The history of Thailand through the ages

Thailand (Siam until 1939) was most likely inhabited for over 40,000 years. Thailand is heavily influenced by the culture and religion of India. This began with the kingdom of Funan, in the first century.

After the ending of the Khmer occupation in the 13th century, there were several kingdoms that ruled the region including Sun, Tai and Malay. Archaeological finds from around Thailand have confirmed this.

Subsequently Buddhist kingdoms as Sukhothai, Lanna and Lan Xang (now Laos) came to rule Thailand. This resulted in the establishment of the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai in 1238 A.D. Today, this is seen as the first Thai state.

Only a century later, out of the southern area of Mae Nam River, came the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. The power of Sukhothai was overshadowed by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Remains of this kingdom are still seen in the city with which bears same name nearby Bangkok. During this period the Lana Kingdom reigned in the northern valley along with other smaller city-states.

In 1431 Ayutthaya attacked and conquered the Khmer Angkor, who were until then still in this area. This ensured Ayutthaya becoming one of the most active trading posts of Asia. During this age there was a lot of trading with the surrounding areas such as China, India, Persia (now Iran) and the Arab countries.

  • A Buddha statue in Ayutthaya where a tree has grown around it completely
  • The Ku Pueai Noi Ruins in Khon Kaen
  • Part of the Sukhothai ruins. The ruins are on the World Heritage List
  • The Wat Phu Khao Thong temple in the historic city of Ayutthaya
f.l.t.r.: Buddha in tree - Ayutthaya | Ku Pueai Noi Ruins - Khon Kaen | The Sukhothai ruins | Wat Phu Khao Thong - Ayutthaya .

European Influences

In the 16th century, the Portuguese discovered the region. They began to trade a lot. Obviously it could not be long before other European countries like France, England and the Netherlands followed. In 1767, after the fall of Ayutthaya by the Burmese King Taksin the Great, the capital of Thailand moved to Thonburi. This was however, only for a short time. In 1782 (the start of the Rattanakosin era), under the leadership of King Rama I the Great, Bangkok became the capital of the Chakri dynasty.

Thailand, despite European pressure, is the only Southeast Asian country that has been never colonized. This was mainly thanks to great leadership of the Thai leaders, which used the rivalry between France and England to its fullest. As a result, Thailand was seen as a buffer between the two Southeast Asian colonized parts.

However, the European pressure was increasing, which resulted in many reforms and concessions in the 19th century. One of the most startling was the loss of a large area on the eastside of the Mekong to France and England. They occupied little by little the Malay Peninsula. This eventually led to the loss of the southern provinces of Malay, currently known as Malaysia, set in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909. In 1932 came an end to the absolute monarchy, which was maintained for centuries. This was due to the revolution led by Khana Ratsadon and consisted of soldiers and civilians. King Prajadhipok was forced to give the Thai people their first constitution and transfer his power to civilian authority.

The Second World War

During the Second World War, Japan invaded Thailand demanding the right of passage to be able to reach the Malaysian front. After only 6 to 8 hours fighting Plaek Pibulsonggram decided to sign a truce. Shortly thereafter Japan was allowed to move freely through Thailand. This resulted in the fact that on December 21, 1941 Thailand and Japan entered into an alliance with a secret clause, Japan promised to help reclaim the areas that Thailand had lost to France and England. In return, Thailand promised to help Japan in the war against the allied forces. During this period there an underground resistance was formed in Thailand, which operated under the name Seri Thai (meaning Free Thai).

An important member of this organization was the widow of King Prajadhipok, Queen Ramphaiphanni. She was the chief operating out of England. This organization was an important source of information for the allied forces. Seri Thai was the only opposition group that owned its own aircrafts. During the war approximately 200,000 Asians and an estimated 60,000 prisoners worked on a railway line that connected Burma and Thailand. Today, this line is known as the Death Railway. Prisoners gave this name to the project, because of the large number of deaths during construction. The railway therefore became a source for a lot of movies. The most famous part of this railway is the Bridge on the river Kwai, which is located in the city Kanchanaburi.

The People's Constitution

After the war Thailand joined the allied forces. Like many developing countries, Thailand went also through a difficult time for decades, which was dominated by political unrest. Through this turmoil period one coup followed the other, every time there was a new military regime.

In the 1980s they were finally working on a stable democracy. Eventually this resulted in Thailand's first constitution in 1997. This constitution is also called "The people's constitution", because it was produced by the first elected government by the people of Thailand. In this constitution was recorded that a government has to formed consisting of a Senate (200 seats) and a house of delegates (500 seats). In 2001 for the first time in the long history of Thailand, the entire government (senate and house of representative) was elected by the people and installed.