Thailand is sometimes referred to as "The Land of Smiles," reflecting the friendly, welcoming nature of the Thai people. The name is also said to be a reflection of the country's deep roots in the Buddhist religion, which was brought to Thailand by Indian merchants. Buddhism has become much more than a religion in Thailand. It is part of the country's national identity, making it difficult for the Thai people to receive the Gospel message.
Thailand has the distinction of being the only South Asian country to have never been colonized or ruled by a European country. Originally known as Siam, it has been an independent nation since 1238. The country is a constitutional monarchy, with the members of the royal family given near god-like status. In spite of their long history of independence, the Thai government is unstable. There have been at least 17 coups and attempted coups during the past 100 years. The most recent coup occured in May of 2014.
Two of Thailand's 19th-century kings introduced Western-style education, and today the country enjoys a 96 percent literacy rate. Since most Thai television stations are controlled by the government, the people turn to newspapers for news with less bias. The Thai newspaper market is the largest in all of South Asia, with an estimated 13 million copies distributed each day. This nation of readers responds quite well to Gospel literature.
Thailand has a thriving, diverse economy, with strong trade throughout the world. Unfortunately, the burgeoning economy has not led to a significant increase in the standard of living for Thai citizens. The average annual income is just under $3,000.
Thousands of tourists are drawn to the country each year by its natural beauty and friendly people. They come to see the ancient royal ruins and impressive Buddhist sites, soak up the sun on the country's magnificent beaches and do some bargain shopping. Unfortunately, others come to take advantage of the lucrative sex trade, especially in the larger cities. The open prostitution has led to an alarming rise in AIDS, now one of Thailand's leading causes of death.
Culturally, the Thai people enjoy music and performing elaborate traditional dances. Thai boxing is the country's most popular sport. Takraw, a game similar to volleyball but played with the feet and a light rattan ball, is also popular.