Terrain and Geography
Situated in the heart of the Southeast Asian mainland, Thailand covers an area of 513,115 square kilometers. It is bordered by Laos to the northeast, Myanmar to the north and west, Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia to the south. The fertile and well watered plains of Thailand have blessed the people with more than enough rice, maize, and other crops, establishing Thailand as the "rice-bowl" of Southeast Asia. The country has approximately 51 million hectares of land, which can be broken down into 17,17,10, and 7 million hectares for the north, the northeast, the central part, and the south, respectively. About 21.8 million hectares are reserved as the national reserved forests. The cultivated area represented about 20.8 million hectares, of which 11.9 million hectares are used for growing rice, 6.7 million hectares for upland crops, and 2.2 million hectares for perennial crops.
Thailand is naturally divided into four topographic regions: 1) the North, 2) the Central Plain, or Chao Phraya River basin, 3) the Northeast, or the Korat Plateau, and 4) the South, or Southern Isthmus.
The North is a mountainous region characterized by natural forests, ridges, and deep, narrow, alluvial valleys. The Northern area is a mountainous region and its pre-dominant people are Thai, usually called Thai Nuea or Northern Thai. The Thai live in the lowland of the valleys while on the uplands live a number of primitive tribes belonging mostly to the two linguistic families the Mon-Khmer and the Thibeto-Burmans.
Central Thailand, the basin of the Chao Phraya River, is a lush, fertile valley. It is the richest and most extensive rice-producing area in the country and has often been called the "Rice Bowl of Asia." Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is located in this region. The Central area consists of one vast lowland plain watered by the Menam, or, to call it by the real name, the river Chao Phya, and other river systems. Here live the Thai or Siamese. There are in this area small c ommunities of Mons and Cam-bodians of the Mon-Kkmer family, Annamites, Malays and Burmans mostly Tavoyans, a tribe akin to the Aracanese of Burma.
The Northeastern region, or Korat Plateau, is an arid region characterized by a rolling surface and undulating hills. Harsh climatic conditions often result in this region being subjected to floods and droughts. The North- Eastern area is a vast plateau tilted towards south-east and drained by the river Mekhong which forms the eastern boundary between Thailand and French Indo-china. The people in this legion are also predo minantly Thai usually called the Lao. Across the river Mekhong on the left bank also live the Laos of Lao State. Living in isolated groups are the Phutai, another tribe of Thai stock whose former home was in French Indo-China, and a number of minoritie s mostly of the Mon-Khmer family.
The Southern region is hilly to mountainous, with thick virgin forests and rich deposits of minerals and ores. This region is the center for the production of rubber and the cultivation of other tropical crops. In the Southern area, throughout the Malay Peninsula, are the Thai, but in the southernmost parts the people are mostly of Malayan blood.
Others calculate that geographically, Thailand is roughly divided into six regions, largely by dividing the basin of the Chao Phraya River into three regions - East, Central and West - rather than one Central region.
The North is composed of nine provinces. High mountains and narrow valleys alternate in this region, and elevations are higher than in other regions of the country. The highest peak in the Thanon Thongchai mountain range is Doi Inthanon. It rises 2,565 meters in the vicinity of Chiang Mai. The main rivers, Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan, which flow and finally merge into the Chao Phraya River, have their sources in the mountain ranges in the North such as Dan Lao, Thanon Thongchai,Khun Tan, and Phi Pannam. The key city in the North is Chiang Mai, a major economical, historical, and cultural center and former capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It remains the center for trade and education in the North. Almost 70 percent of the area is mountainous and only 30 percent of the plain and hill slopes are suitable for agriculture.
The Central region has 22 provinces. The main agricultural sources are the three large basins of the Chao Phraya, Pasak, and Bang Pakong rivers. Because the ground is made up of thick layers of sediment and water, a large segment of the population occupies this region, and as a result, it has become the economic and political center of the country. This is the location of Metropolitan Bangkok, the capital. The surrounding cities and areas of Suphan Buri, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakan, and Ayutthaya feed the capital, and include industrial cities that have emerged in response to the expansion of Bangkok.
The Northeast has 18 provinces. This region is the largest and is approximately one third of the whole area of the country. There are mountainous ridges to the west and south. The two large basins, Khorat and Sakhon Nakhon basins in the central area, are separated by the Phuphan mountain range. To the east is the Mekong River, repre-senting most of the border between Thailand and Laos. The major cities of this region are Nakhon Ratchasima, considered the gateway to Isan and center for land transportation in this region. Ubon Ratchathani and Nong Khai are the gateway to Laos, while Khon Kaen is situated in the heart of the Isan region.
The East has seven provinces. This coastal area is a narrow plain formed by the accumulation of soil sediment from brackish water. It is suitable for cultivating fruit orchards. In the extreme east, the Banthat mountain range separates Thailand from Cambodia. At present, Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong in the East are the three cities representing provinces where industries have been developed to such an extent that they have became the main industrial cities. Contributing to this are several beneficial factors, such as excellent transportation facilities and a power plant operating on natural gas from the Gulf of Thailand; it is also the source of many kinds of local agricultural produce and a large number of fishery products suitable for the processing industries.
The West has five provinces. It is a region with high mountains and narrow valleys. The mountain ranges of Thanon Thongchai and Tenasserim establish the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The most important province in this region is Kanchanaburi. And every province shares a border with Myanmar. The checkpoints for cross-border communication are Mae Sod checkpoint in Tak and Chedi Sam Ong (Three Pagoda Pass) checkpoint in Kanchanaburi.
The South has 14 provinces. This region is part of the Malay Peninsula and it begins at Kra Isthmus in Ranong and Chumphon, connecting in the south with Malaysia. The Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Sankalakiri mountain ranges lie along this peninsula interconnectedly throughout its length for more than 1,000 kilometers. These ranges separate the narrow coastal plains along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Industries include Para rubber plantations, oil palm plantations, fishing and fish processing, and mining.
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