The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometres, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Burma to the west and north, Laos to the northeast. Kampuchea to east and Malaysia to the south.
Topographically the country is divided into four distinct areas: the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of the Northeast, and the peninsula South distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore islands.
Although other civilizations had existed on Thai soil much earlier, Sukhothai was the first sovereign kingdom of Thailand. It flourished for over 100 years during which time the distinctive forms of Thai art, architecture and culture were firmly implanted.
At approximately the same time, King Mengrai, an ally of Sukhothai, was establishing the northern Lannathai kingdom, centered in Chiang Mai which was founded in 1296.
In the mid-14th century a new and more powerful dynasty arose at Ayutthaya, an island city in the Chao Praya River 85 kilometres north of present day Bangkok. Quickly gaining in wealth, military might and prestige, Ayutthaya absorbed the former kingdom of Sukhothai and remained Thailand's capital for 417 years, holding sway over most of the country except the North.
Ayutthaya prospered steadily reaching the height of its power in the 17th century when diplomatic relations with the West were established and trade agreements were made with the leading European powers of the day. Weakened by internal conflicts, Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767.
After fleeing south, the survivours of Ayutthaya were rallied under King Taksin who founded a new capital at Thonburi and eventually succeeded in expelling the Burmese from Thai soil.
On the death of Taksin in 1782, Chao Phraya Chakri was proclaimed King and, as Rama I, was the founder of the present Chakri dynasty. For strategic purposes he moved his capital across the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok.
Under the Chakri Kings the borders of Thailand were consolidated and other parts of the country were gradually brought under the full control of the central government. Rama IV (King Mongkut, 1851-1868), secured ties with the West, especially with France and Britain, while at the same time, assuring his country's independence and avoiding the colonial fate of all Thailand's neighbours.
King Mongkut's successor, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910), brought about many social and political reforms that firmly guided Thailand into the 20th century.
The absolute monarchy continued through the reign of Rama VI (1910-1925) and into that of Rama VII (1925-1934). But in 1932 a coup d'etat succeeded in bringing about a change to a constitutional monarchy. Rama VII accepted the situation but chose to abdicate two year after the coup.
The throne passed to the young King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) who reigned until 1946, and was successed by his brother King Bhumipol (Rama IX), the present monarch.