Recent archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 B.C., communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy. This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization. Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China.
The Thai are related linguistically to Tai groups originating in southern China. Migrations from southern China to southeast Asia may have occurred in the sixth and seventh centuries. Malay, Mon and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Tai.
Thais date the founding of their nation to the 13th century. According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom. After its decline, a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya river. At the same time, there was an equally important Tai kingdom of Lanna, centered in Chiang Mai, which rivaled Sukothai and Ayutthaya for centuries, and which defines northern Thai identity to this day. Theravada Buddhism took hold in the country in the Sukothai period.
The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938. However, it was during the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), that Thailand reestablished firm ties with Western powers. The Thais believe that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai government, made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.
Although nominally a constitutional monarchy, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy until the 1992 elections. Since then, Thailand has been a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government but has experienced several rounds of political turmoil, including a military coup in 2006, followed by large-scale street protests by competing political factions in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.
The typical school year runs from May through March. Six years of free education is provided. Secondary education lasts six years. Only a minority continue with secondary school.
The Thai education system comprises four levels: preschool, primary, secondary and higher education. Details of these levels can be summarized as follows:
Preschool education is provided for children ages 3 through 5. Every provincial capital has a kindergarten to serve as a model for the private ones. Since this level of education is optional, the private sector has played an active role. Most preschools are private and located in Bangkok.
Primary education is compulsory and free for all children ages 6 through 11. Primary school curriculum comprises basic skills development, life experience, character development, work-oriented education and special experiences.
Secondary education is divided into two levels, each covering a period of three years. The lower level emphasizes morality and basic skills. It allows the learner to explore his or her individual interests and aptitudes through a wide choice of both academic and vocational subjects. The upper level aims to provide appropriate academic and vocational knowledge and skills corresponding to the learner's interests and aptitudes. This knowledge and these skills will be beneficial for learners to continue study at a higher level or to enter the workforce. Secondary curriculum covers five broad fields: language, science and mathematics, social studies, character development and work education. There is also a wide range of exploratory pre-vocational subjects available.
Higher Education focuses on fully developing intellect and the advancement of knowledge and technology. This level may be organized in the forms of colleges, universities or institutions for specialized studies.
Attitude Toward Education
Education in Thailand has improved remarkably after the current government issued and amended several laws, rules and regulations to push forward educational reform.
The government plans to strengthen access to education for all, to establish an efficient system of quality education, and to raise educational standards and enhance Thailand's competitiveness at an international level. As a result, many initiatives have been taken, such as expanding free schooling to 14 years and developing teachers.
Thai people, especially those who live in big cities, are more eager to pursue higher education than in the past. Education is considered a powerful tool that will enable them to compete with others in the current business world. A bachelor's degree is seen as less valuable than a master's or higher degree, which many people try to pursue regardless of the real benefit to their jobs.
Those who live in remote areas have realized more about the importance of education and view it as a steppingstone to a better career and income. However, many uneducated people have focused more on short-term solutions than the long-term ones. They want their children to be in a labor market as soon as they complete their high school or lower education so that they will help increase the family's income. Therefore, many children have missed a chance to continue their education.
The state religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism; however, it is not designated as such. Thailand's monarch must be a Buddhist. The law provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects this right in practice. The constitution states that discrimination against a person on the grounds of "a difference in religious belief" will not be permitted. The government does, however, restrict the activities of some groups.
The government plays an active role in religious affairs. The state subsidizes the activities of the three largest religious communities (Buddhist, Islamic and Christian). The government allocated approximately $45.8 million (1.83 billion baht) during the fiscal year of 2004 to support religious groups. Included in this amount were funds to support Buddhist and Muslim institutes of higher education, fund religious education programs in public and private schools, provide daily allowances for monks and Muslim clerics who hold administrative and senior ecclesiastical posts and subsidize travel and health care for monks and Muslim clerics. This figure also included an annual budget for the renovation and repair of Buddhist temples and Muslim mosques, the maintenance of historic Buddhist sites, and the daily upkeep of the Central Mosque in Pattani. Christians also receive some funding from the government.
Religious instruction is required in public schools at both the primary (grades one through six) and secondary (grades seven through 12) education levels. The Ministry of Education has formulated a new course called "Social, Religion and Culture Studies," which students in each grade study for one to two hours each week. The course covers all the recognized religions in the country: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Brahmin/Hinduism and Sikh. Students who wish to pursue in-depth studies of other religions or of their belief may study at the religious schools and can transfer credits to the public school. Schools, working in conjunction with their local school administrative board, are authorized to arrange additional religious studies courses.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Holidays and Festivals
Thai art includes temple decoration, woodcarving and religious sculpture.
Thailand retains cultural connections with India and China. Pop music and other forms of European and American music are extremely influential. The two most popular styles of traditional Thai music are luk thung and mor lam.
Luk thung, or Thai country music, developed in the mid-20th century to reflect daily trials and tribulations of rural Thais. Some of the biggest stars incorporate influences from Latin America, Asia and, especially, American film soundtracks and country music. The first all-luk thung radio station was launched in 1997.
Mor lam is the dominant folk music of Thailand's northeastern Isan region, which has a mainly Lao population. It has much in common with luk thung, such as its focus on the life of the rural poor. It is characterized by rapid-fire, rhythmic vocals and a funk feel to the percussion. There are about 15 regional variations of mor lam, plus modern versions. Some conservatives have criticized these as the commercialization of traditional cultures.
Sports and Games
New Year's Day, Jan. 1: schools are closed
Lunar New Year: dates vary from the end of January to the beginning of February; widely celebrated, especially by people of Chinese descent.
Chinese New Year, Jan. 27-28: Celebrated by the Chinese.
Songkran Festival, April 12-14: A large Buddhist holiday where special foods are prepared and people visit elders and ask for their blessing.
Loy Krathong Festival A large Buddhist holiday that typically falls in November.
Christmas, Dec. 25: Christmas is not celebrated by the general population of Thailand. Small churches in some larger cities observe Christmas services but Thais do not decorate or exchange gifts.
Thais enjoy soccer, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, kite flying and takro (a sport in which the player tries to keep a wicker ball in the air without using his or her hands). Tire racing, or tee-wong-law, is a favorite children's game played in the rural areas of Thailand.
Thai food includes rice, beef, chicken, eggs, vegetables, fruit and fish.
Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup (Tom Yam Goong) This hot and sour soup is popular; each region has its own variation. This recipe makes four servings.
- 8 oz. shrimp, shelled and deveined, with shells reserved
- 3 cups water
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 lime leaves
- 3 thin slices fresh or dried galangal
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 stalks lemon grass cut into 1-inch strips
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 1/2 cup sliced straw mushrooms
- 5 green Thai chili peppers (optional)
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1 tsp. black chili paste
- 1 Tb. chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
Rinse the prawn shells and place them in a large pot with the water. Heat to boiling, strain the broth and discard the shells.
Add the garlic, lime leaves, galangal, fish sauce, lemon grass and shallots to the stock, then the mushrooms and chili peppers, if using. Cook gently for 2 minutes.
Add the shrimp to the soup and reheat to boiling. When the shrimp are cooked, place the lime juice and black chili paste in a serving bowl. Pour the soup into the bowl, stir, garnish with the cilantro leaves and serve.
Compassion in Thailand
- Sabai dee mai krap/kaa? (How are you? male/female)
- Sabai dee krap/kaa (I'm fine male/female)
- Sawat-dee krap/kaa (Hello, goodbye male/female)
Greetings in other dialects are slightly different. The differences are mostly in their tones and ending words. For example:
- Sumbai dee bor? (How are you?)
- Sumbai dee krap/kaa? (I'm fine male/female)
- Sabai dee kor krap/jao? (How are you? male/female)
- Sabai dee krap/jao (I'm fine male/female)
Northern women normally use the word jao as an ending word, instead of kaa. These ending words are used in polite conversation or with those who are older.
The greetings Sabai dee reu?/Sabai dee krap/kaa/Sawat-dee krap/kaa are understood by every Thai speaker.
Thailand Facts and Figures
Compassion began its ministry in Thailand in 1970 when the Child Sponsorship Program was started. In 2002, the Leadership Development Program began, followed by the Child Survival Program in 2007.
Child Sponsorship Program
Children attend school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, so the child development centers conduct activities on the weekends. Younger children meet at the center 6 to 8 hours a week, mainly on Saturdays. Older children meet at the center 4 to 7 hours a week, primarily on Saturdays and Sundays.
Each child receives a lunch that consists of rice, vegetables and meat at the center every Saturday. Milk is provided for young children. Children who are malnourished receive additional food to take home with them, such as rice, eggs, canned fish and milk every month.
Adolescents receive vocational training in computers, baking, mechanics, agriculture, animal farming and local handicrafts like weaving. Camps for art, music, sports and evangelism are held once a year.
Church partners conduct annual parenting classes and parents' meetings where they share what the children are doing at the child development center. The churches also hold special events such as family camp and activities celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day. Parents are also provided income-generating skills training.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Thailand.
67,741,401 (2014 estimate)
Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.
Thai (official) 90.7%, Burmese 1.3%, other 8%. Note: English is a secondary language of the elite (2010 estimate)
||Buddhist (official) 93.6%, Muslim 4.9%, Christian 1.2%, other 0.2%, none 0.1%
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid
|Percentage of population urbanized
||34.1% (2011 estimate)
||Male: 71 years
Female: 77.54 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||13/1,000 (2012 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$9,900 (2013 estimate)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||443,100 (2012 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1.25 a day
||0% (2007-11 study)
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014