The word “Thai” means free, and therefore Thailand means the “land of the free”. Previously the country was well-known to the world as “Siam” and only on May 11, 1949 did an official proclamation changed the name of the country into “Prathet Thai” or “Thailand” by which it has since come to be known throughout the world.
In childhood, our school textbooks told us that our ancestors had their roots in Southern China where they originated some 4,500 years ago. Under pressure from China, they moved southward through Burma down to the Indo-Chinese peninsula, the “Thai Noi” then established their capital in Sukhothai, the northern province of Thailand.
Now there are conflicting opinions and theories about the origin of the Thais since the discovery of many instruments and artifacts at the village of Ban Chiang in Nong Han District of the northeastern province of Udon Thani. The theory about the origin of the Thai people has now changed, it appears that the Thais might have first settled down here in Thailand and later scattered to various parts of Asia, even to some parts of China.
The controversy over the origin of the Thais shows no sign of definite conclusion as many more theories have been put forward and some even go further to say that the Thais were originally of Austronesian rather than Mongoloid. What the outcome of the dispute may be, by the 13th century the Thais had already settled down within the Southeast Asian mainland with Sukhothai as the “first kingdom”. The Sukhothai era marked a period of great cultural development. Under King Ramkhamhaeng the Great who ruled from 1275 to 1315, the land of Sukhothai was thriving. There were fish in the water and rice in the fields. Due to the kingdom’s prosperity, it is regarded as a “golden age” in the Thai history.
Then in 1350, a new dynasty led by King Ramathibodi I (Uthong) established a new capital at Ayutthaya, and in 1378 during the reign of King Borommaracha I, Sukhothai was subdued to become a tributary state of Ayutthaysa. The Ayutthaya kingdom survived several wars with Burma before falling to the invading Burmese in 1767.
Following this defeat, the Thais led by King Taksin retreated south and established another capital at Thon Buri. On his death in 1782, the King was succeeded by King Phra Buddha Yodfah Chulaloke (Rama I) who moved the capital across the river to the present location in Bangkok as Thon Buri was too vulnerable to Burmese attack. The King founded the Chakri dynasty which rules the country to the present day.