Modern day Thailand developed out of a number of ancient kingdoms that were at times bitter enemies and at times close allies. Just over two-hundred years ago the current line of Thai kings was established as they completed the process of conquering and absorbing several complete kingdoms and land from a number of others. This history, along with the country's geographical makeup work together to create a modern nation that is unified yet retains regional distinctions. The mostly rugged and mountainous northern area of Thailand is populated by a majority of lowland Thai people with numerous highland groups living throughout the area. In the drier and flatter Northeast, or Isan region, the people are closely related to the Lao across the border in Laos and further south to the Khmer of Cambodia, though a number of other groups of people live in the area as well. Southern Thailand, along the peninsula, still deals with the tensions of history more than other regions of the country. Here, Thai and Malay populations live side by side in a sometimes contentious relationship while foreign tourists enjoy visits to the famous Thai resort islands. Central Thailand's plains and river valleys are the heart of the nation's agricultural system. They are also the center of government, including the sprawling city of Bangkok. The official language of Thailand is Thai, which most of the country's sixty-plus million people speak as a first or second language due to the government's aggressive educational programs in the recent past. There are also dozens of other languages spoken by the various ethnic groups in all regions of the country. Over time the Thai people and several related groups in the area developed writing systems similar to many of their neighbors, such as Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. These alphabets were borrowed from earlier writing systems brought out of India hundreds of years earlier. Many others lived without any writing until modern times.
Written literature in Thailand began as engravings on stone many hundreds of years ago. These stone engravings were generally used to mark the extent of various ancient kingdoms' power over the area. Over time the use of palm leaves as writing material became popular. During the time when the old Thai kingdoms and alphabets were still young, some 600 years ago, palm leaf manuscripts were used to record such things as religious teachings, royal chronologies, medicinal knowledge, and early literature in poetic verse. Other types of materials were occasionally used to record information by hand as well, such as mulberry paper. The methods of recording information on handwritten manuscripts have been passed down through the generations until today. In more recent times European explorers, traders and missionaries introduced printing to the people of Thailand, especially when France and the England took control of the neighboring areas in the 1800's. Printing in Thailand took hold early on and has increased over time to the point that now thousands of books are published each year. Along with information in printed formats, electronic information is also available, especially in the large modern cities. Electronic documents are being produced in the country at an increasing rate each year.