Thailand for Kids
Thailand at a glance A picture book that gives you a virtual tour to Thailand, the Land of Smiles
How the Eagle & the Elephant Became Friends A journey of Ben, son of a U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, to learn about Thailand and its relations with the United States which date back for almost 200 years.
“Come learn about Thailand and all the really different things that make it special. Here you get to explore a country that takes a whole day to get to by plane from the U.S.! There are fun facts about Thai history, provinces, destinations, various key industries and much more.”
The Monarchy and the King of Thailand
Thailand had been ruled outright by kings of various realms since the thirteenth century; it was not until 1932 that Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, a system not unlike that of the United Kingdom, in which the Thai King serves as Head of State and spiritual leader of the country, but wields no outright political authority.
The current King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) is the ninth Thai king from the House of Chakri, which has ruled Thailand since the founding of Bangkok by King Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I) in 1782. H.M. King Bhumibol was born in Massachusetts, USA while his father, who did not serve as King of Thailand, was attending Harvard University. H.M. Bhumibol ascended the throne as King of Thailand in 1946 following the death of his brother and has since attained the distinction of being the world’s longest reigning monarch and the longest reigning Thai King in Thailand’s history.
While the King of Thailand has little direct power, under the constitution King Bhumibol is a symbol of national identity and unity; indeed, the Thai King commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, both of which he has leveraged on a few rare occasions to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability. In more recent years however, he has maintained a more hands-off approach, urging Thais to learn to resolve their differences in an amicable way for the good of their country.
The Thai King and the members of the Royal Family are deeply revered by the Thai people for the Royal Family’s passionate commitment to the welfare its people. In Thailand, respect for the Royal Family goes beyond mere custom however, it is safeguarded by law: it is not only socially unacceptable to disparage members of the Royal Family or their likenesses; it is punishable under lese majeste law. Furthermore, it is required to stand in respect to the King at the commencement of films and to stop walking and/or stand during the playing of the national anthem at 8 am and 6 pm. On the lighter side, it has become fashionable to pay respect to the king by wearing a yellow shirt on Monday’s since the 60th anniversary of the king’s reign in 2006.
While both the King’s official residence, the Grand Palace, and his traditional residence, Chitralada Palace, are located in Bangkok (where the King has instituted an agricultural research center), the King and Queen are typically found at Klai Kangwon Villa in the seaside town of Hua Hin.
Located in the center of Southeast Asia, Thailand is truly at the heart of the region. Looking over a map of Thailand will reveal a country whose borders form the rough shape of an elephant’s head: the head and ears forming the mostly landlocked northern and eastern provinces and the trunk extending down the Malaysian peninsula between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
The geography of Thailand features many natural borders with neighboring countries: a mountainous border with Myanmar (Burma) to the north and west; a long stretch of the Mekong River separating Thailand from Laos to the north and east; and the Mekong River and the Dongrak Mountains delineating the border of Cambodia to the east. Covering an area of approximately 514,000 square kilometers (200,000 sq miles), Thailand is the 50th largest country in the world, most nearly equal in size to Spain. Located just 15 degrees north of the equator, Thailand has a tropical climate and temperatures typically range from 19 to 38 degrees C (66-100 F); monsoon rains fall predominately from May to July and cooler, drier weather occurs around November and December. Despite the geographical boundaries of Thailand all falling within the tropics, Thailand’s four primary regions are each geographically distinct from each other. Along Thailand’s western border with Myanmar, the forested mountains of Thailand rise higher as they stretch north, peaking at the 2,565 meter (8,415 ft) Doi Inthanon. Thailand’s northern peaks are replete with wildlife and feature Thailand’s coolest winters.
Northeastern Thailand’s geography, where the kingdom borders Laos at the Mekong River, features the Khorat Plateau, which extends south towards the Thai border with Cambodia. The Isan region of Northeastern Thailand is the most populous region of Thailand (with the exception of Bangkok) and features a number of bustling provincial capital cities. The geography of Thailand’s interior is dominated by the Central Plains, the “Rice Bowl of Asia,” through which the Chao Phraya River feeds expansive rice fields and then enters the bustling capital of Bangkok before spilling into the Gulf of Thailand.
Stretching down the Malaysian peninsula, the slender trunk of the figurative elephant separates the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand, providing Thailand with beaches and islands along opposing shores. Once, the sheltered coves of the narrow Isthmus of Kra were important ports along an ancient, strategic trading route; today the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui are equally important as tourist destinations, though both coasts also contain numerous historical attractions as well as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and spectacular forests, waterfalls, and beaches. In addition to these natural, geographical regions, Thailand is divided into 76 political provinces, with Bangkok serving as the political, commercial, industrial, educational, and entertainment capital of the country.
The Thailand climate is controlled by tropical monsoons and the weather in Thailand is generally hot and humid across most of the country throughout most of the year. While Thailand’s seasons are generally divided into the hot season, cool season, and rainy season, in reality it’s relatively hot most of the year. The weather in central, northern, and northeastern Thailand (the landlocked provinces) is determined by three seasons, whereas the southern, coastal regions of Thailand feature only two, making the weather in Thailand quite easy to understand and plan a trip around.
In Thailand’s inland provinces the seasons are clearly defined: Between November and May the weather is mostly dry and the cool season and hot season occur from November to February and March to May respectively.
The other inland season, the rainy season, lasts from May to November and is dominated by the southwest monsoon, during which time rainfall in most of Thailand is at its heaviest.
The southern, coastal region of Thailand really has only two seasons – rainy season and dry season. Fortunately, for those planning a beach holiday, Thailand’s two coasts have slightly different rainy seasons, allowing visitors to find sunny beaches nearly year round.
On the Andaman or west coast, where Phuket, Krabi, and the Phi Phi Islands lie, the southwest monsoon brings heavy storms from April to October, while on the Gulf of Thailand or east coast, where Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao lie, the most rain falls between September and December.
While roughly 95% of the Thai people are practitioners of Theravada Buddhism, the official religion of Thailand, religious tolerance is both customary in Thailand and protected by the constitution. By its very nature however, Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of the Buddha, “the enlightened one” (nee Siddhartha Gautama), is a compassionate and tolerant religion, the aim of which is the alleviation of suffering. Consequently, Thai people are very respectful of the religious beliefs of others and are very open toward discussing their Buddhist values with visitors. In fact, there are many opportunities in Thailand to visit Buddhist temples to learn about or study Buddhism and perhaps to learn to meditate.
Religion in Thailand pervades many aspects of Thai life and senior monks are highly revered; it is not uncommon to see their images adorning walls of businesses or homes or upon ornaments inside of taxi cabs. In many towns and villages the neighborhood wat (temple) is the heart of social and religious life. Buddhist holidays occur regularly throughout the year (particularly on days with full moons) and many Thai people go to the wat on these and other important days to pay homage to the Buddha and give alms to monks in order to make merit for themselves.
Meditation, one of the primary practices of Buddhism, is a means of self reflection in order to identify the causes of individual desire and ultimately alleviate ones suffering. Visitors can learn the fundamentals of this practice at a number of wats across the kingdom. Some temples, particularly in Chiang Mai, allow visitors to chat with monks in order to gain general knowledge about Buddhism or to study Buddhism more seriously.
While Theravada Buddhism may technically be considered a philosophy rather than a religion (there is no ‘God’) Thai Buddhism is infused with many spiritual beliefs which are likely the result of lingering animist and Hindu beliefs from centuries earlier. Most Thai homes and places of business feature a ‘spirit house’ just outside the building, where offerings are made to appease spirits that might otherwise inhabit their homes or workplaces. Furthermore, Buddhist monks are often brought to new homes and businesses to ‘bless them’, and Thai people frequently light incense and make prayers to both Buddha images and a host of Hindu gods whose shrines are located throughout Bangkok and the countryside.
The next largest religion in Thailand, Islam, is practiced by only about 4% of the population; the majority of Thai Muslims live in the most southerly provinces near the Malaysian border. Other religions in Thailand include Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Christianity, which are generally practiced by those living in Bangkok, where a multi-cultural population includes citizens of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and European descent.