The Kingdom of Thailand is located in the Southeast Asia region and covers a total area of 513,000 square kilometers. The country has a population of 67 million people, making it the world’s 20th most populous country. The majority of Thailand’s population lives in the rural areas especially around the rice-growing areas of central and northern regions. Thailand is a diverse country with several ethnic groups. However, Thai ethnic group accounts for 92% of the population while the remaining 8 % of the population belong to the other ethnic minority. Migrants from the neighboring countries such as Laos, Myanmar, and Nepal have contributed to the number of non-residents of Thailand that totals over 4 million. The largest ethnic groups in Thailand are looked at herein.
The Thai people, initially referred to as Siamese by Westerners, are the ethnic majority and the main ethnic group in Thailand. They form part of the Tai ethnolinguistic people found in the Southeast Asia. The Thai people speak the Thai language of different variations in different regions. The Thai ethnic group includes central Thai, northern Thai, southern Thai, and Isan people. The ancient Tai people in which the Thai belong migrated southwards between the 8th and 10th Centuries and settled in Chao Phraya Valley. They extended their kingdoms into the present day Thailand where they were engulfed into Theravada Buddhism of the Mon and Khmer explaining the mixture of present Thai culture. Currently, over 60 million Thai people live in Thailand representing 91.5% of the total population. Several other Thais can also be found in the US, Southeast Asia, Europe, and United Arabs Emirates. The Thai people are predominantly Theravada Buddhists with unique religious practices including ancestor worship. They also believe in household spirits and ghosts. Tham bun or merit-making is a common practice done by food other donation to the monk and contribution to the maintenance of the temple.
The Khmer people are native to Cambodia and belong to the larger Austroasiatic Language Family. They speak the Khmer language and most follow the Khmer variation of Buddhism. In Thailand, the Khmer people are slightly over one million, which is 2.3% of the total population and live in the provinces of Surin, Buriram, and Sisaket. The Khmer are the oldest ethnic group in Southeast Asia arriving in the area over four thousand years ago. They brought with them agricultural practices including rice plantation and use of bronze. The modern Khmer identify their ethnic identity with their religious practices and beliefs which are partially influenced by the Theravada Buddhism’s worship of ancestors and Shamanism. They also celebrate many religious holidays throughout the year, including Pchum Ben (Ancestors' Day). The majority of Khmer are confined in rural areas due to the rice farming.
The Malays belong to the Austronesian groups of peoples, and are generally found in the southern regions of Thailand. They are of diverse genetic and culture due to the several years of immigration and assimilation by various regional tribes and ethnic groups. The Malays are coastal-traders with a strong cultural practice. The ancient Malays were animist but, with the arrival of other religions between the 12th and 15th Centuries, the majority of them became Sunni Muslims, and Malays observe most of the major Islamic holidays and festivals. Clothing is highly regarded within the community as an item of beauty, power, and status.
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