A Brief History of Thailand

IntroductionModern day Thailand and its people are an ancient melting pot of Southeast Asian cultures. A variety of people have called the area home over the years, most notably the ‘Tai’ of Southern China, who first came here in the first century AD. Over time various Tai tribes settled in what are now Burma (Shans), Laos (Lao) and Thailand (Thais). Most modern day Thais are descendants of this clan in one form or another. Combined with periodic Burmese and Khmer invasions and more recent Chinese settlement, this is very a unique people.
Early HistoryCivilization, in one form or another, has been in Thailand for at least 5000 years, with evidence of bronze tools, pottery manufacture and wet rice cultivation in the northeast dated before to 3000BC. Prior to the development of Thai kingdoms, the region was controlled by other significant civilizations including the Mon Dvaravati Kingdom (6th-11th centuries), Malay Srivijaya Empire (7-13th centuries) and the Khmer Empire (9th-13th centuries) During this period Hindu beliefs were replaced by Buddhism (via Burma) as the primary religion of the region.
Early Thai KingdomsThe first major Thai kingdom, at Sukhothai, was established in 1238 when the Thais led by King Intharathit drove out the regional Khmer governors and became autonomous. During the reign of Ramkhamhaeng (1279-98) the Sukhothai kingdom peaked in grandeur and influence but thereafter declined in power until it came under control of Ayutthaya in the 1370s. King Ramkhamhaeng is traditionally credited with codifying the Thai alphabet based on the Sanskrit derived script of the Khmer kingdom.
In 1259 the Lanna Kingdom in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai regions of Thailand was founded by King Mengrai. This state remained mostly independent of, though cooperative with, their Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Burmese neighbours until it was conquered and partitioned by the Burmese in 1560.
During the Sukhothai and Lanna kingdoms Theravada Buddhism was also brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka becoming the Buddhist religion for most of SE Asia.
The Ayutthaya PeriodAyutthaya was established on the banks of the Chao Phraya River as the capital of Siam in 1350 by King Ramathibodi. In 1378 it annexed the remaining portions of the Sukhothai kingdom and began a period of expansion and wars with its neighbours. At its peak Ayutthaya controlled or was the main power over a loose empire that occupied parts of modern day eastern Myanmar, northern parts of Malaysia, most of western Laos and the western half of Cambodia including the Khmer capital of Angkor.
The Portuguese were the first foreigners to establish an embassy here (1511), followed by the Dutch (1605), the English (1612), the Danes (1621) and finally the French (1662). By the end of the 17th century the city itself had grown to more than a million people and was described by some western visitors as the most glorious city on earth. In 1680 Ayutthaya expelled foreigners and sealed itself off from the west for the next 150 years.
With the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767 to a united Burmese army, its residents fled south, settling on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Bangkok and the Chakri DynastyIn 1769 General Phraya Taksin, made himself king of Siam and quickly regained Ayutthaya and northern Thailand, forcing the Burmese to withdraw. His rule was cut short in 1782 by one of his generals, Chao Phraya Chakri who was offered the throne after Taksin was deposed, crowning himself Phra Yot Fa. With this change came the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty with ‘Krung Thep’ (Bangkok) as its capital beginning the modern period of Thai history known as the Ratonakosin period.
In 1825 Rama III, King Chakri’s grandson, ascended the throne and ruled over an empire that eventually included eastern and southern Burma, portions of Malaya, most of Laos and virtually all of Cambodia. He further revived Thai culture, cultivated trade with China and brought the first printing press to the kingdom.
Rama IV, King Mongkut, previously a Buddhist monk for 27 years succeeded his brother and continued to modernize the country by negotiating looser trade ties with the west and establishing a modern, European-styled education system.
True modernization came under King Mongkut son, the highly revered Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) who made the first state visits to Europe, brought back such items as the locomotive, establishing the country’s first railway, abolished slavery and instituted the modern monetary system. Until his death 1910, Rama V shrewdly kept Siam from becoming a colony of Britain or France, but did so by ceding controlled regions of Burma and Malaya to the British and all of Laos and Cambodia to the French.
In 1932 the absolute monarchy was replaced with a constitutional one during the reign of Rama VII and shortly after the country’s name changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939. Rama VIII was crowned King in 1945 but died of mysterious circumstances the next year, paving the way for his younger brother to ascend the throne.
Rama IX and transition to democracyAt age of 18, Rama IX was crowned in 1946 as King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, and is still ruling to this day – King Bhumiphol is the world’s longest reigning, living monarch. During the first part of his reign, Thailand was largely controlled by the military until in 1973 massive demonstrations prompted King Bhumiphol to intervene and help the country transition to a full democracy.
Since 1992 after a series of military coups and demonstrations had taken place, the country has had generally stable democratic elections. The first complete, four-year, democratically elected term was completed by the Thai Rak Thai Party (Thai Love Thai) in 2004. Under Thaksin Shinawatra, Thai Rak Thai was elected to a second term, capturing another majority government in 2005.
Since December, 2005, pressure has come to bear against Thaksin and his government due to perceived corruption, electioneering and defection of leaders within the Thai Rak Thai party. In April 2006 Thaksin called a snap election that was successfully boycotted by opposition parties. King Bhumiphol refused to open a less than complete parliament and in the aftermath Thaksin was forced to resign.
As of May, Thailand is waiting for a new election to be called as no parliament is currently sitting.

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