| Thailand shares borders with Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia. The country's east coast borders the Gulf of Thailand and the west coast abuts the Andaman Sea. The country is divided into four main zones: the fertile, central plains of the Chao Phraya River; the poorer region of the 300m (985ft) high northeast plateau; the fertile valley and mountains of Northern Thailand; and the rainforested southern peninsula. The highest peak is the 2596m (8512ft) Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai province.
One-fifth of Thailand is covered by monsoon forest or rainforest, and the country has an incredible array of fruit trees, bamboo and tropical hardwoods. There are 80 national parks and 32 wildlife sanctuaries, covering 13 per cent of the country. They contain more than 850 resident and migratory species of birds and dwindling numbers of tigers, leopards, elephants and Asiatic black bears. Unfortunately, attempts to stop the logging of rainforests and illegal trafficking in endangered species are fighting an uphill battle against corruption, officials only too happy to make a buck on the side, and tourists packing an exotica or two down their dacks as they walk through customs. The tiger, for instance, is one of the most endangered of Thailand's mammals but the market for tiger organs, particularly in China, is so lucrative that poaching is still a viable career option.
Overdevelopment on Ko Phi Phi is starving the coral reefs of sunlight and smothering the surface in pollutants: the destruction of the reef is a micro-example of the problems occuring on a national scale, with the finger being pointed in the direction of tourism. In May 1999, protestors packed the beach where the filming of 'The Beach' was taking place: environmentalists were concerned that filming would destroy the delicate eco-balance of the beach. Ironically, the film was about the destruction of native cultures and environments by hordes of dropped-out, alternative life-seeking backpackers (curiously, the filmmakers were silent on the issue of hordes of filmmakers destroying delicate eco-balances). One of the main culprits according to the Alex Garland, author of the best selling novel, is Lonely Planet.
Thailand's climate is ruled by monsoons that produce three seaons in northern, northeastern and central Thailand and two in southern Thailand. Generally the 'dry and wet monsoon climate' arrives sometime between May and July and lasts into November. It is followed by a dry season from November to May in which temperatures are relatively lower until February and then begin to soar from March to May.