Thailand is a Southeast
Asian, predominantly Buddhist kingdom almost equidistant between India
and China. For centuries known by outsiders as Siam, Thailand has been
something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural and religious crossroads.
With as area of some 510,000 square kilometers and a population of some
60 million, Thailand is approximately the same size as France. Thailand
shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the northeast,
Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia to the south.
Geographically speaking, Thailand is divided into six major regions:
the mountainous north where elephants work forests and winter temperatures
are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such
as strawberries and peaches; the sprawling northeast plateau, largely
bordered by the Mekong River, where the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilization
flourished some 5,000 years ago; the central plain, one of the world’s
most fertile rice and fruit-growing areas; the eastern coastal plain,
where fine sandy beaches support the growth of summer resorts; western
mountains and valleys, suitable for the development of hydro-electric
power; and the peninsular south where arresting scenic beauty complements
economically vital tin mining, rubber cultivation and fishing.