Thailand is a Southeast Asian, predominantly Buddhist kingdom almost equidistant between India and China. For centuries known by outsiders as Siam, Thailand has been something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural and religious crossroads.
Thailand has an area of 517 000 sq km, making it slightly smaller than the state of Texas in the USA, or about the size of France.
Its shape on the map has been compared to the head of an elephant, with its trunk extending down the Malay peninsula. The centre of Thailand, Bangkok, is at about 14 degrees north latitude, putting it on a level with Madras, Manila, Guatemala and Khartoum.
The country’s longest north-south distance is about 1860km, but its shape makes distances in any other direction 1000km or less. Because the north-south reach spans roughly 16 latitudinal degrees, Thailand has perhaps the most diverse climate in SouthEast Asia.
The topography varies from high mountains in the North (the southernmost extreme of a series of ranges that extend across northern Myanmar and south-west China to the south-eastern edges of the Tibet Plateau) to limestone-encrusted tropical islands in the South that are part of the Malay Archipelago.
The rivers and tributaries of Northern and Central Thailand drain into the Gulf of Thailand via the Chao Phraya Delta near Bangkok; those of the Mun River and other North Eastern waterways exit into the South China Sea via the Mekong River. These broad geographic characteristics divide the country into four main zones: the fertile centre region, dominated by the Chao Phraya River; the north-east plateau, the kingdom’s poorest region, rising some 300m above the central plain; Northern Thailand, a region of mountains and fertile valleys; and the Southern peninsula, which extends to the Malaysian border frontier and is predominantly rainforest.
Gulf of Thailand coastlines form 2710km of beaches, hard shores and wetlands. Hundreds of oceanic and continental islands are found offshore on both sides, those with tourist facilities constitute only a fraction of the total. Offshore depths in the Gulf range from 30 to 80m.