Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. Thailand, equivalent to the size of France, borders the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand and lies southeast of Burma.
The country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, with 76 provinces. The bicameral National Assembly (Rathasapha) consists of a 200 seat Senate (Wuthisapha) and a 500 seat House of Representatives (Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon). With a free-enterprise economy and pro-investment policies, Thailand was one of East Asia’s best performers in 2002-2004. The Thai economy grew 6.9% in 2003 and 6.1% in 2004, despite a sluggish global economy. In late December 2004, a major tsunami took 8,500 lives in Thailand and caused massive destruction of property in the southern provinces. Thailand’s main industries include tourism, textiles, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, and automobiles; it is the world’s second-largest tungsten producer.
The terrain of Thailand is a densely populated central plain; a northeastern plateau; a mountain range in the west; and a southern isthmus joining the land mass with Malaysia. With a population estimated at 64.6 million people, the main languages of Thailand are Thai (official language); English, among the elite; and regional dialects (including Shan, Lue, and Phutai). The country is 94-95% Buddhist with a literacy rate of 94.9% for males and 90.5% for females.
CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, 9/2006, 8/2006