GEOGRAPHY OF THAILAND
Located at the center of peninsular Southeast Asia and bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and Andaman Sea to the west, Laos to northeast, Cambodia to the southeast, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the south, Thailand an oddly shaped country covering 513,120 square kilometers (198,456 square miles), which is roughly the size of Texas or Spain.
Roughly 20 percent of Thailand is covered by mountains and hills, the steepness of which generally precludes agriculture. As of 2005, rich arable land accounted for nearly 27.5 percent of the total area. About 6.9 percent was planted to permanent crops. Some 49,860 square kilometers of land were irrigated according to 2003 estimates. Most of the prime arable land is in the central and eastern part of the country, where rice and other crops are grown on the vast, wet alluvial plains around Bangkok and the Chao Phrava River. About 1.5 percent of Thailand is covered by grasslands and 28.6 percent is occupied by forests and woods.
Thailand is shaped like the head of elephant. The trunk, which extends southward from Bangkok to the mountains near Malaysian border, is noted for its dense rain forests, limestone formations and beaches. The northwest part of the country (the forehead) is covered by misty, green mountains, the highest of which are just over 2000 meters high. Rising up from the Cambodian border is the Khorat plateau (the ears of the elephant), which occupies third of the country. Northeast Thailand is dominated by the mighty Mekong river, which flows into Cambodia along the Thailand-Laos border. The fertile central part of Thailand, which includes Bangkok, is dominated by the Chao Phraya River.
Bangkok has about the same latitude as Manila, Madras, Guatemala and Khartoum. The longest north-south distance is about 1,900 kilometers but Thailand’s unusual shape makes distances between any two destinations 1,000 kilometers or less. Because the entire country spans 16 latitudinal degrees there is a relatively large variation in climate, giving Thailand perhaps the most diverse climate in Southeast Asia.
The south coast of Thailand faces the Gulf of Thailand, while the Isthmus of Kra is bordered on the west by the Andaman Sea and on the east by the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand also has coastal islands in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. The largest, with provincial status, is Phuket, off the west coast; on the gulf side, the largest islands are Samui and Pangan. The coastline is 3,219 kilometers long: 750 kilometers on the Andaman Sea and 2,469 kilometers on the Gulf of Thailand. The Andaman Sea on the east side of Thailand and Myanmar connects to the Indian Ocean. The Gulf of Thailand south of Bangkok connects with the Pacific Ocean.
Size: Estimates vary. Official Thai sources report 513,115 square kilometers. U.S. government sources state that Thailand has a total of 511,770 square kilometers of land area and 2,230 square kilometers of water area for a total of 514,000 square kilometers. The highest point is Doi Inthanon (2,576 meters). [Source: Library of Congress]
Land use: arable land: 27.54 percent; permanent crops: 6.93 percent. Irrigated land: 64,150 square kilometers (2003). Total renewable water resources: 409.9 cu kilometers (1999) Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 82.75 cu km/yr (2 percent/2 percent/95 percent); per capita: 1,288 cu m/yr (2000). [Source: CIA World Factbook]
Thailand measures about 1,260 km, from the northernmost point at Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province to the southernmost point at Betong district, Yala province, and in width, from the westernmost point at Sangkhla Buri district in Kanchanaburi province to the easternmost point at Sirindhorn district in Ubon Ratchathani province, about 780 km.[Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]
Thailand’s Boundaries, Border Disputes and Maritime Claims
Land Boundaries: The total land boundary is 4,863 kilometers in length, including borders with Burma (1,800 kilometers), Laos (1,754 kilometers), Cambodia (803 kilometers), and Malaysia (506 kilometers). A dispute between Thailand and Laos over MeKong River islands continues to delay completion of an agreement on the demarcation of their boundary. Thailand has significant differences with Burma over the alignment of their boundary. There are disputed sections of the Thai-Cambodia border where border markers are missing. Land mines, the remnants of former conflicts, are still to be found—sometimes with lethal consequences—along Thailand’s borders with Cambodia and Laos. Although Thailand has no actual border dispute with Malaysia, terrorist and insurgent activities in the frontier area lead to frequent border closures and tight security. Thailand controls the only land route from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]
1) Border shared with Myanmar: 10 provinces: Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, and Ranong. 2) Border shared with Laos: 10 provinces: Chiang Rai, Phayao, Nan,Uttaradit, Phitsanulok, Loei, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan, and Ubon Ratchathani 3) Border shared with Cambodia: seven provinces: Ubon Ratchathani, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Buriram, Prachin Buri, Chanthaburi, and Trat. 4) Border shared with Malaysia Four provinces: Satun, Songkhla, Yala, and Narathiwat [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]
Although neither China nor Vietnam bordered Thailand, the territory of both countries came within 100 kilometers of Thai territory. Many parts of Thailand's boundaries followed natural features, such as the Mekong River. Most borders had been stabilized and demarcated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in accordance with treaties forced on Thailand and its neighbors by Britain and France. In some areas, however, exact boundaries, especially along Thailand's eastern borders with Laos and Cambodia, were still in dispute in the late 1980s. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]
Disputes with Cambodia after 1950 arose in part from ill-defined boundaries; the most notable case was a dispute over the Preah Vihear Temple area submitted to the International Court of Justice, which ruled in favor of Cambodia in 1962. During the years that the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, was controlled by the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot (1975-79), the border disputes continued. In the early 1980s, the People's Republic of Kampuchea and its mentor, Vietnam, made an issue of boundaries in Prachin Buri Province in eastern Thailand. In contrast to these incidents, which attracted international attention, boundary disputes with Malaysia and Burma were usually handled more cooperatively. Continuing mineral exploration and fishing in the Gulf of Thailand, however, were sources of potential conflict with both neighbors. Adding to general border tensions were the activities of communist-led insurgents, whose operations had been of paramount concern to the Thai government and its security forces for several decades. The problem of communist insurgency was compounded by the activity of what the Thai government labeled "antistate elements." Often the real source of border problems was ordinary criminals or local merchants involved in illegal mining, logging, smuggling, and narcotics production and trade. *
Maritime Claims: Thailand claims a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and a continental shelf to a 200-meter depth—or to the depth of exploitation.
Geography. Culture and History in Thailand
Thailand's 514,000 square kilometers lie in the middle of mainland Southeast Asia. The nation's axial position influenced many aspects of Thailand's society and culture. The earliest speakers of the Tai language migrated from what is now China, following rivers into northern Thailand and southward to the Mae Nam (river) Chao Phraya Valley. The fertile floodplain and tropical monsoon climate, ideally suited to wet-rice (thamna) cultivation, attracted settlers to this central area rather than to the marginal uplands and mountains of the northern region or the Khorat Plateau to the northeast. By the twelfth century, a number of loosely connected rice-growing and trading states flourished in the upper Chao Phraya Valley. [Source: Library of Congress*]
Starting in the middle of the fourteenth century, these central chiefdoms gradually came under the control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya at the southern extremity of the floodplain. Successive capitals, built at various points along the river, became centers of great Thai kingdoms based on rice cultivation and foreign commerce. Unlike the neighboring Khmer and Burmese, the Thai continued to look outward across the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea toward foreign ports of trade. When European imperialism brought a new phase in Southeast Asian commerce in the late 1800s, Thailand (known then as Siam) was able to maintain its independence as a buffer zone between British-controlled Burma to the west and French-dominated Indochina to the east. * Topography of Thailand
Topography and drainage define four main regions: north, northeast, central, and south. In the north, the chief topographic features are high mountains along the borders with Burma and Laos and extending down the Isthmus of Kra to the southern border with Malaysia. The central plain, which extends to the Gulf of Thailand, is a lowland area drained by the Chao Phraya and its tributary rivers. The upland Khorat Plateau in the northeast drains into the River Mun. The narrow, tropical Isthmus of Kra runs from mainland Thailand to the border with peninsular Malaysia. It has a low-lying range of hills at the narrowest part, about 600 meters in elevation. The highest point is Doi Inthanon, in Chiang Mai Province in northwestern Thailand, at 2,565 meters above sea level. The lowest point is along the Gulf of Thailand at zero meters above sea level.
The most conspicuous features of Thailand's terrain are high mountains, a central plain, and an upland plateau. Mountains cover much of northern Thailand and extend along the Burmese border down through the Malay Peninsula. The central plain is a lowland area drained by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries, the country's principal river system, which feeds into the delta at the head of the Bight of Bangkok. The Chao Phraya system drains about one-third of the nation's territory. In the northeastern part of the country the Khorat Plateau, a region of gently rolling low hills and shallow lakes, drains into the Mekong River through the Mae Nam Mun. The Mekong system empties into the South China Sea and includes a series of canals and dams.
Together, the Chao Phraya and Mekong systems sustain Thailand's agricultural economy by supporting wet-rice cultivation and providing waterways for the transport of goods and people. In contrast, the distinguishing natural features of peninsular Thailand are long coastlines, offshore islands, and diminishing mangrove swamps.
Thailand’s Four Regions
Landforms and drainage divide the country more or less into four natural regions—the North, the Northeast (Isan), the Center, and the South. Although Bangkok geographically is part of the central plain, as the capital and largest city this metropolitan area may be considered in other respects a separate region. Each of the four geographical regions differs from the others in population, basic resources, natural features, and level of social and economic development. The diversity of the regions is in fact the most pronounced attribute of Thailand's physical setting. [Source: Library of Congress]
Each region has its specific natural features. The North is mountainous, while the northeastern plateau, with volcanic features, is abundant in archeological and historical sites. The fertile floodplain in the central region is the food basket of the country, with the Chao Phraya River as the main water source. The South, with two great seas on both sides, is resplendent with isles and islets, diverse seascapes, and important natural resources, such as minerals, natural rubber, and coconuts.
Thailand's regions are further divided into a total 76 provinces. The country's provinces have the same names as their respective capitals. Each province is subdivided for administrative purposes into amphoe, tambon, and mu ban or village. (In late 2010, the Government was considering the creation of a 77th province from Bueng Kan district in the northeastern province of Nong Khai.)
Central Thailand is dominated by rice-paddy-filled plains watered by the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries and surrounded on three sides by mountains and plateaus. Considered the heartland of Thailand and focal point of Thai cultural development, it was inhabited around 2500 B.C. by Neolithic tribes, who lived in the area around Kanchaanburi. In the first century B.C., Dvaravati and Lop Bur people lived here.
The Thais didn't enter the area until the 13th century, when they migrated here in large numbers from present-day Burma to escape the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan. In the 14th century, the great Thai city of Ayutthaya rose on the Chao Phraya and dominated Thai culture for the next 400 years. Afterwards the Thais were defeated by the Burmese, the Thai kings moved their capital to Bangkok where it has remained for the last 200 years. In 2010 the region suffered from severe flooding.
Twenty provinces make up central Thailand, stretching from Lopburi in the north to Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south to Kanchanaburi in the west to Trat in the east. The presence of large amounts of flat land, good soil, warm weather and rain and a multitude of rivers, canals and irrigation systems makes this one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world and one of the most flood-prone too. Rice, sugar cane, pineapples, cassava and a variety of fruit are among the crops grown here. The Thai dialect spoken in central Thailand is similar to “standard” Thai spoken in Bangkok. Many Lao live in north and many Burmese live in the west. Chinese are found throughout the region. Many travelers take in the sights on day trips from Bangkok.
Made up primarily of a a vast flatland around the Chao Phraya River. Central Thailand River lies in a natural self-contained basin a fertile basin perfect for crop cultivation. The complex irrigation system developed for wet-rice agriculture in this region provided the necessary economic support to sustain the development of the Thai state from the thirteenth-century kingdom of Sukhothai to contemporary Bangkok. Here the rather flat unchanging landscape facilitated inland water and road transport. The fertile area was able to sustain a dense population, 422 persons per square kilometer in 1987, compared with an average of 98 for the country as a whole. The terrain of the region is dominated by the Chao Phraya and its tributaries and by the cultivated paddy fields. Metropolitan Bangkok, the focal point of trade, transport, and industrial activity, is situated on the southern edge of the region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand and includes part of the delta of the Chao Phraya system.
The central plain and the East of Thailand cover an area of 103,947 square kilometers. The 26 provinces in the region are: Ang Thong, Bangkok Metropolis, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Kanchanaburi, Lop Buri, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Phetchaburi, Ayutthaya, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Sa Kaeo, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Saraburi, Sing Buri, Suphan Buri, and Trat.
Several of the country’s major rivers flow within the central region. They include the Chao Phraya, the Mae Klong, the Tha Chin, the Pasak, and the Bang Pakong, all contributing to the fertility of the region. Also, as the region where Bangkok, the nation’s capital, is situated, the central region is the focal point for many facets of the nation’s prosperity, contributing to agriculture, the economy, trade, and foreign contacts.
Season periods: 1) Summer – February to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; and 3) Winter – November to January. Major festivals in the central region evolve around rice farming and waterways, such as the Blessing of Rice Fields, to show gratitude to the environment and the weather, as well as the Goddess of Rice, in the hope to bring in good harvests. Another is the making of a Magic Rice Meal, involving grains of young rice, cooked in milk with other cereals, contributed by villagers as tributes to the Lord Buddha, and consumed as auspices for the new harvest. After the rice planting season, rivers and canals overflow, and people enjoy long-boat races and singing boat songs while waiting for the ripening of the rice in the fields.
Northern Thailand is a region of green mountains, misty jungles, fertile valleys, spectacular ruins, colorful hill tribes, and temperatures that are cooler than the rest of country. The people that live here call themselves the khon muang . Their customs, language and clothing differ from those of southern Thailand. They are regarded as more easy-going than southerners ad their dialect is slower than the other three mani dialects. Some of the people that live in northern Thailand belong to ethnic minorities—often called hill tribes because they have traditionally lived in the hills and mountains of the region—such as the Karens, Akha, Lisu, Lao, Meo, Yao and Lahu. The Lua and Lawa are believed to be have originated from this area. The others are originally from Myanmar, Laos and China, where many members of their tribes still live. Roughly eight percent of Thailand’s population is made of hill tribes. The Karen are the largest group.
The northern part of Northern Thailand occupies a section of the Golden Triangle, once one of the world's major opium growing areas. In recent years, the ethnic minorities tribes that have traditionally grown opium as a cash crop here have been convinced to switch to crops like coffee in return for schools and electricity. For those that want to see the Golden Triangle in all its opium-blooming glory will have to look for it in Myanmar and Laos.
Seasons period: 1) Summer – March to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; 3) Winter – November to February; During the winter months, in the mountainous North the temperature is cool enough for the cultivation of fruits such as lychees and strawberries.
The North is mostly mountainous, making the region the origin of streams and rivers in Thailand, including the Chao Phraya River, formed at the convergence of four rivers: the Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan. With its natural features of high mountains, steep river valleys, and upland areas, summer storms occur quite often. Thes north’s mountains are incised by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. Traditionally, these natural features made possible several different types of agriculture, including wet-rice farming in the valleys and shifting cultivation in the uplands. The forested mountains also promoted a spirit of regional independence. Forests, including stands of teak and other economically useful hardwoods that once dominated the North and parts of the Northeast, had diminished by the 1980s to 13 million hectares. In 1961 they covered 56 percent of the country, but by the mid-1980s forestland had been reduced to less than 30 percent of Thailand's total area.
The North commands an area covering 169,600 sq km, comprising 17 provinces: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Sawan, Nan, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phrae, Sukhothai, Tak, Uthai Thani, and Uttaradit. The Upper North, from Nakhon Sawan up to the boundaries shared with the Union of Myanmar and the Lao PDR, has Chiang Mai as the center, while the Lower North, from Nakhon Sawan down to Sukhothai, has Phitsanulok as the center.
Northeast Thailand is known to the Thais as Isan, or Isaan. It embraces the large Khorat plateau and the mountains, national parks and rolling farm land on it. The least known as least traveled part of Thailand, its is also, in the eyes of many experienced travelers, the most authentically Thai and most interesting part of country. Old traditions remain alive in part because of lack of development. Even though the region is rich in folklore, friendly people and Angkor-Wat-style Khmer temples (Northeast Thailand contains the largest set of Khmer ruins outside of Cambodia) less than five percent of foreign tourists that visit Thailand venture there.
Northeast Thailand occupies about a third of Thailand. It is cut off from the rest of the country by two low escarpments: the Phetchabun to the west and the Phanom Dong Rak to the south. Geographical features of the northeastern region comprise the flatland in the center, with rugged hills to the west and the south. The region is dominated by the Khorat Plateau, a gently rolling area of low hills and shallow lakes drained almost entirety by the Mekong River. Mountains ring the plateau on the west and the south, and the Mekong delineates much of the eastern rim. The north and west of the region is bounded by the Mekong River.
Northeast Thailand is arid and often plagued by droughts. The short monsoon season brings heavy flooding in the river valleys. Almost every year there are floods or drought or both. Unlike the more fertile areas of Thailand, the Northeast has a long dry season, and much of the land is covered by sparse grasses. The typical winter climate of the northeastern region of Thailand is usually windy and cool, dissimilar to the damp cool of the north. The main exception to this is the provinces near the Thai-Laos border. These provinces are known for their mist in the winter, especially around lovely Nakorn Panom. Season periods: 1) Summer – February to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; 3) Winter – November to January;
The farming is poor. The soils are “thin” and their water retention is poor. The prevailing vegetation is stunted trees and sparse grass. Even so the region accounts for 36 percent of Thailand’s rice production. Much of the rice is glutenous (sticky rice), the variety favored by the Lao. Much of the Khorat is unsuitable for agricultural but has good pastures and lots of cattle and water buffalo are raised here and cowboy culture is very much alive. The Mekong flows past much of the northern and eastern edge of the region, enabling cultivation in several provinces. Most of Thailand’s jasmine rice, or Hom Mali, is produced in the region. The weather can be quite cold in winter and hot and dry in the long summer months.
The Northeast covers an area of 168,854 square kilometers, and is comprised of 19 provinces: Amnat Charoen, Buri Ram, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Loei, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Si Sa Ket, Surin, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, and Yasothon. Mukdahan, Nong Khai, and Nakhon Phanom share the border with neighboring Lao PDR.
Southern Thailand is a long narrow isthmus that extends to the border of Malaysia, which itself is continuation of the isthmus. It is known to tourists mainly for its beautiful islands and beaches, which are located both on the east side of the country on the Gulf of Thailand and on the west side on the Andaman Sea, with some places sure to fit you idea of an idyllic paradise. There are also impressive limestone rock formations and ruined cities which were influenced by cultures in ancient Cambodia, Java and Sumatra. The interior is dominated by mountains and dense rain forests. Some places get a lot rain, up to eight months out of the years, as they get walloped by both the Indian ocean monsoon to the west and the South China Sea monsoon to the east.
The South is distinctive in climate, terrain, and resources. Its economy is based on rice cultivation for subsistence and rubber production for industry. Other sources of income include coconut plantations, tin mining, and tourism, which is particularly lucrative on Phuket Island. Rolling and mountainous terrain and the absence of large rivers are conspicuous features of the South. North-south mountain barriers and impenetrable tropical forest caused the early isolation and separate political development of this region. International access through the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand made the South a crossroads for both Theravada Buddhism, centered at Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Islam, especially in the former sultanate of Pattani on the border with Malaysia.
Southern Thailand occupies the top part of a long and narrow peninsula occupied by Malaysia to the south. Situated between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, with high mountains down the middle, region commands an area of 70,715 sq km, comprising 14 provinces: Chumphon, Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Phang-nga, Phatthalung, Phuket, Ranong, Satun, Songkhla, Surat Thani, Trang, and Yala. Season periods (Summer is the tourism season): 1) East coast: A) Summer – May to September; B) Rainy – October to June; 2) Andaman coast: A) Summer – November to April; B) Rainy – May to October.
Southern Thailand is influenced by the sea on both sides, which means that it is heavily rained on for most of the year. Most areas are flat, with rolling and mountainous terrain made up of major mountains such as the Tanaosi mountains to the west, lying from Kanchanaburi in the central region down to Ranong, as well as the Nakhon Si Thammarat mountains in the middle, and the Phuket mountains along the west coast to Phuket Island, with the Tanaosi and the Sankala Khiri forming the boundary with Malaysia. All southern provinces except Yala have a seacoast. The region is rich in minerals, such as tin, found in Phang-nga, Phuket, and Ranong, and gypsum, abundant in Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the South’s economy.
With the sea so nearby to almost every place in the south it is no surprise that people here have traditional made a living from the sea either as fishermen or traders. The biggest agricultural products are rubber, coconuts and tin. There are quite a few Muslims living in the south and people say the economy is largely controlled by the Chinese. The “Deep South” is a predominately Muslim area near the Malaysian border in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces. There has been a lot of violence here over the past decade (See the “Deep South”) but it has not affected the tourist areas further north.
Among Muslims, Muslim holidays are practiced. A major tradition of the South is the Buddha Procession Festival, in which people in communities come together to make merit; they carry a prominent Buddha image from a local temple in a procession, on land and water, through the community. It is believed to bring plentiful seasonal rains and is a way to for people to make great merit. The festival strengthens unity and amity between community members and the neighborhood, as they all come out to help the procession advance toward its destination.
Beaches in Thailand
Some of the greatest natural attractions are the myriad of Thai beaches and islands. With dual coasts, one facing East towards the Gulf of Thailand and one facing west to the Andaman Sea, Thailand is blessed with not only two different coasts, but also with unique geological conditions and marine life. Furthermore, Thailand’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline includes lively beach towns, such as Pattaya and Patong Beach (Phuket) and unspoiled national parks, including Koh Similan and Koh Tarutao Marine National Parks.
Some Thai beaches, such as Pattaya and Hua Hin are several hours drive from Bangkok and offer distinctly unique attractions. Pattaya is livelier, featuring an exciting nightlife, while Hua Hin is popular with families. Both offer visitors a wealth of activities from jet skiing to horse riding. A short flight from Bangkok, the Thai islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phuket are top destinations, each including a variety of beaches. Accommodation includes world class, five star destination spas and more rustic, beachfront bungalows; Thai beach activities range from golf to sea kayaking. Both Samui and Phuket feature nearby islands that make outstanding day trips. The exotic islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi are ideal for snorkeling and scuba excursions from the more popular neighboring islands of Samui and Phuket, and also feature a range of accommodation and activities.
Up and coming Thailand beach destinations include Khao Lak and Krabi, which have spectacular attractions including eco-tourism and rock climbing. Farther from these more popular destinations are hundreds of less explored Thai islands and beaches where visitors can enjoy relative seclusion, reclining on hammocks, eating fresh sea food, getting beach-side massages and beach hopping aboard long-tail boats.
Each Thai beach and island has its own character and identity and therefore draws a specific type of visitor. Each coastal area contains a slice of heaven suitable for a different style of traveler: The west coast of Thailand, along the Andaman Sea, features beaches that appeals to every type of traveler, including the activity-filled resort island of Phuket; the popular backpacker beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Krabi; the family friendly, laid back, and pristine coast of Khao Lak (the launching point for trips to the spectacular Similan Islands); and the remote, undeveloped islands of the far south.
Along the Gulf coast, the resort island of Koh Samui lies nearby the natural splendor of Koh Phangan and the scuba diving paradise of Koh Tao. Closer to Bangkok are the popular resort town of Hua Hin, a favorite among Thais, and its quieter neighbor Cha Am. Finally, to the east of Thailand, the northern Gulf features Bangkok weekend getaway Koh Samet, and the up-and-coming resort island of Koh Chang, which has both upscale resorts and budget beach bungalows.
Certain Thai beaches and islands, like Koh Tarutao National Park, offer limited accommodation and facilities and draw more adventurous travelers who are looking for a more ‘back to basics’ holiday experience. Others, such as Kamala Beach in Phuket, offer world class facilities (accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, etc) to entice visitors with bigger budgets who require creature comforts. It is important to note that this diversity exists not only between the islands, but between different beaches as well. Whereas one Thai beach might offer raucous entertainment, another a few kilometers away on the same island might only draw those looking for a quiet holiday.
Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is a perfect example of this contrast. Phuket is certainly the most developed Thai island, having been the first Thai beach resort destination. Located on the Andaman coast, Phuket contains numerous beaches, including the activity filled Patong beach, with its exciting nightlife, and the more family friendly Karon and Kata beaches. Across the island are luxurious five-star resorts and a wealth of Thai spas that serve to pamper visitors on any budget. In addition to a lush, tropical interior that features a variety of exotic wildlife, Phuket is an ideal location for day trips to nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi, a favorite destination for scuba divers, and Phang Nga bay, where visitors can snorkel, kayak, and visit iconic James Bond Island (Koh Tapu). Phuket is easily accessible via its international airport that connects domestically with Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai.
Koh Samui is the prime island attraction in the Gulf of Thailand. The most popular beach, Chaweng, features accommodation from five-star luxury resorts to affordable beach bungalows, and dining includes fine dining on international cuisine and casual beachside seafood barbeques. Samui is both family friendly and budget oriented with a host of activities, some of Thailand’s finest spas, and is conveniently located nearby some of Thailand’s finest diving off neighboring Koh Tao. Samui International Airport connects domestically to Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.
Krabi is a province on the mainland Andaman coast, near Phuket. In addition to popular beachside resort areas, such as Railey Beach, Krabi includes a number of spectacular islands, such as the Phi Phi Islands and Koh Lanta, off of which some of Thailand’s most popular scuba diving sites are found.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE IN THAILAND
Located south of Tropic of Cancer, Thailand is a hot, tropical country with most of of the country having a tropical or savanna climate, influenced by tropical monsoons most of the year. The southwestern monsoon results in the rainy season, and the northeastern monsoon from the South China Sea brings chilly days. The temperature in Thailand averages from 18 degrees to 34 degrees Celsius, with rainfall totaling around 1,500 millimeters a year; humidity is about 75 percent in summer with an average temperature of 34 degrees Celsius, 87 percent in the rainy season with 29 degrees Celsius, and in winter a low relative humidity and 20 degrees Celsius on average.
The temperatures are generally cooler in the highlands and along the coast. In the hot season, the humidity can reach 90 percent and high temperatures are usually around 35 degrees C (95 temperature F). The temperatures can sometimes drop to near zero at night in the higher elevations of northern Thailand in the cooler months. The southern isthmus always hot and humid.
The overall climate of Thailand is divided into three major seasons: 1) winter or cool season (November to February), 2) summer or hot season (March to May), and 3) rainy or wet monsoon season (June to October). These seasons are influenced by the A) tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); and B) dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March). It rains more and longer in southern Thailand, which is affected by the northeast monsoon from November to January as well as the southwest monsoon which affects all of Thailand. Consequently, the South has only two seasons—a wet season from May to November and dry season from December to March—with relatively small temperature difference between the two
Regional seasons periods: 1) Central and eastern region: Summer – February to April; Rainy – May to October; Winter – November to January; 2) Northern region: Summer – March to April; Rainy – May to October; Winter – November to February; 3) Northeastern region: Summer – February to April; Rainy – May to October; Winter – November to January; 4) Southern region (Summer is the tourism season): East coast: Summer – May to September; Rainy – October to June; Andaman coast: Summer – November to April; Rainy – May to October.
In most parts of Thailand it is extremely hot in March, April and early May, before the arrival of the monsoons, when temperatures are often above 35 C degrees everyday. This a good time of year to visit the mountains. The "cool" months (November-February) are the best time to travel in Thailand as a whole. The temperatures are relatively mild, the days are bright and sunny, and humidity is low. In highlands it is cold from November to February. In the winter a cold high-pressure zone over Tibet clashes with a low pressure zone over Australia, bringing cold, dry winds.
The rainy season (May to October) can still be a good time to visit Thailand. The clouds help dampen the summer temperatures. The beaches on the west coast of Thailand on the Andaman Seea (Phuket and Phi Phi, for example) tend to get more rain than islands like Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. But microclimates abound and there is always the luck factor. One August visitor to Phi Phi posted on travelfish.com that during his two week stay two days were virtually cloudless, on two it rained more than not but there still were times when the sun shown. The remaining days were mostly sunny with a few scattered showers. The same report would apply to a three week bicycle trip I took in the north in July, when I found as long as I got out early I enjoyed relatively cool temperatures and avoided rain.
In the summer air masses from the Indian Ocean pass over Southeast Asia, releasing moisture they have picked along the way. Rains tend to fall in short afternoon downpours during the rainy season. The countryside is lush and green and beautiful but the jungles are full of leeches and dirt roads in remote areas become impassable. In the dry season, road travel is easier but the countryside is often brown and dusty. Ticks may be a problem. Typhoon season traditionally begins in July—but large storms can churn up as early as May—and ends in October. Although Thailand sometimes experiences heavy rain this time of the year it is protected from the high winds by Vietnam (typhoons approach Southeast Asia from the Pacific).
As a rule the dry season is longer and the wet season is dryer the further north you go. From Chiang Mai north the dry season tends to last for six months from mid-November to May. In most of central and northeast Thailand it last for around five months from December to May. On the upper part of the southern peninsula the dry season lasts for three months from February to May while in the deep south it lasts only two months (March and April). In central Thailand the rains are heaviest in August and September with floods in October, even in Bangkok, being a common occurrence. Its rains a little less in north with August being the month with the most rain. In Phuket it rains most May and October, with high rainfall amounts recorded in the months in between.
The rainy season in Thailand coincides more or less with the rainy seasons in Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma, but is different from the rainy season on the west coast of Malaysia (where it is from September to November) and the rainy season in Singapore, Borneo, Indonesia and the east coast of Malaysia (November to January). The rainy season in southern China is generally most intense in June and July.
AFP reported: “Thailand's monsoon rains can sweep across Bangkok with a moment's notice, blacking out the sky and sparking floods that fill the street and then disappear just as quickly as they arrived. Some 4,000 millimetres (157.48 inches) pour down on Thailand in a year, most of it between June and December. [Source: AFP, June 12, 2005 ><]
During the opening ceremonies of the Asia Games several Thai beauty queens passed out in the heat.
Bangkok Temperature Hits 30-year Low in 2014
In January 2014, Bangkok recorded its coldest temperatures in three decades during one of the longest winter cold snaps to strike Thailand in years. Associated Press reported: “Thai media quoted Songkram Aksorn, deputy director general of the country's meteorological department, as saying that Bangkok's temperature fell Thursday morning to 15.6 degree Celsius (60.08 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest in 30 years. He added that the current cold season lasting almost three months was the longest in a decade. [Source: Associated Press, January 23, 2014 +++]
“Oparg Karankawinpong, deputy director of the Department of Disease Control, said that as many as 63 people in 24 provinces have died from cold-related ailments since the cool season began in late October, with the north and northeast being the country's chilliest areas. It is not unusual for people living in northern Thailand to haul out coats and scarves to wear around the turn of the year, and tourists and locals alike wonder at frost found in mountainous areas. But in poorer communities it is necessary for blankets to be distributed by authorities. The cold weather also is a concern because it lowers people's resistance to diseases, raising the risk of infections such as bird flu. +++
King Bhumibol’s “Super Sandwich” Rainmaking Technology
The European Patent Office has issued a patent for royal rainmaking technology to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The patent was presented to His Majesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne. The king’s Royal Rainmaking Textbook — which explains the steps of the rainmaking process—and the royal rainmaking project and won a Gold Medal with Mention at Brussels Eureka 2001. Officials from Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka have all traveled to Thailand to receive training in the science of rainmaking to benefit farmers in their own countries.
In the early 1960s, His Majesty the King became interested in attempting to make rain to alleviate drought in various parts of Thailand. He said at the time: “Weather modification is a very useful tool to combat weather change.” After the initial research stage, the first practical experiment took place over a mountain barrier at Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in July 1969. His Majesty learned that a key factor in rainmaking was to “target” a site, much like naval artillery does. Using His Majesty’s technique to bracket clouds from aircraft flying above and below the cloud to target both warm and cool air simultaneously proved to be the most assured method of creating rain. He named the technique the “Super Sandwich” and got a patent for it.
On the 50th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented King Bhumibol an award in recognition of his strong support for meteorological and operational hydrology. The WMO was impressed to learn that His Majesty follows the weather events very closely and imparts his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of weather phenomena to the nation. He realizes that high-quality weather and flood forecasts and warnings will help protect the environment and lessen impacts of natural disasters. In 2002 the Thai Cabinet officially named the king as the Father of Royal Rainmaking and designated November 14 as “Father of Royal Rainmaking Day.” November 14 was chosen because His Majesty started the royal rainmaking project on 14 November 1955.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014