Thailand Brief History
Ever since I saw “The King and I” as a matinee film, Thailand has fascinated me. In connection with a trip “Along the Mekong”, I finally got the opportunity to visit parts of Thailand that I have long dreamed of.
Most people who travel to Thailand do so to swim in the southern parts of the country and never go further than that. I myself avoided the bathing places and thus experienced a Thailand that only a small part of the tourists visit.
During my two-week trip to Thailand, I visited the Bangkok region for five days. Here I experienced the hectic, but glorious, life of the people in the capital and I visited Kanchanaburi to see the “Bridge over the river Kwai”. For ten days I was in the northern part of the country, where Chiang Rai became my base. I visited the so-called “Golden Triangle” and several of the surrounding cities or places; Mae Sae, Sop Ruak, Doi Thung, Thaton and Mae Salong.
The highlight in the north is always hikes to villages with minority people such as akha, lahu, lisu, shan and others.
Thailand history in brief
Thailand history, older
According to cheeroutdoor, Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized and has been independent since the 13th century, with a few exceptions for shorter periods of subjugation under neighboring Burma and the Japanese occupation during World War II.
The first traces of human settlements are estimated to be about 40,000 years old.
Around the year 500 AD, the monks founded the Dvaravati kingdom in northern Thailand. The first known Thai people slowly spread south from what is today southern China.
In 1238, Sukothai, the first Thai kingdom, was founded.
Under King Ramkamhaeng’s rule, 1283 – 1317, the empire was strengthened and two reforms were implemented that still characterize the country today; Theravada Buddhism became the state religion and a Thai written language was introduced.
In the middle of the 14th century, a second empire was created, Siam, with its center in Ayutthaya, not far from Bangkok. This empire expanded successfully and, among other things, defeated the Angkor Empire in present-day Cambodia. The capital’s location on the Chao Phraya River allowed seagoing ships to sail here, which affected the scale of trade; the city is believed to have been the world’s largest in the mid – 17th century.
In the early 16th century, Europe began to look east to increase its wealth. The first to establish themselves in Ayutthaya were the Portuguese. Despite increased outside influence, the Thais were keen to preserve their own culture, which, however, did not accommodate trade. It was run primarily by the Chinese, who have retained a large part of it until today.
The growing rivalry between European powers, mainly the Dutch, British and French, strongly influenced Siam, which is why they tried to meet different colonial demands for preserved independence.
At the end of the 17th century, Siam strengthened its counter-reactions to foreign interference, which led to the isolation and weakening of the empire. This was exploited by the Burmese and took Ayutthaya in 1767 and completely destroyed the city.
However, the Burmese occupation was short-lived. The Thais rebelled against the new lords and founded a new state. In 1782, General Chao Phya Chakri seized power and became the first king of the dynasty that still sits on the Thai throne today. He had a new capital built at the small trading post Bangkok on the east side of the mouth of the Chao Phraya River.
The first Chakri kings strengthened Siam against Burma and protected the empire from the threat of Europe’s great powers. The country’s location made it a buffer between the British in the west and the French in the east. With diplomacy and some concessions, the country’s independence could be preserved.
Under the kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn (1868 – 1910), Siam developed, among other things, by adopting new technology and ideas from the West as well as modernizing the administration and introducing state schools.
Thailand history, modern
20th century, beginning
The country’s prosperity increased through increasing production and export of rice and Bangkok developed into an important trading center.
The tension between the king and the increasingly influential bureaucratic elite of modern times had increased over the years and resulted in an attempt to overthrow the king.
A bloodless coup ended the king’s autocracy, and a constitutional monarchy was introduced where power lay with the government.
Power was concentrated in Marshal Phibun Songkhram, who introduced an iron-fisted fascist model of society.
1939 The country’s name was changed to Thailand, which means “The land of the free”
During World War II, Thailand cooperated with Japan and was therefore subjected to a very mild Japanese occupation. As the Japanese’s war fortunes turned, discontent among Thais grew toward them
Leader Phibun was ousted by a US-backed resistance movement. The period after the Second World War became unstable but democracy had been formally restored
1947 The military seizes power in a coup
1948 Phibun Songkhram is reinstated as the country’s leader and the economy begins to grow
Phibun tried to strengthen his position through an election, where the cheating was so obvious that the election victory led to the fall of the government. General Sarit Thanarat took power and thus a new period of dictatorship began
1963 After the death of General Sarits, new generals take over the government
Protests led by students resulted in the collapse of the military dictatorship. This was followed by three troubled years. Parties were formed at a rapid pace, and in addition to the students, peasants, workers and monks also began to organize. When it became clear that the civilian governments could not handle the situation, the military-led Nawaphon movement grew under the slogans “the nation, the religion, the king”
In 1976, a military-led government was established, which again put an end to democracy
General Prem Tinsulanonda became head of government. The government’s main goal was stability. Close contacts with the United States were re-established and attitudes toward dissent were softened. Political prisoners were released. Economically, Thailand began to reach as high growth figures as in the 1960s
In the parliamentary elections, the country’s oldest party, the Democratic Party, lost many voters and fell sharply while the right-wing party Thainationen, the party of the powerful businessmen, advanced. Its leader Chatichai Choonhavan became Prime Minister. With his government, a market liberal policy was initiated and a privatization program was initiated
1991 In February, a new military coup is carried out
Parliamentary elections were held in March, which resulted in a weak coalition government with five parties. When none of them could present a credible leader, the post of Prime Minister was taken over by Suchinda Kraprayoon, one of the men behind the recent military coup. The public immediately protested against this and during demonstrations in Bangkok, demands were made that the head of government must be elected by the people. The protests continued throughout the spring
On May 17, Suchinda decided to crush the protests by force. At least 100 people are believed to have been killed during three days of violence. The king intervened to find a solution. Suchinda resigned and a transitional government was appointed
In the autumn elections, the Democratic Party won the most seats, but almost as many went to Thainationen and a new party, National Development, which Chatichai formed shortly after the violence in May. Democratic Party leader Chuan Leekpai became prime minister
The government was accused in the spring of corruption. Following a no-confidence motion, Parliament was dissolved in May, and new elections were held in July. Thaination secured the most seats in parliament and party leader Banharn Silapa-Archa became prime minister of a divided seven-party government. Later in the year, the government became increasingly openly corrupt and public support for the governing parties plummeted
During the autumn, Banharn left the post of Prime Minister and new elections were announced. The election campaign became violent. The party for new aspirations won the election, largely by the party buying votes in the poor part of the country in the northeast. Yongchaiyudh Chavalit became Prime Minister of a new six-party coalition. This government also failed to rally behind a determined reform policy, which contributed to the deep economic crisis that erupted in the summer of 1997.
In September, the new constitution was adopted, which gave Thailand a democratic constitution. It stated that Thailand would be a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democratic system including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and other fundamental freedoms and rights. The constitution also tried to limit the dominance of the central government and instead give increased influence to municipalities and individual citizens
Following strong criticism of the government’s handling of the economic crisis, Chavalit resigned and Democratic Party leader Chuan Leekpai became prime minister again in a new coalition.