Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and Menam Valleys Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai spread his control over the central part of the land that would later become known as Thailand and became the first of the great Thai kings. Under his reign, the kingdom of Sukhothai established itself as a major political and cultural power in the Mekong and Chao Phraya River Valleys.

Summary of Event

In 1200, much of what is now known as Thailand was under the rule of the Khmer King Jayavarman VII Jayavarman VII , whose capital was located in Angkor, in present-day Cambodia. Other parts of the region were under the Mons, linguistic relatives of the Khmer. Groups of people speaking dialects of Thai and Lao, which scholars often refer to as Tai languages, lived in muangs, clusters of settlements that acknowledged the command of charismatic chieftains. These chieftains, in turn, recognized the authority of their Khmer and Mon overlords. [kw]Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and Menam Valleys (1295) [kw]Mekong and Menam Valleys, Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the (1295) [kw]Menam Valleys, Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and (1295) Ramkhamhaeng Sukhothai Southeast Asia;1295: Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and Menam Valleys[2580] Expansion and land acquisition;1295: Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and Menam Valleys[2580] Government and politics;1295: Ramkhamhaeng Conquers the Mekong and Menam Valleys[2580] Bang Klang Hao Ban Muang Ramkhamhaeng Ngam Muang Mangrai

After Jayavarman VII died in about 1220, the Khmer empire appears to have been weakened, opening opportunities for ambitious Thai chieftains. About 1238, two Thai chiefs, Khun Bang Klang Hao Bang Klang Hao and Khun Pha Muang Pha Muang , formed an alliance. Together, they attacked and defeat a Khmer garrison at Sukhothai, which was at that time the capital city of the northwestern section of the Khmer empire. Khun Bang Klang Hao was acclaimed king of Sukhothai, which means “dawn of happiness,” and he took the name Sri Indraditya.

Sri Indraditya had five children, three sons and two daughters. The oldest son died while still a child. The second son, Ban Muang Ban Muang , came to the throne on his father’s death. Sukhothai’s most celebrated king, though, was the youngest son. At the age of nineteen, while Sri Indraditya was still alive, this young man had won the name of Phra Ramkhamhaeng, or Lord Rama the Brave, after displaying great valor in battle. According to a stone pillar left by Ramkhamhaeng, his father’s troops were about to be defeated when the youth mounted an elephant and charged the leader of the enemy to save the day by a duel on elephant back.

After the death of Ban Muang, the second Thai king of Sukhothai, Ramkhamhaeng proceeded to extend the territories he had inherited. On the stone pillar on which he detailed his accomplishments, there is a later inscription that credits him with conquering much of the Chao Phraya (Menam) River Valley. The Chao Phraya is the river that runs through the center of Thailand, and it is such an important waterway that foreigners frequently refer to it as Menam, or simply “the river” in Thai. The inscription also maintains that Ramkhamhaeng spread his rule northward to the Mekong River Valley as far as the Lao cities of Lan Chang (Luang Prabang) and Vien Chan (Vientiane). To the south, Sukhothai’s empire extended down the Malay peninsula as far as Nakhon Sri Thammarat.

Although Ramkhamhaeng was absolute ruler in the territory around his capital city, his power was more questionable in his distant provinces. Much of the land was under his vassals, local lords who had sworn loyalty to him.

Ramkhamhaeng was an astute diplomat as well as a successful warrior. He forged particularly important alliances with two Thai kings to his north. As a child, he had been tutored together with Ngam Muang Ngam Muang , the king of Phayao Phayao . Through Ngam Muang, he also established ties with Mangrai Mangrai , the powerful king of Lan Na Lan Na . Together, the three kings were supposed to have planned Lan Na’s new capital city of Chiang Mai, which remains the second most important city in Thailand, after Bangkok.

The alliance helped all three kings. It enabled them to stand against the power of the Mons and the Khmer. The northern kingdoms served as a buffer between Sukhothai and the Mongol emperors of China. Mangrai could concentrate on defending his territory from attack by the north, with peace to the south, and Ramkhamhaeng could focus on consolidating his power in the area to the south. According to tradition, the alliance was threatened when Ramkhamhaeng seduced Ngam Muang’s wife. However, Mangrai is said to have convinced Ramkhamhaeng to avoid a costly war by admitting his wrongdoing, apologizing, and paying reparations to the royal husband. The three kings are said to have renewed their alliance by drinking a brew in which they had all placed drops of their blood.

Historical tradition credits Ramkhamhaeng with establishing relations with Burma, India, Sri Lanka, and China. Sri Lanka was an important place for reasons of religion because it was a center of the Theravāda Theravāda Buddhism[Theravada Buddhism] school of Buddhism Buddhism;Sukhothai , the version of Buddhism followed by Ramkhamhaeng that also became the national Thai faith. Ramkhamhaeng is said to have brought monks from Sri Lanka to instruct his subjects in proper religious practices and is reported to have sent several missions to China’s Mongol rulers. According to tradition, he personally accompanied two of these missions. Following the king’s embassies to China, Chinese artisans arrived in Sukhothai, where they taught the craft of making glazed ceramics. Pottery became a major manufacture in the Thai kingdom, exported to other lands, and kilns can still be seen in the ruins of Sukhothai.

In the arts of architecture and sculpture, Sukhothai found its influences close to home. Although ultimately based on Indian models, the city’s great stone buildings and statues used models provided by the Mon and by the Burmese, who had themselves drawn on Mon techniques and styles. Architecture;Sukhothai

One of the greatest accomplishments of Ramkhamhaeng’s rule was the creation of Thai writing Writing;Thai . According to the inscription on the stone pillar, the king himself was responsible for this cultural advancement, but it seems likely that he commanded and supervised it. Before the late thirteenth century, the Thais had used a writing system based on the Khmer alphabet, which was itself based on the alphabet of India. The new Thai writing brought in Mon influences. Because Thai is a tonal language, in which the meaning of words is determined by their tone or pitch, and Mon and Khmer are not tonal languages, major adaptations were required. The inscription on the king’s stone pillar, believed to have been erected about 1292 as the kingdom reached its peak, may have been one of the first times the writing was used, and the pillar is the oldest existing example of written Thai.

Tradition holds that Ramkhamhaeng died when he sank beneath river rapids. After his death, his empire went into decline. It was a patchwork of feudal states, held together by his personal prowess. His son, Lo Tai Lo Tai , and his grandson, Lu Tai Lu Tai , were more dedicated to the pursuit of religion than to their kingdom. In the mid-fourteenth century, another Thai king was crowned and given the royal name of Ramadhipati Ramadhipati . Lu Tai became a vassal of Ramadhipati, who built a new capital city, Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is today regarded as the second Thai kingdom, after Sukhothai, and as the predecessor of the kingdom of Siam, which changed its name to Thailand in 1932.


The people of modern Thailand trace their beginnings as a nation back to Sukhothai under King Ramkhamhaeng. This was the first state to establish the dominance of the Central Thai in the land that became known as Siam and, after 1932, as Thailand. Theravāda Buddhism, the religion of Ramkhamhaeng, became the majority religion of the country. The writing system that apparently came into existence in Sukhothai during Ramkhamhaeng’s rule remains, with relatively minor changes, the written form of the Thai language.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968. The classic work on Southeast Asian history. Section 8 of chapter 12 deals specifically with Sukhothai under Ramkhamhaeng.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gosling, Betty. Sukhothai: Its History, Culture, and Art. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Describes the culture, politics, and history of the kingdom of Sukhothai from the mid-thirteenth through the mid-fifteenth centuries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Higham, Charles, and Rachanie Thosarat. Prehistoric Thailand: From Early Settlement to Sukhothai. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. The last section discusses the rise of Sukhothai.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wyatt, David K. Thailand: A Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Provides an introduction to Thai history, including coverage of the thirteenth century kingdoms.

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