People of Thailand
Ethnographically speaking, the Indochinese peninsula is one of the most interesting regions in the world. For thousands of years until quite recent times, waves of incomers from the plains of Central Asia have spread southwards over the peninsula. All these varied races and cultures have left traces of their passing, giving Thailand its considerable ethnic diversity. The primitive peoples who lived by food-gathering or tilled the ground with a hoe or a plough rose by stages to achieve a high level of civilization and organize themselves in states.
The Thai peoples
This term is taken to include, in addition to the Thais themselves, the Lao of Thailand, Laos and Tongking and the Shan of Burma, who are all of Mongoloid stock and speak related languages. They originally came from Yunnan, and there are still groups of Thais in southern China.
The Lao occupy the plains and valleys of northern Thailand, while the Thais - who over the centuries have gained a copious admixture of Malay and Chinese blood - live mainly in the Menam plain and in the northern part of South Thailand.
The life of the Thais, like that of the Lao, is closely bound up with the rivers. The highest densities of population are in the valleys, and the rivers have always played an important part in communications and in the movements of incoming groups.
Some 74% of the population are peasants, mainly engaged in irrigated rice-growing. The typical Thai farm consists of the dwelling house, an animal stall and a rice-store. The houses, built of bamboo or teak, are raised above the ground on piles. The walls are often of wattle, which blows in the wind; the roof's are carefully constructed of large leaves. The furniture is of the simplest, and may be completely non-existent, for the Thai peasant seems content with a very modest standard of comfort.
In provincial towns, and frequently also in the capital, the Chinese-style family house is the rule. On the ground floor is a large room which may serve as a warehouse, a store-room or a workshop according to circumstances, and from here a staircase leads up to the living quarters above.