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Thai Country Studies

Thailand’s Topography and Drainage

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.

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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 coasdines, offshore islands, and diminishing mangrove swamps.

Landforms and drainage divide the country more or less into four natural regions — the North, 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. During the winter months, in the mountainous North the temperature is cool enough for the cultivation of fruits such as lychees and strawberries. These high mountains are incised by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. A series of rivers, including the Nan, Ping, Wang, and Yom, unite in the lowlands to form the Chao Phraya watershed.

Traditionally, these natural features made possible several different types of agriculture, including wet-rice farming in the valleys and shifting cultivation (see Glossary) 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 Northeast, with its poor soils, is not favored agriculturally. The region consists mainly of the dry Khorat Plateau and a few low hills. The short monsoon season brings heavy flooding in the river valleys.

Unlike the more fertile areas of Thailand, the Northeast has a long dry season, and much of the land is covered by sparse grasses. Mountains ring the plateau on the west and the south, and the Mekong delineates much of the eastern rim. The “heartland” of the Central Thai, the Center is a natural self-contained basin often termed “the rice bowl of Asia.”

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 South, a narrow peninsula, 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.

Thailand’s regions are further divided into a total of seventythree provinces. The country’s provinces have the same
names as their respective capitals.

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Thai Country Studies

Industrial Policy of Thailand

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The Thai industrial sector was under the supervision of seven governmental agencies. The Ministry of Finance administered taxes and duties and provided tax refunds on exports. It was involved in large-scale industrial projects in the role of deciding on government equity participation, arranging public foreign borrowing to support the project, and extending protection through tariffs.

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Thai Country Studies

Introduction to Thailand Country Studies

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A STABLE AND PROSPERING NATION located in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, Thailand faced the 1990s with abundant resources, not the least of which was its people. Thai society was characterized by a rich blend of cultural traits, an openness to new ideas, and a high degree of adaptability to new situations. Despite a certain amount of diversity, Thai society, according to many observers, was bound together by three basic tenets:
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Thai Country Studies

National and Urban Structures: Class and Status

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Although in the 1980s the hierarchy of social status or prestige and the hierarchy of political and economic power in the rural community overlapped, a dis-junction of sorts existed between them at the national level. A rich villager — other things being equal — wielded political and economic power and had prestige. In the national system, the hierarchy of status began with the hereditary nobility — the royal family and the holders of royal titles. None of these people were poor; the royal family owned much land and some of its members had political influence. The royal family was not part of the ruling class, however, nor did it control the economy. The ruling class consisted of several levels, the uppermost of which comprised the military and, to a lesser extent, the bureaucratic elite.

In general, the Thai accorded high status to those who wielded power, and the prestige accorded the highest bureaucrats was consistent with a historical pattern, even if in modern times these bureaucrats were rarely members of the royal family. Whether the position of the military was fully legitimated in the eyes of most Thai was uncertain. The military was given deference, but it was. not clear that its members were freely accorded esteem.
Below the military and bureaucratic elites were those in high government posts who performed the tasks requiring considerable knowledge, technical competence, or simply experience in the ways of bureaucracy. Like the bureaucratic elites, these upper middlelevel bureaucrats were well educated, often holding undergraduate or graduate degrees from foreign universities. From the point of view of the Thai, such officeholders had much prestige even if they were not the primary wielders of power.

Positions at the highest levels of the military and the bureaucracy brought very good incomes to those holding them. Often these positions provided access to other sources of income, including large landholdings and other real estate, or participation in the actual ownership of businesses, often in conjunction with Chinese businessmen. With some exceptions, the latter exercised day-to-day control of financial, commercial, and industrial organizations and institutions.

The social status of the Chinese economic elite was not clear. After World War II, a limited number of Chinese business families, who had begun as middlemen financing aspects of agricultural production and marketing, became bankers and industrial and commercial entrepreneurs. These families had considerable economic power, and they clearly influenced some political decisions through the Thai military and bureaucrats with whom they had connections. Whether the Thai in general granted them the prestige ordinarily given to those holding high posts in government was another matter.

These Chinese businessmen should be distinguished from the many Thai in the military and the civil bureaucracy who had Chinese ancestry. In many cases, this Chinese ancestry was several generations removed. In any case, such individuals were considered Thai, operated chiefly in a Thai social and cultural milieu, and were evaluated on the same social scale as other Thai.

Until the 1970s, persons who were fully Chinese entered the bureaucracy only at the middle levels or, if higher, as technical staff. This was in part a matter of Thai policy, in part a matter of Chinese orientation. The Chinese were not indifferent to political power or administrative skill as desirable qualities or as sources of prestige, but they adapted to the limits imposed by their minority status. Within the Chinese community there was a hierarchy of political influence, and there were organizations (ranging from chambers of commerce to community groups and mutual aid societies) in which Chinese had the opportunity to exercise their power and skills. Even there, however, political power and prestige flowed to those who had been successful as entrepreneurs, whereas among the Thai, achievement in the military or the bureaucracy preceded access to significant economic opportunities or resources. Chinese in the economic elite who moved into important positions in Chinese-centered organizations or, occasionally, other organizations, not only gained prestige within the Chinese community but also became the links between that community and Thai elites, particularly with respect to the establishment of economic ties.

By the early 1970s, significant numbers of Chinese had been admitted to the higher bureaucracy. According to one analyst, they held roughly 30 percent of the posts in the special grades (upper ranks) at that time. Presumably they were the sons and daughters of wealthy entrepreneurs and had acquired the higher education necessary for admission to the bureaucracy’s upper ranks.

Below the hereditary nobility and the ruling class was a socially and occupationally heterogeneous middle class that emerged in the years after World War II, especially after 1960. Its members were diverse with respect to their control over wealth, their social status, and their access to power. The simplest distinction within this amorphous category was based partially on income and partially on occupation, but subcategories thus drawn were rather mixed. The wealthier segment of this middle class (for convenience, the upper middle class) consisted of bureaucrats and military men at middle levels (including higher provincial officials), salaried administrative and managerial workers in private enterprise, middle-level businessmen, provincial notables and landlords living in provincial towns, and professionals.

A much larger group, the petty bourgeoisie, comprised those who provided a range of services, largely in Bangkok, to the ruling class, the upper middle class, and to tourists and other foreigners. Often this petty bourgeoisie consisted of small-scale independent businessmen, some of them shop owners, others furnishing their services contractually. Some were salaried clerical staff. Both upper and lower segments of this middle category include many Chinese as well as Thai.

In the Thai scale of values, higher prestige tended to be accorded to those in government employment and perhaps to those in the professions. The private sector as a source of substantial income was a relatively new idea to the Thai, however, and their scale of values might change as an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie began seeking to have its status validated. In any case, the elements in the upper segment of this middle category could be said to share the same outlook and values or the same political status implied in the notion of class. The position of bureaucrats and notables (middle level businessmen and landowners) who lived in provincial towns was of particular interest. On their home ground they exercised considerable power, formally and informally, but they owed this power at least in part to their connections, usually as clients to patrons in Bangkok, although they in turn had clients at lower levels.

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Thai Covid-19
3,977
Confirmed
11
Confirmed (24h)
60
Deaths
0
Deaths (24h)
1.5%
Deaths (%)
3,800
Recovered
2
Recovered (24h)
95.6%
Recovered (%)
117
Active
2.9%
Active (%)
In Thailand, the health authorities reported 11 new corona infections by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration within 24 hours. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CFCSA has counted a total of 3,977 infections with Sars-CoV-2 in Thailand. The number of deaths related to the virus rose 0 to a total of 60.

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1. Anti-government student protests have occurred in Bangkok and other areas of Thailand. The security environment can be unpredictable and turn violent. Those attending protests can face arrest or other legal consequences. Monitor media reports from thaienquirer.com for information on protest locations and avoid public gatherings. As a foreigner take official warnings seriously.

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