Historians believe that the first true agricultural societies developed in Thailand. These early people spoke a form of the modern Thai language and were quite dependent on rice. Over the years, several people groups have come and gone, but those two features of the country, the language and the growth of rice, have remained stable.
Little is known about the culture and history of these early people. It was not until the middle of the first millennium AD that written histories of Thailand were established. However, by that time, the agricultural society and the Theravada Buddhism religion were both firmly established among the people of the region.
One of the first early groups to have a written history in Thailand was the Dvaravati people in central Thailand. They began to decline in the 11th century, around the same time that the Khmer and Srivijaya kingdoms began to expand and increase in power. It was from these two people that Brahmanism and Buddhism became established as the main religions of the people of Thailand.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Khmer kingdom began to decline, and the Sukhohtai culture formed La Na Thai. They were able to hold quite a bit of land in what is now Thailand until they fell to the Burmese in 1558. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Thai kings of Ayuthaya also grew powerful. Ayuthaya became one of the wealthiest cities in Asia, and the Burmese were never able to gain control over this Thai kingdom.
In 1782, Phra Yot Fa was crowned king over the land, and he moved the capital from Ayuthaya to Bangkok, establishing the Chakri dynasty. The Chakri remained in control until 1932. During that time, the Chakri kings were able to modernize and unify the country, keeping the Burmese at bay and helping to unite the various groups that lived in the region, which at the time, was known as Siam.
In 1932, King Prajadhipok sat on the throne. At that time, a group of Thai students studying in Paris became convinced that democracy was the best form of government. They were able to overthrow the absolute monarch in Siam and set up a constitutional monarchy in a bloodless revolution. A year later, royalists tried unsuccessfully to re-establish the absolute monarchy. In 1935, King Prajadhipok abdicated the throne, and the cabinet named a 10-year-old king to the throne. This allowed the ideals of democracy to become firmly established, and the country officially changed its name from Siam to Thailand in 1939.
When Japan invaded Southeast Asia in 1941, the Thai government sided with Japan, declaring war on the US and Britain. After V-J Day in 1945, Thai ambassador to Washington took power over the country and changed its name back to Siam, but he was unseated a year later in the election, when a civilian democratic group took over under the leadership of Rpidi Phanomyong. They, in turn, were overthrown the following year by Phibul, a field marshal, who changed the name back to Thailand. He maintained power until 1951, when General Sarit Thanarat took over and continued the tradition of the military dictatorship. While he was exiled for a short period, he maintained control for the most part until his death in 1963.
From 1932 until the 1980s, 17 coups took place, 10 of which were successful. It was not until 1988 when Prime Minister Prem took control that the country began to stabilize. In fact, in the 1980s, only one attempted coup occurred. In 1991, however, there was yet another coup, resulting in the introduction of a new constitution in the 1990s. It also led to the nearly unanimous election of prime minister Thaksin in 2001 that was able to finally bring the country a lasting stability, hopefully setting the stage to make Thailand an important player in world politics.
- The people of Thailand are known to be quite hospitable, and it is quite easy for visitors to get accustomed to the culture and customs of the people because of their friendliness.
- The people of Thailand have a high level of respect for the Royal Family. In fact, if you are caught making a joke about the King of Thailand, you could be jailed. It is best to show a similar level of respect when interacting with the Thai people.
- Pointing with one’s feet is considered one of the rudest actions possible in Thailand.
- Do not touch your Thai friend on the head, because this is considered bad luck. Thais believe that the soul lives on the head, so touching it is touching something very sacred.
- In the Thai language, Thailand means “Land of the Free.”
- Leonardo di Caprio’s film “The Beach” was filmed on Phi Phi Island.
- Unlike many Asian countries, Thailand does not have an independence day. This is because it was never a European colony. Instead, they celebrate Constitution Day on December 10, which commemorates the switch from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
- In the Thai language, Bangkok is called Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. This is the longest place name on record.
- Wat Po Temple – The oldest temple in Thailand, Wat Po is also an excellent place to get a luxurious massage, and you will be surprised at how affordable it is.
- Bangkok – Thailand’s capital city is a thriving metropolis where you can sample Thai food and culture on every corner.
- The Floating Market – Imagine going to the grocery store in a canoe. The Floating Market of James Bond fame is located on the Damneon Saduak Canal and shows what trade was like in ancient Thailand.
- Chiang Mai – If the noise of Bangkok is too much for you, this quieter city offers the chance to revel in Thai culture and food without the crowds and hubbub of the capital.
- Koh Samui and Koh Phangan – These islands on the East Coast of Thailand are some of the most beautiful locations in the country, with white sand beaches lined with palm trees and clear turquoise waters.
- San Kamphaeng Hot Springs – Located near Chiang Mai, the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs is one of the most beautiful parks in Thailand. The springs themselves are known for their restorative health properties.
- Mae Hong Son – If you are curious what life was like prior to modernization in Thailand, then visit some of the villages around Mae Hong Son.
- Railay – One of the most beautiful coastlines in Thailand. You will thoroughly enjoy the beach and the views here.
- Ayutthaya – Explore the ancient Siamese capital of Siam, and marvel at the ancient architecture and artwork.
- Hin Daeng – The top diving spot in Thailand has breathtaking red coral and huge shoals of fish for you to see.
How to Get Cash
- Most large cities and towns have ATMs, and you will not have a problem making an international withdrawal using your debit card. This is often the best rate you will find to get money when you are in Thailand.
- Traveler’s checks are accepted throughout Thailand. This can be a safe way to transport money to the more remote areas.
- SuperRich is a popular moneychanger, and you may find that the exchange rate is better than paying the ATM fee and the fee from your local bank. You can find SuperRich branches in most major cities.
- Tourist areas are usually glad to accept your credit card, but this may not be the case in local markets. Always have a bit of cash on hand just in case. Some businesses add a few percentage points in order to cover the credit card processing fees, so ask what the surcharge is before you order.
- If you run out of money while visiting Thailand, you can find Western Union and other similar cash advance stations in most major cities.