A Brief History of Thailand

Thai history concentrates on the history of the Thai people, less on the history of people living in the geographical area of present day Thailand. Simplified, Thai history can be divided in a pre-Sukhothai and a post-Sukhothai period, the Sukhothai period being regarded as the first true Thai kingdom. Also since that time history has been recorded and written down.

Thai history before the Sukhothai kingdom We should start with the important archaeologic findings of the Ban Chiang culture in the northeast of Thailand. There existed in that area a strongly developed culture with early agriculture and bronze metallurgy about 3000 BC. When visiting Bangkok one should not neglect to visit Wang Suan Phakkaat, a museum that besides other artifacts, has an important collection of Ban Chiang ceramics and artifacts. The pottery is quite colorful and modern looking.

The ancestors of present day Thailand were scattered over a wide area of South-East Asia, including parts of south and south-west China. Up to this day Thai language related languages are spoken in parts of southern China. The classical view is that Thai people migrated southwards to the area of present day Thailand, possibly over a long time period, and possibly in a more pronounced way during the 13th century with the rise of the Mongols in China.

In the area of present day Central Thailand the Dvaravati culture flourished up to the 11-12 th century AD. The Dvaravati people were most likely of Mon of mixed Mon-Khmer origin. While most of us know of the Khmer, in part due to their remaining impressive architectural achievements (Angkor Wat), the Mon are more of a mystery and interesting at that. They lived and live in the area of present day Thailand and Burma, with temporary kingdoms in Burma, and have later on been absorbed into the other cultures.

The Khmer had a long influence over most parts over present day Thailand, most extensively in the north-east and central areas. Their settlements or outposts at Phimai and Prasaat Phanom Rung in the north-eastern province, are certainly worth a visit. Just across the border with Cambodia lies Khao Phra Wihaan, of equal importance. (check if the border is open, before embarking on your trip). These places can well compensate, if you are not able to make it to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Khmer empire declined during the 14-15th century AD and Angkor was finally defeated by the Thais of Ayuthaya in 1431.

Thai history since the Sukhothai kingdom
Sukhothai is considered to be the first true Thai kingdom. Eventually, it only lasted a very short period, until the rise of Ayuthaya. An independent Thai kingdom was established in 1238 and lasted until 1376, when it was annexed by Ayuthaya. Its most well known king is King Ramkhamhaeng, who is also credited as with establishing the Thai writing system. A famous inscription reads as follows : There is fish in the water and rice in the fields, indicating a prosperous land.

The Ayudhaya kingdom lasted from 1350 to 1767, when the city was conquered and destroyed by the invading Burmese. The Burmese were the great rivals of the Thais of Ayudhaya and sacked the city also a first time about 200 years earlier.

Ayudhaya was an imposing and wealthy city during its heyday. Early European visitors were impressed with its prosperity. Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese and other settlements were present. Contrary to the Sukhothai period, which was more egalitarian, the Ayudhaya kings were god-kings with absolute authority. Commoners were forbidden with penalty of death to look directly at the king

After the destruction of Ayudhaya, the Thais managed to regroup around a Thai general, Taaksin, who became the new king and established his capital in Thonburi, opposite the river of present day Bangkok. He was eventually deposed and executed in 1782 and the present day Chakri dynasty was established. Bangkok became the new capital. This area up to the present day is referred to as the Rattanakosin period, named after a small island in the center of Bangkok.