Image: Mai Siam

Thai History

The Origins of Thais

Thailand (previously know as Siam) has been populated ever since the dawn of civilisation in Asia. There are conflicting opinions of the origins of the Thais. It presumed that about 4,500 years. The Thai originated in North-western Szechuan in China and later migrated down to Thailand along the Southern part of China. They split into two mains groups. One settled down in the North and became the kingdom of  “Lan Na” and the other one is in further South, which afterward was defeated by the Khmers and became the kingdom of “Sukhothai”

However, the Thai history has been changed by the archaeological excavations in the village of Ban Chiang in the Nong Han District of Udon Thani province in the Northeast. From the evidence of bronze metallurgy, it now appears that the Thais might have originated here in Thailand and later scattered to various parts of Asia, including China.

The controversy over the origin of the Thais shows no sign of definite conclusion as many more theories have been put forward and some even go further to say that Thais were originally of Austronesian rather than Mongoloid. What the outcomes of the dispute may be, by the 13th century the Thais had already settled down within the South East Asia.


Khmer Influence

From the 9th to the 11th century, the Central and Western areas of Thailand were occupied by Mon civilisation called Dvaravati. The Mon shared the same common lineage as the Khmers and settle in southern Burma latter. The Influence of Dvaravati include Nakhon Pathom, Khu Bua, Phong Tuk, and Lawo (Lopburi). Dvaravati was Indianized culture, Theravada Buddhism as remained the major religion in this area.

By the 11th-12th centuries, Mon influenced over Central Thailand. Khmer cultural influence was brought in the form of language, art and religion. The “Sanskrit” language was entered in Mon-Thai vocabulary during the Khmer or Lopburi period. The influence of this period as affected many provinces in the region such  as Lopburi for example. The Architecture in “Ankor” was also constructed according to the Khmers style. The Khmer built stone temples in the Northeast, some of which have been restored to their former glory, those at Phimai and Phanom Rung and further cultures are stone sculptures and stone Buddha images. Politically, however, the Khmer cultural dominance did not control the whole area but power though vassals and governors.


Lanna Period

The chronicles of the origin of “Lan Na” to “Chiang Saen” lies on the Me Kong River. Its first leader named “King Mengrai”, ascended to the throne in 1259. He extended the kingdom from the borders of Laos to Lamphum and successfully captured the ancient Mon of Harupinjaya stronghold. King Mengrai also founded a new capital in Chiang Mai located in the River Ping.

Lan Na flourished for over 200 years. Its arts and literature rose at the peak, especially in the middle of 15th century, the King Tilokoraj period. Chiang Mai in this period was also chosen as the navel of the eight world synod of Theravada Buddhism.

After the death of King Tilokoraj, the kingdom suffered from internal conflicts. Lan Na weakened because of wars with Sukhothai’s successors.


Sukhothai Period

Sukhothai was the first Thai kingdom. It was founded in 1238 by two Thai governors, Khun bang Klang Thao (Si Inthrathit) and Khun Pha Muang who rebelled against the Khmers, and gave independence to the region. Sukhothai period was the most flourishing period of Thailand. It gained independence in 1238 and quickly expanded its boundary of influence. Sukhothai period was considered to be a golden age of Thai culture. During that time in the history, everybody could say “There are fish in the water and rice in the fields”. The boundary of Sukhothai stretched from Lampang in the north to Vientiane, in present day Laos and the south to the Malay Peninsula.

During this time Thai had strong friendship with neighbouring countries. It absorbed elements of various civilisations, which they came into contact. Thai maintained and advanced their culture with China. The potters entered Thai artistry and extensive trade was established with Cambodia and India.

After the death of Khun Pha Muang in 1279, King Ramkhamhaeng, the third son of Si Inthrahit, ascended to the throne. Under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, Sukhothai had strong friendship with neighbouring China. King Ramkhamhaeng organised a writing system, which became the basis for writing and eventually developed to be the modern Thai alphabet.


Ayutthaya Period

Ayutthaya, the capital of the Thai Kingdom was found by King U-Thong in 1350. Ayutthaya as an island is formed by the gathering of three rivers, the Chao Phraya, the Pasak, and the Lopburi and surrounded by rice terraces. It is easy to see why the Ayutthaya area was settled prior to this date since the site offered a variety of geographical and economic advantages. The Thai kings of Ayutthaya became powerful in the 14th and 15th centuries, taking over U-Thong, Lopburi and Ayutthaya.

King U-Thong and his immediate successors expanded Ayutthaya’s territory, especially northward towards Sukhothai and eastward towards the Khmer capital of Angkor. The greater size of government could not remain the same as during the days of King Ramkhamhaeng. The society during the Ayutthaya period was strictly hierarchical. There were, roughly, three classes of people, king at the top of scale. At the bottom of social scale were commoners and the slaves.

In the early 16th century, the European visited Ayutthaya, and a Portuguese embassy was established in 1511. Portugal’s powerful neighbour Spain was the next European nation to arrive in Ayutthaya forward the end of the 16th century. In the early 17th century they saw the arrival of two Northern European. The Dutch and the British, and French in 1662.

In the mid 16th century, Ayutthaya and the independent kingdom in Chiang Mai were put under the control of the Burmese, but Thais could regain both of the capitals by the end of the century.

The Burmese invaded Ayutthatya again in 1765. This time Burmese caused much fear to Thais. Burmese soldiers destroyed every thing, including temples, manuscripts, and religious sculpture. After the capital falling their hands of two years. The Burmese effectiveness could not further hold the kingdom. Phraya Taksin, a Thai general, promoted himself to be the king in 1769. He ruled the new capital of Thonburi on the bank of Chao Phraya River. Opposite Bangkok. Thais regained control of their country and thus scattered themselves to the provinces in the North and Central part of Thailand. King Taksin eventually turn himself to be the next Buddha and was dismissed and executed by his ministers who did not approve his religious values.

Ratanakosin Period

The Chakris were inaugurated on April 6, 1782 together with the coronation of King Rama I or King Buddha Yot Fa Chulalok. He moved the capital across the Chao Phaya River from Thonburi to a small village known as “Bangkok” and raised up new laws to rule the country. Under his reign, Thailand covered all areas of present day Laos and parts of Burma, Cambodia and Kedah province in Malaysia.

In 1809, King Rama II or King Buddha Loet Lad, son of King Rama I took the throne until 1824. He devoted himself to preserve the Thai literature that had remained from Ayutthaya period and produced a new version of Ramakien or Thai Ramayana, the classical literature.

In 1824-1851, King Rama III or King Phra Nang Klao was successful in re-establishing relation and making trades with China, which was necessary to meet the increasing domestic agricultural production.

King Rama IV or King Mongkut (Phra Chom Klao), who reigned from 1851 to 1868 lived as a Buddhist monk for 27 years. During his monastic period, he could speak many languages such as Latin, English and five other languages. He also studied Western sciences and adopted the discipline of local Mon monk. Under his reign, he created new laws to improve the women’s and children’s rights, opened new waterways and roads, and created the first printing press.

King Rama V or King Chulalongkorn, King Rama IV’s son, continued the throne from 1868 to 1910. He started to reform the tradition, legal and administrative realm by allowing officials to sit on chairs during royal audiences. Under the reign of King Rama V, Thailand developed relations with European nations and the USA. He introduced schools, roads, railways, and Thailand’s first post office. He even established civil service system. In 1892, King Rama V overhauled the administration of Siam to a form of cabinet government with 12 ministers.

1n 1886, Siam lost some territory to French, Laos and British Burma accorded the foreign powers intercede. After that King Chulalongkorn declared Thailand as an independent kingdom on the 23rd of October, making this day as a national holiday. Every year this national holiday is celebrated in commemoration of this event and people lay wreaths in memory of king they called “Phra Piya Maharaj”

King Rama IV or King Vajiravudh took the throne from 1910 to 1925. During his short reign, he introduced the westernization to Thailand. He introduced the primary school education, Thai women were encouraged to grow their hair at a certain length. Surnames were introduced, and football was introduced in Thailand.

1925-1935 was the period of King Rama VII or King Prachadhipok, Rama VI’s brother. He changed Siam’s form of government from absolute monarchy to democracy. This revolution developed the constitutional monarchy along British lines, with mixed military and civilian group in power. At that time, Phibul Songkhram was a key military leader in the 1932 coup. He maintained his position and power from 1938 until the end of World War II.

King Rama VIII or King Anandha Mahidol, a nephew of Rama VII, took the throne in 1935 but was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in 1946. His brother King
Bhumipol Aduldej succeeded as Rama IX.

Under Rama IX’s government, the country’s name was officially changed from “Siam” to “Thailand” in 1946 which was defined in Thai as “Prathet Thai”, the word “Prathet” means “country” and the word “Thai” means “free” referring to the Thai races.

The history of Thailand begins with the migration of the Thais from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland Southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Prior to this Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms ruled the region. The Thais established their own states starting with Sukhothai and then Ayutthaya kingdom. These states fought each other and were under constant threat from the Khmers, Burma and Vietnam. Much later, the European colonial powers threatened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid colonial rule. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand endured sixty years of almost permanent military rule before the establishment of a democratic system.
The region known today as Thailand has been inhabited by human beings since the Palaeolithic period (about 500,000 - 10,000 years ago). Due to its geographical location, Thai culture has always been greatly influenced by India and China as well as the neighbouring cultures of Southeast Asia. However, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, which was founded in 1238, followed by the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th - 15th century AD.
A century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the larger Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century. After the sack of Angkor by the Siamese armies in 1431, much of the Khmer court and its Hindu customs were brought to Ayutthaya, and Khmer customs and rituals were adopted into the courtly culture of Siam.
After Ayutthaya fell in 1767 to the Burmese, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great. The current (Rattanakosin) era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.
European powers began travelling to Thailand in the 16th century. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonised by a European country. The two main reasons for this is that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to exploit the rivalry and tension between the French and the British. As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonised by the two European colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British trading interests. This included the loss of the three predominantly ethnic Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states. However, another ethnic Malay province named Pattani, now subdivided further into four smaller districts, has remained as Siamese territory to this day.
In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. During the war, Thailand was allied with Japan. Yet after the war, it became an ally of the United States. Thailand then went through a series of coups d'état, but eventually progressed towards democracy in the 1980s.
In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht for a short time peaked at 56 baht to the U.S. dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then the baht has regained most of its strength and as of May 23, 2007, is valued at 33 baht to the US dollar.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2007 is called 2550 BE in Thailand.


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