When someone brings up Thailand, a few things come to mind: Singha beer, floating markets, mango sticky rice, motorcycle rides through busy streets of Bangkok, or even the jeweled beaches of Koh Phi Phi islands. There are many reasons why visitors flock to this “land of smiles,” from great weather to beautiful natural scenery, delectable cuisines, and the sunny personalities of the locals themselves. On the surface, Thailand is stunning. Beyond the famous Thai hospitality, however, Thai culture has a lot of depth. Underneath the infectiously cheerful demeanor, Thailand has many years of rich history that has provided the people with strong roots to keep them grounded.
To its citizens, it had always been called Mueang Thai. To outsiders, the country was known as Siam. In 1949, the name was officially changed to Thailand, which means “free man.” But long before freedom, Thailand faced many years of tumultuous conditions and political instability.
This November 2016, Photographers Without Borders will be taking a handful of students down the Chao Phraya River, inside the beautiful Ayutthaya ruins, through the streets of Chiang Mai and up and down the Ban Pha Mon farmlands and grasslands while teaching them the essential skills of photodocumentary. Photographers will get the opportunity to get to know Thailand for its true beauty – the strength of its people - and all you need is a sense of adventure and a camera.
The first Thai inhabitants were hunters and gatherers that farmed and grew rice. Between 8th to 12th century, Thailand was ruled by the Khmer kingdom and the Thai spent many years fighting with Cambodians to their east and Burmese to the west. In the 13th century, several small states and Thai chiefs banded together to expel the Khmer empire. The Thai kingdom was established in mid-14th century. The kingdom continued to grow until Europeans — Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and Greek — arrived and tried to exert influence over the land in 15th and 16th century. Despite their numerous attempts, however, the Europeans were unsuccessful in colonizing Thailand and were removed from power.
In mid-17th century, Thailand suffered from Burmese invasion. By late 17th century, a king, Chao Phraya Chakri, also known as Rama I, emerged, defeated the Burmese, and established the city of Bangkok as the capital. Within the same timeframe, the Chakri dynasty was also built. To this day, Chakri dynasty still rules Thailand, with the most current ruler being King Adulyadej, who has been ruling since 1946.
In early 20th century, Thailand went through the Second World War, unstable governments, economic crisis, and general political unrest. By late 20th century, Thailand began to experience exponential economic growth and transformed from a poor agricultural country to a newly industrialized one.
Today, Thailand is home to 67 million people, 95 per cent of which practice Buddhism. The country imports raw materials, consumer goods, and fuel, and exports electronics, automobiles/parts, machinery, and equipment. It is the second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer in the world. Thailand’s climate is tropical, ranging from hot and humid to rainy and cloudy during monsoon season.
To modern day visitors, Thailand is a successful marriage of the old versus the new. Many remnants of the past remain untouched – golden temples and statues of Buddha frame the landscape. Old Banyan trees are wrapped in sacred cloth to honour the spirits, shrines are erected in common homes as well as commercial spaces, garlands are strewn along vehicle dashboards to ward off traffic-related accidents. There are lush rainforests and endless stretches of white sand beaches. And yet, one can get lost in the busy morning markets or the bustling city nightlife. It is not uncommon to visit one of the many food stalls that offer a plethora of Thai street food during the day and then enjoy world-class restaurants at nighttime.
No matter how many changes have swept through the country, the following rings true up until today: Thailand remains quintessentially authentic and cheerful.
Until May 25th you will save $500 on your registration for the Thailand workshop. Interested in learning more? Visit www.photographerswithoutborders.org/workshops