About 75 percent of the inhabitants of Thailand are Thai. The largest minority group consists of the Chinese, who make up about 14 percent of the total population, and most are Thai nationals.
Other minority groups include the Malay-speaking Muslims in the south, the hill tribes in the north, and Cambodian (Khmer) and Vietnamese refugees in the east. The population of Thailand is about 75 percent rural.
Among the most celebrated works of architecture in Thailand are the Wats in Bangkok. Thai sculpture, dating from the 14th century, is a mixture of Chinese, Burmese, Hindu, and Khmer influences and is best seen in the temples and representations of Buddha. Thai religious paintings have been less well preserved; paintings are rarely older than 150 years. Thailand is known for producing beautiful silk textiles.
The population of Thailand is about 69,122,234 (2010 estimate). This represents an overall population density of about 114 persons per sq km (about 294 per sq mi). The population is unevenly distributed, however, with the greatest concentration of people in the central region.
Thai, a member of the Tai language family, is the chief language. Four regional dialects are in use. Lao, Chinese, Malay, and Mon-Khmer are also spoken in Thailand. English is taught in secondary schools and colleges and is also used in commerce and government.
Libraries and Museums
The largest library in Thailand is the National Library in Bangkok. In addition, important technical collections are maintained in Bangkok at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Institute of Technology Library, and the Thai National Documentation Center.
Thailand has a National Museum in Bangkok, which houses a large collection of ancient artifacts illustrating the development of Thai culture. Another important collection of Thai art was assembled by Jim Thompson, an American businessman who lived in Bangkok from the late 1940s to the 1960s. His reconstructed Thai house, filled with art, furniture, and ceramics, is now a museum.
Classic Thai literature is based on tradition and history. The Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, is the leading classic on which Thai art and music are based. The main theme remains the same in the Thai version, although the Ramakien is about 25 percent longer than the original Hindu version. Modern writing is more Western in style. Thailand has many women among its popular authors. Kukrit Pramoj is one of Thailand's most famous novelists. In addition to his career as a writer, he was Thailand's prime minister in 1975.
Thailand is unique in Southeast Asia in that the country has never been a dependency of another nation. Another notable difference is that Thai women, unlike women of some other East Asian countries, are active in business affairs, the professions, and the arts. No single culture has ever dominated the entire area. The first time a national identity is thought to have been developed was during the Sukhotai kingdom. Formed in the first half of the 13th century when several Thai municipalities united, the kingdom survived until the late 14th to early 15th century, when it was absorbed by the Ayutthaya kings. During its short existence, however, the Sukhotai kingdom established a new Thai alphabet, which became the basis for modern Thai, and codified the Thai form of Theravada Buddhism.
Music and Dance
Thai music is very intricate and is a usual accompaniment of Thai drama. The instruments, primarily woodwind and percussion, are usually grouped in five- or ten-piece ensembles. Musicians sit on the floor to play, and generally play by ear. The dance in Thailand is equally intricate, following or deriving from Indian dancing and involving a series of gestures and swaying that interpret a story. Even the smallest movements reflect important story threads, carefully woven by performers dressed in elaborate costumes and headgear.
Buddhism is the prevailing religion of Thailand. About 95 percent of all Thais are Buddhist, and the country has approximately 18,000 Buddhist temples and 140,000 Buddhist priests. Nearly all Buddhist men in Thailand enter a Wat (monastery) for at least a few days or months. Muslims, the majority of whom live in the area just north of Malaysia, constitute approximately 4 percent of the population, and the country also has some small Christian and Hindu communities.