A Litany of Firsts

Kanokchan Patanapichai

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A Litany of Firsts

Every journey has to start somewhere and Thailand, formerly known as Siam, embarked on its journey to the modern world in the 19th Century. We offer an overview of the giant leaps the country has made in the past 150 years by exploring its “firsts”. 

First Newspaper

The Bangkok Recorder was the first Thai newspaper. Published by American missionary Dr Dan Beach Bradley, the first edition came out on 4 July 1844. The paper was initially published monthly and later came out biweekly. The Bangkok Recorder stopped going to press in 1867. 

The first edition of The Bangkok Recorder, published July 4th, 1844.
Bangkok Recorder, the first edition on 4 July 1844

First Banknote 

Thailand’s first banknote appeared on 7 July 1902. Before that, the Siamese people used bullet money. 

Thailand's first banknote, which appeared on July 7th, 1902.

First Bank

Thailand’s first bank, Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), was founded in 1906 in the reign of King Rama V. Today, SCB has more than 1,000 branches. This major commercial bank was also the first to introduce the ATM to the country. 

A 1906 photo of Siam Commercial Bank (left) and a 2020 photo of the same building (right).

First Department Store

Nightingale Olympic, Thailand’s first department store, has operated at the Pahurat Intersection since its official launch on 5 August 1966. 

First Fitness Centre

Nightingale Olympic is also, in every practical way, Thailand’s first fitness centre. In its early years, it allowed customers to use its treadmills and exercise bikes for Bt100 an hour.

Historical, modern-day, and interior shots of the Nightingale Olympic.

 First Movie

The first movie to have been made in Thailand was Miss Suwanna. Produced by Universal Studios, the movie was directed by Henry A Macrae who also wrote the screenplay. Miss Suwanna was released on 22 June 1923.

A 1923 poster of Miss Suwanna (left) and a photo of its director, Henry A. Macrae (right).
Miss Suwanna (Left), Henry A Macrae (Right)

First Cinema

Opening as a national theatre in 1949, Sala Chalermthai evolved into the country’s first cinema four years later. It had about 1,200 seats. 

Sala Chalermthai in 1949.
Sala Chalermthai in 1949

First TV Station 

Thai TV Channel Bang Khun Prom (presently MCOT HD 30) was the first television station in Thailand. Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram presided over the station’s opening on 24 June 1955. The station’s first chief was Chamnong Rangsikul. The station initially aired in black and white and broadcast only entertainment content. 

The television station that broadcasted the first Thai TV Channel Bang Khun Prom in 1995.
Thai TV Channel Bang Khun Prom in 1995

First Hotel

Launched on 9 May 1887, the Oriental Hotel is not only Thailand’s first hotel but also one of the world’s finest. It has hosted many prominent guests, including Nicholas II of Russia in 1891 and royals and heads of state from many nations in 2006. During World War II, the Japanese army used the hotel as one of its bases. The hotel is today known as Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.

The Oriental Hotel in 1887.
The Oriental Hotel in 1887

First Airfield

In 1911, the first plane in Thailand landed at the Sa Pathum Horse Racing Course, which is now known as the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, for a show. Interested people were charged Bt50 each for a short flight over the Thai capital. 

A plane landing at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (left) and the modern club grounds (right).
The Royal Bangkok Sport Club

First Train Route

Completed in 1893, the first train route in Thailand stretched for a total of 21.3 kilometers from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station to Samut Prakan’s Pak Nam Station. This route was cancelled in 1960 when the government led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat started building roads instead. The roads constructed in place of the original route are Rama IV and Thang Rotfai Sai Kao Pak Nam.

The first train route in 1893, from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station to Samut Prakan's Station.
The first train route in 1893, from BKK Hua Lamphong Station to Samut Prakan’s Station

First Road

The construction of the country’s first road began in 1862 at the initiative of King Rama IV. By the time it was completed two years later, it was 10-meters wide. It was known as “New Road” before the king officially named it “Charoenkrung”, which means prosperous capital. 

Charoenkrung Road, then (left) and now (right).
Charoenkrung Road

First Hospital 

Named after one of King Rama V’s sons, the Siriraj Hospital was founded two years after Thailand’s cholera outbreak. King Rama V aimed for this hospital to give the people equal access to medical services. 

Siriraj Hospital, then (left) and now (right).
Siriraj Hospital

First University

Chulalongkorn University is Thailand’s first higher-educational institute. Although officially founded by King Rama V, it was King Rama VI who laid down the foundation stone for its construction on 3 January 1915. It was officially upgraded from a civil servant school to the university on 26 March 1916.

Chulalongkorn University, then (left) and now (right).
Chulalongkorn University

First Miss Thailand Contest

In 1934, Miss Siam pageant was held for the first time to celebrate the country’s first constitution that has been promulgated two years earlier. The pageant took place inside the Saranrom Park with contestants wearing traditional costume. In 1939, the pageant was renamed the Miss Thailand contest. 

Miss Siam pageant being held for the first time in 1934.

First Miss Universe from Thailand

Apassara Hongsakul is the first Thai to win the Miss Universe pageant. Crowned Miss Universe 1965, she was the second Asian to have been named the most beautiful woman in the world. 

Apassara Hongsakul, the first Thai to win the Miss Universe, in 1965.
Apassara Hongsakul, the first Thai to win the Miss Universe, 1965

First Bus

Thailand’s first bus operations began in 1910 thanks to the initiative of Lert Settthabutr, who considered horse-riding services a form of animal cruelty. His fleet of buses had a prominent feature – every bus was white all over. People usually called these buses “white buses” or “Nailert buses”. The first bus route, which ran from Pratunam to Si Phraya, was in service for about 70 years. At its peak, Lert’s bus operations covered as many as 36 routes, with 700 buses and hired over 3,500 employees. Its operations ended in 1977 due to the government’s policy to put all bus operations in Bangkok under the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA). 

Nailert buses in 1910.
Nailert buses in 1910

First Escalator at First Air-Conditioned Department Store

On 10 December 1964, the first escalator in Thailand began service at the Thai Daimaru Ratchaprasong shopping centre and generated huge excitement. This department store was initially set up to serve Japanese immigrants in Thailand. Thai Daimaru was later relocated to a nearby spot. It closed down on 31 October 2000.

The first escalator in Thailand at the Thai Daimaru Ratchaprasong shopping center on December 10th, 1964.

First Olympic Gold Medal for Thailand

Thailand celebrated its first gold medal from the Olympic Games in 1996, when featherweight boxer Somrak Kamsing won his fight. The games were especially important that year because they marked the centenary of the Olympics. 

Thailand celebrating its first gold medal from the Olympic Games in 1996, when featherweight boxer Somrak Kamsing won his fight.
Somrak Kamsing

First Zoo

Thailand’s first zoo was set up at the Saranrom Park in the reign of King Rama V. Although the exact year of the establishment is unclear, records show that by 1884, it had crocodiles, turtles, and various birds.

Thailand's first zoo at the Saranrom Park.
Thailand’s first zoo was set up at the Saranrom Park

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Kanokchan Patanapichai

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