Geography of Thailand

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Thailand map CIA.png
Detailed map of 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—it controls the only land route from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore.

Geographic coordinates[edit]

The fertile floodplain and tropical monsoon climate, ideally suited to wet-rice (tham na) cultivation, attracted settlers to this central area over to the marginal uplands and the highlands of the northern region or the Khorat Plateau to the northeast.

By the 11th century AD, a number of loosely connected rice-growing and trading states flourished in the upper Chao Phraya Valley. They broke free from domination of the Khmer Empire, but from the middle of the 14th century gradually came under the control of the Ayutthaya kingdom 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, but losing over 50% of its territory in the process. Fortunately, most of the areas lost contained a non-Thai population (Khmer, Lao or Shan). The Thai-speaking heartland remains intact.


Land boundaries[edit]


  • Total: 3,219 km

Maritime claims[edit]

  • territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)
  • exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)
  • continental shelf: 20-m depth or to the depth of exploitation

Topography and drainage[edit]

Topographic map of Thailand.

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 Myanmar border down through the Kra Isthmus and the Malay Peninsula. The central plain is a lowland area drained by the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries, the country's principal river system, which feeds into the delta at the head of the Bay 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 through the Mun River. 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.


  • Total: 513,120 square kilometres (198,120 sq mi)
    • Land: 510,890 square kilometres (197,260 sq mi)
    • Water: 2,230 cubic kilometres (540 cu mi)

Thailand uses a unit of land area called the Rai, which is 1,600 square metres (0.40 acres).

Extreme points[edit]

Elevation extremes[edit]


Map of the six geographical regions of Thailand
Main article: Regions of Thailand

The National Research Council divides Thailand into six geographical regions, based on natural features including landforms and drainage, as well as human cultural patterns. They are, namely: the North Region, the Northeast Region, the Central Region, the East Region, the West Region and the South Region of Thailand. 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 six 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.

Northern Thailand[edit]

Northern Thailand is a mountainous area. Parallel mountain ranges extend from the Daen Lao Range (ทิวเขาแดนลาว), in the southern region of the Shan Hills, in a north/south direction, the Dawna Range (ทิวเขาดอยมอนกุจู) forming the western border of Thailand between Mae Hong Son and the Salween River,[1] the Thanon Thong Chai Range (เทือกเขาถนนธงชัย), the Khun Tan Range (ดอยขุนตาน), the Phi Pan Nam Range (ทิวเขาผีปันน้ำ), as well as the western part of the Luang Prabang Range (ทิวเขาหลวงพระบาง).[2]

These high mountains are incised by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. Most rivers, including the Nan, Ping, Wang, and Yom, unite in the lowlands of the lower-north region and the upper-central region. The Ping River and the Nan River unite to form the Chao Phraya River. The northeastern part is drained by rivers flowing into the Mekong basin, like the Kok and Ing.

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 130,000 km². 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.

During the winter months in mountainous northern Thailand, the temperature is cool enough for the cultivation of fruits such as lychees and strawberries.

Northeastern Thailand[edit]

Main article: Isan

The northeast, with its poor soils, is not favoured agriculturally. However, sticky rice, the staple food of the region, which requires flooded, poorly drained paddy fields, thrives and where fields can be flooded from nearby streams, rivers and ponds, often two harvests are possible each year. Cash crops such as sugar cane and manioc are cultivated on a vast scale, and to a lesser extent, rubber. Silk production is an important cottage industry and contributes significantly to the economy.

The region consists mainly of the dry Khorat Plateau which in some parts is extremely flat, and a few low but rugged and rocky hills, the Phu Phan Mountains. 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 northern and eastern rim. Some varieties of traditional medicinal herbs, particularly of the Genus Curcuma, family Zingiberaceae, are indigenous to the region.

Central Thailand[edit]

The "heartland", central Thailand, 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 13th century Sukhothai Kingdom 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 people 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 on the southern edge of the region at the head of the Gulf of Thailand and includes part of the Chao Phraya delta.

Eastern Thailand[edit]

Eastern Thailand lies between the Sankamphaeng Range, which forms the border of the northeastern plateau to the north and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. The western end of the Cardamom Mountains, known in Thailand as Thio Khao Banthat, extends into eastern Thailand. The geography of the region is characterised by short mountain ranges alternating with small basins of short rivers which drain into the Gulf of Thailand.

Fruit is a major component of agriculture in the area, and tourism plays a strong part in the economy. The region's coastal location has helped promote industrial development, a major factor in the economy of the region.

Western Thailand[edit]

Thailand's long mountainous border with Myanmar continues south from the north into western Thailand with the Tenasserim Hills, known in Thailand as Thio Khao Tanaosi (เทือกเขาตะนาวศรี). The geography of the western region of Thailand, like the north, is characterised by high mountains and steep river valleys.

Western Thailand hosts much of Thailand's less-disturbed forest areas. Water and minerals are also important natural resources. The region is home to many of the country's major dams, and mining is an important industry in the area.

Southern Thailand[edit]

Southern Thailand, part of 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 Pattani Kingdom on the border with Malaysia.


Main article: Provinces of Thailand

Thailand's regions are divided politically into a total of 77 provinces, such as Ratchaburi, Petchaburi, etc. plus Bangkok, which is a special administrative area. The country's provinces have the same names as their respective provincial capitals.


Seasonal flooding in Thailand and Cambodia.
Fires burning across the hills and valleys of Myanmar Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam (labelled with red dots).

Most of Thailand has a "tropical wet and dry or savanna climate" type (Köppen's Tropical savanna climate).[3] The south and the eastern tip of the east have a tropical monsoon climate.

Countrywide, temperatures normally range from an average annual high of 38 °C (100.4 °F) to a low of 19 °C (66.2 °F). During the dry season, the temperature rises dramatically in the second half of March, spiking to well over 40 °C (104 °F) in some areas by mid-April when the sun passes the zenith.

Southwest monsoons that arrive between May and July (except in the south) signal the advent of the rainy season (ruedu fon). This lasts into October and the cloud covering reduces the temperature again, but the high humidity is experienced as 'hot and sticky'. November and December mark the onset of the dry season and night temperatures on high ground can occasionally drop to a light frost. Temperatures begin to climb again in January.[citation needed]

The dry season is shortest in the south because of the proximity of the sea to all parts of the Malay Peninsula. With only minor exceptions, every area of Thailand receives adequate rainfall, but the duration of the rainy season and the amount of rain vary substantially from region to region and with elevation.

The northeast experiences a long dry season—although the dry 2007-2008 season lasted only from late-November through to mid-March. Its red, laterite, dense clayey soils retain water well, which limits their agricultural potential for many crops, but is ideal for keeping water in paddy fields and local village reservoirs. The well-drained, loose sandy alluvium of the Mekong flood plain is very fertile, the main crops being tomatoes, tobacco, and pineapples, grown on an industrial-scale.[citation needed]

Thailand experienced the coldest temperatures in three decades during the October 2013 to January 2014 period, and as many as 63 people in 24 provinces have died from climate-related illnesses. On 23 January 2014, the temperature dropped to 15.6 degree Celsius (60.08 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest recorded figure in 30 years. Government employees distributed blankets in poorer communities as a protective measure.[4]

Months: J F M A M J J A S O N D
Chiang Mai Max Temp Av. 29 32 34 36 34 32 31 31 31 31 30 28
Min Temp Av. 13 14 17 22 23 23 23 23 23 21 19 15
Weather-Sunny.png hours/day 9 10 9 9 8 6 5 4 6 7 8 9
Weather-Rain.png mm/month 7 11 15 50 140 155 190 220 290 125 40 10
days/months 1 1 2 5 12 16 18 21 18 10 4 1
Phuket Max Temp Av. 31 32 33 33 31 31 31 31 30 31 31 31
Min Temp Av. 23 23 24 25 25 25 25 24 24 24 24 24
Weather-Sunny.png hours/day 9 9 9 8 6 6 6 6 5 6 7 8
Weather-Rain.png mm/month 35 40 75 125 295 265 215 246 325 315 195 80
days/months 4 3 6 15 19 19 17 17 19 19 14 8
Reference: "Saisons et climats 2003" Hachette ISBN 2012437990

Resources and land use[edit]

Natural resources[edit]

Land use[edit]

Land use by the Karen tribe in Northern Thailand: controlled burn in the foreground and agricultural terraces.
  • Arable land: 30.71%
    • Permanent crops: 8.77%
    • Other: 60.52% (2011)

Irrigated land[edit]

  • Total: 64,150 km² (2007)

Total renewable water resources[edit]

  • Total: 438.6 km3 (2011)

Environmental concerns[edit]

Wind blowing smoke and ash from a forest fire into the air

Natural hazards[edit]

Land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; droughts (see also 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and 2011 Thai floods).

Current environmental issues[edit]

International environmental agreements[edit]

Territorial disputes[edit]


Thailand shares boundaries with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar. Although neither China nor Vietnam border Thailand, the territories of both countries come within 100 km of Thai territory.

Many parts of Thailand's boundaries followed natural features, such as the Mekong. Most borders were stabilized and demarcated in the late-19th and early-20th 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, are still in dispute.

Adding to general border tensions were the activities of communist-led insurgents, whose operations were 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 labelled "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.


Cambodia's disputes with Thailand after 1951 arose in part from ill-defined boundaries and changes in France's colonial fortunes. Recently, the most notable case has been a dispute over Prasat Preah Vihear 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 to 1979), the border disputes continued.


Demarcation is complete except for certain Mekong islets. The border is marked by the Mekong: at high water during the rainy season, the centre line of the current is the border, while during low water periods, all islands, mudbanks, sandbanks, and rocks that are revealed belong to Laos.


In contrast to dealings with Cambodia, which attracted international attention, boundary disputes with Malaysia (see Malaysia-Thailand Border) are usually handled more cooperatively. Continuing mineral exploration and fishing, however, are sources of potential conflict. A 1 km segment at the mouth of the Golok River remained in dispute with Malaysia as of 2004.


Significant differences remain with Myanmar over boundary alignment and the handling of ethnic rebels, refugees and illegal drug trade, in addition to mineral exploration and fishing rights. Groups in both countries have expressed concern over the Peoples Republic of China's construction of 13 hydroelectric dams on the Salween River in Yunnan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Northern Thailand
  2. ^ ดร.กระมล ทองธรรมชาติ และคณะ, สังคมศึกษา ศาสนาและวัฒนธรรม ม.1, สำนักพิมพ์ อักษรเจริญทัศน์ อจท. จำกัด, 2548, หน้า 24-25
  3. ^ Dr. Susan L. Woodward (1997–2014). "Tropical Savannas". Biomes of the World. S. L. Woodward. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Bangkok Temperature Hits 30-Year Low". ABC News. 23 January 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 

External links[edit]