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History of Thailand

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Thailand, previously known as Siam until 1939, was founded way back in 13th century. Though there are many opinions regarding the origin of the Thais, their pre-historic settlement can be associated with the archaeological site of Ban Chiang. The excavation carried there points to the theory that the Thais originated in Thailand itself and later on scattered to various parts of Asia, including China.

The Mon Civilization, called Dvaravati with its Indian cultural traits, had a great influence on the central and western areas of Thailand from 9th to 11th century. The Khmer cultural impact pervaded all forms of language, art and religion from 11th to 12th century. In the Khmer empire at Sukhothai stone sculptures and architectures were constructed and this eased the entry of Sanskrit into the vocabulary.

The northern state of Lanna coexisted with Sukhothai. In 1259 the first king Mengrai ascended the throne and extended the borders of the kingdom from Laos to Lamphum. He also laid the foundation of the capital of Chiang Mai.

Siam was ruled by the Khmers during the 11th and 12th century. The 1st independent Sukhothai kingdom was established when the Khmers were overthrown by the two rebellious chieftains. The Sukhothai period, starting from 1938, is considered to be the golden age of the Thai culture, economy, art, foreign affairs and trade. The modern alphabet was conceived during the reign of King RamKhamhaeng.

In 1350 King U-Thong founded the capital of Ayutthaya at the confluence of three rivers. Because of its geographical and economic boundaries the Thai kings of Ayutthaya expanded their territories. From 16th century onwards, the Kingdom saw settlers from Portugal, Spain, Netherlands and Britain. Time and again the control over the kingdom of Ayutthaya oscillated between the Burmese and the Thai rulers and the capital shifted to Thornburi in the process.

The capital of Thailand was shifted from Thornburi to Bangkok when King Rama I was coronated in 1782. This dynasty not only extended the coverage of Thailand but also patronized literature, encouraged foreign relations and trade, empowered women and children, opened new waterways and roadways and also opened the country’s first printing press.

This period was known as the ‘Ratanakosin’. The initial steps towards Europeanization and modernization of Thailand took place during this period. The country’s name was officially changed from ‘Siam’ to ‘Thailand’ under the governance of Rama IX. Constitutional monarchy replaced absolute monarchy in 1932.

Since 1932, the army has taken over the government in no less than 17 occasions. During the Cold War, this was a minor consideration-democratic governments were rare in the region and Thailand’s chief strategic ally, US, was more concerned with the country’s role of thwarting encroaching communism from anywhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand was a major player in the regional ant-communist bloc, Association of Southeast Asian Nation or ASEAN. Thailand has always proposed the reformation of ASEAN as a regional trading bloc. This was part of a realignment of Thai policy engineered by the government of Chatichai Choonhaven, who led the country from his election in 1988 until his overthrow in a military coup in February 1991. This coup-17th and the last since 1932- headed by army Chief General Suchinda Kraprayoon and ended with a return to democratic civilian government in March 1992.

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