Siam is the name by which Thailand was known to the world until 1939 and again between 1945 and 1949. On May 11, 1949, an official proclamation changed the name of the country to "Prathet Thai", or "Thailand", by which it has since been known. The word "Thai" means "free", and therefore "Thailand" means "Land of the Free."
The Kingdom of Thailand, located in Southeast Asia on the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, shares boundaries with Myanmar (Burma) on the west and northwest, Laos on the east and northeast, Cambodia (Kampuchea) on the southeast, and Malaysia on the south. Thailand, although rich in rubber and in mineral resources, was never colonized by Europeans and has existed as a unified monarchy since 1350. The capital, Bangkok, an attractive blend of Western and Thai architecture, was established in 1782.
Thailand covers a land area of 513,115 square kilometers, and extends about 2,500 kilometers from north to south and 1,250 kilometers from east to west, with a coastline of approximately 1,840 kilometers on the Gulf of Thailand and 865 kilometers along the Indian Ocean.
Thailand is divided into four natural regions:
The Central Plains or Chao Phraya River Basin
The Northeast or the Korat Plateau
The South or the Southern Peninsula
The climate is tropical with long hours of sunshine and high humidity. There are three seasons:
Hot from March to June
Rainy from July to October Cool from November to February
Average low temperature is 20°c and high temperature is 37°c. The geographic and climatic conditions make the country suitable for the cultivation of a wide range of tropical and semi-tropical agricultural crops.
The country has a population of approximately 58.6 million (1994), of which around 6 million live in the capital city, Bangkok. The most important ethnic minority are Chinese. Other minority groups include Malays, Cambodians, Indians, non-Thai hill tribes, and some Vietnamese. Immigration is controlled by a quota system.