Ethnic groups in Thailand

Ethnolinguistic groups of Thailand in 1974

Thailand is a country of some 70 ethnic groups, including 24 groups of Tai peoples. According to the Royal Thai Government's 2011 Country Report to the UN committee responsible for the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, available from the Department of Rights and Liberties Promotion of the Thai Ministry of Justice,[1]:3 62 ethnic communities are officially recognised in Thailand. However, of these, only 56 were listed in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security's 2015 Master Plan for the Development of Ethnic Groups in Thailand 2015-2017,[2] with the larger, ethnoregional ethnic communities, including the Central Thai, being omitted; it therefore covers only 9.7% of the population.[2] Twenty million Central Thai (together with approximately 650,000 Khorat Thai) made up approximately 20,650,000 (34.1 percent) of the nation's population of 60,544,937[3] at the time of completion of the Mahidol University Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand data (1997).[4]

The 2011 Thailand Country Report provides population numbers for mountain peoples ("hill tribes") and ethnic communities in the northeast and is explicit about its reliance on the Mahidol University Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand data.[4] Thus, though over 3.288 million people in the northeast alone could not be categorised, the population and percentages of other ethnic communities c. 1997 are known and constitute minimum populations. In descending order, the largest (equal to or greater than 400,000) are a) 15,080,000 Lao (24.9 percent) consisting of the Thai Lao[5] (14 million) and other smaller Lao groups, namely the Thai Loei (400-500,000), Lao Lom (350,000), Lao Wiang/Klang (200,000), Lao Khrang (90,000), Lao Ngaew (30,000), and Lao Ti (10,000; b) six million Khon Muang (9.9 percent, also called Northern Thais); c) 4.5 million Pak Tai (7.5 percent, also called Southern Thais); d) 1.4 million Khmer Leu (2.3 percent, also called Northern Khmer); e) 900,000 Malay (1.5 percent); f) 500,000 Ngaw (0.8 percent); g) 470,000 Phu Thai (0.8 percent); h) 400,000 Kuy/Kuay (also known as Suay) (0.7 percent), and i) 350,000 Karen (0.6 percent).[1]:7-13

Khmer and Mon-Khmer make up approximately 6 percent, the Malays of southern Thailand make up around 3 percent. Among the groups categorized as hill tribes in the northern provinces, Hmong (Mien), Karen, and other small hill tribes make up over 1 percent.

In official Thai documents the term "hill tribe" (chao khao) began to appear in the 1960s. This term highlights a "hill and valley" dichotomy that is based on an ancient social relationship existing in most of northern and western Thailand, as well as in Sipsongpanna and northern Vietnam. For the most part the Dai/Tai/Thai occupied the more fertile intermontane basins and valleys, while the less powerful groups lived at the less rich higher elevations. This dichotomy was often accompanied by a master/serf relationship.[6] Vestiges of this dichotomy remain today: for example, 30 percent of ethnic minority children in Thailand cannot read by second grade. The corresponding figure for Bangkok is one percent.[7]

List (by population size)Edit

  • Lolo (Yi) – unknown

Listed by language groupEdit

The following table comprises all the ethnic groups recognised by the Royal Thai Government in the 2011 Country Report to the UN Committee responsible for the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, available from the Department of Rights and Liberties Promotion of the Thai Ministry of Justice[1]

Five ethnolinguistic families of Thailand recognised by the Royal Thai Government[1]

Tai Austroasiatic Sino-Tibetan Austronesian Hmong-Mien
24 Groups
22 groups
11 Groups
3 Groups
2 Groups
Kaleung Kasong Guong (Ugong) Malay (Malayu / Nayu / Yawi Hmong (Meo)
Kammuang / Yuan (Northern Thai) Kuy / Kuay Karen (7 subfamilies) Moken / Moklen Mien (Yao)
Tai Dam Khmu - Sgaw Karen Urak Lawoi
Nyaw Thailand Khmer, Northern Khmer - Pwo Karen
Tai Khun Chong - Kaya Karen
Central Thai Sa-oc - Bwe Karen
Thai Korat Sakai (Kensiw / Manique) - Pa-O Karen
Thai Takbai Samre - Padaung Karen
Thai Loei So (Thavuang) - Kayo Karen
Tai Lu So Jingpaw / Kachin
Tai Ya Nyah Kur (Chaobon) Chinese
Tai Yai, Shan Nyeu Yunnanese Chinese
Southern Thai Bru (Kha) Bisu
Phu Thai Plang (Samtao) Burmese
Phuan Palaung (Dala-ang) Lahu (Muzur)
Yong Mon Lisu
Yoy Mal-Pray (Lua / Tin) Akha
Lao Khrang Mlabri (Tongluang) Mpi
Lao Ngaew Lamet (Lua)
Lao Ti Lavua (Lawa / Lua)
Lao Wiang/Lao Klang Wa
Lao Lom Vietnamese
Lao Isan

The above table has not yet been harmonised with the alphabetical listing of languages below and is more comprehensive.

The following table shows all the ethnic groups of Northeast Thailand, as recognised in the same report.

Ethnic groups of Northeast Thailand by language family[1]

Tai Language Family Persons Austroasiatic Language Family Persons
Lao Esan / Thai Lao 13,000,000 Thailand Khmer / Northern Khmer 1,400,000
Central Thai 800,000 Kuy / Kuay (Suay) 400,000
Thai Khorat / Tai Beung / Tai Deung 600,000 So 70,000
Thai-Loei Bru combined
Phu Thai 500,000 Vietnamese 20,000
Ngaw 500,000 Ngeu 10,000
Kaleung 200,000 for Ngah Kur / Chao Bon / Khon Dong 7,000
Yoy Kaleung, Yoy and Phuan So (Thavaung) 1,500
Phuan combined Mon 1,000
Tai-dam (Song) (not specified)
Total 16,103,000 Total 1,909,000
Cannot specify ethnicity/number 32,888,000

Note that population numbers are for the northeast region only. Languages may have additional speakers outside the northeast.

Incomplete alphabetical listing of groups:

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Charles Keyes (2008). Ethnicity and the Nation-States of Thailand and Vietnam. Challenging the Limits: Indigenous Peoples of the Mekong Region. Mekong Press.


  1. ^ a b c d e International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; landforms a growing larger by the second Reports submitted by States parties under article 9 of the Convention: Thailand (PDF) (in English and Thai). United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 28 July 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  2. ^ a b แผนแม่บท การพัฒนากลุ่มชาติพันธุ์ในประเทศไทย(พ.ศ.2558-2560) [Master Plan for the Development of Ethnic Groups in Thailand 2015-2017] (PDF) (in Thai). Bangkok: Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. 2015. p. 1.
  3. ^ World Bank Group. (n.d.). Population, total [Thailand]. Washington, DC: Author.
  4. ^ a b Ethnolinguistic Maps of Thailand (PDF) (in Thai). Office of the National Culture Commission. 2004. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  5. ^ Draper, John; Kamnuansilpa, Peerasit (2016). "The Thai Lao Question: The Reappearance of Thailand's Ethnic Lao Community and Related Policy Questions". Asian Ethnicity. 19: 81–105. doi:10.1080/14631369.2016.1258300.
  6. ^ Kusuma Snitwongse & W Scott Thompson eds. Ethnic Conflicts in Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (14 October 2005) ISBN 978-9812303370, pg. 157
  7. ^ Parpart, Erich (23 July 2018). "Childhood's End". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 26 July 2018.

External linksEdit