History of Thailand

Published: 3rd July 2008Author: Anju Shandilya

The history of Thailand can be traced to the migration of the Thais from their ancestral home that was present in southern China into the south-east Asia. This migration took place around 10th Century AD. The region to which the Thais migrated was ruled by the Mon, Khmer and the Malay kingdoms before the Thais established their own states in the very same regions. The Sukhothai and the Ayutthaya were among the first Thai kingdoms.

Apart from being under constant threat from Khmers, Burma and Vietnam, these states constantly fought among each other. They were are threatened by the European colonial powers in the 19th and the early 20th century but as we all know, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that avoided the colonial rule. The monarchy system came to an end in 1932 and then Thailand endured 60 years of military rule before the democratic system was established.

Sukhothai Kingdom

As per the Thais, their nation was founded in the 13th century. It is believed that the Thai chieftains gained independence from the Khmer Empire at Sukhothai and was established as a sovereign kingdom by Pho Khum Si Indrathit in 1238. The political scenario prevalent at that time was based on the concept that 'fathers govern children' and everybody would bring their problems directly to the king. The city was dominated under King Ramkhamhaeng but after his death in 1365, the Ayutthaya kingdom started to gain prominence and dominated the southern and central Thailand until the 1700s.

Ayutthaya Kingdom

The first king of the Ayutthaya kingdom, Raathibodi I made some of the most important contributions to the Thai history and culture. He helped with the establishment and promotion of the Theravada Buddhism and also made it the official religion of the country. This was done with the aim of differentiating his kingdom with the neighboring Hindu kingdo, of Angkor. The king was also responsible for the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code that was based on traditional Thai custom and Hindu sources. The Dharmashastra remained an integral part of the Thai law until the late 19th century.

In 1767, Burma attacked the city and conquered it. The royal family had to flee and the king died 10 days later due to starvation. This kingdom that spanned 400 years saw 33 kings and one unofficial king.

Thonburi and Bangkok

When the kingdo of Ayutthaya came down in 1767, the capital was burnt down the territory was split but General Taksin managed to reunite the Thai kingdom from a new capital of Thonburi and also went on to declare himself king in 1769. Later, it was alleged that Taksin became mad and he was taken a prisoner and executed in 1782. He was succeeded by General Chakri as King Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty is 1782. He founded a new capital at Bangkok in the same year.

The heirs of Rama I were highly concerned about the threat of European colonialism after the British conquests in the neighboring Burma in 1826. The first recognition by the Thais towarsa the Western power was the Treat of Amity and Commerce that was signed with the United Kingdom in 1826. Further, in 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam (as Thailand was known then). These exchanges went on till 1939 and were resumes between 1945 and 1949. However it was during the reigns of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn that Thailand established firm rapprochement with the western powers.

It is a firmly held view among the Thais that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs along with the modernizing reforms made by the Thai Government was the reason that Siam was the only country in South and Southeast Asia that avoided European colonization. This is also reflected in the country's modern name, 'Prathet Thai' or Thailand in which prathet means nation and Thai means free. This name was officially declared on May 11, 1949 but was unofficially used since 1939.

Military Rule

In 1932, the absolute monarch in Thailand was changed to a constitutional monarchy. During the Pearl Harbor attack and World War II, Thailand had its role to play too and saw its own share of ups and downs.


Since 1973, Thailand struggled to define its political inclination. The wisdom of King and General Prem Tinsulanonda prevailed who was in favor of a democratic constitutional order. Since then, Thailand has seen some very blood transitions from military to civilian rules and reversals. Thailand has remained a democratic country since then except for a brief period of military rule between 1991 and 1992.


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