In 1932 Siam became a constitutional monarchy. Under Prime Minister Phibun Songkram, the 1930s saw rising nationalism: the country was renamed Prathet Thai (Thailand) and sided with Japan in World War II. However, during the Vietnam War, fear of Communism led Thailand to help the US. A number of military coups have since hindered democratization; in 2006 the ousting of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra caused political division. Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck, was elected Prime Minister in 2011 but political stability remains elusive.
Chulalongkorn’s son Vajiravudh (1910–25) clashed with his father’s senior advisors. To build a following of his own he created the elite corps, the Wild Tigers, in 1911.
A meeting place during prodemocracy rallies, the monument was built in 1939 to mark the revolution of 1932. To this day it serves as the nexus of demonstrations.
With an official population of around 9.5 million (though unofficially it could be closer to 15 million), Bangkok is one of the most frenetic, congested, and polluted cities in the world. It is also a colorful city where old traditions are still important. The 1982 Bangkok Bicentennial and the celebrations of Bhumibol’s 50th year as King in 1996 (shown here), featured splendid royal barges.
Modern Bangkok has a reputation for severe traffic jams, but the Skytrain, airport rail link, and underground have eased traffic congestion.
Against a backdrop of unstable politics, the revered King Bhumibol (Rama IX) has represented virtue and stability. Through his authority, the military coup and bloody demonstrations of 1992 were ended.
Despite the 2004 tsunami and the closure of Bangkok’s main airport in late 2008 by anti-government protestors, Thailand remains popular with tourists.
Where to See Modern Thailand
Apart from palaces and wats, most 20th-century architecture in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, tends to be very dull and functional. However, some of the many edifices built in the 1980s and 1990s are worth a look if only for their sheer outrageousness. Modern resort hotels sometimes incorporate traditional touches.