The Land and Its People, Thailand into the 2000's
The Land and Its People
Covering an area of 513.115 square kilometres, roughly the size of France, Thailand
displays remarkable topographical and climatic variety in its four major regions. Its population is also diverse:
though politically united and socially harmonious, many minority groups still preserve a cultural identity that is
reflected in social, religious, and linguistic differences.
In the far north, bordered by
Myanmar and Laos. granitic forest-clad mountains rise to heights of more than 2.000 metres, lowering over fertile
valleys watered by a number of rivers and streams. Teak and other hard-wood trees are indigenous to the region, and
have provided basic building material for centuries. During the winter months, temperatures can drop to nearly freezing
at higher altitudes, a dimate that allows the cultivation of such temperate-zone crops as coffee, lychees, strawberries.
and maeadamia nuts which, thanks to modern methods of transportation,
now regularly appear in Bangkok supermarkets.
The rolling Northeastern Plateau,
by contrast, stretching to the Mekong River and sharing borders with both Laos and
Cambodia, suffers from frequent droughts and thin, sandy soil. Conditions in this traditional "problem area," however,
are rapidly improving through the building of reservoirs and other man-made waier facilities, as well as
the introduction of new crops and the construction of new roads for more efficient movement of goods.
Most of the great events of Thai history have taken place in the Central
Plains. Watered by the winding Chao Phraya River,
this vast basin is one of the most fertile rice-growing areas in the world, protected from climatic extremes
by mountains to the north and west and by the lofly Korat Plateau to the cast. Assorted groups have been attracted to
this region since prehistoric times, and three Thai capitals have drawn their sustenance from the extensive fields and
orchards that spread across the flat countryside like pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle.
Southern Thailand is a long peninsula, reaching like a probing
elephant's trunk down to Malaysia and bordered for most of its length by the Gulf of Thailand on one side and the
Indian Ocean on the other, with a ridge of jungled mountains in between in many areas. Some of the world's most
beautiful beaches and underwater scenery can be found along this coastline and on islands that lie just offshore.
Natural gas supplies energy for ihr Eastern Seaboard
The country is blessed with a wide range of natural resources. While logging is now restricted in the foresis
of the north, the region contains rich deposits of flourite, wolfram, and tungsten, and its riverine valleys support
a large number of orchards and farms. Potash is plentiful in the northeast, and mulberry plantations have traditionally
sustained the cultivation of silkworms; the world's largest facility for producing hand-woven silk is located near Korat
(Naklion Ratchasima). Both flourile and
gems are mined in the west. and some of the finest sapphires come from the southeast. The Chao Phraya valley has
a network of irrigation canals supplying water not only to its countless rice fields but also to vegetable farms and
fruit orchards. Natural gas deposits in the Gulf of Thailand are supplying energy for many development projects,
particularly along the Eastern Seaboard. In addition to an abundant supply of seafood, the south has extensive deposits
of tin, as well as huge plantations of rubber, coconuts, and cashew nuts.
Thailand's population reflects Its history. Though the great majority are ethnically Thai and Buddhist, there
are a substantial number of minority groups, most of whom have either been assimilated or live together in harmony.
Of these the Chinese arc perhaps the most numerous, especially in urban areas, though because of intermarriage
and long years of residence it is difficult to isolate them as a distinct group. Similarly. while there are large Lao and
Khmer groups in the northeast and west, nearly all regard themselves as Thai, culturally as well as by nationality.
More clearly defined are the Muslims, mainly concentrated in the southern provinces, and assorted tribal groups in the
mountains of the far north; there are also sizeable communities of Hindus and Sikhs
in large cities like Bangkok.
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