The name Thailand translates as the “land of the free” and rightly so. Throughout the country’s 800-year history, Thailand is the only country in South-east Asia to have never been colonized. It is also affectionately known as the “land of smiles” to its many visitors. This country, previously known as Siam, spans across an area of 514,000 square kilometres in the heart of South-east Asia and shares its borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
The Thais, most historians believe, began migrating from southern China in the early part of the Christian era. At first, they formed the kingdom of Lanna in the northern part of what is present-day Thailand, but it wasn’t strong enough to exert much influence outside the immediate region. Gradually the Thais migrated further south to the broad and fertile central plains, forming the Sukhothai empire and expanded their dominance over nearly the entire Indochina Peninsula.
Sukhothai was the first Thai kingdom. It was founded in 1238 by two Thai governors, Khun Bang Klang Thao (Sri Inthrathit) and Khun Pha Muang, who rebelled against the Khmers and gave independence to the region. The Sukhothai period was the most flourishing period of Thailand and was considered the golden age of Thai culture.
Between the mid- to late-14th century the Sukhothai dynasty was forced to submit to a new rising power, the Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya, and was completely absorbed by 1438. The city-state of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and established its capital on the Chao Phraya River in central Thailand, calling it Ayutthaya, after Ayodhya, the Indian city of the hero Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana.
The then king declared Theravada Buddhism as the official religion and compiled a legal code based on Hindu legal texts and Thai custom that remained in effect until the late 19th century. Ayutthaya became the region’s most powerful kingdom, eventually capturing Angkor and forcing the Khmer to submit to Thai rule.
The Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms were the reason the Thai culture flourished and developed to what it is today. It was under the influence of these two kingdoms that Thailand emerged as the spiritual, cultural, and culinary hub we know and love.
As contradicting as it may seem, however, recent archaeological discoveries around the north-east hamlet of Ban Chiang suggest that the world’s oldest Bronze Age civilization was flourishing in Thailand some 5,000 years ago.
Regardless which version of history is more accurate, what is certain is that this profound country has a unique blend of old and new as its population thrives towards modernity, yet is firmly grounded in their culture and traditions. Attracting visitors of all ages and from various walks of life, Thailand has something to offer for everyone who comes knocking. Or should we say smiling?
Find your nearest Asian Store