Bangkok is Thailand’s capital and its largest city. The city serves as Thailand’s administrative, economic, cultural and educational center, and a major commercial and transportation hub for Southeast Asia. The Thai refer to Bangkok as ‘Kung The,’ which means City of Angels. Europeans once called it the Venice of the East because it had numerous canals, many of which still exist.
As Thailand’s main port, Bangkok has always been more cosmopolitan than other regions of the country. The city also has significant minorities of Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Europeans and Americans. In addition to Thai, the national language, English is widely employed in ‘touristy’ and business areas of Bangkok. It is taught in secondary schools and in colleges and universities, and used extensively in the important tourism industry.
Kingdom of Thailand
The Kingdom of Thailand (Pratt Thai, or “Land of the Free”), known as Siam until 1939, is situated in Southeast Asia. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been occupied by any European or other foreign power. Thailand was ruled by an absolute monarchy until 1932, when a group of rebels forced a constitutional monarchy. Today, the king serves as head of state and commander-in-chief, with little direct power, and is overwhelmingly revered by the population.
Thai people form the large majority of Thailand’s population. Other ethnic groups include Chinese, Malays and indigenous hill peoples, such as the Hong and Karen. Twenty percent of the population lives in cities (with more than ten percent concentrated in Bangkok). Thailand has a comprehensive educational system, which is free and compulsory. Approximately 96 percent of the population is literate.
Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing religion in Thailand. Thailand’s most characteristic architectural feature is the wat, the Thai Buddhist temple, of which there are an estimated 18,000.
Thailand experiences a typical monsoon climate – consisting of two seasons. Winter, from October to March/April, is the “dry season.” Summer, from April/May to September, is the “wet season.”
Thai cuisine is considered one of the world’s greatest, known for its range of spices and sauces. Favorite Thai foods include salads of meat, fish, vegetables, soups, curries and tropical fruits, and pad thai (Thai noodles). Thai classical dance is the most celebrated art form. The movements and the music are predominantly Indian, although some of the instruments are unique to Thailand.