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Thailand - History

Thailand was formerly known as Siam has a history that goes back many thousands of years. The Thai people themselves are considered to have originally come from the Szechuan part of China. These people are thought to have divided into two groups, one settling in the north forming the kingdom of ‘Lanna’ and the other in the south, in the kingdom of ‘Sukhothai’ although there is also evidence that there was inhabitation of this part of the world much further back.

From the 9th to the 11th centuries the Dvaravati peoples were occupying parts of central and western Thailand. These are connected to the Khmers and this was a culture heavily influenced by India. The Khmer influence was brought into Thailand as language, religion and art. They brought their own style of architecture as well, but their power was not widespread throughout the whole area.

The Lanna period in Thai history covered areas of the country such as Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Phayao. The first leader of this period of history had its first king in Mengrai, who took the throne in 1259. Chiang Mai served as the capital of this kingdom and the kingdom was very close to those of Phayao and Sukhothai as the three kings were good friends. There were no territorial boundaries between the three kingdoms. The Lanna period lasted for more than 200 years and it was internal conflicts and conflict with later rulers of Sukhothai that brought about its end.

Sukhothai was the first independent kingdom in Thailand and dates back to 1238. This period of the country’s history is considered to be important for cultural development. This was a fairly short period of history and was followed by the Ayutthaya period, which began around 1350. This is the same name of the capital city of this part of the region and due to the location between three rivers, is considered to be an island. The abundance of agricultural produce in this area meant that everybody lived fairly well and they had good trade with other regions and countries. The kings of Ayutthaya were powerful, particularly in the 14th and 15th centuries. They failed to conquer other regions such as Lanna but did increase its territories.

During this time the society in Thailand developed its hierarchy structure. This period of Thai history lasted for more than 400 years. During this time the French attempted to take parts of the country, having first sent missionaries and merchants to Thailand. It took very little time for the Thai people to put a stop to this and afterwards they chose to have less contact with nations from the west, although there was an increase in trade with China and India.

Ayutthaya had difficult relationships with neighbours such as Cambodia, Burma and Pattani. In 1569 a Burmese king captured the city and the inhabitants were under Burmese rule for more than 10 years. The city was recaptured by Prince Naresuan, who later became king.

The Thonburi period began with a general named Taksin, who later became king. Thonburi became the capital of the country when Ayutthaya was once again taken by the Burmese in 1767. This was one of the darkest times in the history of Thailand but over a few years foreign trade was once again re-established and as the new leader was a military general he managed to resist all attempts from the Burmese to capture the rest of the country.

In 1782 Rama I came to power and began to develop Bangkok – which had been a small village – into a city. Over the next few years there was development not just of cities but literature and foreign trade. King Rama IV spent 27 years as a Buddhist monk and learned many languages including English and Latin. He developed laws which looked after the interests of women and children.

Thailand declared itself to be an independent nation in 1886. In the early part of the 20th century the railways, schools and postal service was developed and Thailand started its own civil service system. Relations with the US and European countries were established. Between 1925 and 1935 the country was ruled by Rama VII and became a democracy.

In 1946 the country changed its name to Thailand from Siam. The word ‘Thai’ means ‘free’.

Read more about this country

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