The Kingdom of Thailand lies in Southeast Asia. It is surrounded by Laos to the north and east, Cambodia and the Gulf of Thailand to the southeast, Malaysia to the south and Myanmar (Burma) and the Indian Ocean to the west.
The foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, which are covered with dense forests, rise in the northwest. The highest peak, Doi Inthanon, is in this area. In the northeast is the Korat Plateau, a region of poor soils covered with savannah grasses and shrubs. The Mekong River, which separates Thailand and Laos, sometimes floods this area. The Chao Phraya River flows through the flat plains in the centre of the country, creating a fertile rice-growing region. In the west is the River Kwai. Southern Thailand, which is part of the Malay Peninsula, is known for its beautiful beaches. Many small islands, including the island of Phuket in the Indian Ocean, lie offshore.
Thailand lies between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer and has a tropical climate. From March to May, the weather is hot and dry and temperatures may rise to 40°C. The rainy season lasts from June to October; dry cooler weather begins in November, although it may remain hot in southern Thailand.
A quarter of Thailand is covered by rainforest, and the country has a wide variety of fruit trees, bamboo and tropical hardwoods such as teak. Rubber trees imported from the Amazon region of Brazil were planted in southern Thailand about a hundred years ago. Orchids grow abundantly and are exported to the west.
A century ago, Thailand's forests were home to hundreds of thousands of elephants, but because of deforestation and poaching, the elephant population is now less than 5,000. Logging was officially banned in 1989 and the government established natural parks. Today, there are 66 national parks and 32 wildlife sanctuaries in Thailand. Nevertheless, poachers continue to kill tigers, leopards and Asiatic black bears.
Thailand is also home to many unusual birds, including orange-bellied leafbirds, purple swamp hens and painted storks (so called because, when they migrate to Thailand's swamps to breed, the pigment in their faces turns pink).