1238 The first independent Siamese state was established at Sukhothai. Sri Indradit took over the city, which had been a garrison for the Khmer empire. The term Siam was first coined by the Khmers and is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning dark as the Siamese were much darker skinned than the Khmers. Sri Indradit began a policy of slow southwards expansion.
1275 Ramkamhaeng, the second son of Sri Indradit, took over and ruled until 1317. He was a great military leader and scholar.
1292 Ramkamhaeng’s ally, King Mangrai of Chiang Rai, had developed the Lana Kingdom and he formed a new Siamese city state capital at Chiang Mai. Other city states followed as the empire expanded as far north east as Luan Prabang in modern-day Laos. All the city states paid tribute to Sukhothai.
1350 Ayutthaya was founded as a new capital by Ramathibodi from Chiang Mai. He expanded the Siamese state southwards. However, Sukhothai did not formally recognise its existence until 1438 and Chiang Mai didn’t until well into the 16th Century.
1444 Ayutthaya’s attacks on Angkor finally forced the Khmers to abandon their capital.
Late 1540s The Burmese, with Portuguese mercenary help, attacked Ayutthaya, also with Portuguese mercenary assistance. Ayutthaya repelled the Burmese raids. However, further Burmese raids to the north were successful in taking Chiang Mai.
1564 Ayutthaya finally fell to the Burmese but was quickly retaken.
1569 A second Burmese victory in Ayutthaya led to a vassal king being installed by the Burmese in Ayutthaya. The Khmers returned to Angkor.
1589 Led by Phra Naret, also known as King Naresuan and the son of the vassal king, the Siamese regained Ayutthaya.
1595 Phra Naret’s forces regained Chiang Mai
1608 Dutch traders, welcomed by Ayutthaya, were soon followed by the British in 1612. Later, in the mid 17th Century, King Narai broke off relations with the Dutch traders.
1688 At the end of King Narai’s reign, Constantine Phaulkon (a Greek interpreter with a high-ranking position in Narai’s court) almost subverted the kingdom to French control. He was, however, assassinated. Following this, the Dutch resumed trade links.
1759 Burma unified and resumed attacks on Ayutthaya, although their first raid was unsuccessful.
1766 – 1767 Burma attacked from the north and south and destroyed Ayutthaya.
1767 – 1770 China invaded Burma and this, together with internal troubles, weakened Burmese power in the region.
1778 Thai guerrillas, led by the half-Chinese Phraya Thaksin and based near present day Bangkok, resisted further Burmese attacks and eliminated the last heir of the Ayutthaya line. They established a new capital at Thon Buri.
1781 Thaksin had been acclaimed as a military hero, but he now began to display signs of mental derangement. Some versions have it that he was removed from power due to his mental instability; others claim that he had borrowed too much money from the Chinese and was unable to repay so he was “disappeared”.
1782 King Rama I was installed to replace Thaksin and so began the present Chakri Dynasty. A new capital was established across the river from Thon Buri at Bangkok and many fine temples were built.
1780s / 1790s King Rama I repelled Burmese attacks. He also went on to gain control over Chiang Mai, Southern Thailand and some of the Khmer Kingdom to the east. He also built Bangkok’s first drainage system.
1809 – 1824 Rama II recovered many art, literary and religious treasures lost at Ayutthaya. However, he failed to expand the Kingdom.
1825 – 1851 Rama III made minimal concessions to the British at Penang. He failed to recover land lost to Burma (Tenasserim) after the Anglo-Burmese war of 1825, but he did conquer most of Laos. He also agreed to share control of Cambodia with Vietnam. He discouraged trade with Europeans.
1851 – 1868 Rama IV (King Mongkut) negotiated the Bowring Treaty with Britain in 1855 and in doing so opened the door to treaties with other Western powers. The treaties limited Siam’s control over foreign trade and domestic taxes, among other things. Having been educated in Europe, he invited European powers to help him modernize the Siamese government, infrastructure, education and military.
1868 – 1910 Rama IV’s successor, Chulalungkorn, faced the problem of growing colonialism in South-East Asia. Britain gained greater control over Malaysia to the south and Burma to the west. France had also erased Siam’s power in Cambodia to the east by 1895 and they went on to take control over all of Laos east of the Mekong. Siam seemed to be under threat from France, especially as Britain refused to help. While still trying to modernise the government and legal system, Siam also worked on developing and improving foreign relations. Territorial concessions were made to France in 1904 (Laos) and 1907 (Cambodia), and to Britain in 1909 when Siam relinquished its claims to four Malay Sultanates. Prince Damrong, the Interior Minister, and Prince Devawongse, Law and Foreign Relations Minister, had both been educated and trained in Europe and they were both instrumental in saving Siam from colonization.
1914 The outbreak of WWI finally dissipated the threat of colonization.
1910 – 1925 Chulalungkorn’s two European-educated sons reigned rather weakly. First, King Vajiravudh (1910 – 1925) didn’t really fit in to Bangkok after spending his youth in Europe. He was more interested in writing, polo, rugby and extravagant entertaining than leading the country forward.
1925 – 1932 Vajiravudh’s brother, Prajadhipok, (1925 – 1935) was more liberal but still a weak leader, failing to carry through reforms in the face of conservative opposition. After the 1929 depression, he cut expenses and in so doing lost the support of the European-educated civilian and military elite. Monarchic absolutism was now seen as a barrier to national progress and a change was on the horizon.
1932 – 1937 Siam’s first of many coup d'états was staged and King Prajadhipok was eventually forced to abdicate in 1935. He was replaced by his nephew who had been living in Switzerland. The rebels soon became divided and split into two factions: leftist civilians, led by lawyer Pridi Phanomyong and a military group, led by Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram.
1937 – 1944 Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram took power and allied Siam with Japan during WWII in an attempt to regain lost territories from Siam’s borders. The Colonel also changed the country’s name from Siam to Thailand. Roughly translated it meant the “Land of the Free” and despite the allegiance with Japan, it ironically became the only country in Asia to incorporate the English suffix “land” into its name.
1944 – 1945 As Japan began to lose the war, Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram gave way to Pridi Phanomyong’s Free Thai Faction and peace was made with Britain. The country’s name also reverted to Siam in a bid to appease the British.
1946 – 1949 Pridi Phanomyong recalled King Ananda Mahidol from Europe towards the end of 1945, hoping to prepare him for a symbolic role as the nation’s leader. However, in June 1946 as King Mahidol was due to return to Europe, he was assassinated. Pridi Phanomyong was unjustly accused and forced to flee in 1947, leaving the military in complete control. Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram was joined by Phao Siyanon and Sarit Thanarat. Together they managed to keep the trial of Mahidol’s assassination going until 1955!!! They also pursued an anti-Chinese domestic policy. In 1948, Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram changed the country’s name to Thailand once more.
1950 King Mahidol’s younger brother, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, returned to Bangkok from Europe and played a symbolic role in the new government.
1954 – 1963 Thailand was developing an anti-communist stance and sent an armed contingent to Korea to support UN forces. In 1954, Thailand joined the US and 6 other nations in signing the South-East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), a collective regional defence treaty. Marshal Sarit ousted both Colonel Plaek Phibunsongkhram and Phao Siyanon, leaving him with almost complete control over the country. He began an impressive policy of economic development that continued even after his death in 1963.
1963 – 1973 After Santi’s death in 1963, Thailand was ruled by a succession of military regimes, all of whom favoured an anti-communist stance, pro-American policies and economic growth. During the Vietnam war, Thailand was a close ally of the US, and many US troops were stationed in Thailand. Bangkok and other cities became popular rest and recreation stopovers causing an eruption in the nightlife and prostitution scene that thrives still.
In 1967, Thailand was a major player in the formation of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The desired effect of drawing the member nations’ political policies closer together was largely successful. Inter-state conflict was almost completely eradicated, as was later exemplified in 1979 when ASEAN prevented Vietnam from conquering all of Cambodia.
1973 – 1975 Following a forceful change of leadership in 1971 and as a result of the ensuing political repression, Thai students demanded that the constitution be restored in June 1973. By October of the same year, students from Thammasat University in Bangkok became involved in a bloody confrontation with the military. King Bhumibol intervened and mediated with General Krit Sivara to prevent further bloodshed and army leader Thanom was forced into exile. A new constitution was declared the following year and a civilian government installed under Professor Sanya Dharmasakti.
1976 – 1979 Following a bloody right-wing coup in 1976, Thammasat University again became a battlefield as Thai students fought for democracy but lost and Thanin Kraivichien was installed as premier. Following this, many Thais joined communist outposts in the jungles of north-eastern Thailand. A failed counter-coup followed in 1977, which did, at least, cause the removal of Thanin. Elections took place in 1979.
1980 – 1988 General Prem Tinsulanonda came to power in 1980 and so began a long period of political stability and growth. In 1983, the constitution was amended to allow a more democratically elected National Assembly. Civilian politicians favoured domestic policies and distribution of wealth as opposed to the military politicians’ continued emphasis on economic growth. Civilian governments sought to increase the funding for social services and aid to poorer regions. The civilian politicians also leaned towards greater flexibility in foreign affairs. Both civilian and military governments sought support from the monarchy and the elite civilian bureaucracy. King Bhumibol favoured both the strength and modernizing zeal of the military and the commitment to democracy and traditional values of the civilian politicians; the elite civilian bureaucracy supported the military alone as they saw this to be the best chance of furthering their own interests for national development.
1988 – 1991 Chatichai Choonhaven successfully led a democratic coalition of parties and the economy experienced a boom period. However, Chatichai was overthrown by a bloodless coup in 1991 as the military accused him of corruption.
1992 Following the election victory of a pro-military coalition in March 1992, General Suchinda Krapayoon, who was the leader of the junta being voted out of office and a non-elected official, was appointed Prime Minister. Violence erupted in the capital and by May had reached crisis point. King Bhumibol intervened and persuaded General Suchinda to resign. An interim PM was appointed and new elections held in September. Around 50 Thais, mostly university students, were killed by the military during the violence, but it is widely believed that King Bhumibol’s timely intervention stopped further bloodshed and prevented the situation from spiralling out of control.
1992 - 1996 Chuan Leekpai took over the premiership and Thailand experienced another economic boom.
1997 Following the fast economic growth of the previous years, the Thai baht crashed and an Asia-wide economic crisis followed. The value of the baht against many Western currencies halved. Many huge construction projects were abandoned and several empty building shells can be seen scattered around Bangkok to this day.
2001 – 2006 Thaksin Shinawatra and the Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party came to power on a wave of support. The poor and uneducated rural north and north-easterners were wooed with populist politics and the country became polarized in its opinion of Thaksin’s government, policies and integrity.
2006 Following street demonstrations and claims of massive corruption, the situation came to a head. On September 19, 2006 while Thaksin was in New York for a UN meeting, Army Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin launched a successful coup and Thaksin fled to London.