The Kingdom of Thailand lies in Southeast Asia, with Laos and Cambodia to its east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to its south, and the Andaman Sea and Myanmar to its west. The country's official name was Siam until 24 June 1939. It was again called Siam between 1945 and May 11, 1949, when it was once again changed by official proclamation. The word Thai means "freedom" in the Thai language and is also the name of the majority ethnic group.
Due to its geographical location, Thai culture has always been greatly influenced by China and India. However, different indigenous cultures have also existed in Thailand since the Baan Chiang culture.
The first Siamese/Thai state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai founded in 1238, following the decline and fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th - 15th century.
A century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the larger Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century. After Ayutthaya sacked Angkor itself in 1431, much of the Khmer court and its Hindu customs were brought to Ayuthaya, and Khmer customs and rituals were adopted into the courtly culture of Siam.
After Ayuthaya fell in 1767, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great, until a coup d'etat in 1782. The current (Ratthanakosin) era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.
European powers began traveling to Thailand in the 16th century. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power. The two main reasons for this is that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to utilise the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British trading interests. This included the loss of the three southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During the war, Thailand was allied with Japan. Yet after the war, it became an ally of the United States. Thailand then went through a series of coups d'tat, but eventually progressed towards democracy in the 1980s.
In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht was soon worth 56 baht to the U.S. Dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then the baht has regained some strength and currently trades around 36-39 baht to the dollar.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year 2007 CE is called 2550 BE in Thailand.
Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (changwat), which are gathered into 5 groups of provinces by location. There are also 2 special governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon in Thai) and Pattaya, of which Bangkok is also at a provincial level, while Pattaya is part of Chon Buri Province. Some Thai people still count Bangkok as a province, making Thailand a 76-province country.
Each province is divided into smaller districts. As of 2000 there are 796 districts (amphoe), 81 minor districts (king amphoe) and the 50 districts of Bangkok (khet). Some parts of the provinces bordering Bangkok are also referred to as Greater Bangkok (pari monthon). These provinces include Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon. The name of each province's capital city (mueang) is the same as that of the province: for example, the capital of Chiang Mai province (changwat Chiang Mai) is Mueang Chiang Mai.