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Thailand

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Brief History of Thailand

Thailand was known for centuries by outsiders as Siam. It first made a real impression on the West at the end of the 17th century, through the reports of a series of inquisitive Frenchmen. They were not the first Europeans to spend time in the kingdom, however. The Portuguese sent an envoy to the capital in 1511, shortly after they seized Malacca. The Portuguese joined resident Chinese, Japanese, Malays and Persians to make the Siamese capital one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the vast region now known as Southeast Asia.

It is now believed that Thailand's human history predates that of any other country in the world. The archaeological discoveries at Ban Chiang suggest that it was the site of the world's oldest Bronze Age civilisation, with artifacts dating back seven to eight thousand years.

Although the inhabitants of Ban Chiang later moved on, for centuries there was a steady flow of immigrants arriving from the northern and eastern countries, crossing the Mekong River and settling in the north of the country. The Thais began migrating from southern China in the early part of the Christian era. At first they formed a number of city-states in the northern part of what is present-day Thailand, in places like Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, but these were never strong enough to exert much influence outside the immediate region. These settlers included Mon, Khmer and Chinese and small township soon established themselves around the country.

Gradually the Thais migrated further south to the broad and fertile central plains, and expanded their dominance over nearly the entire Indochina Peninsula. Contradictory as it may seem, however, recent archaeological discoveries around the northeast hamlet of Ban Chiang suggest that the world's oldest Bronze Age civilization was flourishing in Thailand some 5,000 years ago.

Sukhothai period (1238 - 1350 A.D.)

By the early 1200s the Thais had established small northern city-states in Lanna, Phayao and Sukhothai. In 1238 two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang Tao and Khun Pha Muang, successfully rebelled against Khom suzerainty and established the first truly independent Thai kingdom in Sukhothai - a kingdom that was short-lived but of immense cultural importance in the nation's history.

Sukhothai saw the Thais' gradual expansion throughout the entire Chao Phraya River basin and the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the paramount Thai religion. It was here that the first evidence of written Thai was left, along with distinctively Thai styles of art such as painting, sculpture, architecture and literature, which survived after Sukhothai was absorbed by the kingdom of Ayutthaya - a dynamic young kingdom further south in the Chao Phraya River valley.

Ayutthaya period (1350 - 1767 A.D.)

During Ayutthaya's 417 years as the capital, under the rule of 34 kings, the Thais brought their distinctive culture to full fruition, totally rid their lands of Khom presence, and fostered contact with Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and European powers. Contact with the West especially flourished during the reign of King Narai the Great (1656-1688) in which an envoy was sent to France to establish foreign diplomacy. Founded in 1350 Ayutthaya remained the Thai capital until it was sacked and burned by the Burmese.

Ayutthaya's downfall was a severe blow to the Thais. However a Thai revival occurred within a few months, and the Burmese were expelled by King Taksin who ushered in the Thonburi Period (1767-1782). King Taksin made Thonburi the capital, but it was the shortest-lived capital in Thai history. In 1782 the first king of the present Chakri dynasty, Rama I, established his new capital on the site of a riverside hamlet called Ban Kok (Village of the Wild Plums).

Thonburi Period (1767 - 1782 A.D.)

Ayutthaya’s downfall was a severe blow to the Thais. However, a Thai revival occurred within a few months, and the Burmese were expelled by King Taksin, who ushered in the Thonburi Period (1767-1782). King Taksin made Thonburi the capital, but it was the shortest-lived capital in Thai history. In 1782 the first king of the present Chakri dynasty, Rama I, established his new capital on the site of a riverside hamlet called Ban Kok (Village of the Wild Plums).

Rattanakosin period (1782-present)

During the Rattanakosin Period (1782 - present) two Chakri monarchs, King Mongkut (Rama IV) who reigned between 1851 and 1868 and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910), saved Thailand from the powerful tides of Western colonialism through adroit diplomacy and selective modernization.

Today, Thailand is a modern constitutional monarchy. Since 1932, Thai kings, including the present monarch H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), have exercised their legislative powers through a national assembly, their executive powers through a cabinet headed by a prime minister and their judicial powers through the courts of law.

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