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The setting of “The King and I” the mysterious land that is today Thailand was once known as Siam. The earliest settlers arrived in this part of Southeast Asia around 3600 BC, and is likely the oldest Bronze Age civilization. The first migration from China actually occurred about 3,000 years later around 600 BC, followed by another wave of migration from India about 300 BC. This mix of cultures has left and indelible footprint and created the society that is uniquely Thai today, including the various religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
By the 13th century the first great Thai Kingdom that was without outside domination was founded. Several centuries later in 1498 the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, sailing for the king of Portugal, reaches the Indian Ocean and opens a route to the region. In 1516 the Portuguese send an envoy to the royal court of the Thais. After outside domination from Burma the Thai King declared independence in 1584 and this leads to several years of wars with the Burmese. Finally the resolution is solved by a duel on elephants in which the Thai King Naresuan defeated the Burmese Crown Prince. During the 17th century the Dutch built a trading station in Southern Thailand, followed by the first Thai ambassador to venture to Europe in 1607. The British soon established their own outposts in the region. Thailand was also among the first nations to exchange ambassadors with Japan during the 17th century.
After a half a century of peace the Dutch adopted a hostile policy towards the Thais, resulting from what Holland declared was unfair trade treaties. In 1662 the French arrived in the region, and established colonies in Southeast Asia in what is modern day Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Ambassadors between Siam (Thailand) and France are exchanged in the 1660s. In 1687 King Narai declared war on the British East India Company over the opium trade policies. The war is quick and soon resolved. But the situation with the Dutch improved and the French garrison that was welcomed to the country to counterbalance the Dutch was expelled in 1688. In 1767 the capital was established just down the river in the new city that is today modern Bangkok.
From 1886 until 1907 Siam faced off in various border conflicts with France, and ceded territory to maintain her independence. This follows British threats, which resulted in additional territory being ceded to the British Empire. Relations with the Western Powers improve greatly during the First World War when Thailand joined the Allies. Thailand regained some of her lost territories at the beginning of World War II when the nation fights a brief war with Vichy France, and through Japan obtains territory previously ceded to France. During World War II Thailand sided with the Japanese and declared war on the United States and Great Britain, however officially the declarations were never presented and thus Thailand was officially neutral during in the Second World War.
Following World War II the nation joined the United Nations and has become one of the leading industrialized powers in Asia, and a popular tourist destination.
A few interesting facts about Thailand:
1) Thailand is the world's 50th largest country in land mass, while it is the world's 20th largest country in terms of population.
2) The population is approximately 95% Theravada Buddhism
3) Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with His Majesty King Buhmibol Adulyadej, the current ruling monarch.
4) His Majesty has reigned continiously for more than 63 years, making him the longest reigning current monarch in the world.
5) His Majesty is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, with several internationally recognized albums produced.
6) Thailand is the only country in South East Asia to have remained independent-- having never have been formally occupied nor designated as a territory by any foreign power.
7) Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of rice. Thai exports of rice account for nearly 20% of the world's supply.