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History of Thailand




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.

Initial states of Thailand

Prior to the southwards migration of the Tai people from Yunnan in the 10th century, the Indochina peninsula had been a home to various indigenous animistic communities for as far back as 500,000 years ago. The recent discovery of Homo erectus fossils such as Lampang man is but one example. The remains were first discovered during excavations in Lampang province, Thailand. The finds have been dated from roughly 1,000,000 – 500,000 years ago in the Pleistocene. Historians agree that the diverse Austro-Asiatic groups that inhabited the Indochina peninsula are related to the people which today inhabit the islands of the Pacific. As these peoples dispersed along the Gulf of Thailand, Malay Peninsula and Malay Archipelago, they inhabited the coastal areas of the archipelago as well as other remote islands[1]. The seafarers possessed advanced navigation skills, sailing as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Madagascar.

The most well known pre-historic settlement in Thailand is often associated to the major archaeological site at Ban Chiang; dating of artifacts from this site is a consensus that at least by 1500 BC, the inhabitants had developed bronze tools and also the grew rice. There are myriad sites in Thailand dating to the Bronze (1500 BC-500 BC) and Iron Ages (500 BC-500 AD). The most thoroughly researched of these sites are located in the country’s Northeast, especially in the Mun and Chi River valleys. The Mun River in particular is home to many ‘moated’ sites which comprise mounds surrounded by ditches and ramparts. The mounds contain evidence of prehistoric occupation. Around the first century of the Christian era, according to Funan epigraphy and the records of Chinese historians(Coedes), a number of trading settlements of the South, appears to have been organized into several Indianised states, among the earliest of which are believed to be Langkasuka and Tambralinga.


Dvaravati first came to the attention of modern scholars during the 19th century through the translation of Chinese texts. These texts mentioned To-lo-po-ti, Tu-ho-po-ti and Tu-ho- lo-po-ti, names that were translated into Sanskrit- Dvaravati. We know that this polity had an international presence, as it sent a number of missions to the Chinese court, but it is difficult to reconstruct what kind of polity is represented and scholarly opinion is split. Clearly the issue cannot be resolved until further research is undertaken but the current evidence appears to favour an interpretation of Dvaravati as a loosely organized political entity at a pre-state level. The situation is confused further by the use of the term Dvaravati to describe a school of art and a culture. It is best to consider Dvaravati as a broad term, encompassing all of these things, a culture, comprised mostly of Mon speakers who produced predominantly religious art and lived in large towns concentrated in the Chao Phraya Valley whose influence extended into other parts of Thailand.

Sukhothai and Lannathai


Chiang Saen was established in the early 700s and Mueang Sua (Luang Prabang) around AD 728 making them the first kingdoms established by the Tai-speaking people in southeast Asia, prior to the migration and expansion of the Tai-speaking people into northern Thailand, Laos, and eventually into central Thailand and central Laos.
The city of Sukhotai was part of the Khmer empire until 1238, when two Thai chieftains, Pho Khun Pha Muang and Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao, declared their independence and established a Thai-ruled kingdom. Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao later became the first king of Sukhotai, calling himself Pho Khun Si Indrathit (or Intradit). This event traditionally marks the founding of the modern Thai nation, although other less well-known Thai kingdoms, such as Lanna, Phayao and Chiang Saen, were established around the same time.

Sukhotai expanded by forming alliances with the other Thai kingdoms, adopting Theravada Buddhism as the state religion with the help of Ceylonese monks. Intradit was succeeded by his son Pho Khun Ban Muang, who was followed in 1278 by his brother, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng. Under King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, as he is now known, Sukhothai enjoyed a golden age of prosperity. Ramkhamhaeng is credited with designing the Thai alphabet (traditionally dated from 1283, on the evidence of the controversial Ramkhamhaeng stele, an inscribed stone allegedly bearing the earliest known Thai writing). At its peak, supposedly stretching from Martaban (now in Burma) to Luang Prabang (now in Laos) and down the Malay Peninsula as far south as Nakhon Sri Thammarat, the kingdom’s sphere of influence was larger than that of modern Thailand, although the degree of control exercised over outlying areas was variable.

After Ramkhamhaeng’s death, he was succeeded by his son Loethai. The vassal kingdoms, first Uttaradit in the north, then soon after the Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan), liberated themselves from their overlord. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 Lanna placed Tak, one of the oldest towns under the control of Suriyothai, under its control. To the south the powerful city of Suphanburi also broke free early in the reign of Loethai. Thus the kingdom was quickly reduced to its former local importance only. Meanwhile, Ayutthaya rose in strength, and finally in 1378 King Thammaracha II had to submit to this new power.

The Silajaruek Sukhotai are hundreds of stone inscriptions that form a historical record of the period. Among the most important inscriptions are Silajaruek Pho Khun Ramkamhaeng (Stone Inscription of King Ramkamhaeng), Silajaruek Wat Srichum (an account on history of the region itself and of Srilanka), and Silajaruek Wat Pamamuang (a Politico-Religious record of King Loethai).

Sukhotai became a tributary state of Ayutthaya between 1365 and 1378. In 1412 Ayutthaya installed a chief resident, and King Thammaracha IV was installed on the throne by Ayutthaya. Around 1430 Thammaracha moved his capital to Phitsanulok, and after his death in 1438 the kingdom was reduced in status to a mere province of Ayutthaya.


Lanna (English One Million Rice Fields, Thai: ล้านนา) was a kingdom in the north of Thailand around the city of Chiang Mai.

The kingdom was founded in 1296 by King Mangrai the Great, when he succeeded his father as the leader of the Ngoen Yang city state. In 1262 he founded the city Chiang Rai as his capital, naming it after himself. The kingdom quickly grew by unifying the many local Tai rulers of the area under his leadership, as well as by enlarging to the south by annexing the Mon kingdom of Hariphunchai in 1292 – the area around the modern-day city Lamphun. In 1296 he founded the city of Chiang Mai as the new capital of the kingdom with help from allies Ngam Muang of Phayao and Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai.

The golden age of Lanna was in the 15th century during the reign of Tilokkarat or Tilokaraja. In 1477 the 8th of the Buddhist councils was held near Chiang Mai, which worked on improving the Buddhist scriptures. The previously independent city state Nan, capital of a Tai Lue people, was added to the kingdom in 1449. Wars with Ayutthaya Kingdom, another Thai kingdom, also broke out.

Initial decline of the kingdom began in the early 16th century, and worsened after the death of King Kaeo in 1526. A war of succession ensued among the royal factions, kings were assassinated; or others had to abdicate. This political instability invited an invasion from the neighboring Burmese kingdom, and in 1558 Lanna had to surrender and thus became a vassal of Burma. When the dynasty of Mangrai became extinct in 1578, the Burmese sent their own princes to serve as rulers of Lanna.

The kings of Ayutthaya tried to capture Lanna several times, as the Burmese posed a threat to their kingdom as well. Even though around 1600 King Naresuan, and later in 1662 King Narai as well, succeeded in occupying Chiang Mai, they were repulsed by the Burmese after a short time.

In the early 1700s the Burmese divided the kingdom into a northern part, ruled from Chiang Saen, and a southern part, ruled from Chiang Mai. The northern part was for all practical purposes annexed by Burma, while the southern continued to be a vassal state.
After the Burmese destroyed Ayutthaya, King Taksin drove the Burmese out of Siam or Central Thailand. In Lanna, King Taksin helped Phraya Chaban (Bunma) of Chiang Mai and Prince Kawila of Lampang to successfully drive out the Burmese. On the night of February 14, 1774 Chiang Mai fell to the Siamese. Phraya Chaban (Bunma) ruled Chiang Mai as the first Duke of Chiang Mai and Prince Kawila became the first Duke of Lampang under Siamese rulership. King Rama I after ascending to the throne, awarded Kawila with more power, Kawila become the second Duke of Chiang Mai who ruled 57 cities. The two families became closer. Not only Princess Sri Anocha, Duke Kawila’s sister, married to Vice King Boonma, King Rama I’s only brother, but Princess Dararasmi, Duke Inthawichayanon’s daughter also become King Rama V’s Princess Consort. In 1877 a Viceroy from Bangkok was sent to help the duke. In 1899 Lanna was formally annexed by Siam, and administrated as the Monthon Phayap. The last of the Chiang Mai duke, Kaeo Nawarat, never held any true administrative power. Upon his death in 1939, no successor was named to replace him.

Ayutthaya Kingdom


The kingdom of Ayutthaya (Thai: อาณาจักรอยุธยา) was a Thai kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese (Annam), Indians, Japanese and Persians, and later the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French, permitting them to set up villages outside the city walls. In the sixteenth century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest city in the East. The court of King Narai (1656-1688) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris. Before Ayutthaya fell to Burmese attack in 1767, its vassals included the Northern Shan states of present- day Myanmar, Lanna (Chiang Mai, Yunnan & Shan Sri (China), Lan Xang (Laos), Cambodian Kingdom, and some city- states in the Malay Peninsula.


The Siamese state based at Ayutthaya in the valley of the Chao Phraya River grew from the earlier kingdom of Lavo, which it absorbed, and its rise continued the steady shift southwards of the centre of gravity of the Tai-speaking peoples as other kingdoms in this area such as the kingdom of Supannaphum (Dvaravati) or, the kingdom of Sukhothai. In 1351, to escape the threat of an epidemic, King U Thong moved his court south into the rich floodplain of the Chao Phraya. On an island in the river which is the seaport city of Ayothaya was settled before, and he founded a new capital, which he called Ayutthaya, after the Hindu holy city Ayodhya in northern India, the birth city of the Hindu god Rama who is the hero in the Hindu epic Ramayana. U Thong assumed the royal name of Ramathibodi in 1351.

Ramathibodi tried to unify his kingdom. In 1360 he declared Theravada Buddhism the official religion of Ayutthaya and brought members of a sangha, a Buddhist monastic community, from Ceylon to establish new religious orders and spread the faith among his subjects. He also compiled a legal code, based on the Indian Dharmashastra (a Hindu legal text) and Thai custom, which became the basis of royal legislation. Composed in Pali — an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit and the language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures — it had the force of divine injunction. Supplemented by royal decrees, Ramathibodi’s legal code remained generally in force until the late nineteenth century.


By the end of the fourteenth century, Ayutthaya was regarded as the strongest power in Indochina, but it lacked the manpower to dominate the region. In the last year of his reign, Ramathibodi had seized Angkor during what was to be the first of many successful Thai assaults on the Khmer capital. The policy was aimed at securing Ayutthaya’s eastern frontier by preempting Vietnamese designs on Khmer territory. The weakened Khmer periodically submitted to Ayutthaya’s suzerainty, but efforts to maintain control over Angkor were repeatedly frustrated. However Angkor eventually fell. Thai troops were frequently diverted to suppress rebellions in Sukhothai or to campaign against Chiang Mai, where Ayutthaya’s expansion was tenaciously resisted. Eventually Ayutthaya subdued the territory that had belonged to Sukhothai, and the year after Ramathibodi died, his kingdom was recognized by the emperor of China’s newly established Ming Dynasty as Sukhothai’s rightful successor.
The Thai kingdom was not a single, unified state but rather a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces owing allegiance to the king of Ayutthaya under the mandala system. These countries were ruled by members of the royal family of Ayutthaya who had their own armies and warred among themselves, as well as self governing but subservient Malay states in the south. The king had to be vigilant to prevent royal princes from combining against him or allying with Ayutthaya’s enemies. Due to the lack of succession law and strong concept of merit, whenever the succession was in dispute, princely governors or powerful dignitaries gathered their forces and moved on the capital to press their claims.

During much of the fifteenth century Ayutthaya’s energies were directed toward the Malay Peninsula, where the great trading port of Malacca contested its claims to sovereignty. Ayutthaya’s conquests were unsuccessful, however, due to the military support of Ming China, who backed the Sultanate diplomatically and economically. The Ming Admiral Zheng He had established one of his bases of operation in the port city, so the Chinese could not afford to loose such a strategic position to the Siamese. Under this umbrella of protection, Malacca flourished into one of Ayutthaya’s great rivals, until its conquest in 1511 by the Portuguese.
Malacca and other Malay states south of Tambralinga had become Muslim early in the century, and thereafter Islam served as a symbol of Malay solidarity against the Thais. As it failed to make a vassal state of Malacca, Ayutthayan control of the strait was gradually displaced by Malay and Chinese.

However in the mid sixteenth century, Burmese Kingdom of Tounggoo became stronger, it then began the ‘imperial expansion’. Its kings Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung attacked Ayutthaya. In 1569 Ayutthaya eventually fell and became Toungoo’s vassal. The royal princes and high officials were taken back to Tounggoo. One of those princes was Prince Naret or widely known later as King Naresuan.

Ayutthaya became great power again after Prince Naret or Naresuan returned to Ayutthaya. He started gathering troops to resist the Burmese . King Naresuan finally defeated Burmese force in famous elephant battle with Toungoo’s heir apparent, who was killed in the battle. Since then Ayutthaya became one of the most powerful kingdom in the region. It began expand towards the northern region, Sukhothai and Lanna area, the maritime, southern peninsula and Cambodia due to interest in foreign contact. Foreign trade brought her not only luxury items but also new arms and weapons. In the mid- seventeenth century, in the King Narai’s reign, Ayutthaya became very prosperous.

There were 5 dynasties during Ayutthaya period:

Eu Thong Dynasty which consists of 3 kings

Suphanabhumi Dynasty consisting of 13 kings

Sukhothai Dynasty consisting of 7 kings

Bann Plu Dynasty consisting of 6 kings

Thonburi period

In 1767, after dominating southeast Asia for almost 400 years, the Ayutthaya kingdom was brought down by invading Burmese armies, its capital burned, and its territory occupied by the invaders.

Despite its complete defeat and occupation by Burma, Siam made a rapid recovery. The resistance to Burmese rule was led by a noble of Chinese descent, Taksin, a capable military leader. Initially based at Chanthaburi in the south-east, within a year he had defeated the Burmese occupation army and re-established a Siamese state with its capital at Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, 20 km from the sea. In 1768 he was crowned as King Taksin (now officially known as Taksin the Great). He rapidly re-united the central Thai heartlands under his rule, and in 1769 he also occupied western Cambodia. He then marched south and re-established Siamese rule over the Malay Peninsula as far south as Penang and Terengganu. Having secured his base in Siam, Taksin attacked the Burmese in the north in 1774 and captured Chiang Mai in 1776, permanently uniting Siam and Lanna. Taksin’s leading general in this campaign was Thong Duang, known by the title Chaophraya Chakri. In 1778 Chakri led a Siamese army which captured Vientiane and re-established Siamese domination over Laos.

Despite these successes, by 1779 Taksin was in political trouble at home. He seems to have developed a religious mania, alienating the powerful Buddhist monkhood by claiming to be a sotapanna or divine figure. He also attacked the Chinese merchant class, and foreign observers began to speculate that he would soon be overthrown. In 1782 Taksin sent his armies under Chakri to invade Cambodia, but while they were away a rebellion broke out in the area around the capital. The rebels, who had wide popular support, offered the throne to Chakri. Chakri marched back from Cambodia and deposed Taksin, who was secretly executed shortly after. Chakri ruled under the name Ramathibodi (he was posthumously given the name Phutthayotfa Chulalok), but is now generally known as King Rama I, first king of the Chakri dynasty. One of his first decisions was to move the capital across the river to the village of Bang Makok (meaning “place of olive plums”), which soon became the city of Bangkok. The new capital was located on the island of Rattanakosin, protected from attack by the river to the west and by a series of canals to the north, east and south. Siam thus acquired both its current dynasty and its current capital.

Military rule

The Siamese coup d’état of 1932 transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. King Prajadhipok initially accepted this change but later surrendered the throne to his ten year old nephew, Ananda Mahidol. Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the duty of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few. King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) died in 1946 under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the official explanation being that he shot himself by accident while cleaning his gun. He was succeeded by his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest reigning king of Thailand, and very popular with the Thais. Although nominally a constitutional monarchy, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments, most prominently led by Luang Phibunsongkhram and Sarit Dhanarajata, interspersed with brief periods of democracy.
In early January 1941, Thailand invaded French Indochina, beginning the French-Thai War. The Thais, better equipped and outnumbering the French forces, easily reclaiming Laos. The French decisively won the naval Battle of Koh Chang.

The Japanese mediated the conflict, and a general armistice was declared on January 28. On May 9 a peace treaty was signed in Tokyo, with the French being coerced by the Japanese into relinquishing its hold on the disputed territories.

On December 8, 1941, a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Japan invaded the country and engaged the Thai army for six to eight hours before Phibunsongkhram ordered an armistice. Shortly thereafter Japan was granted free passage, and on December 21, 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance with a secret protocol wherein Tokyo agreed to help Thailand regain territories lost to the British and French (i.e. the Shan States of Burma, Malaya, Singapore, & part of Yunnan, plus Laos & Cambodia) Subsequently, Thailand undertook to ‘assist’ Japan in her war against the Allies. NOTE: Japan’s distrust of Thailand extended to the point of rearming their ‘Allies’ with controlled munitions, including the famous Siamese Mauser, which was manufactured in an unusual caliber. It should be remembered that the Seri Thai operated freely, often with support from members of the Royal family (Prince Chula Chakrabongse) and members of the government and that the Thai Army was considered untrustworthy by the Japanese.

After the end of World War II, Prime Minister Pridi Phanomyong agreed to return the captured territories to France, as a condition for admission to the newly created United Nations.
After Japan’s defeat in 1945, with the help of a group of Thais known as Seri Thai who were supported by the United States, Thailand was treated as a defeated country by the British and French, although American support mitigated the Allied terms. Thailand was not occupied by the Allies, but it was forced to return the territory it had regained to the British and the French. In the postwar period Thailand enjoyed close relations with the United States, which it saw as a protector from the communist revolutions in neighboring countries.
Communist guerillas existed in country from early 60’s up to 1987, but never posed a serious threat to the state, but at the peak of movement they counted almost 12,000 full-time fighters.

Recently, Thailand also has been an active member in the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially after democratic rule was restored in 1992.


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