History of Thailand

Ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam
Ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam.

Thailand has been inhabited for about 10,000 years with a large influence on its culture by India and China, dating back to the first century BC and shares a lot of similarities with other Southeast Asian regions.

A large part of its modern day historical influence is attributed to the rise and fall of the Khmer empire during the 13th and 14th century, which is also when the Buddhist kingdoms of Lanna, Sukhothia, and Lan Chang began to rise to power. However, the larger power of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which came about in the middle of the 14th century can be more closely linked to Thailand today.

After the Ayutthaya forces took control of the country in 1421 Thailand was able to continue its long tradition of trade with Persia, China, India, and Arab lands and the city of Ayutthaya became one of the largest trading centres in all of Asia. Later in the 16th century European traders arrived at the port helping to establish the long trading history that is still vibrant today.

In 1767 King Taksin the Great took control of the country and made the capital of the country Thonburi for a long period of time up until 1782, when Bangkok was declared the capital city as it is still in modern times. During this time period King Rama I ruled the country and almost a third of the country’s population became slaves.

Buddhist temple ruins at the UNSECO World Heritage historical park in Sukhothai
Buddhist temple ruins at the UNSECO World Heritage historical park in Sukhothai.

Although there has been great pressure from many European countries, Thailand remains the only nation in Southeast Asia that was never colonized. This is often attributed to the fact that it had very strong rulers for most of the 19th century and because these leaders aptly used the tension and rivalry between France and Britain so that they could remain a buffer between the two distinct areas of colonization directly to the East and West of Thailand.

Despite the fact that the country was able to avoid European colonization, other Western influences did slip through leading to many reforms and the loss of quite a bit land to Britain including what is now known as Burma (Myanmar) and the Malay Peninsula.

The country ended its rule of absolute monarchy in 1932 when the Khana Ratsadon group led a bloodless revolution against King Prajadhipok and the people of Siam were granted a constitution.

During WWII Thailand entered into an alliance with Japan granting the Japanese army free passage in return for aid in regaining territories of Thailand that were lost to the French and British. Interestingly, despite this fact there was an anti-Japanese resistance movement that allowed POWs to work on the Death Railway and as the war closed Thailand became an ally of the US instead.