THAI GEOGRAPHY, ECOLOGY AND CLIMATE
Thailand covers an area of 513,115 square kilometres. From the rolling hills of the north, to the stunning beaches of the south, Thailand has something for everyone. There are four regions, each very distinctive in terms of both topography and culture.
Central Thailand, the area around Bangkok, is very fertile due primarily to the Chao Phraya River, which runs through the region and into the sea after it passes through Bangkok. The area also has a long and beautiful coastline skirting the Gulf of Thailand with many beautiful beaches and islands. The eastern edge of the central region borders Cambodia and the western extreme borders Myanmar.
Northern Thailand has Chiang Mai as its unofficial capital. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city, but with a population of just over 100,000, it is a long way behind the 5.6 million who officially live in Bangkok. The north is hilly, with Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, standing at 2,596 metres. Many places in the region attract large numbers of trekkers. The area borders Laos to the east and Myanmar to the west, forming the Golden Triangle.
North-Eastern Thailand, also known as Isaan, is the poorest region of the country. The area is actually a large plateau with low quality soil depriving the area of any real agricultural opportunities. Nakhon Ratchasima (aka Korat) is often referred to as the gateway to Isaan because it is the first major city you arrive at if travelling from Bangkok. Isaan is heavily influenced by Laotian culture, as evidenced in the food and language of the region. The north and east of the area border Laos with the Mekong snaking its way along the border. The southern provinces border Cambodia.
Southern Thailand is a narrow peninsula stretching down to Malaysia with beautiful coastlines on either side. The majority of Thailand’s most popular beach resorts are in this area. The east coast looks onto the Gulf of Thailand and has many fine white-sand beaches and islands with stunning coral reefs and calm seas. The west coast, which looks out to the Andaman Sea, is similar but with the added attraction of many amazing limestone rock formations and half-submerged caves. The region’s interior boasts large tracts of rubber plantations, coconut palm groves and rainforest.
Thailand has an incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem, although it is under threat. It’s easy to blame poachers or illegal loggers but when there is such a division of wealth distribution in the country, such a superficial view of the problem will do nothing to prevent or reverse the trend. The piranha’s gotta eat.
Thailand signs treaties and passes laws to protect its flora and fauna, but the impoverished upcountry regions are even more lawless than Bangkok with perpetrators either able to buy immunity from conviction or poor enough to consider the risk worth the potential rewards.
I have no solution other than the eradication of poverty. Don’t get me started on that one.
The north of the country has many deciduous forests, with rainforests more common in the south. A whole plethora of fruits abound throughout the country as does bamboo and countless flower species.
Of the country’s fauna, the tiger is the iconic symbol of Thailand’s endangered wildlife. Over recent decades, due primarily to deforestation, many animals have dwindled to extinction.
Other wild land creatures found in Thailand include elephants, leopards, gaur, banteng, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear, tapir, as well as various species of deer, snakes, monkeys, apes and birds. The seas teem with life. Several coral species, dolphins, various genuses of shark, dugongs and innumerable fish species can be found all around the coast.
Thirteen per cent of the country’s land and sea is protected in national parks, forest reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. However, poor enforcement of the law and lack of education mean that a lot more needs to be done to save the beautiful flora and fauna of Thailand.
Thailand has a tropical climate with three seasons: hot, hotter and hottest. They are also known as hot, wet and dry or even hot, rainy and winter, although I think the term “winter” is stretching it a bit for someone like me who grew up in Northern Europe. Nevertheless, no-one seems to dispute that at least one of the seasons should be called “hot”. The seasons are determined by monsoons with regional variations, but they can be summarised as follows:
• March to May: Hot
• June to October: Wet / Rainy
• November to February: Cool / Dry / Winter
The southern region gets the most rain but also has the most stable year-round temperatures at around 32C. The north-eastern region gets the least rain and the hottest temperatures, pushing 40C in some years, although its altitude ensures that it also gets pretty chilly at night during the cool season. However, the north records the coldest temperatures, sometimes even in single figures!!! All of Thailand except the north can be very humid.
The best time to be in Thailand is the winter, which is like an English summer. This is when it rains the least and the temperatures are nice without being too hot. During the rainy season the weather can be fine for most of the day, although there will be almost daily torrential downpours lasting for around an hour. These tend to settle into a pattern, so it will rain at around the same time each day for extended periods.
No matter what season it is, the weather in Thailand is great and it’s one of the main reasons I settled here. Every morning I wake up, and it’s summer. Love it!