A journey through Thailand's past part 1 (2023)

A journey through Thailand's past part 1 (1)

As the famous scientist Carl Sagan observed, "You must know the past to understand the present." In other words, "to understand how contemporary Thailand has formed, it is worth looking at history".

This series provides an overview of events from the period 1967 to 2017. Each part covers a period of five years and is sure to hold surprises for even the most knowledgeable Thai history buffs.

Part 1: Period 1967-1971


1967 was the year when Thai Rung Engineering Company was founded by Vichien Phaoenchoke. It was the first and only Thai car manufacturing company. Other major news items from 1967 include:


Thai troops were deployed to South Vietnam for the first time. About 1.000 Thai soldiers took part in military operations alongside US-backed South Vietnamese troops.

American Nobel laureate John Steinbeck arrived in Bangkok after a four-month 'research mission' in Vietnam. Steinbeck predicted that the US would win the war and condemned anti-war protesters.


U.S. officials admitted for the first time that the U.S. planes used Thai bases to bomb North Vietnam. There were approximately 35.000 US military personnel stationed in Thailand at the time.

American Jim Thompson did not return from a trip to Malaysia. It was learned that he disappeared into the jungle around the Cameron Highlands after taking a hike from a cottage where he was staying. Thompson was a former intelligence officer associated with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA). He settled in Thailand in 1946 and was responsible for making Thai silk world famous.

Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's first university named after King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), celebrated its 50th anniversary. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit opened the festivities that took place on campus over three days.


A captivated audience watched the first Thai color TV show on eight 61 cm screens placed outside the Royal Hotel in Bangkok. Television sets were sold in stores, but cost at least twice as much as black and white sets.


Thai security forces arrested 37 members of the Communist Party of Thailand, both men and women, including some alleged leaders. Most of the arrests were made in Bangkok. Under Article 17 of the new interim constitution, those arrested risked the death penalty.


An emotional ceremony was held for the first two Thai soldiers to die in Vietnam. The soldiers were reportedly killed by a booby trap while on patrol near Saigon. Their bodies were flown to Don Muang airport.

Establishment of Prince of Songkhla University, the first university in southern Thailand. The king named the university in honor of his father, His Royal Highness Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, Prince of Songkhla. An initial plan to build the university in Pattani province was scrapped and Hat Yai in Songkhla province was chosen instead.


Establishment of the Association of Thai Industries (FTA), a private organization that aims to innovate and promote Thai industry.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Bangkok at the invitation of the Buddhist Association of Thailand. While in Thailand, he met local religious leaders and government officials, including Prince Dhani Nivat, Chairman of the Privy Council, and Prime Minister Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.

According to the Ministry of Health, STD infections in Thailand had increased by 50 percent in the past five years. The ministry said most of the infections were contracted from prostitutes and asked the United Nations for help. The UN Children's Fund and the World Health Organization promised to help.

Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of assassinated US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, visited Thailand. She met the King and Queen during her short stay.

The first Thailand National Games, also known as Phra Nakhon 1967, was held in Bangkok. The multi-sport venue hosted 103 events in 15 disciplines. A total of 716 athletes from all regions of the country took part in the games.


1968 was the year when the separatist Islamist group Pattani United Liberation Organization was founded, with the aim of using military and political means to achieve independence for Muslim-majority areas in southern Thailand.


Prime Minister Thanom announced that US fighter jets taking off from Thai air bases bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. It was the first official acknowledgment that American bombings were launched from Thai soil. The prime minister justified the action by saying it was "for the defense of our country".

The Shah of Iran and Empress Farah paid a week-long state visit to Thailand. They were greeted at Don Muang Airport by the King and Queen, who had visited Iran in February 1967.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda paid a five-day state visit to Thailand during which they met the King and Queen.


Prime Minister Thanom has inaugurated Thailand's first steel plant, GS Steel, at a ceremony in Samut Prakan province. The factory was a joint venture between GS and the Japanese companies Mitsubishi Shoki Kaisha and Kawaishi-Gisho. The factory complex consisted of 14 buildings.


About 1.000 taxi drivers formed the Taxi Drivers Cooperative, making it the first union in Thailand. The aim of the cooperative was to improve the working conditions of taxi drivers and provide a better experience for passengers.

Tanayong NV was founded. The company is now called BTS Group Holding and is the majority shareholder of Bangkok Mass Transit System PCL, which operates both the BTS Skytrain and Bangkok BRT.


The country's first satellite communications ground station opened at Tung Sukhla in Si Racha district of Chonburi province. The station was linked to an IntelSat II satellite orbiting 22.300 miles above the Pacific Ocean, enabling voice, television and data communications. It was the first such station in Southeast Asia.

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia paid a three-day state visit to Thailand during which he met the king. His Majesty said the Emperor's visit "is the first time a reigning monarch from Africa has made a state visit to Thailand" and praised the Emperor's "wise and benevolent leadership".


For the first time in Thai medical history, doctors at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok succeeded in separating conjoined twins. The twins had a fused liver and the complicated surgery to separate them was performed by a team of five Thai doctors led by the head of the hospital's pediatric department, Dr. Snoh Indrasukhsri.


Popular 38-year-old singer Surapol Sombatcharoen, hailed as 'Thailand's Elvis', was shot dead by a hit man after getting into his car in a parking lot after a performance at Saengchand Theater in Nakhon Pathom province. Thousands of mourners came to his funeral at Wat Paknam in Thonburi.


The last nine trams were removed from the streets of Bangkok after they were found to be too expensive to maintain and blocked vehicular traffic. The trams had been introduced to Bangkok about 70 years earlier.


The first King's Cup, the country's first international football tournament organized by the Football Association of Thailand, kicked off at the National Stadium and lasted until December. The Cup was won by Indonesia, who defeated Burma 1-0 in the final. Thailand finished third. Three bottle bombs exploded during a semi-final between Thailand and Burma, injuring seven spectators in the stadium. Authorities suspected that the incident was the work of communist insurgents.


The King opened the National Cancer Institute on Rama IV Road near Ramathibodi Hospital. The institute was partially funded by Japan. The king proclaimed December 10 Day against Cancer.


1969 saw the transition of Assumption University, founded in 1938, to an autonomous educational institution, as well as the establishment of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Surat Thani Province. The area was evangelized in the 1969s by the Salesians of Don Bosco. 1989 was also the year when Sahakol Air was established as an air taxi service. It was Thailand's first private domestic airline and was contracted by the Overseas International Construction Company, US Operation Mission and other organizations involved in oil and natural gas exploration in the Gulf of Thailand. The airline was renamed Bangkok Airways in XNUMX.


An IBM 1800 computer was delivered to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, a gift from the US Pentagon. The computer was installed in the Faculty of Engineering. The computer was intended for scientific and industrial work and also available to US and Thai military personnel.

A professional fight between two Thai boxers at Ratchadamnoen Stadium was led by former world heavyweight boxing champion Rocco Francis Marchegiano, better known as Rocky Marciano. About 12.000 people attended. Marciano won all 49 fights of his career, 43 by KO.

The first national elections in 11 years were held. More than 1.500 candidates from a dozen parties and independents competed for 219 seats in the House of Representatives. Prime Minister Thanom's United Thai People Party won 75 seats and 72 went to independents. After the election, 30 of the 72 independents joined the UTPP.


A US Air Force EC-121 spy plane crashed on takeoff near Korat, killing all 18 crew members. The crash occurred in an uninhabited area about three miles northwest of Korat's Royal Thai Air Force Base.


Three power stations, Yanhee Electricity Authority, Lignite Electricity and Northeast Electricity Authority joined the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). The merger was intended to cut costs. EGAT became the largest power producer in Thailand.

Fifty-three Thai fishermen were released by Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk after spending five to eight years in Cambodian custody. The fishermen had been captured in Cambodian waters, charged with illegal fishing and jailed. The Burmese ambassador representing Thai interests in Cambodia was jointly responsible for the release.


The king authorized the purchase of new printing presses to produce high quality banknotes. The Bank of Thailand's Banknote Printing Division said using high-quality paper and modern printing techniques would deter counterfeiters. The first time the new presses were used, they produced five and ten baht notes.


US President Richard Nixon and his wife Pat visited Thailand and were received by the King and Queen. They also met Prime Minister Thanom and other officials, including Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger joined the president at several meetings.


Prime Minister Thanom asked the National Cultural Council to ban miniskirts.


English-language bookseller Asia Books was founded.

The US began the withdrawal of 48.000 troops and giant B52 bombers from Thailand amid growing anti-war protests and growing Congressional criticism of the management of the war. Secretary of State William Rogers said Congress was concerned that the US would be dragged into another land war in Thailand. On September 20, an agreement was reached between the US and Thailand stipulating that the first 6.000 US troops would leave Thailand on July 1, 1970.


Thousands of Thai marines were mobilized to help police fight communists and Muslim separatists in the jungles of southern Thailand. The insurgents' strategy was to destroy the economy by attacking infrastructure and instilling fear among rubber plantation workers. On November 12, insurgents in Songkhla province killed seven police officers and seriously injured three others.


Bangkok Bank was the first financial institution in Thailand to automate its operations. Bank officials said customers can more easily deposit and withdraw money at the 38 branches in Bangkok and Thonburi.

A journey through Thailand's past part 1 (2)


1970 brought new regulations for foreign workers in the country in an effort to reduce the number of immigrants taking jobs from Thais. It was announced that regulations requiring work permits for foreigners would soon be introduced.

In 1970, the following enterprises and institutions were founded.

Provincial Electricity Football Club, now known as Buriram United FC; Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddhist Temple in Pathum Thani Province, founded by the maechi (nun) Chandra Khonnokyoong and Luang Por Dhammajayo; Thai film production and distribution company Sahamongkol Film International, or Mongkol Film; and Suriya College, renamed Sripatum University in 1987.

The annual Queen's Cup football competition first took place in 1970.


The Dusit Thani Hotel opened its doors on the corner of Silom and Rama IV. Founded by Chanut Piyaoui, it was the tallest building in Bangkok at the time.


Indonesian President Hajji Suharto and his wife paid a two-day official visit to Thailand. The president was welcomed at the airport by the king, who said both countries faced "critical dangers". Both Thailand and Indonesia supported America's anti-communist policies in the region.

Color television channel 3 (TV3) began broadcasting on 26 March at 10.00:3 am. It was Thailand's first commercial television station. TVXNUMX was officially launched at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Thanom.


Cambodia asked for military aid from Thailand a year after the US began bombing communist Vietnamese targets in Cambodia. Ties between Thailand and Cambodia improved with the opening of the Aranyaprathet border crossing and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations.


Cambodian Prime Minister Lon Nol was the first Cambodian prime minister to pay an official visit to Thailand in 1975 years. Lon Nol led a successful bloodless military coup in May that overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk's regime. He was later overthrown by the Khmer Rouge in XNUMX.


A tax was introduced on more than 200 imported and locally made items. Dubbed the Midnight Tax Decree, the new regulations raised import duties on cars from an already high 60% to 80%, while sales tax rose to 30%. The excise duty on cosmetics increased by almost 100%. The government defended the increases needed to increase the military budget to fund communist suppression efforts and ward off other threats to national security.


More than 4.000 Chulalongkorn University students broke through the main entrance of the parliament building demanding the suspension of three professors allegedly involved in corruption in renting campus land to private companies.


Superstar actor Mitr Chaibancha (née Pichet Pumhem) died after falling from a helicopter at a height of 90 meters while filming the last scene of his new movie Insee Thong (Golden Eagle) at Dongtan Beach, Jomtien, Pattaya. The 36-year-old actor appeared in 1956 films between 1970 and 266 and was injured several times during his career. About 100.000 fans turned out for Mitr's memorial service the day after his accident at Wat Sunthorn Thammathan in Bangkok.


A French monorail company approached the municipality of Bangkok with a proposal to conduct a feasibility study for a mass rail line for Bangkok. The city accepted the proposal.


A five-hour fire destroyed half of Saraburi's commercial center, destroying homes and businesses and leaving more than 3.000 people homeless. Hundreds of shops, three banks, two insurance companies, a theater, a market and two schools were destroyed. The king sent relief supplies to families affected by the fire.


In 1971, the Chao Phraya Express transportation service was launched on the Chao Phraya River. Ramkhamhaeng University, a public and open university named after King Ramkhamhaeng the Great of Sukhothai, was established. The king is the founder of the Thai alphabet.

Sirindhorn Dam, named after Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, was commissioned in 1971. Located in the Sirindhorn district of Ubon Ratchathani province, the dam was built to serve as a hydroelectric power station and to provide water for irrigation.


Mitr Chaibancha will be cremated at Wat Thepsirin in Bangkok. Tens of thousands of fans attended the cremation ceremony.


Martial law was suspended in 34 provinces, including Bangkok, and the government said Thonburi and Chiang Mai were no longer considered "Communist-infested" areas. However, emergency powers remained in effect in 37 Thai provinces, including all of the northeast.


A fire at the Imperial Hotel in Bangkok has claimed 24 lives, including six children. Many guests jumped from the windows of the 107-room hotel to escape the blaze.


Foreign Minister Khoman referred to China as "the People's Republic of China" at a news conference as a first sign of reconciliation between the two countries. It was the first time a cabinet official had used the official name China.


Nation Multimedia Group was founded and English-language newspaper The Nation was launched on July 1 by former Bangkok Post journalist Suthichai Yoon. The headline on the front page was “The Hows and Whys of the Nation.” The first issue reportedly sold 3.000 copies.

The government has considered several proposals to support the auto industry. Ministries worked together to make recommendations to promote car assembly and component manufacturing. One proposal was to increase the difference in import tax between fully completed cars – which are taxed at a higher rate – and cars assembled in Thailand.


Scientists warned that unless something is done to prevent further subsidence, Bangkok could be below sea level in 20 years. Two professors of geotechnical engineering from the Asian Institute of Technology claimed there was evidence that many areas of Bangkok were subsiding because too much underground water had been pumped up from under the city to meet the rapid increase in water demand.


Transvestites (katoey) from Bangkok and Thonburi formed an association to protect their interests and end what they believed to be prejudice against them. Among other things, the group's leaders said they wanted a law to allow them to marry. The group estimated that about 10.000 katoeys lived in Bangkok and Thonburi.


Football fans, mostly young people, rioted at the National Stadium after torrential rain led to the cancellation of the Queen's Cup semi-final match between Vee Foh and Rajathevi. The “fans” broke down goalposts, smashed chairs and lit bonfires on the pitch. The match was attended by about 20.000 fans. An unknown number joined the riots after players failed to show up after the break.

The government approved a proposal to transform and develop the island of Koh Samui into a major holiday destination in an effort to boost the ailing tourism industry. Among other efforts to boost tourism was an extension of the length of stay for tourists without a visa.


Prime Minister Thanom staged a coup against his own government on November 17, citing the need to suppress communist infiltration. In an announcement on Bangkok Radio at 19.00pm, Prime Minister Thanom declared martial law, abolishing the constitution, dissolving parliament and dissolving the cabinet. All authority was transferred to the security forces. Thanom also announced the creation of a nine-member Executive Council that will run state affairs for five years.


The Supreme Patriarch Somdej Phra Ariyawongsakhatayan died of his injuries after a car accident. The accident happened in the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan province when the Supreme Patriarch was on his way to deliver a sermon. His limousine crashed head-on with a pickup truck. The country went into a 15-day mourning period.

*Sources for this story include archives from UPI, AFP, AP, the Bangkok Post, The Nation and Wikipedia and freely translated from online magazine Big Chilli https://is.gd/d0f1Uy

Postscript: The piece is a rough representation of what was going on at the time. However, there is nothing to read about the population itself. What strikes me are words like communists and things that were already on the agenda 50 years ago, such as the right to marry for katoeys, the sinking of Bangkok and a coup d'état if people think it is necessary and which are still current.

Furthermore, I think you can clearly see that in that period the foundation was also laid for the progress of the current Thailand.

For readers who feel called to add what should actually be included from this period or other juicy stories are of course also good. Suddenly 50% more venereal diseases in a year, of course that has to come from somewhere. I already have a suspicion who the cause was laid down at the time 😊

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