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The Kingdom of Thailand (until 23 June 1939 Kingdom of Siam) is a country in Southeast Asia. To its east lie Laos and Cambodia; to its south, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia; and to its west, the Andaman Sea and Burma. Its capital and largest city is Bangkok. Thailand was allied with Japan in the Second World War and Phibun was forced to resign in 1944, but he returned to power with military backing in 1948 and the army ran Thailand with support from the US. Phibun was finally ousted by rivals in 1957. He retreated to Japan and died there at the age of 66 in 1964.


Stamps commemorating King Rama VI (left) and King Rama IX (right)

The region known today as Thailand (Prathet Thai) has been inhabited by humans since the paleolithic period (about 10,000 years ago). Prior to the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 13th century, various states thrived there, such as the various Tai, Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms, as seen through the numerous archaeological sites and artifacts that are scattered throughout the Siamese landscape. Prior to the 12th century however, the first Thai or Siamese state is traditionally considered to be the Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, which was founded in 1238.

Following the decline and fall of the Khmer empire in the 13th to 14th century, various Buddhist Tai Kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lanna and Lan chang were on the ascendancy. However, a century later, Sukhothai's power was overshadowed by the new kingdom of Ayutthaya, established in the mid-14th century.

After Ayutthaya fell in 1767 to the Burmese, Thonburi was the capital of Thailand for a brief period under King Taksin the Great. The current (Rattanakosin) era of Thai history began in 1782 following the establishment of Bangkok as capital of the Chakri dynasty under King Rama I the Great.

Siam retains an immemorial tradition of trade with its neighboring states and the cultures of the Indian ocean and the South China sea. European trade and influence arrived to Thailand in the 16th century, beginning with the Portuguese. Despite European pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to have been colonised. Two main reasons for this were that Thailand had a long succession of very able rulers in the 1800s and that it was able to exploit the rivalry and tension between the French and the British.

As a result, the country remained as a buffer state between parts of Southeast Asia that were colonized by the two colonial powers. Despite this, Western influence led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions, most notably being the loss of large territory on the east side of the Mekong to the French and the step by step absorption by Britain of the Shan (Thai Yai) States (now in Burma) and the Malay Peninsula. The loss initially included Penang and Tumasik and eventually culminated in the loss of three predominantly ethnic-Malay southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's three northern states, under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.

In 1917, during World War I, Siam declared war on German Empire and Austria-Hungary, mainly to gain favour with the British and the French. Siam's token participation in World War I secured it a seat at the Versailles Peace Conference, and Foreign Minister Devawongse used this opportunity to argue for the repeal of the 19th-century unequal treaties and the restoration of full Siamese sovereignty. The United States obliged in 1920, while France and Britain followed in 1925.

In 1932, a bloodless revolution resulted in a new constitutional monarchy. In 1933, Pridis founded the Thammasat University in Bangkok, which with its liberal self-image. At the same time, the nationalist group led by Phibunsongkhram strengthened in the People's Party, oriented to the ideas of Italy, Germany, Japan, but also the "young Turks" (Kemal Atatürk).

During World War II, following an invasion and brief resistance, Thailand became an ally of Japan while at the same time maintaining an active anti-Japanese resistance movement known as the Seri Thai. After the war, Thailand emerged as an ally of the United States. As with many of the developing nations during the Cold War, Thailand then went through decades of political transgression characterised by coups d'état as one military regime replaced another, but eventually progressed towards a stable prosperity and democracy in the 1980s.

In 1997, Thailand was hit with the Asian financial crisis and the Thai baht for a short time peaked at 56 baht to the US dollar compared to about 25 baht to the dollar before 1997. Since then, the baht has regained most of its strength and as of 23 May 2007, is valued at 32 baht to the US dollar.

The official calendar in Thailand is based on Eastern version of the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian (western) calendar. For example, the year AD 2008 is called 2551 BE in Thailand.

Siam (predecessor of Thailand)

People speaking one of the Tai group of languages settled in what is now Thailand around 1,000 years ago. The name Siam came from a Sanskrit word, syam. It was adopted by the Portuguese from the 16th century and became the accepted geographical term. Kingdoms rose and fell, but from the 1780s the Chakri dynasty ruled the whole of Siam from their capital at Bangkok. They extended their domain into parts of modern Laos, Cambodia and Malaya, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they were forced to surrender their territories there to the French. In 1927, a radical People’s Party was formed. One of its founders was an army officer called Phibun (in full, Luang Phibunsongkhram), who in 1932 helped to lead a coup against the Chakri king and set up a government closer to a western-style democracy, with a parliament. The monarchy survived, but in 1938 Phibun took charge as dictator. A forceful nationalist and moderniser, he changed the country’s name to Thailand. The change was part of Phibun’s determination to bring his people into the modern world and at the same time to emphasise their unique identity. It was an anti-Chinese move with the slogan ‘Thailand for the Thai’. There were many Chinese in the country and many prosperous Chinese businesses, but Phibun cut down immigration from China and government-backed Thai businesses were set up, while the use of Mandarin in Chinese schools was limited to two hours a week. Thailand adopted the western calendar, a new flag was created and a new national anthem, while Phibun demanded that Thais wore western-style clothes, including hats.[1]


  • Sukhothai Kingdom 1238–1438
  • Ayutthaya Kingdom 1351–1767
  • Thonburi Kingdom 1767–1782
  • Rattanakosin Kingdom 1782–present

External links