The fourth installment of our 10-part series describing newsworthy events in Thailand over the past 50 years begins with the year 1982. The April issue covered 1977-1981.
By Maxmilian Wechsler
By Maxmilian Wechsler
1982 saw the opening of Central Plaza Lat Phrao shopping complex. The Thai Trade Union Congress was founded and Thammasat University appointed Professor Nongyao Chaise as its first female rector. The Communications Authority of Thailand announced the arrival of a new postal system.
• Thousands of Thai soldiers, police and rangers supported by planes and
helicopters converged on the base of drug lord Khun Sa, dubbed the ‘Opium King’, at Ban Hin Taek in Chiang Rai province. The raid followed intelligence reports that a 200-mule opium caravan was sighted near the Thai-Burma border. It was the largest operation to date against the drug lord backed by Shan United
• The old Sunday market near Sanam Luang was replaced by a new weekend market near Chatuchak Park despite numerous protests by vendors against the relocation. The move had been planned since 1978 but was delayed by the protests. In the end a total of 979 vendors moved to the new location and began selling the same goods they had sold at Sanam Luang. Chatuchak Market director Witoonphant Wannachamrae said that the new market was much cleaner than the muddy mess at Sanam Luang.
• In its first prisoner-exchange treaty with another country, Thailand agreed to swap inmates with the United States. The repatriated American prisoners would continue to serve sentences handed down by the Thai courts in the US and be eligible for parole or amnesty as granted by the US judicial system. As for Thai prisoners repatriated from the US, it was reported that they could be freed under an amnesty programme.
• Bangkok Bank, the largest commercial bank in Southeast Asia, opened its 32- storey headquarters on Silom Road. At 126 metres, it was the tallest building in Bangkok at the time. About 4,000 guests attended the opening ceremony hosted by the Bank chairman. Afterward a large Royal Garuda was unveiled. It took five years and more than one billion baht to construct the building.
• Six people were killed and more than 100 injured when southern communists detonated a car bomb that tore open a provincial hall in Surat Thani province. The powerful explosion flattened walls and destroyed the roof of the hall and damaged other buildings in the vicinity.
1983 was the year the American School of Bangkok was founded, along with
entertainment giant GMM Grammy and
Land and Houses, a property development company. A special operations hostage rescue and counter-terrorism unit of the Royal Thai Police known as Naraesuan 261was launched.
• Three Thai men armed with knives boarded a Thai Airways plane and took seven passengers and four crew hostage at Lampang airport and demanded to be flown to Chiang Rai. They were told the plane had to be refueled in Chiang Mai. After the plane landed at Chiang Mai two pilots jumped onto the tarmac and two flight attendants and one passenger escaped through the rear door of the plane. The hijackers continued to hold the other passengers hostage and demanded a new plane and a new pilot, parachutes and 300,000 baht. As their deadline expired, the hijackers seized a pickup truck and drove away with the hostages, who were later released unharmed. Police arrested a man said to be the mastermind a week later. He said he wanted to hijack the plane because he had been unfairly treated by colleagues and wanted to prove he could do whatever he wanted.
• The first 3,500 barrels of oil from Sirikit oilfield at Lan Krabue in Kamphaeng Phet province arrived at the Bang Chak refinery in Bangkok in 19 tank carriages. Authorities said the locally produced and refined oil
would reduce Thailand’s reliance on imports and save hundreds of millions of baht in foreign exchange.
• The first ATM machine in Thailand was installed by Siam Commercial Bank beginning a new era in personal banking in Thailand.
• It was revealed that famous moviestar Petchara Chaowarat was almost blind. She made dozens of movies during a career that spanned two
decades. Petchara suffered from cataracts caused by the glare from light reflectors in front of cameras. In 1960 she made her first
movie, Love Diary of Pimchawee, and
instantly became a major star.
• Parliament was surprisingly dissolved when PM Prem called for a general election to be held April 18. The election was called amid tensions over a divisive military-backed constitutional amendment that Parliament had rejected.
• In the general election three coalition partners won 221 of the 324 seats in the House of Representatives: Social Action Party led by MR Kukrit Pramoj won 93 seats;
Chart Thai Party of Major General Praman Adireksan won 72 seats and Democrat Party led by Bhichit Rattakul won 50 seats. After the election PM Prem announced he would quit politics but changed his mind and agreed to serve another term.
• Under new legislation the age at
which it became mandatory to carry
a Thai ID card was reduced from 17
to 15. Under the new legislation, Thai
nationals between the ages of 15 and 70
were required to carry their ID cards
on them at all times. The fine for not
carrying ID was 200 baht and this was
also applied for not renewing the ID.
Any person carrying or trying to obtain
a counterfeit ID was liable to five years
imprisonment and a 100,000 baht fine.
• What was formerly one of the largest communist base in the country, Phu Hin Rong Kla (Loei/Phetchabun/Phitsanulok), became Thailand’s 48th national park in a ceremony presided over by Commander-in-Chief of the
Royal Thai Army General Arthit
• Filming for ‘The Killing Fields’ began, transforming Tha Din Daeng Road in Thonburi and part of Nakhon Pathom province into movie sets. The film, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three, was shot entirely in Thailand in Bangkok, Phuket, Cha-am, Hua Hin, Phi Mai Historical Park and Khao Yai National
Park. The film is based on a New York Times reporter’s search for a Kampuchean friend and colleague who he last saw in Phnom Penh as it was being overtaken by the Khmer
Rouge in 1975.
• An electric, two-seater car
developed by two engineers
from King’s Mongut’s Institute of
Technology was tested on Silom
and Rama IV roads in Bangkok.
Maximum speed was reportedly
50km/h and the car could travel
80km on one battery charge, which
one engineer claimed took only 20
baht worth of electricity.
• A government source said that Thailand’s strategic location in the region and ‘security loopholes’ were turning the country into a centre for espionage. The source said that some countries were using their embassies and offices for trade, tourism and airlines
for intelligence-gathering purposes. A
counter-intelligence report said that 52 Soviet spies, including KGB agents, had formed a network in Thailand. It was reported in September 1983 that 33 agents attached to the Soviet embassy on Sathorn Road, the Soviet
trade mission and Aeroflot had quietly left Thailand.
• Bangkok’s largest garment and
textile market was ravaged by a fire
that destroyed about 300 stalls and 10
shop houses in the Pahurat area. One
fireman was injured. The damage was
estimated at 50 million baht. About 35
fire engines were called to put out the
• A Thai man convicted of
forging letters of guarantee from
banks and using them to obtain
temporary stay permits for 1,086
aliens was sentenced to 2,166 years
imprisonment. However, under the
new Criminal Code Amendment Act
his imprisonment could be no more
than 20 years.
• Floods and storms triggered by
tropical depressions Herbert and
Kim caused widespread destruction
across 42 provinces. Forty two people
were killed and property damage was
estimated at 625 million baht. The
storms hit the Central, Northeast
and Eastern regions of the country.
About 5,000 houses, hundreds of
schools and temples, infrastructure
and crops were inundated. Bangkok
was paralyzed as many roads were
flooded for several days.
• Boxer Payao Poontarat, 27, a native of Prachuap Khiri Khan province, was crowned World Boxing Council super flyweight champion after he defeated Rafael Orono of Venezuela in a split decision. The fight took place in Pattaya. Payao started out as a Muay Thai boxer and later switched to international-style boxing.
• More than 5,000 communist sympathizers laid down their weapons during a ceremony presided over by Supreme Commander Gen
Arthit. About 30,000 locals witnessed the ceremony in Nan.
1984 is the year Yanhee International Hospital came on the scene offering cosmetic treatments and procedures; the Mae La refugee camp was established in Tha Song Yang district of Tak province; and River City Bangkok shopping centre
was opened for business. For the fourth year in a row the Oriental Hotel was voted best hotel in the World by Institutional Investor magazine.
• The Crime Suppression Police began using four newly installed computers to store data on criminals and suspects. The computers had space to store data on at least 100,000 individuals.
• Bangkok was plunged into even more traffic chaos than usual on February 3 after the government introduced a new one-way system in the city centre. Traffic jams started in the morning and continued into the night as police tried desperately to re-direct confused motorists. The chaos continued for some days. After two weeks the government admitted the new system was a failure.
• The Thai military captured 40 Vietnamese troops in Si Saket province bordering Kampuchea after they entered Thailand while chasing Khmer resistance fighters. The incident was not the first time Vietnamese troops had intruded on Thai soil.
• More than 80,000 people fled Kampuchea and sought safety at refugee camps in Thailand to escape violence from a dry-season offensive by Vietnamese troops against Kampuchean nationalists.
• A plane taking off from Bangkok touched down in Krabi for the first time at the southern coastal province’s new airport. Hundreds of people were on hand, including Krabi mayor Chuan Phukaoluan, who said the flight marked a major step to promote tourism and attract investors.
• Pope John Paul II visited Thailand and met with the King and Queen. A mass held at National Stadium in Bangkok was attended by about 45,000 Catholics and another 40,000 attended mass at St. Joseph’s College in Nakhon Pathom.
• Queen Rambhai Barni, the widow of King Rama VII, died of heart failure at Sukhothai Palace in Samsen. She was 80 years old. Her body was moved to the Grand Palace for the bathing rite and a mourning period of 100 days began.
• American journalist and war correspondent Alan Dawson was expelled from Thailand. The government claimed that he had written articles detrimental to Thailand without
identifying which were offensive. Dawson was a passenger on the last plane leaving Saigon after it fell to the communists.
• Nineteen people were killed and another 46 injured when a crowd stampeded at a charity event at a Chinese temple in Thonburi. The tragedy happened after about 4,000 people packed narrow Soi Sula leading to the temple some hours before the handout of four
kilogrammes of rice and other items. Most of those killed were children.
• Well-known lawyer and human rights activist
Thongbai Thongpao was named winner of the
1984 Ramon Magsaysay Award for public
service. The award foundation called Thongbai a ‘legal champion of oppressed’. Thongbai began his career as a reporter for several newspapers and was jailed by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat
for six years as a communist subversive following a visit he and a group of journalists
made to China in 1957.
• Welterweight boxer Tawee Ampornmaha returned home from Los Angeles to a hero’s welcome after becoming the first Thai boxer to win an Olympic silver medal. Thousands of fans came to greet him at Don Muang airport.
• The first case of AIDS in Thailand
was reported. The patient was
identified as a post-graduate student
in his 20s who was apparently
infected while studying in the US.
• Thailand was elected to the United
Nations Security Council. In the
fourth and final ballot in which 156
UN member countries participated, Thailand
received 109 votes and Mongolia 49. There were attempts to discredit Thailand for its conflict with Laos over three border villages.
• MR Debrithi Devakul, artificial rain-making pioneer and inventor of the ‘iron buffalo’, passed away at Bumrungrad Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was appointed by
the King to head the artificial rain project and conducted his first rainmaking operation in 1971.
• The Thai baht was devalued by 17.3% from 23 to 27 per US dollar in a attempt to address
Thailand’s trade deficit of 38 billion baht and 248 billion baht foreign debt. Some Cabinet ministers denounced Finance Minister Sommai Hoontrakul and said the devaluation would have a negative impact on
the country’s economy.
• Dr Snoh Unakul, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board was hailed as one of the brains behind Thailand’s emerging economic ‘miracle’. Snoh was one of Prem’s most trusted allies.
• Hundreds of thousands of people joined in a 30-minute walkathon from Sanam Luang to the Royal Plaza in celebration of the King’s 57th birthday. Greeting the participants was Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who accepted the people’s best wishes on behalf of the King. Millions of people turned up at
other charity walks in the provinces.
1985 witnessed the opening of retail giant MBK Center, also known as Mahboonkrong. The Site Two refugee camp opened on the Cambodian border by the Thai government was for several years the largest camp in Southeast Asia. The Bira International Circuit, a motor racing track named after Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh, was opened in Pattaya.
• The King presided over the
opening of a coal-fired power plant
in Mae Moh district of Lampang
province. One of the biggest plants
of its kind in the world, the project
implemented the construction of
seven lignite-fired generators with
two more to be completed in 1989.
The coal-fired generators were
forecast to save the country more
than 5.5 billion baht annually.
• The first McDonald’s restaurant
opened in Bangkok. Over 100 people
rushed to the outlet when it opened
at Amarin Plaza shopping mall on
Ploenchit Road. The American fastfood
enterprise announced plans
to open four more restaurants in
Bangkok within the year.
• It was reported that 22 alleged
hired killers were killed and 15
more were arrested by the police.
Another 53 gunmen remained free in
Bangkok, according to police sources,
who said the hit men charged
between 10,000 and 200,000 baht
for a job depending on the victim’s
• The cremation ceremony of Queen
Rambhai Barni was presided over by
the King and Queen at Sanam Luang.
In the first royal funeral since 1956
tens of thousands of mourners lined
Maha Rat and Sanam Chai roads
to pay their respects as the funeral
procession passed by.
• The US Congress agreed to
Thailand’s request to purchase 12
F-16 jet fighters at a cost of US$318
million payable over a five-year
period. The jets were to be delivered
• PM Prem admitted that Royal Thai
Navy ships were involved in the
smuggling of goods into Thailand. A
Finance Ministry report alleged that
at least seven naval vessels were used
to smuggle cars, electrical goods,
computers and other products.
• A two-day riot at Bang Khwang
prison resulted in the deaths of 10
inmates after a heavily armed group
of police and prison guards stormed
the jail. It took five hours to restore
order. The facility was holding over
7,000 inmates at the time.
• Four people were killed and 59 injured during a firefight at a government radio station that erupted following an attempted coup. The dead included American
NBC journalist Neil Davis and his soundman
William Latch. Troops loyal to Prem crashed the coup led by a group of rebels under the command of former ‘Young Turks’ military officer Colonel Manoonkrit Roopkachorn and his brother Manas. Both were dismissed from the military after an earlier failed coup attempt on April 1, 1981. After this latest attempted coup both were allowed to leave the country in order to avoid more bloodshed. The coup was launched while Prem was visiting Indonesia.
• Major General Chamlong Srimuang was elected Bangkok governor. Running as an independent candidate, Chamlong scored
a massive victory by winning in all 24 Bangkok districts.
• Representatives of tin mines in southern
Thailand said that 90% of all mines would close if prices continued to fall, threatening the livelihoods of about 30,000 miners. Labor Department chief Chamnan Pojana said that his department could do little to find new jobs for the miners.
• PM Prem was punched in the nose
by a reportedly mentally disturbed
student, Kwanchai Vorasut, aged 27.
The incident occurred after Prem left
the closing ceremony of intervarsity
games at Ramkhamhaeng University
in Bangkok. Kwanchai was taken
to the Hua Mark police station for
questioning. It was reported that
he had previously been admitted to
mental hospitals on several occasions.
• Poppy fields were destroyed by army
rangers in Ban Pang Oong in the mountainous northern Thai province of Mae Hong Son. The eradication campaign was launched by the Third Army and anti-narcotic agencies tasked with destroying about 25,000 rai of opium fields in Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Tak, Chiang Ra and Nan provinces.
• Specially trained commandos equipped with military helicopters were deployed to Sakhon Nakhon provincial prison where 13 inmates armed with hand grenades and knives had taken the governor and four wardens hostages on New Year’s Eve. After two days of negotiations the inmates came outside the building with the hostages, holding grenades to their heads and demanding guns and get-away vehicles. Government marksmen killed 10 of the inmates and two others were taken inside the prison and shot there while apparently trying to flee. One prisoner was reportedly killed earlier by inmates after he refused to cooperate in the escape plan.
1986 saw the opening of the Shangri-La Hotel and Vibhavadi Hospital in Bangkok, as well as the founding of Advance Information Service (AIS) mobile phone operator.
● The King presided over the official opening of Khao Laem Dam in Kanchanaburi province. The dam was equipped with 1,000-kilowatt generators and took five years to finish.
● Following an ambush by CPT guerrillas that wounded nine soldiers, Thai military
gunships attacked CPT strongholds at Betong in Yala province.
● Divorces were up in Bangkok. According to city records, out of 38,288 couples
married in 1985 in Bangkok, 8,865 were already divorced. Adviser to city clerk Anek Singtoroj said that divorce rates were increasing especially among people aged 40-50 and those who were ‘the most economically secure’.
● The Cabinet approved a proposal by the Communication Ministry headed by
Samak Sundaravej to scrap a planned 20-billion baht international airport at Nong Ngu Hao in Samut Prakan. The plan to build the airport there had been debated for about two decades and the government reportedly had already spent one billion baht on a feasibility survey. Samak told the Cabinet the project was uneconomical. Eventually, however, Suvarnabhumi airport was built on the Samut Prakan site.
● Pizza Hut became the biggest restaurant chain in Thailand after opening its sixth
outlet at Siam Jusco department store.
● In a shocking move PM Prem replaced Gen Arthit with Army Commander-
in-Chief Gen Chavalit Youngchaiyut. Analysts said the reason for the abrupt change of command was the perception that Gen Arthit was a threat to Prem’s hold on power.
● Parliament was dissolved by the King after the government was narrowly
defeated in a vote on legislation outlining an increase in registration fees for diesel and LPG-fuel vehicles.
● A state of emergency was declared in Phuket after a mob set fire to a controversial
1.2 billion baht tantalum metal plant due to be open in October. The plant was damaged beyond repair. The mob also set fire to the five-star Phuket Merlin Hotel causing an estimated 50 million baht in damages. Around 50,000 people protested for weeks against the plant, claiming it would destroy the environment and tourism. When Industry Minister Chirayu Issarangkul went to Phuket to discuss the matter he was confronted by the mob, which proceeded to the plant and set it alight. The mob also set fire to Merlin Hotel where the minister was staying. Forty seven people were arrested and charged with arson and looting.
● The Telephone Organization of Thailand introduced a cellular telephone system at Siam Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok.
● Klong Toey port was paralyzed after hundreds of workers went on a two-day
strike to protest a Cabinet decision allowing Express Transit Authority to take over the crane service from the Port Authority of Thailand.
● Prem was appointed as the country 16th prime minister after general elections
held on July 27. The Democrat Party won 100 seats, Chart Thai Party 63, Social Action Party 51 and Rassadorn Party 18 seats.
● Prem approved the reinstatement of 28 ‘Young Turks’ who were dismissed
from the army after the failed coup of April 1, 1981.
● Thai teenage snooker player, Wattana Pu-Ob-Orm, also known as ‘James’ Wattana, won the Camus Masters Championship held in Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel. The 16-year-old beat three-time world champion Steve Davies in the semifinal and Terry Griffiths in the final.
● Parliament passed amendments to the Criminal Code making it punishable by
life in prison to have sexual intercourse with a child less than 15 years old, with or without the child’s consent.
● The Interior Minister told the governors of the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat to lift ban on Islamic dress for female state officials.
● A runaway train broke through barriers at Hua Lamphong railway station in
Bangkok, killing four people and injuring four others.
*Sources for this story include archives of UPI, AFP, the Bangkok Post, The Nation and Wikipedia.