated mass demonstrations from two sides.
Two low points in the younger history were Thaksin's 'war on drugs' in which around 3,000 people were extrajudicially killed, and the 2010 demonstrations in Bangkok, when 91 demonstrators got killed by the army.
The after the Second World War relaunched monarchy emerged in influence from 1957 on, when the palace merged an alliance with the army after another putsch by general Sarit. The whole national myth and the official historical narrative became tied closely to the personalities of kings in general and king Bhumibol of the Chakri dynasty in particular. With the decease of Bhumibol on October 13th, 2016, a historical era came finally to it's end. The future of the country is under the threat of instability. The latest coup d'etat under general Prayut Chan-o-cha on May 22nd, 2014 was, among other reasons, undertaken to moderate the throne change in an for the old elities agreeable way.
Thailand is an active member of the ASEAN and seems to work on a closer economic integration of the ASEAN member states.
Thailand is also a full-treaty ally of the USA and the NATO. It sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq (2001/2003). Since the Second World War there was never a serious dispute between Thailand and the USA - until recently...
After the military coup d'etat of May 22nd 2014, relations between the superpower and Thailand declined to a degree never seen before since 1945. It looks like a paradigmatic change of Thailands foreign policy, away from the west towards China. After the American ambassador criticized the human rights situation in Thailand in moderate words, it was made a scandal by the Thai junta. Tensions grow. The Thai edition of the 'New York Post' showed three times blank spots after the coup, because the printing house seemed to have committed self-censorship for critical articles on the country's contemporary politics. The paper announced then to no more publish in Thailand anymore. Thai Airways, the flagship of Thailand's airlines, is no more allowed to use American airports. Due to security reasons, it is said... Also the traditional common military training between the Thai army and American troops, cobra gold, has been reduced by the USA.
At the same time the ruling military junta does equip the army with arms from China and the Ukraine and is strengthening the military and economic cooperation with China.
Besides, in 2014/15 were serious cases of human trafficking happening at this border, with hidden camps in the forests where refugees from Burma/Myanmar were held captive and many killed. As a reaction to these crimes the Thai military junta under general Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Malaysian government agreed to build a border wall through the rainforest along their common border. What for a great solution: a greater concrete wall with watch towers, snipers and electrified barbed wire. The only answer to the huge multiple problems of our time is always more repression, more surveillance, more police and military. Where will that end? One should not forget: That's of course also a great and welcome business for the notoriously corrupt construction companies...
In recent years Thailand's ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra became an economic adviser of Cambodia. As a reaction, Thailand withdrew it's ambassador from Phnom Phen. Shinawatra's appointment was seen as an interference in Thai internal affairs.
Particularly the conflict about Preah Vihear temple in the Dangrek Mountains led to armed struggles and military presence on both sides of the Thai-Cambodian border and came repeatedly into the news in the last years. This conflict is in total about a hundred years old. In 1960 the UN, called as an referee, decided that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodian territory. Nevertheless, the tensions about the sight are going on. In 2011 there was a serious military confrontation at Prasat Ta Muen, in which several Thai villages were evacuated. In 2013 the UN judgement has been reconfirmed.
Patrol boat shootings on the Mekong River (1980), heavy military fighting over undefined parts of the border (1984, 1987/88) marked Thai/Laotion relationships in the aftermath of the Second Vietnam War. These tensions ceased from 1988 on, when Thai politics aimed on Indochinese new markets east of the Mekong. Thai influence is growing since in Laos, not at least because of the cultural and lingual similarity of both countries. Thai culture industries (pop music, daily soaps, news etc.) have a considerable impact in Laos (one could call it 'cultural imperialism'). There are even fears in Laos, that Thailand could 'eat up' it's smaller neighbour.
Troublesome remain the problems with Hmong refugees in Thailand. As former allies of the USA and Thailand they are haunted in Laos since decades. But since 1995 Thailand is no longer willing to allow them to stay in refugee camps on Thai territory, and refuses to integrate them into Thai society.
Thailand's Immigration Concept...
There must be some 100,000 Westerners living in Thailand, either retired, working here or married with a Thai wife, or long-term travelling or doing whatever. Thailand as a still relatively attractive country to live in has, as a state, to deal anyhow with the immigration.
So, the buerocracy brought out a number of different categories of foreigners by status who fall under different regulations. They all have one thing in common: they have to make a so called 'visa run' every at least three months. If one has only a tourist visa, the 'visa run' is due either after a fortnight, thirty days or sixty days. 'Visa run' means exactly to leave the country just for the only single reason to reenter it again for the purpose to get a new or refreshed visa. Have a look for 'Visa-Run to Vientiane' and 'Visa-Run to Kuala Lumpur'). The small visa run is an every 90-days visit at the immigration office in the next province capital.
Depending on where exactly the Westerners live and in which status category he (mostly 'he', very seldom 'she') is packed in means a considerable and perpetual annoyance. It clashes with other plannings, consumes time and money, is uncomfortable, enhances the traffic in the traffic system, fills up the passports with stamps until they are full and a new passport is due, it creates work and long lines in the embassies and, best of all, it's completely unnecessary.
Not to mention that the very authorities change the rules from time to time and to whom it is concerned has to find that out by himself. And that leads, inquiring at the immigration offices, not seldom to contradictive informations.
Well, one problem is that in general the decision makers at the top of the social pyramid, particularly in the state buerocracies, do not suffer the consequences of their decisions themselves. In fact they create problems the people at the bottom of the social pyramid have to solve then - if they can. If not, they get easily criminalized.
Apparently the Thai immigration politics lack something what could be called a concept. It's not only superfluous to do journeys to the next country just to receive a stamp. It brings money to the neighbouring countries. From the perspective of the Thai authorities it would make rather sense to cash the foreigners inside the country and receive therefore a revenue. Would be bad enough. But they let it run to the neighbouring states who themselves charge the applicant fees of ten, thirty of more dollars each run (see also the examples of Tachileik and Kawthaung in Burma/Myanmar, of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia or the miserable example in Vientiane/Laos).
So again, to conclude, there is not much of an 'immigration concept' in Thailand.
The economic model of Thailand is a liberal, free-market economy. It's export-orientated but has also a vital domestic market for products of many kinds; many among them are too low in quality for the world-market. A great deal of consumer goods is imported from China. Nevertheless, Thailand is a newly industrialized country.
Agriculture is traditionally an important economic sector. Palm oil and rubber production is on the rise. Besides, Thailand is one of the biggest rice exporters in the world. In the years 1980 to 2011 it was the largest rice exporter in the world. 20,000,000 tons of rice are produced annually in Thailand.
Though, due to the industrialization of the country in the past decades agriculture nowadays makes only less than 10% of the whole economic performance, while the industries contribute 45%. Most important is the automobile production (Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda etc. produce in Thailand, Mercedes has a factory north of Bangkok), but also computer electronics (e.g. after the flood in central Thailand in 2011 there was a world shortage of hard disk drives), textile industries and steel production.
Tourism contributes about 6.5% to the gross domestic product.
In 2011 the World Bank prognosticated an inflation push for Thailand. That came true in 2012. Particularly food prices rose considerably. And I don't think that it is already over.
In a meeting between the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso and Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's primeminister, on the 5th of March 2013 in Brussels, both sides started talks on a free-trade agreement.
Merchandises worth 18 billion euros were imported 2011 from Thailand into Europe, and the export from Europe to Thailand was of 12 billion euros.
The EU (European Union) is working on bilateral agreements also with south Korea, Singapore and Japan. Thailand is a strategical access country for the European export industries into Asian markets. "Thailand is a central player in the ASEAN-region", Barroso said. "The EU has a great interest to a closer cooperation".
The original intention of the European Union was a trade agreement with all the ASEAN states, but it failed in 2009. Since then the focus is on bilateral agreements.
Thailand will also be a member of the notorious TPP (Trans-Pacific Partership Agreement), which is dealed out behind closed doors, kept secret from the public, in Singapore).
Thailand has a significant automobile industrie (see above). That's not Thai technology, but Japanese and partially German car manufacturers who produce in Thailand. In 2012 there were 2,000,000 cars built in Thailand. For 2013 the manufacturers expect another 3,000,000 cars. In early 2014 Volkswagen announced to open another car factory at Pak Nam, south of Bangkok. Thailand therefore develops to be one of the biggest car producing countries in the world. The cars are not only for the Thai market but also distributed into the neighbouring countries. Though, the Thai domestic market is the main destination for the automobiles.
There is a great hunger for new cars. The average car here is a huge pickup. Besides there is a great demand for expensive, luxurious cars. The German manufacturer Mercedes produces in Thailand and has a significant growth in sales.
Years ago I always wondered why Thai roads were built always so very broad, often in the size of motorways with three, four lanes or more in one direction, although there was only very little, sometimes almost no traffic at all on them. The only answer I had was that the Thai decision makers have a huge growth expectation, besides from corrupt connections between politicians and the construction sector. Well, now it comes out that there is really such an enormous traffic growth in Thailand. Yet I didn't find a statistic on annual traffic growth in Thailand, but it looks to me that the traffic doubled within the last few years. The streets fill with cars, motorbikes and trucks, with noise, smog, dust, dirt and danger.
That comes together with a sharp decline of living quality. More traffic means more stress, more diseases, more danger, less nature; the accident rate is very high in Thailand. There were 24,237 deaths in 2015 alone due to traffic accidents. For a 70,000,000 people population it's comparably high. Very high. Germany, with a population of 80,000,000 people, has an annual death toll of now 3,600, although there are probably many more cars on German streets than on Thailand's.
Factually the most (Thai) people can not drive a car. Well, they can drive, so long the road is broad and they drive only straight on. But, when it gets a bit tricky they quickly fail. One for example never sees someone here driving backwards into a parking gap. It's too difficult. The drivers have seemingly problems enough to leave a gap.
Also, I have never seen a driving school in Thailand. Actually I don't really know how one get's a driver's licence here, but I am pretty sure it's mostly about paying a price.
I frequently observe people coming from sideroads entering a main road, and they don't take a look for if the road is free. They just look straight forward into the direction they want to go [!] and simply drive on. They drive as they would walk as a pedestrian (and even then it's a fatal mistake not to check if the road is free or not).
Driving a car is not easy. One has to realize quickly and simultaneously many things who go on around and has to be able to response to them - using the car's facilities properly. That has to be learned, trained and means permanent concentration while driving. Almost nobody seems to be aware of this. It's generally assumed that anybody can drive a car 'naturally'.
But it's not only that. Many people can not really afford the vehicles. They buy on dept, putting a mortgage on the car, their houses and land. Next they are under pressure to pay their monthly rates to the banks. The small family business must run well then, otherwise they face serious problems.
And all that does not regard the environmental problems of cars. Roads occupy great acreages of land. They cut land into fragmented parts, making it difficult for people and animals to cross them. The material for street building must be organised and comes together with the exploitation of nature elsewhere. The consumption of great amounts of sand alone are a problem.
Oil is a problem. It must be produced in mostly instable countries with very oppressive regimes and transported, distributed all over the world. That's a heavy impact for the global environment. Tankers and oil rigs crash regularly. Profit-making with oil leads to wars. Oil is a much to precious resource to burn it only for the momentary purpose that anybody can drive to anywhere he/she wants. The resource oil can serve as a raw material for many important products. In the future there will be the need to build more very useful products with this source. Instead to use it carefully, we burn away this very precious source and steal it so from future generations. And already of our own generation. It's supposed by traffic experts, that the global 'peak oil' was in 2006. In the coming years we will more and more run into shortages of oil. Nobody seems to see this anymore, it's silently assumed that the earth's resources are lasting forever. The individualized, motorized traffic system wastes oil and a lot of other materials, just to keep the profit machine running. It's not sustainable, not to mention the greenhouse effect.
A system of motorized individual traffic is also extremely inefficient. It would be much more efficient to develop a sophisticated, useful, safe, comfortable and fast public transport system. In fact the contrary is done. Public transport is miserable, slow and uncomfortable and it's getting cut down instead of being expanded. Since years all the new bus stations in Southeast Asia are built far away from the actual destination. That means another loss of time and money for the passenger, being forced to pay for a taxi or another vehicle of any kind extra to come over the last few kilometers from the bus station to the destination. That's failure by design, to support a few driver jobs and to make cars more attractive in competition to busses.
Cars destroy living quality in the present, hurt the nature irreversebly and consumes the sources we will need in the future.
One should mention that motorbikes play a similar part in Thailand nowadays. When in former times people used bicycles or public transport, nowadays it must be at least a motorbike. The Japanese manufactureres flood the country with motorbikes. Since a deep aversion against walking is common here, I have seen people visiting their direkt neighbours on a motorbike. 15 meters distance. I wouldn't believe it myself wouldn't I have seen it with my own eyes. And young schoolkids more and more get an own motorbike to go around and to drive to school and wherever thei want every day. It's about laziness and status. Sometimes, not so seldom, I see an eight years old boy driving a motorbike, sometimes with a six years old kid on the backseat.
Formally the rate of illiteracy in Thailand is at about 5% (according to the UNESCO and World Bank), and is so far comparable to the European Union. One has to keep in mind that the Thai alphabet is different from the western, Latin script. Being a Thai literate does not necessarily mean to be able to read western script.
Six years of elementary school, followed by three years of secondary school are mandatory. For those, who will learn a certain profession or study on a university, a few more years are set on top.
The education system is old-style, so to say, it's very authoritarian. Obedience and discipline are most important (secondary virtues), frontal teaching is usual, learning by heart, singing the national anthem, hoisting flags, marching on the schoolyard, wearing school uniforms... that coins very much the average school day.
Even the teachers have to wear uniforms on some days, additionally to a number of signs where is to read on what's their status rank in the system.
Discussions, developing own opinions, values and personalities, free, independent thinking, learning to solve problems, considering topics from different views - that's all not part of the education. It's a simple world in the schools: there is a clear right and a clear wrong. Right is, what the teacher says. And he has to claim that, what is politically correct, otherwise he comes in trouble. Ultra-nationalistic views, political correctness with all it's implications...
Schools do not seldom look like prisons, surrounded by high walls and sometimes even barbed-wire on top of them. The hierarchical order in the education system does not allow discussions. That continues in the universities. The teacher or the professor is always right, because he is an authority. That's the whole point. Even adult academics who work on their thesis to get a doctor degree have to show, most of all, obedience to their professors and perform a lot of silly, useless, time-wasting and contraproductive rituals to just demonstrate obedience to their professors. These professors appear sometimes as formerly disgraced higher army or police officers who were in need for a new job.
In the schools there is frequently music played, noisy and enhanced by loudspeakers so that the whole quarter participates in the spectacle. It's not only the national anthem, but other melodies who then always and always repeat. That's not an atmosphere where one can learn and concentrate on a more sophisticated content. The pupils who in the same time do other schoolstuff are disturbed by the din.
Later in their lives this behaviour continues when the (almost always male) adults produce loud music and other din of all kind and don't care for the neighbourhood. One can hardly blame them - that's what they learned in school, isn't it?
It's pretty obviously that school is meaned to keep the people conform and form a kind of personality which is adapted to the contemporary society and not able to make up it's own mind. That's of course not only a Thai specific, but pretty clearly to see here.
Fustigation was part of the system until, so much I know, 2011; since then it's officially abolished. A few years ago I heared also a Westerner who worked as a teacher in Thailand telling me that he would beat his pupils if they weren't obedient. He didn't forget to add that he actually, of course, 'loves' the children.
However, a teacher who beats his pupils is clearly a total failure.
The first nine schoolyears are basically free of charge, but more and more the pupil's family has to pay for the school uniforms, schoolbooks, other equipment and certain events.
Advanced schools after the 9th year cost money. There are as well public schools as private schools.
A great deal of Westerners who live for longer in Thailand are keen to become a teacher here. It's a typical fallback-solution for unemployed Westerners. Thailands education system employs a great number of them. Until 2009 there was no further qualification required except speaking English. Since the economic breakdown scenario of 2008 and the rising unemployment in western countries more and more English, Australians and Americans come to Thailand on the search for a job. In 2009 the education ministery made it obligatory for a Westerner to be a native English speaker to be employed as an English teacher. There is still no further qualification required.
Besides, the English programmes, as long as they already run, are to see as a complete failure. Thai People do not speak English, as a matter of fact, doesn't matter how old or how young they are, although generations of pupils went through school formally learning English. There is no or only a very little learning effect. The few Thai People who do speak English, learned it by practice when making business in the tourist industries or are from the upper class with better access to education.
In most of the 20th century Thailand had a dynamic population growth. The estimated population in 1900 was between five and eight million people. In 1982 it was around 50 million inhabitants. In the following years the birth rate lowered considerably. In 2012 there are some 70 million People living in Thailand.
Particularly steep was the population growth in the north of Thailand. The territory of old Lanna was at the beginning of the 19th century almost completely depopulated. Despite resettlement efforts in the northern parts of Thailand, it remained almost unpopulated until into the 20th century. What is now the province of Chiang Rai, was populated in 1905 by 5,000 people only. In Chiang Saen only 70 people lived.
Now the population of Chiang Rai province is officially at 1,1 million inhabitants. Around 12.5 percent of them belong to different 'hill tribes'.
Traditionally Thailand's Buddhist monasteries and temples are decorated over and over with paintings. Motives are mostly of a religious kind, the majority of what I saw depicts The Life of Buddha or Buddha's former lifes (the Jataka tales). Almost all the paintings are two-dimensional. The north of Thailand, the old Lanna, seems much richer in temple paintings than the south is.
In the past, when the vast majority of the population was illiterate, the Buddhist temples provided the only schools, and temple paintings were a mean of illustrating teachings.
In all-day-life there is very little to hear of self-made music. Very, very few Thai's play an instrument. Nevertheless, there is a lot of music around, but it's all coming from TV's, mobile phones, radios, mp3-players and other entertainment devices. The verymost of it is simple, commercialized Thai pop music for the mass taste without sophistication. Western pop music is less often played, except in touristic centers with western guests. I very, very seldom got classical Thai music life to hear, on the contrary to the gamelan music which is here and there played by orchestras in Java.
There is much to say about Thai food. It's certainly among the best food in the world, representing a great deal of dishes and recipes. Thai People are anyhow ingenious in making food. Food stalls and restaurants are almost everywhere, the choice is overwhelming. Many very tasty, healthy dishes in a great variety are offered. Legendary are for example the phantastic noodle soups alone. Though, much of the modern food is pure junk.
One has to be aware of three concerning things. First the used oils are mostly of bad quality. Most of the cooking oils are based on palm oil. Palm oil is rich in cholesterol, which leads to severe diseases and long-term consumption might end up in strokes or heart attacks. Thai People don't mind much, because they often lack consciousness for health and pollution. When they die, then it's, in their view of things, due to fate and kharma, maybe the influence of the power of surrounding spirits or so. Cholesterol plays usually no role in this mindset.
Second is the MSG (monosodium glutamate). It's a food additive (taste enhancer) and looks like salt or rather like sugar, but it's something modifying food taste. Not recommendable and not healthy, I guess - particularly when consumed regularly and in high doses. Thai's use it at many occacions and cooks put it into the food without asking the customer, so, better to be careful. In fact I suspect it being an appetite enhancer, making one more hungry and consuming more food than one would otherwise do. Since that crap is used here in a great deal, it might partially explain the high rate of overweight Thai's nowadays.
Third, aluminium ware is used everywhere, also for cooking and storing food wich contains acids (fruits, vinegar, spices etc). Aluminium cooking ware is cheapest and light and therefore used in many restaurants, also in expensive ones. Paying a higher price does, of course, not mean getting a higher quality. Aluminium is supposed to enhance the risk of getting the Alzheimer's disease, although this thesis is not scientificly proofed.
Besides, sugar is used much too much. Thai's like it sweet. I see sometimes Thai People shovelling sugar in their soups, and even the cooks pouring sugar into the noodle-soup bowls.
Thai People also like it spicy. Sometimes the food is so overspiced (with chilly) that it hurts to eat it. Too much is too much...
Well, however, I personally don't care much for the food - so long it is good (tasty) and healthy. And in that Thailand is still king. One always finds a good meal here.
Generally, Thailand is a very safe country to travel. It's certainly, in my personal opinion, the safest country in Southeast Asia. There is generally no or only a minor problem here with mugging or theft.
There are some weird stories on Thai police around in Thailand, in which policemen appear in obscure roles. It's not only hear-saying, but coming also from human right organizations or it's published in the news. Nevertheless, as a tourist in Thailand one enjoyes a good deal of protection by the police. In my experience they always try to help, be it when it comes to trouble or just in ordinary all-day-situations. Personally I made a lot of good experiences with the Thai police supporting me even finding transport in remote areas or accommodation, what is defenitely not a police job (Several times I was invited to take seat in a police car and the policemen drove me to my destination). I could imagine the police here is trained to help tourists.
Besides there is a tourist police in all the major tourist destinations, which is specialized in tourist affairs. The officers of the tourist police speak English. Newest outcome is that even here and there Westerners are employed as tourist policemen.
Though, there are frequently reports in the news about crimes, in which also foreigners are involved, sometimes even killed. So much I see, these crimes are very much concentrated on the main touristic destinations. In many cases the foreigners were involved in drug activities or prostitution affairs. There is also much fraud in which Westerners are involved when spending a lot of money (not seldom more than they can afford) in local girls of whom they think they were their girlfriends. Besides there is a considerable rate of fraud coming from expats targeted on other foreigners, namely newcomers. Dealing in real-estate, cars, financial affairs and so on.
Another safety issue is health. There is a huge fear among tourists getting infected by all these scary tropical diseases. Top rated is probably malaria. Well, there are malaria and dengue fever cases, as well as chikungunya, and that's serious. But, generally spoken, it's a very small risk to get infected. Since there is no reasonable malaria protection available, it's best to care not to get bitten by mosquitoes. A simple repellent, available for small money in many shops, is a good solution.
Be aware of the dogs. Some of them bite and after that a rabies vaccination is mandatory as quick as possible.
The food is, see above, very good and does not threaten the health even of a foreigner. Also the food from the small streed vendors is edible without a bigger risk than anywhere else in the world or in expensive restaurants (price does not relate with quality). If it comes to diarrhoe it's in most of the cases caused by an overdose of spices, not by an infection. Chily is not seldom used too much in the food.
There are some serious concerns about human rights in Thailand. In the three southern provinces Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat civilians are attacked by insurgent separatists, while state security forces torture and hijack people. The situation escalated much in 2004.
Rights abuses against migrant workers from Burma remain unpunished, for the authorities usually refuse to take action in such cases. This is long since known. In May 2014 a wave of reports of heavy human rights abuses on Thai fisherboats and shrimp farms flooded the medias. Reports of human trafficking, slavery and even executions. Such kind of reports are still in the news as late as in July 2015.
Refugees and asylum seekers are forced back to countries where they will likely face persecution, violence, torture, e.g. in Burma, China and Laos.
In 2003, the government of Thaksin Shinawatra started a 'war on drugs', in which estimated 2,500 to above 3,000 people were killed. Human right organizations claim that in many cases it were mere executions of people who weren't involved in drug affairs, but for other obscure reasons as personal or business rivalries.
Human trafficking is a big issue in Thailand. Estimated some 100,000s of girls and women are forced to serve in the sex industries. It's also claimed by human right organizations that Burmese and Cambodian men are lured under false promises into shrimp farms in Thailand or on Thai ships where they have to work for years and to pay back obscure debts. Their passports are taken by the management to make it impossible for them to escape.
In the 2010 'red shirt' demonstrations in Bangkok were 93 people killed and 2,000 people injured. The next government Yingluck Shinawatra (in office between July 2011 and May 2014) failed to fulfill her promise to give priority to human rights in this and other matters. The 2010 affair is still not disabused.
Prison conditions and some immigration jails are characterized as poor. "In 2004 more than 1,600 persons died in prison or police custody, 131 as a result of police actions."
There is a strict media censorship on the country, based on the 'computer crime act of Thailand' and the very restrictive 'lèse-majesté' law. The news again and again report about incidents who sound incredible to believe, but bring people in deep trouble. In late 2015, for example, a young Thai man faced prosecution for he allegedly insulted the king's dog in the internet by clicking a 'Like' button.
(see also: http://www.hrw.org/asia/thailand; and: Bales, Kevin: The New Slavery)
The last military coup d'etat of 22nd May 2014 ousted a democratic elected government. Since then the country is ruled by a military junta under general Chan-o-cha. Thailand's constitution is replaced by martial law, people who oppose the military rule, demonstrate against it or utter critical opinions in the public are under persecution. The junta announced new elections not before October 2015, but is delaying the date successively. It's not looking good for the future of human rights and democracy in Thailand.
In the weeks after the coup a growing number of Cambodians who worked in Thailand left the country. First reports in the news called 120,000 refugees, a few days later 180,000, then 250,000. The workers, who have mostly no working permit for Thailand but were so far accepted, fear severe persecution from the new junta.
Under the constitution of 1997 and the following constitution of 2007, freedom of speech was guaranteed in Thailand. Since May 2014, Thailand has no constitution anymore; after a year of martial law followed a draft which is called by international observers like Human Rights Watch as even harsher than martial law.
"Harassment, manipulation, and strict control of political news was common under the Thaksin [Shinawatra] government (2001-2006)", and the situation worsened after the military coup d'etat in 2006, when primeminister Thaksin Shinawatra and his government were ousted.
Presently there is a "strict, direct governmental / military control over the broadcast media, and the use of economic and political pressure" implemented. 'Lèse-majesté' ('insulting' the monarchy) and the 'computer crime act' legitimate persecution of anybody criticising the monarchy in the most general way or publishing information which might be seen as offensive for the government or the military. Reporters without Borders lists Thailand as a "country under surveillance" (already in 2011).
There is an estimated number of 110,000 blocked websites for 2010, in a growing extend. A great part of them are blocked without court orders through informal request.
This website, 'asienreisender.de', was blocked exclusively in Thailand for 36 hours in early 2013. Access from all over the world happened, only in Thailand was no access possible, and also server access was blocked. I got no information about it from the authority who committed the block.
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_Thailand
For first-time visitors to Thailand it might be surprising to see that the national anthem is played twice daily (8am and 6pm) on every public place and blared out of a great number of loudspeakers all around the country. It's played in the radios and the TV's, the schools, all official buildings and, of course, in the barracks. It's obligatory for anyone to stand up when sitting and to stop walking, holding the arms downwards. That's according to a law made by primeminister Phibunsongkhram in 1939. If you don't obey, even as a foreigner, you might harvest some ugly glances from 'decent' Thai People around. It can even be fined. Greetings from George Orwell. Do you remember '1984', where they have the daily '5 minutes hate show' in TV?
It can happen that the national anthem appears preceded or followed by advertisements, local official announcements or other radio broadcasting through the loudspeakers.
The Thai national anthem (Phleng Chat Thai) was composed in 1932 (the year of the historical 'coup d'etat', see above) and officially introduced in 1939. The official predecessor of 'Phleng Chat Thai' was 'Pleng San Soen Phra Barami', which is used nowadays as the 'king's anthem' and played in the cinemas before the main movie starts. If you don't stand up in the cinemas when it starts, you can get fined as well.
The contemporary national anthem - Phleng Chat Thai - was composed by Peter Feith (also: Feit, Veit; *1883 - 1968), a composer of German descent. Peter Feith was born in Thailand and lived here. He was the son of Jacob Feith, a German immigrant in Thailand who was appointed as a royal advisor for music by king Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Peter Feith changed his name later to Piti Waityakarn (also: Phra Chen Duriyang). He collected all pieces of Thai music who were until then only transfered orally from generation to generation and payed so a relevant contribution to preserve this part of Thai culture.
The words of the national anthem are by Luang Saranuprapan.
The Text of the Thai National Anthem:
Sometimes it comes with an introduction as this:
the Thai flag and national anthem...
is our unique identity...
The time is now eight a.m. ...
Please stop your activities...
and stand up to honour the flag of Thailand
at this very moment, please!"
Thailand embraces in its bosom all people of Thai blood,
Every inch of Thailand belongs to the Thais.
It has long maintained it's sovereignity,
Because the Thais have always been united.
The Thai people are peace loving, but they are no cowards at war.
Nor shall they suffer tyranny.
All Thais are ready to give up every drop of blood,
for the nations safety, freedom and progress.
There is a number of different translations of the Thai anthem. Some are more martial, others less. I have seen clearly more aggressive translations than this.
The daily TV spot coming with the anthem is also pretty martial; all kind of military facilities of the Thai army are shown in the background, including launched missiles.
Another translation is this:
Thailand is founded on blood and flesh,
Thai people share,
Every portion of the land belongs to us,
thus we must care,
The reason why this country still exists,
is because the Thai people,
have long loved one another and been united.
We, Thai, are peace-loving people,
but in time of war,
uncowardly, we'll fight to the bitter end.
None is allowed to oppress,
and destroy our independence;
To sacrifice every droplet of blood,
as a national offering, we are always ready,
For the sake of our country's progress and victory.
Audio Sample of the Thai National Anthem
The Thai national anthem, recorded on March 15th 2013 at 8 a.m. in Chiang Khong. The first 1:26 minutes are 'preplay', 1930s style, to make the main piece appearing more impressing. Audio by Asienreisender
This article is based on decades of practical experiences and observations. Moreover it's based on a number of publications. You find a list of them on the Literature page. However, it's not at all exhausting; it comes together with uncounted articles from newspapers, magazines, (qualified) websites and movies, both fiction and documentary. Sometimes, a good talk with a connoisseur of a certain topic provides me with facts, ideas, inspirations and innovations and/or reveals a mistake.