Buddhism is the religion for 94.6% of Thailand’s population. Of the remainder 4.6% are Muslims and 0.7% Christian. Though the king is designated the protector of all religions, the constitution stipulates that the king must be a Buddhist.
Buddhism is a central and unifying force in Thai society. The Thai regularly gain merit by giving gifts to the temple, attending festivals, and having their sons ordained. In Thailand, Buddhism is a syncretic religion: it incorporates a mixture of pre-Buddhist Hindu beliefs and practices, interwoven with animism and Theravada Buddhist philosophy and rituals. Signs of the religious tradition are everywhere in Bangkok and throughout the country.
Soon after dawn, Buddhist monks in robes (which vary in colour from dark saffron to bright orange) make their way along the canals and narrow streets. People wait to fill the monks’ bowls with food and provide other essentials, a practice that Buddhist teaching says will reward the giver with merit. Most young men become monks for a short time so that they can accumulate merit for their families. Almost every Thai house has its own "spirit house" to accommodate the spirits from the land on which the house stands.
The Thai people comprise 74% of Thailand’s
65.4 million population. Over 10 million
people make their home in the vast sprawl
of waterways and streets of Thailand’s
capital, Bangkok. The amazing growth of Bangkok
is primarily due to the heavy influx of poor
Four main dialects of the Tai language family are spoken: Central Thai, Northeastern Thai (Thai-Lao), Northern Thai and Southern Thai. It was conventional to refer to Tai-speaking peoples in Thailand as Thai with a regional qualifier. Strictly speaking, Thai, the language of officialdom and education, is the Central Thai dialect. Linguistic scholars mark the reign of King Narai (1657-88) as the point when this dialect was established as the standard. Central Thai became the required form used in modern Thailand for official business, academic and other daily transitions.
Wet-rice agriculture dominates the Thai economy,
with about 50% of Thailand’s population
living in rural agricultural communities.
Rice is produced both as a dietary staple
and for cash sales. Thai farmers also grow
a variety of vegetables. Commercial crops
include sugarcane, tobacco, rubber, coconut
and cotton. Domestic animals include pigs,
chickens, ducks, cattle and water buffalo.
Despite the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, Thailand’s economy grew almost 6% each year, making it one of East Asia's best performers in 2002-2004. Bangkok is the heart of Thailand’s business sector and the center of the country’s service industries. Most of the country’s industry is located in and around the city, and Bangkok supports a far wider array of services than other towns in the country. Besides being the major metropolitan area, Bangkok is also the political, educational and religious centre of the nation.
The country is governed by a constitutional monarchy. Each province has a governor, and is divided into districts with a district head. There are further administrative divisions down to the village level.