The earliest known traces of human presence in the Indochinese peninsula have been dated to the Pleistocene epoch, 1 million years ago. Evidence for the use of bronze and agricultural practices is dated to around 1500 BC, with many archaeological sites testifying to both Bronze Age (1500 BC-500 BC) and Iron Age (500 BC-500 AD) settlements.


Though still the subject of much scholarly debate, the distinct ethnic groups of Thai peoples are generally held to have originally migrated from Southern China to the Southeast Asian region around the 10th Century AD, and set up city-states equivalent to modern day Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, spreading southwards and gradually establishing ascendancy over the Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms that had previously prevailed in the peninsula. In common with neighbouring kingdoms, prevailing Hindu traditions were gradually supplanted by the spread of Buddhist beliefs.  

The history of the Siamese (Thai) nation begins with the founding of Sukhothai in 1238, by which time the Thais were strong enough to wrest their lands from tribute to the once-mighty Khmer empire of Angkor.

The legacy of Sukhothai, whose architecture still inspires visitors today, is the written Thai language, which was formalised at this time and is often personally attributed to Sukhothai’s most enigmatic King, Ramkhamhaeng, still held in high regard as a wise, magnanimous and just ruler by modern Thais, wistful for its perceived ‘Golden Age’ of prosperity and social beneficence.

Other rival Thai states, Ayuthaya and Lannathai also grew strong in power, and Sukhothai was itself was subsumed by Ayuthaya in 1378 AD, who also finally conquered what remained of the Angkor empire in 1431 AD. Lannathai retained its independence until 1558 AD, when this northern Thai kingdom fell under Burmese control.  

Ayuthaya was founded by its first King, Ramathibodi I, nearby modern Bangkok in 1351 AD and, in 1360, set the cultural tone for the future by adopting Theravada Buddhism as its official religion. Ayuthaya was a federation of self-governing principalities, and would become the dominant force in Southeast Asia until the 1700’s.  

Ayuthaya’s principles of government were more earthly than those of its predecessor and much more concerned with trade and conquest. Despite its earlier victory over Angkor, a prolonged ambitious struggle to gain the strategically important Malay port of Malacca failed, with Ayuthaya initially desisting from the planned invasion under the pressure of Chinese influence, and later thwarted by the intervention of the Portuguese, who occupied coveted Malacca in 1511.

The neighbouring Toungoo kingdom of Burma, which had steadily been increasing in power, began to threaten and by 1569, aided by Thai rebels, Ayuthaya had fallen and been rendered a vassal state by the Burmese. King Naresuan, after a period of exile in Toungoo, raised Thai resistance to the Burmese, finally regaining his Kingdom in 1593.

After a period of consolidation, accompanied by political centralisation, Ayuthaya again became a powerhouse of the region, though internal strife among the ruling families, common to so much of history, left its bloody trail through its glittering halls.

Ayuthaya’s ‘Golden Age,’ characterised by its output of art, literature and learning would follow, but peaceful times would again be usurped by war, first with the Vietnamese over the control of Khmer lands of present day Cambodia and later, more seriously, by Burma, who in 1767 eventually overthrew Ayuthaya, setting it aflame and leaving behind the often visited impressive ruins of today.

Within a year of the invasion of 1767, Thai forces under General, later King, Taskin, regained control from the Burmese occupation, and set up a new capital at Thonburi. By 1778, the Thais had also wrested control over much of present day Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos.

Citing King Taskin’s alienating religious overzealousness as a suitable motive, in 1782, his commander in chief seized power, executed the King, and declared the title his own under the name of Rama I, establishing the contemporary capital of Bangkok, where his lineal descendants continue to occupy the throne today.

As the encroachment of European colonial forces began to take hold throughout the east, with neighbouring Burma falling to the British in 1824, succeeding Siamese Kings busied themselves with a series of far-sighted alliances and trade deals, albeit with the reluctant surrender of some of their own conquests, to avoid the occupations of the French, who assumed rulership of its eastern neighbours of Vietnam in 1858, Cambodia in 1862 and Laos in 1863.

Uniquely among its neighbours, Siam (Thailand) was spared the colonial interventions of Britain, France, Portugal and Holland, the the consequential aftermath of which, particularly in Indochina, would later give rise to such bitter conflict and inhumanity in the latter half of the twentieth century.

King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), who’s rule is immortalised in western perception by the films “The King and I” and “Anna and the King,” set about introducing major modernising reforms, including the abolition of slavery, in a bid to further ward off possible pretext for colonial occupation.

Chulalongkorn’s son, Vajiravudh (1910-1925), who had been educated at both Oxford and Sandhurst in England, continued the process of of successfully avoiding foreign intervention with further reforms influenced by western thinking, abolishing polygamy and introducing compulsory education.  

Following the King’s sudden death, he was succeeded by his brother King Prajadhipok (1925-1935), also western educated, who inherited a troubled economy which developed, along with the rest of the world at this time, into a deep recession.


On June 24, 1932, in an initially bloodless coup, the military took power in Thailand, which resulted in the demise of absolute rule and adoption of the constitutional monarchy model, which remains the case today. In-fighting within various factions would soon blight the peace, however, with King Prajadhipok abdicating on March 2, 1935.

The next six years would see an expansion of nationalist sentiment during which, in 1939, Siam was re-named Thailand. With increased military expenditure enabled on the back of a recovering economy and aided by the fall of France to the Nazis in Europe, Thailand would briefly reclaim portions of its former empire previously ceded to Britain and France.

As the price for co-operation and support from Japan, Japanese troops were allowed freedom of movement within Thailand during the Second World War, which, most notably, led to the building of the infamous Thai-Burma railway.

Following the end of the war, protected from British occupation by the anti-colonial sentiments of the US, elections were planned and held in January1946, which would witness Thailand’s first democratically elected government. By November 1947, however, the military had again seized control and would remain in power, despite much internal rivalry, until 1973.  

One of the key factors which would engender the transformation of Thailand into the country we know today, was the Vietnam war of the 1960’s. Traditionally enemies of Vietnam, Thailand was eager to support the US, allowing large US bases and catering extensively to the recreation of US soldiers during the conflict. The seduction of western cash and ideals greatly accelerated Thailand’s modernisation, and in turn, ultimately opened its unique potential to the world as a tourist heaven, first exploited by hippy travellers.

During the early 1970’s, public, and in particular, student, dissatisfaction with military rule became emboldened and, by 1973, had developed into large scale protests. In October of that year, the heavy-handed response of the authorities sparked a full-scale riot across the Capital, which was only brought to an end by King Bhumibol opening the palace gates as a place of refuge for students fleeing the gunfire of the police.

Shamed by the stain on the nation, which resulted in 1,577 deaths, the King publicly condemned both sides, which successfully resulted in an agreement to hold elections and restore democracy to Thailand.


The elections of 1975 and 1976 both failed to produce a majority and the resultant destabilisation, combined with corruption, led to the military yet again staging a coup in October 1976 which was followed by the subsequent arrest, torture, murder and exile of hundreds of students.  

Another attempt to restore democracy, albeit with military figures standing as candidates, produced an outright winner during the election of 1983 in the shape of General Prem Tinslanonda, who remained the country's prime minister until 1988, when fresh elections saw former General Chatichai Choonhaven in the post. Before long, he was however soon marred by corruption, leading to a yet another military coup in 1991.

Civil unrest again broke out, which resulted in the massacre of hundreds on the streets of Bangkok. Teetering on the brink of civil war, the King again intervened and managed to produce a resolution which again restored democracy in 1992, this time with more enduring results.

Sadly, as is common with so many governments, whether it be known to the populace or not, corruption and profiteering again poisoned the respect of the public and the jealous ambition of rivals, which yet again saw a brief military intervention in 2006, with a new election in 2007.

Thailand's political divide, which consistently fails to deliver a stable minority government, led to a further coup in 2014, an overthrow of the constitution, and reinstated military rule, though the law of the land is still largely administered through the civilian courts.

Despite the instability, which will occasionally still witnesses occasionally violent protests in Bangkok, the ever practical Thai’s have always been careful to prevent damage to their lucrative tourist industry, keeping their occasional bloody feuds confined to select areas of the capital, a strategy that has clearly worked, as the country's huge popularity and year on year increases in visitor numbers show.