The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometres, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Lao P.D.R. to the north and northeast, Cambodia to the east and Malaysia to the south.
Thailand is divided into four distinct areas : the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of the Northeast, and the peninsula South, distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore islands.
Thailand lies within the humid tropics and remains hot throughout the year. Average temperatures are about 29oC, ranging in Bangkok from 35oC in April to 17oC in December. There are three seasons: the cool season (November to February), the hot season (April to May), and the rainy season (June to October), though downpours rarely last more than a couple of hours.
Thailand has a population of about 60 million. Ethnic Thais form the majority, though the area has historically been a migratory crossroads, and thus strains of Mon, Khmer, Burmese, Lao, Malay, Indian and most strongly, Chinese stock produce a degree of ethnic diversity. Integration is such, however, that culturally and socially there is enormous unity.
Thailand is one of the most strongly Buddhist countries in the world. The national religion is Theravada Buddhism, a branch of Hinayana Buddhism, practiced by more than 90 % of all Thais.
The remainder of the population adheres to lslam, Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths - all of which are allowed full freedom of expression. Buddhism continues to cast strong influence on daily life. Senior monks are highly revered. Thus, in towns and villages, the temple (wat) is the heart of social and religious life.
Meditation, one of the most popular aspects of Buddhism, is practiced regularly by numerous Thai as a means of promoting inner peace and happiness. Visitors, too, can learn the fundamentals of this practice at several centres in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country.