Thailand covers about 514,000 square kms, about the size of France or the U.K. and stretches from the Malaysian Border in the South on the Ithmus of Kra, to the Burmese border on the West and North around to the Laos Border across the Mekhong River in the North East and the Cambodian border on the East of the country. The Thais liken the layout of their country to an elephants head.
The country is divided into Provinces, or Changwat, of which there are 76, although there are thoughts of making the new International Airport the 77th. More often Thailand is divided into the regions - South, East, North, North-East and Central.South - The elephant's trunk, stretching down the Malaysian Peninsula past the Ithmus of Kra to the border provinces. This area is well known for the beauty of the seas on both sides of the peninsula. The Andaman Sea on the west and the Gulf of Thailand on the East. The Southern Region is different in many ways to the rest of Thailand, the food is distinctive in being influenced by the Malay and Indian traditions. The far south is predominantly Muslim, unlike the Buddhist majority of Thailand. Tourists know the South for the stunning islands and the excellent diving. Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao are probably the best known of these, though there are a multitude more, many not inhabited.
The rolling hills and plateus of the North are also the first area of Thailand that was settled by the Thai people as they populated the country. The capital of the North is Chiang Mai, famous for the elephant treks, proximity of Thailand's tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon and the access to the Golden Triangle, made up of the more remote parts of Burma, Laos and Thailand. The mountains of the North are also the area where most of the remaining indigenous population, the Hill Tribes, Hmong, Lisu, Karen and Lua maintain their remote existence.
More commonly known as Isaan, this plateau of Thailand drains to the Mekhong River, unlike most of the rest of Thailand which drains to the Gulf of Thailand. Isaan is the least visited part of Thailand, edged my mountains and the Mekhong River the great plateau stretches through some of the poorest and most deprived areas of Thailand. The northern half of Isaan is often called 'Laos' in the Thai language, and the country that bears that name was separated from Thailand during colonial times. The southern part of Isaan is the 'khmer' part, where centuries of contact with Cambodia has resulted in most people talking both Thai and Khmer. The ruined temples at Phanom Phnom Rung and Prasat Hin Phimai are part of the ancient civilisation of Angkor. The food of Isaan is probably the most closely connected with the ancient Thais, consisting of a diet of sticky rice and very spicy salads and soups.
The plains of Central Thailand are the reason for the country's success, being fertile and suitable for large scale rice production. The basins of the three great rivers that flow south to the Gulf of Thailand, including the great Chao Phraya which drains to the sea through Bangkok, are all deltaic, and thus extremely flat. Central Thailand includes the Eastern Seaboard region, Thailand's industrial powerhouse and Western region, which stretches up the Burmese border through Kanchanaburi Province, home of the River Kwai. Central Region is the most developed by far and has drawn migrants from all over Thailand to feed this development. Every year at Songkran, the Thai New Year, many of these migrants return to their homeplaces in the South, North and North-East creating one of the largest annual human migrations you will ever see. Naturally the food of this region is a classic blending of the other foods of the country, and is probably best suited to the western palate.