There has been humans in the South-East Asia region for tens of thousands years. Early, they got their food from hunting and fishing and later on they also became farmers and started to grow rice more than 5000 years ago. Also, one of the first bronze age cultures in the world, was found here.
The Dvaravati and Mon period
Theravada Buddhist missionaries came from India to the region in the 2nd century and the Mon and Dvaravati period was a loose collection of Indian city states. It was flourishing until about the 9th century but lasted in a few areas until the 11th or 12th century.
The Khmer Period
From about the 8th century the Khmer's' started to expand their territory around the capital of Angkor into Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and South China and finally they dominated the region. Lopburi became the Khmer's head quarter in present Thailand. The influence of Khmer and language, culture, architecture and art was also effecting the whole region at this time. In the 13th century the Khmer domination was weakened from various reasons, such as; bad economy, mutual conflicts and malaria, plague and other diseases.
The Sukhothai Period
The Thais became the largest population in the area after the decline of the Khmer empire. Even if Thai states, such as Lanna, existed in the North, Sukhothai is often considered as the first Thai kingdom. The Sukhothai kingdom was founded in 1238 and Intradit became the first king. Forty years later, Ramkhamhaeng became the third king in this era, and he is often considered as one of the most important figures in the Thai history. The Theravada Buddhism became the state religion and Ramkhamheang was the inventor of the Thai written language. The Sukhothai culture was still flourishing and expanded it's territory. It lasted until 1378.
The Ayutthaya Period
A new powerful kingdom Ayutthaya, in the South, was founded in 1350/51 by U Thong or king Ramathibodi as his name was after he ascended the throne. Ayutthaya expand it's territory and Sukhothai became a vassal state of Ayutthaya in 1378. Ayutthaya became a powerful and rich kingdom and King Ramathibodi and his successors expanded Ayutthaya's territory. Also Angkor was attacked and in 1550 it had about same borders as present Thailand. But in 1568/69 Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese. The kingdom was however re conquered by King Naresuan after killing the Burmese crown prince with his lance, in a duel on elephant backs. In the coming 100 years, Ayutthaya started to established trade agreements and diplomatic relations with some of their neighbors and the leading European states at this time. The most "cosmopolitan" regent, at the Ayutthaya era, was King Narai. The Frenchmen tried to convert Narai to Christianity but when Narai died, in 1688, the French were driven out, and the king's Greek advisor, Constantine Phaulkon was executed. After over a century of peace, the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya again in 1766, and after more than a year long siege the city was burned down.
The Thonburi Period
The Ayutthaya General Taksin fled southwards, with some of the remaining troops and soon they got many new followers. He became the king in 1768 and Thonburi (in present Krung Thep or Bangkok at the waterside of the Chao Praya river) became the new capital city in the Kingdom of Siam. Taksin and his troops attacked the Burmese troops northwards and successfully chased them away from the country. Thonburi grew to became a strong but peaceful state for 15 years, but Taksin himself probably started to have megalomania tendencies. When he proclaimed that he was a reincarnation of the Lord Buddha, his previous supporters had enough. Taksin was killed in 1782 and his former military advisor, the army general Chakri became the new King of Siam.
The Chakri Dynasty (Rattanakosin) - King Buddha Yodfa Chulalok (Rama I) 1782-1809
Also known as Chao Phraya Chakri. He continued to defend the country against the Burmese troops and he also moved the capital city across the Chao Praya river. The name of the town became:
Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit
The world's longest place name! It is popular called Krung Thep or The City of Angels. For most foreigners the town is known as Bangkok.
King Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II) 1809-1824
Also known as prince Issarasundhorn or Phuttaloetla Nabhalai and the son of Rama I. He expanded Thailand's territory and strengthened it's position in the area. Also the Englishmen, the Frenchmen and the Dutchmen strengthened their position in the South-East Asia during his regency and they colonized many of the countries around Thailand. Rama II became father of 73 children during his lifetime! (38 boys and 35 girls)
King Nangklao (Rama III) 1824-1851
Also known as Jessadabodindra. The oldest son of king Rama II. He increased the trade between Siam and China, defended Thailand successfully against Vietnamese troops and conquered parts of Cambodia and almost all Laos. Rama III also built and restored some of the most important temples in Thailand.
King Mongkut (Rama IV) 1851-1868
Also known as Vajirayana. The son of Rama II. Many Thais and historians consider him to be on of the most significant kings of the Chakri dynasty. He prevented England and France from colonizing Siam, with lowered import and export duties. King Mongkut spoke English almost fluently. Thailand was one of few countries in the region that was not colonized by an European state. This is still a fact which makes Thai people proud. King Mongkut got infected by malaria and died in October 1868.
King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) 1868-1910
King Chulalongkorn was the oldest son of Rama IV. He is also considered as one of the most significant rulers in Thailand/Siam. He made several journeys in the world, first to Asiatic countries like Singapore, Indonesia and India and then to Europe, where he visited Sweden and Russia for example. King Chulalongkorn abolished slavery in Siam and started the work with the extensive railway system you find in Thailand today. In many Thai businesses, shops and restaurants you will find the portrait of King Chulalongkorn as respect for this regent and his highly appreciated deeds.
King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) 1910-1925
Rama VI was the son of King Chulalongkorn and Queen Sripatcharinthara. He partly got his education at University of Oxford in England. He continued his father's work, to modernize Siam. Under the First World War, Thailand supported England and the Allied Powers. Unfortunately, Siam experienced an economic crisis under the 1920's and some people was not satisfied with the progress of Siam. A number of young officers planned a Coup d'état against the King. The coup failed and the young soldiers were arrested. King Rama VI introduced the obligation of public education and he also founded the famous Chulalongkorn University, named after his father. He was also a highly recognized author and translator.
King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) 1925-1935
Known as Ratchakal Ti Jed (seventh regent) among the Thai people. He partly got his education at Woolwich Military Academy and Eton College in England. He was inspired by the democratic system with parliament in England, but constitutional monarchy was not introduced before in 1932 after a non-bloody coup. The People's Party or Khana Ratsadorn (with the famous Thai politician Pridi Phanomyong in a leading role) took a temporary control of one of the Royal Palaces in Bangkok. The first elections were held in November 1933. But this was also the start of a sixty year period, when the military, more or less, controlled Thailand. King Prajadhipok abdicate at March 2, 1935. He moved permanently to England and lived there until he passed away in 1941.
King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) 1935-1946
He was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1925. When his predecessor abdicated, Ananda Mahidol succeed his uncle. But as he was a young student, three "temporary" regents was chosen. Ten years later, King Ananda Mahidol moved permanently to Thailand, and instantly he won the Thai people's respect. But on July 9, 1946, he was found dead in his bed with a deadly shot wound. His brother; Bhumibol Adulyadej succeed him.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) 1946-
He was born in Massachusetts, USA, on the December 5, 1927 and was known as Phra Worawongse Ther Phra Ong Chao Bhumibol Adulyadej. He studied science on the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and when his brother passed away, Bhumibol Adulyadej succeed him. He chosen to return to Switzerland first to finish his studies, focusing on politics and law, because of his changed future.
In 1949, Siam officially changed it's name to Thailand and in Paris, the young King met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara (later HM Queen Sirikit), daughter of Thailand's ambassador in France. They got married on the April 28, 1950, only a week before his coronation on the May 5, 1950. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is loved by the Thai people; poor or rich, young or old doesn't matter. All Thais has a true high respect for their king. He has in a clam and objective way talked to the military and the people when disturbances have occurred in the country. He is a supporter of democracy and two separate examples can illustrate this; the disturbances in Bangkok 1973 and 1992. In 1973 a large number of people gathered in the Thammasat University and protested against a weakened democracy in Thailand. The military was mobilized to stop this revolt, but King Bhumibol Adulyadej prevented the confrontation. In May 1992 the military used live ammunition against demonstrators and many were killed (This occurrence was later known as "Black May"). The King then summoned the prime minister General Suchinda Kraprayoon, and the leader of the demonstrators; Chamlong Srimuang for a meeting, broadcast live on TV. These men crawled on their knees up to the king, who told them his opinion. Shortly later, Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister and a democratic election was held. After this, no military coup has occurred in Thailand until 2006, when the prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was removed from office in a Coup d'état.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is also the initiator of a numerous of projects that has improved the living conditions for many of the Thais, as the farmers etc. He is also a skilled jazz musician, photographer and translator.
Remember, if you are visiting Thailand, that any criticism against the monarchy will probably be considered as an serious insult by the Thai people. This is easy to understand if you consider King Bhumibol Adulyadejs contributions to Thailand and it's people.