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The Kingdom of Thailand is an independent country that lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, bordered by Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia. The capital and largest city of Thailand is Bangkok. It is also the country's center of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities.
The official language of Thailand is the Thai language, a Kradai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Burma, and numerous smaller languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Yunan south to the Malaysian border. It is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the Central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet, an abugida script that evolved from the Khmer script. Several other dialects exist, and coincide with the regional designations. Southern Thai is spoken in the southern provinces, and Northern Thai is spoken in the provinces that were formally part of the independent kingdom of Lannathai. Thailand is also host to several other minority languages, the largest of which is the Lao dialect of Isan spoken in the northeastern provinces. Although sometimes considered a Thai dialect, it is a Lao dialect, and the region in where it is traditionally spoken was historically part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In the far south, Yawi, a dialect of Malay, is the primary language of the Malay Muslims.
Chinese dialects are also spoken by the large Chinese population, Teochew being the dialect best represented.
Numerous tribal languages are also spoken, including those belonging to the Mon-Khmer family, such as Mon, Khmer, Viet, Mlabri; Austronesian family, such as Cham, Moken, and Orang Asli, Sino-Tibetan family such as Hmong, Lawa, Akhan, and Karen; and other Tai languages such as Nyaw, Phu Thai, and Saek. English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers remains very low, especially outside the cities.
The culture of Thailand incorporates a great deal of influence from India, China, Cambodia, and the rest of Southeast Asia. Thailand's main theology Theravada Buddhism is central to modern Thai identity and belief. In practice, Thai Buddhism has evolved over time to include many regional beliefs originating from Hinduism, animism as well as ancestor worship. In areas in the southernmost parts of Thailand, Islam is prevalent. Several different ethnic groups, many of which are marginalized, populate Thailand. Some of these groups overlap into Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and have maintained a distinctly traditional way of life despite strong Thai cultural influence. Overseas Chinese also form a significant part of Thai society, particularly in and around Bangkok. Their successful integration into Thai society has allowed for this group to hold positions of economic and political power. Like most Asian cultures, respect towards ancestors is an essential part of Thai spiritual practice. Thais have a strong sense of hospitality and generosity, but also a strong sense of social hierarchy. Seniority is an important concept in Thai culture. Elders have by tradition ruled in family decisions or ceremonies.
Thailand is an emerging economy and considered as a Newly Industrialized Country. After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1996 averaging 9.4% annually, which is considered to be tremendous growth. Thailand exports an increasing value of over $105 billion worth of goods and services annually. Major exports include Thai rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, jewelry, automobiles, computers and electrical appliances. Thailand is the world’s no.1 exporter of rice, exporting more than 6.5 million tons of milled rice annually. Rice is the most important crop in the country. Thailand has the highest percent of arable land, 27.25%, of any nation in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with about 55% of the available land area used for rice production. Substantial industries include electric appliances, components, computer parts and automobiles, while tourism makes up about 6% of the Thai economy.
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