Thailand, or Siam as it was called until 1939, has never been colonized by a foreign power, unlike its south and southeast Asian neighbors. Despite periodic invasion by the Burmese and the Khmers, and brief occupation by the Japanese in WWII, the kingdom has never been externally controlled for long enough to dampen the Thai's individualism.

 
          The earliest civilization in Thailand is believed to have been that of the Moans in central Thailand, who brought a Buddhist culture from the Indian subcontinent. In the 12th century, this met a Khmer culture moving from the east, the Sumatran - based Srivijaya culture moving north, and citizens of the Thai state of Nan Chao, in what is now southern China, migrating south. Thai princes created the
 
first Siamese capital in Sukhothai and later centres in Chiang Mai and, notably, Ayuthaya.
 
          
The Burmese invaded Siam in both the 16th and 18th centuries, capturing Chiang Mai and destroying Ayuthaya. The Thais expelled the Burmese and moved their capital to Thonburi. In 1782, the current Chakri dynasty was founded by King Rama I and the capital was moved across the river to Bangkok.
 
          Thailand is a Southeast Asian, predominantly Buddhist kingdom almost equidistant between India and China. For centuries known by outsiders as Siam, Thailand has been something of a Southeast Asian migratory, cultural and religious cross - roads. With an area of some 510,000 square kilometres and a population of some 57 million, Thailand is approximately the  same  size  as France. Thailand shares borders with
 
Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the north - east, Kampuchea to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Geographically speaking, Thailand is divided into six major regions : the mountainous north where elephants work forests and winter temperatures are sufficiently cool to permit cultivation of temperate fruits such as strawberries and peaches; the sprawling north - east plateau, largely bordered by the Mekong River, where the world's oldest Bronze Age civilisation flourished some 5,000 years ago; the central plain, one of the world's most fertile rice and fruit - growing areas; the eastern coastal plain, where fine sandy beaches support the growth of summer resorts; western mountains and valleys, suitable for the development of hydro - electric power: and the peninsular south where arresting scenic beauty complements economically vital tin mining, robber cultivation and fishing.
 
Thailand enjoys a tropical climate with 3 distinct seasons - summer from March through May, rainy with plenty of sunshine from June to September and cool from October through February. The average annual temperature is 28 C (83 F), ranging, in Bangkok, for example, from 30C in April to 25C in December.