Early 13th-century northern Thai kingdoms had been really scattered city-states with limited human, military and economic resources. Typically situated in fertile, naturally-protected surroundings, self-sustaining in terms of food, fuel, creating components and cloth, and separated by dense jungle, they had been individually powerless to defy Khmer suzerainty. Every state was obliged to spend tribute, principally by the time-consuming, cumbersome practice of sending water in earthenware jars to Angkor’s royal courts.
Although Khmer energy was paramount, it was, since of the distance from Angkor, far from absolute. Nonetheless, it was a constant affront to the Thais’ innate sense of inner freedom to be held in thrall. More than the years this imposition became increasingly insupportable.
In 1238, two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang Tao and Khun Pa Muang combined forces and, after attacking and defeating the regional Khmer commander, founded the first actually independent Thai kingdom in Sukhothai (in Pali : Sukhodaya or, aptly, ‘Dawn of Happiness’)
This singular act of aggression signaled future Thai expansion throughout the entire Menam Chao Phya basin pushing the Khmers out of territory they had formerly occupied. Indeed, by the early 1300s, Sukhothai enjoyed suzerainty over territory westwards to the Bay of Bengal, the entire Malay peninsula (like the island presently named Singapore) to the south, and northeast to Vientiane, the present Laotian capital.
The victorious Khun Bang Klang Tao was popularly acclaimed Sukhothai’s initial king and ruled as King Sri Intratit. His productive liberation of his individuals from Khmer rule aroused the attention of neigh-bouring Thai states which saw that Thai independence could flourish only if the Thais presented a united front against would-be aggressors. Accordingly, alliances have been forged and cemented by intermarriage, a practice which Thais had already employed to establish themselves amongst settled Mon and Khmer communities.
Sukhothai’s population grew quickly following an influx of Thai refugees fleeing from Nanchao. Numerous were absorbed into Sukhothai’s army, which swiftly increased in strength. This massive army served as insurance coverage against both jealous Thai rivals and the Khmer threat in Lopburi 300 kilometres to the south which considering that the 11th century had been a Khmer empire outpost and stronghold.
Sukhothai reached its zenith during the rign of King Intratit’s youngest son, Ramkamhaeng the Fantastic, the third Sukhothai king, popularly known as ‘The Father of Thailand’. The most renowned of Sukhothai’s eight kings, Ramkamhaeng attained legendary status in the course of his lengthy (1275-1317) reign.
An absolute monarch-meaning his authority was unquestionably supreme-Ramkamhaeng had been an accomplished warrior for the duration of his youth. His exploits on war elephants gained him a fearsome reputation as he expanded Sukhothai’s territory by campaigning for his father against the Khmers and rival kingdoms.
King Ramkamhaeng ensured Sukho-thai’s continuing safety and stability by concluding pacts with the strong neigh bouring kingdoms of Chiang Rai-Chiang Mai and P’ayao. In a series of brilliant diplomatic coups, he established trade treaties with India and Burma, produced close make contact with with Ceylon, the bastion of Thera-vada Buddhism, and promoted friendly relations with the Chinese emperor by sending five Thai embassies to China amongst 1292 and 1314.