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History of Thailand

People have been living in modern day Thailand for hundreds of thousands of years. Over time various groups arrived and some of the predecessors to the people today were the Mon-Khmer (related to the people of Cambodia today) and Malay people.

Of these earlier people the Buddhist Dvaravati people, a group of Mon people (related to people in southern Myanmar today) ruled the region from about the 600s to the 900s. After the Dvaravati the Khmer people ruled the region in the 900s and they were took on numerous Indian characteristics, including the fact that many appeared to follow Hinduism.

In southern Thailand, on the Malay Peninsula, the Malay people ruled the region during this time. Again, these people had strong ties to India and practiced Hinduism and later fell under the rule of the Srivijaya Dynasty.

The Tai people didn't arrive to the region until the 900s when they migrated south from probably Yunnan or Guangxi province (both in modern day China) to Thailand via Vietnam. However, little is known about early Thai history until the 1200s. Legend says they arrived under the king, Simhanavati who defeat the Mon people in war, but little evidence supports this. During these early years the Khmer Kingdom, based in Angkor Wat (in modern day Cambodia) ruled much of the region.

In about the 1000s the Lavachakkaraj Dynasty came to power and ruled over the Thai people for about 500 years. This kingdom quickly gained power and grew to the point that they expanded their borders slowly south as at this time they were only in what is today northern Thailand. During this same time in the south the Lavo Kingdom, the heir to the Dvaravati people came to power, but only lasted a short while before the Burmese took the region.

From this point, in the 1000s the Khmer state slowly declined and the Burmese state couldn't hold the distance lands. This led to the Thai-led Sukhothai kingdom in the 1200s and the Thai-led Lanna Kingdom (which ruled the city of Chiang Mai) who allied with each other, finally gaining power in modern day Thailand. The Lanna Kingdom lasted until the 1500s, when it was taken over by the Burmese.

The Sukhothai Kingdom fell earlier, in the 1300s to the Ayutthaya Kingdom (known to Europeans as Siam). The Ayutthaya Kingdom established Theravada Buddhism to the people and to this day this is the dominant religion. They also established a legal code that strongly governed and influenced Thai culture for centuries, called the Dharmashastra. The Ayutthaya Kingdom extended its influence and power over much of modern day Thailand.

In 1511 the Portuguese arrived to Ayutthaya (the name of their capital) and grew in prosperity and wealth due to friendly relations with the Portuguese. The city, and kingdom, became a center of trade with, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and French, with trade to the Chinese and Japanese continuing as well.

With increasing wealth and power the kingdom grew south, taking parts of the Malay Peninsula from both the Malay and Burmese people. It also grew north at the expense of the Khmer Kingdom.

In the 1700s the city and kingdom reached their peak as the capital was home to about one million people. However in fighting and power struggles hurt the kingdom and in 1767 the kingdom fell to the powerful Burmese to their west.

In 1769 the Thais fought back, but now under the rule of Taksin, who began his attacks from Thonburi. In 1782 he became a monk and Rama I came to power as the new king, moving the capital to the city of Bangkok. In the 1790s the Burmese were driven out of Thailand.

Through the 1800s Siam (as the country was still called by foreigners) was approached by numerous countries to be colonized, given protection, etc. Despite neighbors falling to foreign powers, Thailand maintained independence for this period as the kings generally held good relations with outside powers and worked with them.

In 1932 this relative peace ended when revolts against the government arose and the government shifted from a monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Shortly after the king abdicated and the government soon fell apart as numerous political groups formed and fought for power. This led to a stronger and stricter government, in which the military already held great power.

In 1941, during World War II, Thailand sided with the Japanese, partially because Thailand wanted to control French Indochina (Vietnam & Laos) and invaded at this time with Japanese support. Thailand lost and soon their support for the Japanese waned, especially since the Japanese granted these countries independence, instead of placing them under Thai rule. Later the Japanese wanted to use Thai lands to gain access to Burma and again the Thais accepted in order to avoid war. However relations between the two were always cautious as neither seemed to trust the other.

After WWII communist movements arose so Thailand turned to the United States to help protect them from an insurrection. This move worked as communism never made a true threat on the government and since then the United States and Thailand have shared very good relations.

In 1973 the government changed hands again, although the monarchy stayed in place. The people rose up and overthrew the primarily military government, but this didn't lead to peace and violence broke out sporadically and military intervention stepped in from time to time to secure peace.

In 2006 the people again revolted, this time against their prime minister who was abroad at the time. Again the change in government was peaceful and by 2007 the military stepped down and a new government took over. Another set of protests occurred the following year. Fortunately, none of these protests or coups have been joined with much or any violence and the country remains fairly stable, partially due to the king's steady presence and the people's respect for him.

This page was last updated: October, 2012