Karen village

With political upheaval, economic difficulties, wars, immigration, refugee situations and other developments affecting societies, the world’s nations and peoples are more map
on-the-move than at any other time in the history of the world. Traditionally, “foreign” missions took place in a far-off country where the majority of the people group lived. However with the increased mobility of peoples and nations crossing borders and immigrating to other nations, cross cultural missions is just as likely to occur with a neighbor down the street in America as in some country thousands of miles away. Never before in the history of the world has the word nation come to mean a group of people characterized by similar culture and language rather than by geographic area. Therefore the “where” of our mission is wherever we find groups of people from the group we feel called to reach. For us that is Southeast Asia and also America. However, since we have spent so much of our lives in northern Thailand, we include the following information on Thailand:


Overview of Thailand


Thai flag


The Kingdom of Thailand, previously known as Siam, is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia with Bangkok as the capital city. It shares a border with Cambodia to the east, Laos to the northeast, Myanmar to the west, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand is around 198,114 square miles in area, or roughly the size of the state of Texas. The Kingdom borders two bodies of water—the Gulf of Thailand to the south and the Indian Ocean to the west. Thailand is 12 hours ahead of Washington D.C. at Eastern Standard Time.



map of ThailandRegions within Thailand


Thailand is divided into four natural regions: the north, northeast, the central plain, and the south. The north is a mountainous region comprised of ridges, natural forest, and deep, narrow alluvial valleys. The northeast is an arid region characterized by a rolling surface and undulating hills. Central Thailand is a lush, fertile valley and possesses the richest and most extensive rice-producing area in the country. The south is hilly with thick forests and rich deposits of minerals and iron ores. The southern region is also the center for rubber production and the cultivation of other topical crops.





Thailand has a warm, tropical climate affected by a seasonal monsoon. Thailand experiences a rainy season from June to October and a dry season for the rest of the year. Temperatures average 75 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with the highest temperatures occurring from March to May and the lowest appearing in December and January.






Thailand’s current population stands at approximately 65 million, about 8-9 million of whom live in the capital city of Bangkok. The largest ethnic minority is the Chinese. Other ethnic groups present in Thailand include Malays, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Indians. The official language, spoken by almost 100 percent of the population, is Thai with a literacy rate of over 93%. Thai is a tonal, uninflected, and predominantly monosyllabic language borrowed from Khmer, Pali, and Sanskrit. Chinese and Malay are also spoken in some areas, while local dialects are common in rural communities. English is widely spoken in Bangkok and other major metropolitan areas.




Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized. Its government structure has undergone gradual and practical evolution in response to the changing environment. Since 1932, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy, with a king as head of state and a parliamentarian form of government. The parliament is composed of 500 representatives and 200 senators. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the House of Representatives. Furthermore, Thailand is divided into 76 provinces, each administered by appointed governors. Appointed governors administer 75 of Thailand's 76 provinces. Bangkok, the 76th province, is administered by an elected governor.




King of Thailand

There are three key components of the Thai governmental structure. The first and foremost is that His Majesty the King is the head of the armed forces and upholder of Buddhism and all other religions. The constitution provides that His Majesty the King is a sacred and inviolable person. His sovereign power emanates from the people. Furthermore, His Majesty the King exercises his legislative power through the parliament, executive power through the cabinet headed by a prime minister, and judicial power through the country. The monarch is empowered with the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to admonish warnings whenever the government fails to administer state affairs for the good of the people. Since June 9, 1946, Thailand has been ruled by His Majesty King Bhumiphol Adunyadet, making him the longest living reigning monarch in the world.


The second component of the Thai governmental structure relates to the legislative branch. The first constitution created a National Assembly with two categories of members: the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the Senate (the upper house). Thirdly, under the Constitution, the Prime Minister is the head of government and the chief executive.




Wat Suthat

Theravada Buddhism is the faith of approximately 94 percent of the Thai population and is the official state religion. There are over 32,000 Buddhist temples throughout the nation with approximately 500,000 monks and novices. MonksEarly every morning the monks make their alms rounds where the faithful give alms of food, small spirit housemoney and other necessities. The temple is the center of Thai religious life as well as the center for community. Many Thais also hold a respect for various guardian spirits and you may often see small, or sometimes elaborate, spirit houses in the corners of properties or homes where offerings of fruit, incense, flowers and other offerings to the spirits are made each morning.


Even though Buddhism is the national religion of Thailand, religious rights and liberty are granted to all Thai people to follow whatever religion they desire. These rights are guaranteed and protected under the Constitution.






Addendum: Religious Freedom Protected by the Constitution:


Section 25 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (1978) states:


"Every person enjoys full liberty to profess any religion, any religious denomination or religious tenet, and to exercise a form of worship in accordance with his belief, provided that it is not contrary to his civic duties or public order or good morals."


"In exercising the liberty referred to in the first paragraph, every person shall be protected from any act by the State, which is derogatory to his rights or detrimental to his due benefits on the ground of professing a religion, or a religious denomination or religious tenet, or exercising a form of worship in accordance with his belief which is different from that of others"


In addition, the Penal Code of Thailand has 3 sections provided in order to prevent any action likely to insult any sacred religious object of place or any disturbance caused at any religious assembly or unlawful dressing or using symbols in imitation of a monk or a clergyman as follows:


"Section 206. Whoever commits any act, by any means whatever, to an object or a place of religious reverence of any community in a manner likely to insult the religion shall be punished with imprisonment from one to seven years or a fine from two thousand to fourteen thousand baht, or both."


"Section 207. Whoever causes any disturbance at an assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding two thousand baht, or both."


"Section 208. Whoever dresses or uses a symbol showing that he is a Buddhist monk or novice, ascetic or clergyman of any religion unlawfully in order to make another person believe that he is such person shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding two thousand baht, or both."



Chiang Mai

is the name of both the province and the provincial capital of the province of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai province is located in the upper area of Thailand’s northern region. Chiang Mai city, on the banks of the Ping River, is the second largest city in Thailand and is approximately 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Bangkok. Even though its name in Thai means “new city,” it is a 700-year-old city which was once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. Because of its relatively mild climate, interesting history and culture and proximity to lots of natural beauty, Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s major tourist destinations.


Chiang MaiLocation/Geography

The province of Chiang Mai is mostly mountainous and interspersed with large fertile valleys. Chiang Mai city is situated in a large valley bisected by the mapPing River, which runs through town. To the north, parts of Chiang Mai Province’s northern areas border Myanmar (Burma). Chiang Rai and Lampang provinces border it to the east. To the south it is bordered by Tak and Lamphun provinces and by Mae Hong Song province in the west. Doi Intanon Mountain, at 2576 meters (8,451ft.), is located in Chiang Mai province and is the highest point in Thailand.



Chiang Mai Panorama

The climate is more moderate than Bangkok due to its proximity to higher elevations. Temperatures from mid-November to January average between 13C and 28C (56F and 83F). In higher elevations temperatures are usually even cooler. Temperatures in Chiang Mai begin rising in late February and in the hot season (March-May) range between 17C and 36C (63F and 97F) with some days reaching into the 40sC (100sF). The monsoon in Chiang Mai begins in May and ends in October, earlier than in Central Thailand. The rain generally falls sporadically - except during August and September when the streets of Chiang Mai can sometimes flood when the Ping River overflows its banks.



Thai rice

The population of Chiang Mai province is over 1.6 million. Over 200,000 live in the city itself. The people of the valleys of Chiang Mai and northern Thailand are called khon muang or northern Thai. Although most do speak the central Thai dialect, many still use the northern language called kham muang, which is similar to central Thai, but uses many different words and tones. Written kham muang has been recently revitalized and can be seen on street signs and some government buildings. (It looks a lot like Burmese with lots of round characters.) Chiang Mai and the surrounding provinces are also home to six major hilltribe groups with total numbers over 600,000. The largest of these is the Karen, with Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Akha and Yao with smaller groups such as the Lua and Paluang.



Chedi Worship

Most people of Chiang Mai hold to Theravada Buddhism, the national religion. However they tend to be syncretistic in their beliefs incorporating many traditional animistic beliefs and practices with the practice of Buddhism. They have a strong belief in territorial spirits and ancestral spirits and one can often see rituals concerning these beliefs performed in homes and various shrines and important places in the city. The temple is still usually the center not only of religious but social and community events for every northern Thai town. One of the most famous temples and revered sacred Buddhist shrines is located on Doi Suthep mountain, which overlooks the city. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Temple was begun in 1386 and contains actual relics of The Buddha enshrined inside a 52 foot tall golden chedi. It is a popular destination for Buddhists throughout the nation and surrounding countries to come pay their respects and worship.


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