The Land of Thailand, Thailand Travel Guide

In outline, Thailand is fancifully likened to an elephant's head. Bordered in the west by Myanmar (Burma), north by Laos, east by Cambodia and south by Malaysia, Thailand lies roughly midway between India and China.

The country extends 1650km (1025 miles) north to south, and 800km (500 miles) east to west, but becayse of the irregular shape, distances between major points are generally comfortable. The land area is 514,000 square kilometres, almost the same as that of France.

A coastline of more than 2500km (1550 miles) faces the Andaman Sea in the west and the Gulf of Thailand in the east. Several hundred offshore islands, large and small, dot the coastline.

Across this landscape live Thailand's population of about 60 million people. Along with the ethnic Thais, who make up around 80 percent of the population, there are significant groups of Chinese (about 10 percent), Malays (about 4 percent), Lao, Mons, Khmers, Indians, and Burmese - reflecting this country's long history at the crossroads of Southeast Asia.

The land divides into six physiographic regions : -

The Central Plains

Georgraphically, the Central Region extends from rugged western mountains bordering Burma o the northeast plateau to the east. Northwards to Nakhon Sawan where the Ping, Wang, Nan and Yom rivers unite to form the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings) which flows southwards to dissect Bangkok before entering the Gulf of Thailand and southwards to Prachuap Khirikhan where Thailand is compressed to its narrowest point, some 60 kilometeres wide between western mountains and the Thai Gulf. The Central Region is also an intensely fertile area.

Parallel north-south mountains and fertile valleys define the North, which boasts the country's highest peak, Doi Inthanon, at 2595m (8415 sq ft). Main rivers in the North are the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan, which are the major tributaries of the Chao Phraya.

The North

Bordered by Burma and Laos, characterised by forested mountains - lower extremities of Himalayan foothills - and fertile river valleys, northern Thailand encompasses part of the fabled Golden Triangle.

Diverse elements, including crisp mountain scenery, exotic hill tribes, forests worked by elephants, colourful festivals, invigorating cool season weather, ancient cities, exquisite northern Thai and Burmese style temples, and friendly people contribute to northern Thailand's enduring charm.

The Northeast

Known by Thais as I-San, the sprawling Northeast Plateau is bordered to the north and east by the Mekong River and Laos, and to the south largely by Cambodia.

The Northeast is a distinctive region thanks to a topography of lovely forested mountains and national parks and rolling farmland as well as to its colourful inhabitants who speak their own melodious dialect, have a delicious highly spiced cuisine, and a hospitable, vibrant folk culture and because of archaelogically significant excacations and shrines - such as Bang Chiang where the world's oldest Bronze Age civilisation flourished some 3600 years ago and venerable prasart hin (stone castle) temples, legacy of I-San's former importance to the Angkor centred Khmer empire.

The East Coast

Beyond Bangkok, from the estuary of the Chao Phraya River, the East Coast unfolds in a series of bays and beaches ot the Thai-Cambodian border. Many popular resorts, including Pattaya, Asia's premier beach resort, occupy a coast characterised by cliff hidden bays, palm-fringed communities, lovely islands and largely tranquil Gulf waters.

The region is rich in natural resources, including rubber, rice, fishing, orchards and gemstones, with several national parks containing waterfalls, virgin forest and uninhabited, remote islands.

The South

Lush tropical islands, dazzling palm-fringed beaches, coral reefs teeming with colourful marine life, picturesque fishing villages with distinctive handpainted boats, remote national parks, forested mountains, waterfalls, historic cities, ubiquitous rubber estates, scenic wildlife sanctuaries, the juxtaposition of temples and mosques clearly define the region's visual appeal.

Geographically, southern Thailand extends through the Kra Isthmus from Chumphon, 460 kilometeres south of Bangkok, to the Thai-Malaysian border, and is bordered in the east by the Gulf of Thailand, to the west by the Andaman Sea.

The West

The West of Thailand is a region of saw-tooth mountains, deflected foothills of the Himalayas. The valleys are smaller than those of the northen highlands and the regin is only lightly populated.

The main rivers are the Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai, which merge at Kanchanaburi town to form the Mae Khlong River.

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