Official name: Kingdom of Thailand
Area: 514,000 square kilometers (198,457 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Doi Inthanon (2,576 meters/8,451 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 7 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,648 kilometers (1,024 miles) from north to south; 780 kilometers (485 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 4,863 kilometers (3,022 miles) total boundary length; Laos 1,754 kilometers (1,090 miles); Cambodia 803 kilometers (499 miles); Malaysia 506 kilometers (314 miles); Myanmar (Burma) 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles)
Coastline: 3,219 kilometers (2,000 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Thailand is located in Southeast Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand in the south. The country shares boundaries with Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast, Malaysia to the south, and Myanmar (Burma) to the west. With an area of about 514,000 square kilometers (198,457 square miles), the country is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Wyoming. Thailand is divided into seventy-six provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Thailand has no outside territories or dependencies.
Most of Thailand has a tropical monsoon weather pattern, with an equatorial climate affecting the southern peninsula. Three seasons occur each year: the rainy season from May to October, when the southwest monsoon arrives; the cool season from October to March, during the northeast monsoon; and the hot season from March to May. The country's average annual temperature is 28°C (83°F), with the average temperature in Bangkok varying from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F). Thailand's humidity averages 82 percent, dropping to 75 percent during the hot season.
The average annual rainfall is 140 centimeters (55 inches). Areas close to the sea receive more rain than inland areas. Northeast Thailand lies in the rain shadow of Indochina's mountains and is very prone to droughts and chronic water shortages. Typhoons sometimes strike in the south. Global warming also threatens Thailand with changes in rainfall patterns and the possibility of major coastal flooding.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Thailand lies on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate at the center of continental Southeast Asia. Features of the terrain include mountain ranges, an alluvial central plain, and an upland plateau. The mountains of southern China and northern Thailand extend down to a fertile central plain formed by the mighty Chao Phraya River. Settlement has tended to concentrate in the Chao Phraya Valley, with its fertile floodplains and tropical monsoon climate so ideally suited to wet-rice cultivation. The Khorat Plateau to the east is arid. From the north-central area, the very narrow Malay Peninsula extends to the south, shared in part with Myanmar and Malaysia. Numerous islands are scattered off of both of the peninsula's coasts. Thailand's part of the continental shelf extends to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The southwestern shoreline of Thailand meets the Andaman Sea of the Indian Ocean to the west. The south-central coast and the eastern shoreline of the Malay Peninsula both border the Gulf of Thailand (formerly the Gulf of Siam) of the Pacific Ocean. The offshore depths in the Gulf of Thailand range from 30 to 80 meters (98 to 262 feet). Thailand has 2,130 square kilometers (822 square miles) of coral reefs. An estimated 96 percent of Thailand's coral reefs are considered "threatened," as they are endangered by dynamite fishing, pollution, oil spills, shrimp farming, and tourist activities.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra lies the Strait of Malacca, linking the Andaman Sea to the South China Sea.
Phangnga Bay lies on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula, near the island of Phuket. Many small islands with dramatic limestone formations and caves attract visitors to Phangnga Bay.
The Gulf of Thailand coastline contains Mae Klong Bay, which indents into the country, reaching its apex at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River near Bangkok.
Islands and Archipelagos
Thailand's three largest islands are: Phuket, 543 square kilometers (210 square miles), in the Andaman Sea; Koh Samui, 240 square kilometers (93 square miles), in the Gulf of Thailand off the Malay Peninsula; and Koh Chang, 219 square kilometers (85 square miles), in the Gulf of Thailand off the southeast coast. Other islands in the Andaman Sea include the nine-island Similian group; the twin islands of Koh Phi-Phi; Koh Lanta; and the Turatao group, a marine park composed of fifty small islands. Additional islands in the Gulf of Thailand are Koh Samet, a national park off the southeast coast; and Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, both near the peninsula. Many of the islands have been developed for tourism purposes, and some are protected parks.
The Isthmus of Kra, which is just 24 kilometers (15 miles) wide, connects the north-central mass of Thailand to its southern peninsula. There have been proposals for digging a canal through it or building a superhighway across the isthmus in order to use it as a transport channel between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, which would link the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Thailand's Andaman Sea coastline, on the western side of the peninsula, extends south from the Myanmar border to the Malaysian border, with many small islands nearby. The large island of Phuket lies below a promontory that shelters the Andaman Sea's Phangnga Bay.
The Gulf of Thailand coast extends eastward to the Cambodian border and southwest from Mae Klong Bay to the Malaysian border. The shoreline and islands on both the east and west coasts are graced with excellent beaches and harbors for fishing boats.
6 INLAND LAKES
Thale Sap Songkla (1,040 square kilometers/ 401 square miles) is Thailand's largest inland body of water. It is a lagoon lake on the southern peninsula, with a small inlet from the Gulf of Thailand. Thale Sap Songkla has a mixture of fresh and brackish water. Two sanctuaries for waterfowl surround the lake's perimeters. Bung Nong Han is a 32-square-kilometer (12-square-mile) freshwater lake in northeast Thailand. Thailand also has several huge man-made reservoirs.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Mekong River flows along much of Thailand's border with Laos. Approximately 4,350 kilometers (2,700 miles) in length, it is the longest river in Southeast Asia. The eastern and some of the northern part of Thailand are drained by it. The Mun River, 644 kilometers (400 miles), is the largest river within the northeast. The Mun and its Chi tributary empty into the Mekong River. Rapids and falls in Laos and Cambodia prevent navigation down the Mekong from Thailand to the South China Sea.
The Chao Phraya, 230 kilometers (143 miles), and its tributaries drain an estimated one-third of the nation's territory. The Chao Phraya and the Mekong River are the main branches of a network of rivers and man-made canals that support wet rice cultivation and provide vitally important transport waterways.
There are no desert regions in Thailand.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The central plain is the lowland area dominated by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries. The highly developed irrigation systems of the central region support a large population. Sprawling metropolitan Bangkok, the country's focal point of trade, transportation, and industrial activity, is situated on the southern edge of the plains region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand.
In the dry northeast, scrub grassland is prevalent. Weed-like grasslands are common in the north, where repeated burning of forests for agricultural clearing has taken place. Local and foreign aid groups are attempting to reforest some of these areas. Types of forest in Thailand include mangrove, monsoon, evergreen rainforest, montane, and conifer. Tree plantations for commercial species such as eucalyptus and rubber also exist but are environmentally controversial. Khao Yai National Park, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Bangkok, has natural grasslands that are an important tiger, elephant, and deer habitat.
DID YOU KNOW?
Thailand has several sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Bung Khong Long, in the north near Nong Khai, has several endemic fish species. Don Hai Lot, in the south on Mae Klong Bay, includes a rare ecosystem of inter-tidal mudflats. The Princess Sirindhorn Wildlife Sanctuary (Pru To Daeng) is a large and very biodiverse peat swamp forest near Narathiwat and the Malaysian border. Kuan Ki Sian, near Thale Sap Songkla, has a varied freshwater ecosystem, and Nong Bong Kai is an important bird habitat in the north.
Hill regions in Thailand include the countryside surrounding the northern city of Chiang Mai; the gem mining region of the southeast near Cambodia; and the picturesque limestone outcroppings along the southern peninsula and on the islands.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Mountain chains cover most of northern Thailand and also rise along the western border with Myanmar to form the spine of the Malay Peninsula. The north consists of an area of high mountains cut by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. Doi Inthanon, a 2,576-meter (8,451-feet) limestone peak, is Thailand's highest mountain.
Thailand's frontier mountain chains include the northern Tanen and Doi Luang ranges, which are extensions of the Himalayan foothills. The limestone peaks of the Dawna and Bilauktaung ranges are located in the west and the Dangrek and Chanthaburi ranges are in the east, along the Cambodian border. The Thiu Khao Phetchabun range runs north-south down the middle of the country, setting off the Khorat Plateau. The southern peninsular region has rolling hills and mountainous terrain unbroken by large rivers.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Chaem River forms the narrow, rocky Ob Luang Gorge in the northwest. Phae Muang Phi (City of Ghosts) is a canyon near the town of Phrae with labyrinthine rock formations sculpted by erosion. The small, erosion-formed Sao Din Canyon is also located in the north in the Nan Valley.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Northeast Thailand consists mainly of the dry Khorat Plateau, which has many ecological problems, primarily poor soil. This upland plateau, at 60 to 210 meters (200 to 700 feet) above sea level, is a gently rolling region of low hills and shallow lakes, drained almost entirely by the Mekong River via the Mun River. Mountains ring the plateau on the west and south, and the Mekong River traces much of the eastern rim. Phu Kadueng, a national park in the north, is a 1,360-meter- (4,462-feet-) high mesa that has wooded slopes and savannah (mixed grassland and forest) at the top. Phu Wiang and Phu Keaw are other mesas in the north.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Thailand has twenty-eight large dams, constructed for irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, and electric power generation. The dams created the following reservoirs: Srinakarin (419 square kilometers/300 square miles), near the Bilauktaung Mountains; Khao Laem (388 square kilometers/150 square miles); Bhumiphol (300 square kilometers/116 square miles); Sirikit (260 square kilometers/ 100 square miles), in the north on the Nan River; and Rajjaprabha (165 square kilometers/ 64 square miles). Each dam project sparked environmental and social controversy.
14 FURTHER READING
Boyd, Ashley J. Thailand's Coral Reefs . Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995.
Cubitt, Gerald, and Belinda Stewart-Cox. Wild Thailand. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.
McNair, S. Thailand . Chicago: Children's Press, 1987.
Winichakul, Thongchai. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation . Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1994.