Thailand (Thai: ประเทศไทย, Prathet Thai), officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ราชอาณาจักรไทย Ratcha Anachak), formerly known as Siam (Thai: สยาม, Sayam ), is a country in Southeast Asia.
The history of the country dates back pretty far, and was once considered to be the location of the oldest Bronze Age culture in the world (Ban Chiang village), but radiocarbon dating found that it actually came much later.
Thai people normally consider 1238 as the year of the country's formation, with Sukhothai as the capital, even though there were several small kingdoms in the area before that, competing to carve out land.
Thailand would eventually lose half of its territory to France and Britain in the 1800s, but it was also one of the few countries in the world never colonized by a Western power. Thailand survived through a combination of luck and having rulers whose skills were far The Chessmaster levels, playing the British, French, and the other southeast asian states off one another.
Thailand was occupied by Japan in the Second World War, and became a Japanese ally but how much the Japanese trusted their new ally can be deduced from the fact that they issued the Thais rifles of a caliber made nowhere else in the world, and never issued them more ammunition than the bare minimum necessary for the next battle. The Free Thai Movement was significantly more active than the Thai military although the difference between the two was a bit fuzzy. The Army Chief of Staff was the head of the Free Thai movement and the pipeline for escaped allied air crew was run by the Thai police. Allied personnel in Thailand were driven around in official limousines. See Bangkok - Top Secret for the gruesome details of how the Thais made the Japanese look like idiots. After the war, free of the Japanese threat, Thailand immediately allied itself with the United States.
The country was originally named "Siam" in English; it renamed itself to "Thailand" in 1939, "Siam" in 1945, and "Thailand" again in 1949. The name "Thailand" is often thought to derive from tai "free", in commemoration of the independence of Thailand in the 18th century; it's more likely that it derives from the name of the Thai ethnic group, the predominant one in the country, with the connotation of "free" as a bonus. (Tai may actually mean "people," not "free" — The Other Wiki has more here)
The country has a long history of its military overthrowing the government. Unusually for this sort of situation, the military always leaves the King in power (in fact, it's generally believed that military action only happens on the King's orders or with his tacit approval). It changed from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in a bloodless coup in 1932. It had some bloodier coups with the right-wing military governments set up after World War II. A revolution in 1973, led by left-wing students, shifted the country towards democracy; the military seized control again in 1976. Thailand became a bicameral parliamentary constitutional monarchy, more or less after the English fashion (with a prime minister, and the king as a primarily ceremonial figure). Another coup occurred in 2006, but ended in the restoration of democratic government. The current political situation remains unstable, with an Islamist insurgency in the ethnically Malay far-southern region of Pattani and, since 2005, political crisis concerning the (former) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies / successors.
In 2014, in the face of mass anti-government protests in Bangkok, the military staged yet another coup, and remains in control of the country today, though they insist elections will happen eventually.
Several dynasties have ruled the country. The current King is Maha Vajiralongkorn, tenth King of the Chakri Dynasty, a.k.a. Rama X, who is taking over from his father, Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), who died on 13 October 2016 after a seventy-year reign, making him the world's longest-serving head of state. Yellow is considered to be the color of the monarchy, and many people wear yellow clothing on occasion to show respect to the king. (Don't confuse this with The King in Yellow.)
The monarchy is considered to be sacred by the Thai people and any criticism of the monarchy is illegal including from foreign nationals speaking or publishing from their own country. This has caused several works to be censored in Thailand, like The King Never Smiles, and The King and I (which is sufficiently far from completely accurate that it scandalized Thailand when it was released; see The Other Wiki). The worst case of censorship was in early 2007 when the government blocked access to YouTube because there were videos that were considered to be anti-monarchy. For what it's worth, Bhumibol himself implied that he thought the anti-criticism laws were too strict.
Most people know Thailand for Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing), elephants, and Thai cuisine. Fans of Youtube may be familiar with the "Thai Insurance" commercials which can be Tear Jerker, Heartwarming or both.
Censorship is pretty bad (although getting better), with Animation Age Ghetto in full effect, leading to massive blurring of scenes like exposed midriffs. This carries over to other works, to the extent where even a mannequin used in an education show was censored because it was female-breasted. Video games are also viewed in a bad light, too. Thailand also censors unflattering portrayals of the monarchy, as stated above.
The country is infamous for its sex tourism (people don't talk about it openly, though; most Thai follow a fairly strict Buddhism), especially in Pattaya, and its massive drug trade which has led to Bangkok's reputation as a Wretched Hive and Den of Iniquity. During The Vietnam War, it was a place where American soldiers went on rest and recreation. The sex shows are considered to be some of the most unbelievably raunchy in the world, minors of both genders are reportedly available for purchase, and transgender women hold a special, almost revered place in the subculture. It apparently also has some number of Mail-Order Bride businesses, if the page ads above are to be believed. Some caution is needed here; Thai women themselves will admit that they make wonderful girlfriends but terrible wives.
Asian elephants are revered in Thai culture. "White" ones (they're often actually pinkish albinos—not to be confused with Pink Elephants) are all officially owned by the king, in much the way that all mute swans in Britain are owned by the Queen (actually it's only some swans, but never mind). This is the origin of the English phrase 'white elephant', as white elephants were considered desirable by Thai nobles but cost a lot to maintain and could not be used for practical purposes so they looked big and impressive but were money sinks; in past eras, a savvy monarch could use a gift of a white elephant to ruin an annoying courtier or overly-ambitious noble. Elephants are seen in daily life being used as work animals as they have been for hundreds of years, and vehicle/elephant car crashes used to be a leading form of road accident. (Elephant vs. tiny Asian car, elephant wins; now it's more about reckless motorcycle drivers as bringing elephants out on the road is strictly prohibited). The Thai flag used to be three stripes of red on white with a white elephant on the middle stripe apparently a Thai King took the elephant off when he realised it could be flown upside down in a disrespectful way. In World War One, the middle red stripe was then changed to blue to more resemble the British and French flags, Siam's allies at the time.
Southern Thailand has an Islamist separatist insurgency the three southernmost provinces have ethnic Malay majorities who would very much like to join Malaysia. The terrorists recently announced a ceasefire, and of course promptly broke it. The Thai Army is surprisingly competent when it finally decides to do something. They are very good at staging coups.
Also, Bangkok has the longest city name on Earth. Translated, it reads: "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam." It's sort of complicated in that the Thai name uses archaic words few would be able to define, and the translation actually comes from Pali and Sanskrit.
- In Thai, the name reads Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. Many Thai people know the full name primarily because of a popular song a few years back, which included the whole thing. Evidently any farang (white foreigner) rattling off the full thing will get some very strange (but appreciative) looks.
In terms of development, Thailand currently suffers from the central area around Bangkok being much more economically developed than any other part of country. This results in many agricultural workers (especially from the northern provinces) leaving the countryside and pouring into the city, looking for jobs they can do. Unfortunately for them, such work is scarce. This results in serious divisions in society (north against center, agricultural vs industrial, country vs urban and so on) which have been the primary cause for pretty much all of the country's instability in the 21st century.note
Thailand in fiction:
- Thailand in Axis Powers Hetalia is a Perpetual Smiler with a pet elephant named Toto.
- Black Lagoon: Roanapur, the Wretched Hive where the Lagoon company is based, is in Thailand. note
- In the Death Note Alternate Continuity film L: change the WorLd, Thailand is where the bad guys test their bioweapons, the heroes do car chases, and where Near comes from.
- Street Fighter: Both Sagat and his disciple Adon are Muay Thai fighters from Thailand. Also in Street Fighter II, the final boss M.Bison (Vega in the original Japanese version) also lives in Thailand and his stage is the Grand Palace of Bangkok, specially the Temple of Emerald Buddha part. The fictional country Shadaloo in The Movie is located near Thailand as well. Also, in the second film, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, the eponymous Chun Li went to Bangkok to train herself. This series seem to love Thailand a lot.
- Anna and the King: Sumptuous epic starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat, based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, a British woman who taught English to the Siamese royal court in the late 1800's.
- Bangkok Dangerous: Duh. Both the Thai original and the American remake.
- The Beach
- Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason: Bridget Jones goes on a holiday in Thailand, ending up in a Thai prison.
- Chang is a 1927 documentary feature about a family carving out a farm in the jungles of northern Thailand (then Siam). Largely staged by the filmmakers, but shot on location in the Isan region of northeast Thailand.
- The Hangover Part II
- The King and I
- The Man with the Golden Gun
- Ong-Bak and its sequels.
- Rambo IV briefly includes some scenes set in Thailand, which borders Burma.
- Stealth - the early part of the film is in Thailand.
- Many American films about The Vietnam War are actually filmed here.
- The Big One and its sequels
- Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett's crime-thriller novel.
- The Andrew Vachss novel and later Recursive Adaptation Batman: The Ultimate Evil features a No Celebrities Were Harmed version called Udon Khai, which is notorious for its child sex industry (the story written at the height of the "Don't Buy Thai" movement), a vice that Batman helps a populist movement eradicate by overthrowing the oligarchy.
- The Windup Girl is a Bio Punk sci-fi novel set in a future Thailand.
Thailand is looked as a tropical backwater outside the country in many television productions.
- Lost's infamous Bai Ling episode, "Stranger in a Strange Land".
- SEAL Team Season 2 Episode 20 opens in Phuket as Bravo Team takes down the Asian Liberation Army to disrupt a plot to commit a mass shooting on a beach targeting off-duty U.S. Navy sailors. One of the ALA fighters turns out to be Pakistani and reveals a previously unknown connection to a major Islamic terrorist leader.
- Chess: One of the more well-known songs is "One Night in Bangkok". No points for guessing what gets described note
- Thailand also has a devoted Death Metal scene, with a festival titled "Live in Bang-Cock" held annually with big bands such as Obituary, Vader, Incantation, and even Cannibal Corpse themselves headlining. The longest-running and best-known death metal band native to Thailand is Macaroni. Their name is not a mistranslation, as their guitar player (who came up with their name) speaks English, but is intentionally humorous to distance themselves from other bands. They formed in 1991 and have released four albums: Cremation in 1996, 13th in 2000, A Gift for Corpse in 2012, and Deliverance from Despair in 2018.
- Bangkok Hilton - the real prison that is usually associated with that title is Bang Kwang - a male-only prison also known as the "Big Tiger", with a reputation as a serious hellhole.
Foreign video games usually reference Thailand by misspelled Thai billboards or signs.
- Sonic Unleashed - The continent of Adabat is partially based on Thailand.
- The Street Fighter series features two prominent Thai characters, both muay thai fighters — the giant Sagat (whose name means "intercept" in Thai, though "guardian" is probably a better, more lyrical translation) and the more disreputable Adon (whose name isn't actually Thai). Both fighters have been a part of the series from the very beginning. Their stages depict Thailand as being very beautiful, featuring ancient temples, exotic jungles and giant reclining Buddha statues.
- One of the DLC multiplayer maps of Battlefield 4 called "Lumphini Garden", is set in Bangkok's Lumphini Park.
The Thai flag
- Thai people dressed in pink when they heard HM King Bhumibol was ill because pink was his personal color for health. Websites and social media were drenched in pink and yellow: now he is gone, the mourning color is black. Even some TV is broadcasting in black and white.