• Divided into 77 provinces or changwat, Thailand was known as Siam until 1939 (and again from 1945 to 1949); some academics suggest changing the name back again, to better reflect the country’s Thai and non-Thai diversity.

• The population of 63 million is made up of ethnic Thais (75 percent) and Chinese (14 percent), with the rest comprising mainly immigrants from neighbouring countries as well as hill-tribespeople.

• Buddhism is the national religion, Islam the largest minority religion, but nearly all Thais also practise some form of animism (spirit worship).

• Since 1932 the country has been a constitutional monarchy. King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX (being the ninth ruler of the Chakri dynasty), is the world’s longest-ruling head of state, having been on the throne since 1946; the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, entered politics only six weeks before winning the general election in 2011 with an absolute majority.

• Thailand fell to 153rd out of 178 countries on Reporters without Borders’ index on press freedom in 2010, because of a surge in the use of the lese-majesty laws.

• The world record for nonstop kissing was set by two Thai men in Pattaya on Valentine’s Day, 2012, at a gobsmacking 50 hours, 25 minutes and 1 second.

Essentials

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