In 2000-08, the population increased by an average of 1
percent per year, but since then the rate of increase has
decreased. In 2010, there were 144,000 Burmese in nine
refugee camps near the border in the west and another 2
million Burmese are believed to be in Thailand, most
illegally. In addition, there are several hundreds of
thousands of guest workers and illegal immigrants from other
neighboring countries. In northern Thailand, for
generations, about 1 million "mountain people" live, ie.
Countryaah, Thailand is one of Southeast Asia's least urbanized
countries; almost 50 percent still live in the countryside.
The most dominant city is Bangkok with 5.7 million residents
in the city itself and 8.25 million in the metropolitan area
(2015). Next largest are the million cities of Samut Prakan
and Nonthaburi, both suburbs of Bangkok. The largest in
other parts of the country is Chiang Mai at the top of the
Despite the linguistic homogeneity, there are significant
regional and intercultural variations among the Thai
population, which are sometimes expressed as regional
special interests. In northeastern Thailand, Isan,
the population calls itself Lao Isan and is
considered to have a Laotian background for historical
reasons. Northern Thailand, with Chiang Mai as its center,
is similarly a region with its own cultural and linguistic
identity. Regionally, however, northern Thailand is
characterized by the presence of a large number of
minorities, including various mountain people. In the
southern part of Thailand there is a significant group of
Malays, who are often Sunni Muslims and constitute about 4.5
percent of the population. In the northernmost part of the
country there is also a group of Chinese Muslims.
The rapid economic development has also contributed to
increasing urbanization. The Chinese, who account for 14
percent of the population, are a largely urban group and
form a well-integrated part of the population. They are to a
large extent linked to various activities within commerce
and banking and finance. The division of the peoples into
two main groups on the basis of supply strategies and
socio-political organization that applies to other parts of
Southeast Asia applies to some extent to Thailand. The
lowland peoples, for whom wetland farming has traditionally
played a major role in providing livelihoods and who support
a state-bearing civilization in which Buddhism and monarchy
are important elements, are largely the Thai majority.
Other peoples, especially the mountain peoples in the
nation's highland border areas against Burma and Laos,
differ from the lowland peoples in many respects. Tradition
in various forms has traditionally been a dominant element
in the livelihood, often in combination with a social
organization built around the family and its clans and with
ancestral focus and shamanism as important elements in
religious orientation. Modern forestry and increased
awareness of the need for ecological balance may not always
be associated with the peoples' sweat use. This has meant
that many mountain people have gained an increasingly
complex economy, where labor migration, aid and not least
tourism have increased in importance.
In this perspective, the migrant Hmong people, who have
their clan members scattered throughout much of the world,
appear to be an extremely "global group" in which the
consciousness of family affiliation is an important element,
as is the absence of territorial or local anchoring. As a
result of political instability, several mountain people
have migrated to Thailand from other areas of Burma, Laos
and southern China. This includes the Tibetan Burmese people
Lisu, Lahu and Akha, as well as the Hmong-speaking peoples
Hmong and Yao. In northeastern Thailand there are local
groups of Khmer people, while in central as well as in
northern Thailand there are groups of monk-Khmer speaking
monks. A numerically significant group is the Kareen, who
live in the border country between Burma and Thailand and
whose number is estimated to be about 3 million.
The indigenous population includes the monkhum-speaking
lawa (lua) in northern Thailand; a disappearing few mlabri
(about 300), which provide for hunting and gathering, are
still found in the forest areas of northeastern Thailand.
The minority people also usually count some Thai people,
such as Shan in northern Thailand, as well as other Thai
people groups who have migrated to Thailand from China, Laos
The official language is Thai. It is spoken as the mother
tongue of over 80% of the population. The four main dialects
Central Thai, North Thai, South Thai and Northeast Thai were
previously written with different alphabets, but now almost
exclusively Central Thai, which is taught in schools
throughout the country. Northeast Thai is the same language
as Lao, the main language of Laos.
The largest minority group is 4-5 million Chinese, which
are often bilingual with Chinese and Thai. In the far south,
Malay is spoken, and at the border with Cambodia, Khmer is
spoken, each of over 1 million. The mountain people in the
north speak different Tibetan Burmese languages, Mon-Khmer
languages and Hmong-Mini languages. Some minority languages
are used as a school language in lower education.
In Thailand, over 85% of the population professes to
Buddhism. The dominant variant of Buddhism in the country is
theravada, which came to the country in the twentieth
The Buddhist clergy (sangha) are divided into the two
schools Maha Nikaya and Dhammayuttika Nikaya. Maha Nikaya is
the oldest of these and the dominant school in the monastic
system. The Dhammayutika emerged in the 19th century as a
more orthodox reform movement led by King Mongkut (Rama IV).
Almost 6% of Thais are Muslims. Islam was established
with the Ayutthaya dynasty (1350-1767) and today dominates
four of the country's five southern provinces bordering
Malaysia. Virtually all of the country's mosques are linked
More than 2% of the population is said to confess to
traditional indigenous religions, which often consist of a
mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism and religious
There are also small groups of Sikhs, Hindus, Baha'is,
Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists.
Christians make up just over one percent of the
population. Of the Christian communities, the Catholic
Church is the oldest and largest. Its history in the country
dates from Portuguese contacts in the 16th century.
Protestant mission began in the 19th century in Bangkok.
According to the constitution, Thailand is a kingdom
without state religion where full religious freedom
prevails. However, Buddhism has a special position. The king
is supposed to be a Buddhist, but he must protect all
religions. The government makes financial contributions to
the five recognized religions Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism,
Sikhism and Christianity.
Despite freedom of constitutional freedom of speech, it
is forbidden to insult Buddhism or any other religion, which
can give up to one year in prison. It is also punishable to
interfere with the worship services of the state recognized
religions or in various ways profane their sacred places.
The National Buddhist Office reviews the Buddhist
priesthood and approves the teaching of Buddhism given in
temples and schools and contributes financially to teaching
material that deals with Buddhism in daily life. The state
also provides financial support to activities that improve
the relationships between different religious groups in the
country's southern provinces.
The government also provides financial assistance to
Muslims who want to pilgrimage to Mecca, to the restoration
of Buddhist and non-Buddhist worship facilities, to Buddhist
and Islamic schools, and to Buddhist monks and Islamic
priests for civil service missions and medical travel trips.
Religious education is compulsory in primary and
secondary school, and provides information on the five
In three provinces: Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwa as well
as in five districts in southern Thailand, the majority of
the population are ethnic Malays. The region was an
independent Sultanate until 1902, when it was annexed by
Thailand (then Siam). Since the annexation, there has been a
struggle for the area to once again become its own nation.
The conflict has escalated since the early 2000s when the
separatist movement began to cooperate with militant
Islamist groups in the region. Attacks have been directed
primarily at Thai police and military, but also Buddhist
temples and schools. The conflict has led to a spiral of
violence with retaliation and human rights violations.
In Thailand, the following religious holidays are
national holidays: Songkran is the Buddhist New
Year that usually falls in April. It is also called the
water festival. Then the statues are washed in the temples
and people splash water on each other. The most important
festival is Visakha Puja (Vesak festival) in May
for Buddha's birth, enlightenment and attainment of nirvana.
In July, the three-month Buddhist fast, Khao Phansa,
begins when monks retreat to the monasteries. The fast
ends with a festival. Magha Puja in February
celebrates Buddha's sermon to enlightened monks with light
processions in the temples.