History of Thailand
The foundations for the Kingdom of Thailand as we know it today were laid in 1351. The then Siamese capital of Ayutthaya was ruled by Thailand’s first king, Ramathibodi I. It was he who proclaimed Buddhism as the official national religion. The city of Ayutthaya went on to become the prosperous center of South-East Asia, with more than one million inhabitants; comparable to Paris in size and scope. This lasted 400 years, until 1767, when the kingdom was annexed, destroyed and demolished by Burmese forces.
Taksin the Great
General Taksin is one of the biggest names in Thai history. Born in 1734 in Ayutthaya, he would go on to play a leading role in its defense. However, when it became clear the city was beyond saving, he managed, if only by the skin of his teeth, to escape its burning ruins. Shortly afterward, determined to fight back, he raised an army and retook Ayutthaya, expelling the Burmese. Ayutthaya was then abandoned as the capital in favor of a small fishing village along the Chao Phraya River, named Thon Buri. It was here that General Taksin would be crowned king.
King Taksin was unrelenting in his fight for his nation’s independence and even managed to expand his kingdom. However, his drive and combativeness would prove to be his undoing. In 1782, he was deposed, declared “insane” and brutally executed in the traditional way, by being sealed into a velvet sack, to conceal the flowing of royal blood, and bludgeoned to death. Legend has it that it wasn’t King Taksin that was executed that day, but a substitute and that Taksin lived on for many years as a monk. These days Taksin is known as “Taksin the Great” by virtue of his heroic deeds for the homeland.
Taksin was succeeded by General Chakri, who would adopt the name Rama I at his coronation. This would be the start of the Chakri dynasty on the Thai throne.
King Chakri moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River bank to Rattanakosin; modern day Bangkok. He also commissioned the building of the Grand Palace, now one of Bangkok’s most popular tourist attractions. His heirs did what they could to modernize the country and keep it going forward. They built trade relations with important countries such as France, England, and China. This led to a more self-relying and strong economy, which is one of the reasons cited for Thailand being the only South-East Asian country to have escaped colonization.
In 1932 Thailand went from being an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Then King Rama VII lost absolute power in his country. Thailand remains a constitutional monarchy until today. In 1939 it changed its name from Siam to Thailand; Prathet Thai in Thai, meaning “free land”. In 1946, recently deceased king Rama IX was crowned. He was the longest raining king in Thai history and enjoyed unparalleled popularity amongst his people.
During World War II Thailand was invaded by the Japanese who demanded free passage to Malaysia. The Thai accepted this demand on several conditions, one of them being Japanese assistance in retaking territory they had lost to the French and the English. Japan agreed and gained free passage with support from the Thai state.
This changed in 1944 when the Thai chose the side of the Allied forces and expelled the Japanese. Thailand became a member of the United Nations in 1946.
Modern day Thailand
The decades that followed would be accompanied by much political unrest. Coup d’états followed each other in quick succession, each time bringing a new military junta to power. The eighties saw the country change course towards a stable democracy, developments which would lead to the signing of its first ever constitution in 1997. 2001 marked another milestone, with the first government entirely elected by the people.
King Rama IX had been the one stable factor through all the decades of political unrest. This is one of the reasons why he was so much loved by the Thai people. Just like Taksin the Great, his is an important name in Thai history.
Since 2016 Thailand has a new king, King Vajiralongkorn, son of the deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej.