Thailand was known for centuries by outsiders as Siam. It first made a real impression on the West at the end of the 17th century, through the reports of a series of inquisitive Frenchmen. They were not the first Europeans to spend time in the kingdom, however. The Portuguese sent an envoy to the capital in 1511, shortly after they seized Malacca. The Portuguese joined resident Chinese, Japanese, Malays and Persians to make the Siamese capital one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the vast region now known as Southeast Asia. Modern and predominantly Buddhist, it is a Southeast Asian kingdom whose ancient equilibrium and present standing mingle in evolving harmony.

Substantially, Thailandís distinctive and unparalleled characteristics stem from Indian and Chinese influences (harmoniously blended by Thai eclecticism), rich ethnic diversity, abundant natural and human resources, and over seven hundred years of cherished independence (Thailand is the only important Southeast Asian society never to have been colonized by Westerners). Thailandís traditional culture is delicately tuned to the time-honored Buddhistís non-confrontational approach to life, and ideals of charity, tolerance and loving-kindness.



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