Why is Bangkok called Siam?

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Historical Origins

Around 1,000 years ago, people speaking the Tai group of languages settled in what is now Thailand. The name Siam originated from a Sanskrit word, syam, and was adopted by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It eventually became the accepted geographical term. The Chakri dynasty ruled the entire kingdom of Siam from Bangkok starting in the 1780s.

Transition to Thailand

In 1927, a radical People’s Party was formed, with one of its founders being army officer Phibun (Luang Phibunsongkhram). In 1932, he led a coup against the Chakri king and established a government resembling a western-style democracy. In 1938, Phibun assumed power as a dictator and changed the country’s name to Thailand.

Modernization Efforts

Phibun aimed to propel his nation into the modern world while highlighting its unique identity. He implemented anti-Chinese policies, promoting the slogan ‘Thailand for the Thai’. Measures included restricting Chinese immigration, establishing Thai-backed businesses, limiting Mandarin language instruction, adopting the western calendar, creating a new flag and national anthem, and enforcing western-style attire.


Thailand allied with Japan during World War II. Phibun resigned in 1944 but returned to power in 1948 with military support from the US. He was eventually ousted in 1957 and passed away in Japan in 1964.

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