Thailand is an independent country that lies in the heart of Southeast Asia.
The capital and largest city of Thailand is Bangkok. It is also the country's center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. Bangkok is known in Thai as "Krung Thep Mahanakorn," or, more colloquially, "Krung Thep."
Thailand is the world's 51st-largest country in terms of total area, roughly equal in size to Spain, with a surface area of approximately 513,000 km2, and the 20th most-populous country, with approximately 63 million people. About 75% of the population is ethnically Thais, 14% is of Chinese origin, and 3% is ethnically Malay, the rest belong to minority groups including Mons, Khmers, and various hill tribes. The country's official language is Thai.
Thailand is one of the most devoutly Buddhist countries in the world. The national religion is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by more than 95% of all Thais.The cultures and traditions in Thailand are significantly influenced by those of India, China and many western countries.
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Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. Some common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, and fish sauce. The staple food in Thailand is rice, particularly jasmine variety rice (also known as Hom Mali rice) which is included in almost every meal.
Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice, and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year. Over 5000 varieties of rice from Thailand are preserved in the rice gene bank of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. The King of Thailand is the official patron of IRRI
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However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river after being sacked by the Burmese. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called "Phra Nakorn", pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis' core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.
In the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has been the political, social and economic center of not only Thailand but for much of South East Asia and Indochina as well. Its influence in the arts, politics, fashion, education and entertainment as well as being a business, financial and cultural center of Asia has given Bangkok the status of a global city.
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Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, approximately the size of Singapore. The island is connected to mainland Thailand by a bridge. It is situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. The region has an area of approximately 570sqm and it’s made up of 1 large and 39 small islands.
Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber. The island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, and was frequently mentioned in foreign trader’s ship logs. The region now derives much of its income from tourism.
The culture of Thailand incorporates a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's main theology Theravada Buddhism is central to modern Thai identity and belief. In practice, Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism as well as ancestor worship.
In areas in the southernmost parts of Thailand, Islam is prevalent. Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and have maintained a distinctly traditional way of life despite strong Thai cultural influence. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok.
Like most Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture. Elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies.
The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, is generally offered first by the youngest of the two people meeting, with their hands pressed together, fingertips pointing upwards as the head is bowed to touch their face to the hands, usually coinciding with the spoken word "Sawat-dii khrap" for male speakers, and "Sawat-dii ka" for females. The elder then is to respond afterwards in the same way. Social status and position, such as in government, will also have an influence on who performs the wai first.
The traditional Thai greeting call 'Wai'
The city of Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or Krung Thep for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom and came to the forefront of Thailand when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya, the former kingdom seat and capital of the Ayuthaya province. It was also ranked by "Travel and Leisure," as the best city in the world for the year 2008.
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Bangkok is considered to be one of the world's top tourist hotspots. According to Travel and Leisure magazine it is Asia's best tourist destination, the third in the world in 2006 and overall best city in the world in 2008. It is also voted the best city in Asia according to Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
Bangkok is Thailand's major tourist gateway, which means that the majority of foreign tourists arrive in Bangkok. The Tourism Authority of Thailand hopes to draw 15 million tourists in 2007, up from 11.6 million in 2005. The city boasts some of the country's most visited historical venues such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are numerous projects to maintain Bangkok's historic sites in the Rattanakosin area and river districts.
Bangkok is known as Orient's most cosmopolitan city and until now preserves its cultural heritage which makes it an irresistible place to visit.
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One of the most popular tourist areas on Phuket is Patong Beach on the central western coast, perhaps owing to the easy access to its wide and long beach. Most of Phuket's nightlife and its cheap shopping is located in Patong, and the area has become increasingly developed. Patong means "the forest filled with banana leaves" in Thai.
Other popular beaches are located south of Patong. In a counterclockwise direction these include Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Kata Noi Beach, and around the southern tip of the island, Nai Harn Beach and Rawai. To the north of Patong are Kamala Beach, Surin Beach and Bang Tao Beach. These areas are generally much less developed than Patong, and sought out by individuals, families and other groups with a preference for more relaxed and less crowded environs than Patong.
There are many islands to the southeast, including Bon Island, just a short boat trip away. There are several coral islands to the south of Phuket, the Similan Islands lie to the north west, and Phi Phi Islands to the south east. Islanders engage in a lively tourist trade, catering to snorkellers and scuba divers.
Phuket boasts of some of the finest hotels in the world, which have been consistently rated in top 10 best hotels of the world by Conde Nast traveller.