Thailand is the only country in south-east Asia to have escaped colonial rule. Buddhist religion, the monarchy and the military have helped to shape its society and politics.
The 1980s brought a boom to its previously agricultural economy and had a significant impact on Thai society as thousands flocked to work in industry and the services sector.
Although Thailand's recent governments have been civilian and democratically-elected, the country has seen turbulent times. The military governed, on and off, between 1947 and 1992 - a period characterised by coups, coup attempts and popular protests.
The collapse of the south-east Asian economic boom in 1997 led to public disillusion with free-market policies and encouraged the rise of populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
In September 2006, the military once again stepped into politics, carrying out a bloodless coup against Prime Minister Thaksin.
By the end of 2007, the military junta had drafted a new constitution and held general elections, marking the beginning of the transition back to civilian rule.
Thailand has a minority Muslim, ethnic Malay population concentrated in its southern provinces.
A decades-old separatist struggle in the region - which abated in the 1980s - flared again in 2004. The violence has claimed more than 3,000 lives.
Thailand's capital, Bangkok expanded rapidly with the influx of workers during the boom years. It is one of Asia's most vibrant, and heavily-congested, cities.
The large-scale sex industry which flourishes there contributed to the incidence of HIV infection - a major concern for the government.
Thailand has taken the lead in the region in distributing cheaper generic drugs for Aids sufferers and awareness campaigns are credited with reducing the number of new infections.
Since 2009, Thai troops have sporadically clashed with Cambodian forces in several disputed areas along the two countries' border.
* Full name: Kingdom of Thailand
* Population: 68.1 million (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Bangkok
* Area: 513,115 sq km (198,115 sq miles)
* Major language: Thai
* Major religion: Buddhism
* Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 baht = 100 satangs
* Main exports: Food including rice, seafood and live animals, office equipment, textiles and clothing, rubber
* GNI per capita: US $4,150 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .th
* International dialling code: +66
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy.
Its king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, assumed the throne in June 1946 and is the world's longest-reigning monarch.
The royal family is revered by many Thais.
Prime minister: Yingluck Shinawatra
Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led the opposition Pheu Thai party to a landslide victory in July 2011. She is set to become Thailand's first woman prime minister.
In the country's first general election since 2007, Pheu Thai won 265 seats out of a possible 500 - enough to form a single-party government.
However, in what is seen as a shrewd political move, the party announced it would form a coalition with four smaller parties, thus broadening its support in parliament for promised reforms.
Ms Yingluck, aged 44 and a successful businesswoman, has promised to bring stability and reconciliation to her troubled country. However, critics have been quick to point out her inexperience, given that she had never before run for office nor held a government post.
The influence of her brother, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, loomed large throughout the election. Despite living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, Thaksin Shinawatra still effectively controls the Pheu Thai party.
In the wake of Ms Yingluck's victory, Thaksin said he had no immediate plans to return. But fears remain that any hasty attempts to allow him back as a free man would anger his powerful enemies and threaten his sister's tenure, as well as the stability of the kingdom, which is deeply split between Thaksin's supporters and enemies.
Yingluck Shinawatra has degrees in politics and until now has pursued a corporate career in telecommunications and property. She is married and has one son.
From : BBC News