The kingdom of Thailand lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, making it a natural gateway to Indochina, Myanmar and Southern China. Its shape and geography divide into four natural regions : the mountains and forests of the North; the vast rice fields of the Central Plains; the semi-arid farm lands of the Northeast plateau; and the tropical islands and long coastline of the peninsula South.
The country comprises 76 provinces that are further divided into districts, sub-districts and villages. Bangkok is the capital city and centre of political, commercial, industrial and cultural activities. It is also the seat of Thailand’s revered Royal Family, with His Majesty the King recognised as Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Upholder of the Buddhist religion and Upholder of all religions.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or King Rama IX, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, the present king. The King has reigned for more than half a century, making him the longest reigning Thai monarch. Thailand embraces a rich diversity of cultures and traditions. With its proud history, tropical climate and renowned hospitality, the Kingdom is a never-ending source of fascination and pleasure for international visitors.
Throughout its 800-year history, Thailand can boast the distinction of being the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been colonized. Its history is divided into five major periods
Nanchao Period (650-1250 A.D.)
The Thai people founded their kingdom in the southern part of China, which is Yunnan, Kwangsi and Canton today. A great number of people migrated south as far as the Chao Phraya Basin and settled down over the Central Plain under the sovereignty of the Khmer Empire, whose culture they probably accepted. The Thai people founded their independent state of Sukhothai around 1238 A.D., which marks the beginning of the Sukhothai Period
Sukhothai Period (1238-1378 A.D.)
Thais began to emerge as a dominant force in the region in the13th century, gradually asserting independence from existing Khmer and Mon kingdoms. Called by its rulers “the dawn of happiness”, this is often considered the golden era of Thai history, an ideal Thai state in a land of plenty governed by paternal and benevolent kings, the most famous of whom was King Ramkamhaeng the Great. However in 1350, the mightier state of Ayutthaya exerted its influence over Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767)
The Ayutthaya kings adopted Khmer cultural influences from the very beginning. No longer the paternal and accessible rulers that the kings of Sukhothai had been, Ayutthaya’s sovereigns were absolute monarchs and assumed the title devaraja (god-king). The early part of this period saw Ayutthaya extend its sovereignty over neighboring Thai principalities and come into conflict with its neighbours, During the 17th century, Siam started diplomatic and commercial relations with western countries. In 1767, a Burmese invasion succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya. Despite their overwhelming victory, the Burmese did not retain control of Siam for long. A young general named Phya Taksin and his followers broke through the Burmese and escaped to Chantaburi. Seven months after the fall of Ayutthaya, he and his forces sailed back to the capital and expelled the Burmese occupation garrison.
Thon Buri Period (1767-1772)
General Taksin, as he is popularly known, decided to transfer the capital from Ayutthaya to a site nearer to the sea which would facilitate foreign trade, ensure the procurement of arms, and make defense and withdrawal easier in case of a renewed Burmese attack. He established his new capital at Thon Buri on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The rule of Taksin was not an easy one. The lack of central authority since the fall of Ayutthaya led to the rapid disintegration of the kingdom, and Taksin’s reign was spent reuniting the provinces.
Rattanakosin Period (1782 – the Present)
After Taksin’s death, General Chakri became the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, ruling from 1782 to 1809. His first action as king was to transfer the royal capital across the river from Thon Buri to Bangkok and build the Grand Palace. Rama II (1809-1824) continued the restoration begun by his predecessor. King Nang Klao, Rama III (1824-1851) reopened relations with Western nations and developed trade with China. King Mongkut, Rama IV, (1851-1868) of “The King and I” concluded treaties with European countries, avoided colonialization and established modern Thailand. He made many social and economic reforms during his reign.
King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1869-1910) continued his father’s tradition of reform, abolishing slavery and improving the public welfare and administrative system. Compulsory education and other educational reforms were introduced by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI (1910-1925). During the reign of King Prajadhipok, (1925-1935), Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The king abdicated in 1933 and was succeeded by his nephew, King Ananda Mahidol (1935-1946). The country’s name was changed from Siam to Thailand with the advent of a democratic government in 1939. Our present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty.
The earliest mention of the Thai, as a nation in south China call NAN-JOA, comes from Chinese records dating back to the sixth century BCE. These early Thai emanated out of the Yunnan region and dispersed into the general area of what is today Thailand. These Thai peoples arrived in various waves and displaced the earlier native Mon and Khmer populations as they settled the region with a large group settling in Thailand during the Sung period of China roughly around 960 CE. The related Lao people split off from the early Tai-Kadai peoples and moved into Southeast Asia, mainly Laos, while another kindred people, the Shan, made their way into Myanmar.
The founding of the Sukhothai kingdom culminated in the emergence of the first Thai nation-state founded in 1238. Various conflicts in the Chinese-dominated region of Nanchao facilitated increased migration of the Thai, especially mercenaries fleeing from the Mongol conquest of China, and helped establish the Thai as a regional power. Successful wars with the Mon helped to establish the kingdom of Lan Na as the Thai increased their hold in Southeast Asia. The early Thai brought their Buddhist and Chinese traditions, but also assimilated much of the native Khmer and Mon culture of Southeast Asia. (See Thai Chinese for more details)
A new city-state known as Ayutthaya, named after the Indian city of Ayodhya, was founded by Ramathibodi (a descendant of Chiang Mai) and emerged as the center of the growing Thai Empire starting in 1350. Inspired by the then Hindu-based Khmer Empire (Cambodia), the Ayutthaya Empire’s continued conquests led to more Thai settlements as the Khmer Empire weakened after their defeat at Angkor in 1444. During this period, the Thai developed a feudal system as various vassal states paid homage to the Thai kings. Even as Thai power expanded at the expense of the Mon and Khmer, the Thai Ayutthaya faced setbacks at the hands of the Malay at Malacca and were checked by the Toungoo of Burma.
Though sporadic wars continued with the Burmese and other neighbors, Chinese wars with Burma and European intervention elsewhere in Southeast Asia allowed the Thai to develop an independent course by trading with the Europeans as well as playing the major powers against each other in order to remain independent. The Chakkri dynasty under Rama I held the Burmese at bay, while Rama II and Rama III helped to shape much of Thai society, but also led to Thai setbacks as the Europeans moved into areas surrounding modern Thailand and curtailed any claims the Thai had over Cambodia, in dispute with Burma and Vietnam. The Thai learned from European traders and diplomats, while maintaining an independent course. Chinese, Malay, and British influences helped to further shape the Thai people who often assimilated foreign ideas, but managed to preserve much of their culture and resisted the European colonization that engulfed their neighbors.Thailand is also the only country that was not colonized in Southeastern Asia area in the early history.
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