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Historical Flags (Thailand)

Siam (until 26 June 1939)

Last modified: 2015-08-23 by ian macdonald
Keywords: thailand | siam | historical | elephant | chakra | stripes: 5 | kojasri | mythical creature | rajasri | lion | crown: thai | coat of arms | garuda (red) |
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Chronological Overview (see also below)

Siam c.1656 - 1782
Siam 1782 - 1817
Siam 1817 - 1855
Siam 1855 - 1916
Siam 1916
Siam 1916 - 1917 (?)
Siam 1917
Siam / Thailand 1917 - 1941
Siam / Thailand 1941 - 1945 (?)
Siam / Thailand 1945 -

(click on flags to view detailed information and image credits)

See also:

Other sites:


The first known national flag of Thailand seems to have been a plain red flag.

Not all flag books are in agreement on when the various flags of Siam/Thailand were introduced. According to Crampton, the first flag of Thailand was red with a white chakra, that is a Buddhist wheel in a fan-like shape. Some sources state that the first flag was a plain red field. In 1817 a white elephant was added to the centre of the chakra. The white elephant is connected to the mythological origin of the founding dynasty of Thailand, and is an emblem of the Royal family.
Sources: Crampton 1992; Jos Poels 1990; Crampton 1991.

A tourist information website (in French) about Thailand, introducing the national symbols and the national career Thai Airways (with the history of the company logotype), gives more information on the ancient Thai flags:

In 1802, king Rama II decided to add a white elephant on the red flag. The white elephant was the symbol of the absolute monarchy since king Ramkhamhaeng (XIIIth century). The elephant was inscribed in a white wheel, whose elements symbolized the bow of his vessels. In 1851, king Rama IV removed the wheel to increase the visibility of the flag.
Beside the relatively small differences in years (1502 vs 1817 for the addition of the elephant; 1851 vs 1855 for the removal of the wheel), what is reported above is in fairly good agreement with the report shown on our website. The only main difference is the interpretation of the wheel. The relationship between the wheel on the flag and the prows of the king's vessel is obscure for me, and I suspect a translation error from Thai to French. However, the "wheel" represented on the source website (see the attached image ) does not really look like a chakra.

Ivan Sache, 21 Jul 2004

A flag book that I bought in Thailand, entitled "The History of Thai Flags" (issued by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand in 1977), says:

    (1) A plain red flag became a national flag on Sep 3rd 1680
    (2) Rama I added a white chakra in the center in 1782
    (3) Rama II further added a hoist-facing white elephant inside the chakra in 1817
    (4) Rama IV removed the chakra and enlarged the elephant in 1855
    (5) Rama VI added caparisoning to the elephant, rotated it towards the fly and put a pedestal beneath it on Nov 2nd 1916
    (6) Rama VI changed the national flag to five equal red/white/red/white/red horizontal stripes in early 1917
    (7) The central red stripe was replaced by blue on Sep 28th 1917

I have three different Thai flag books and all show equal stripes as a national flag. 1:1:2:1:1 flag was adopted by Rama VI by Decree No. 129 in 1911 as a merchant flag. Most European flag books reported the flag wrongly.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 Jul 2004

Shouldn't that be 1:1:2:1:1 instead of "equal" in (6)?

David Kendall, 23 Jul 2004

I have three different Thai flag books and all show equal stripes [on the 1916] national flag. The 1:1:2:1:1 flag was adopted by Rama VI by Decree No 129 in 1911 as a merchant flag. Most European flag books reported the flag wrongly.

The [upside-down elephant] story is popular among vexillologists, but I have not found it mentioned in Thai flag books.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 Jul 2004

Also, it's interesting how long (5) seemed to last (only a few months!) I am familiar with the story of how the elephant flag got changed to the stripes flag (the King saw the elephant flag flying upside down and decreed a change to a flag that can't be flown upside down – I hope that isn't an urban legend!), but I'm wondering if it was flag (4) or (5) that was spotted upside down as (5) was in existence for such a short time!

David Kendall, 23 Jul 2004

The story is popular among vexillologists, but I have not found it mentioned in Thai flag books.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 Jul 2004

I had a hunch (hence my comment), but it would seem odd to change the flag otherwise, though, as the elephant was put on the flag by the monarchy, and is supposed to represent the monarchy, being a monarchic symbol as it was, and Thailand was (and still is!) a monarchy. It is interesting that the flag style would change to a more "republican" one. (qv. Laos, who kept the elephant-style flag until the monarchy was abolished.) This might be why the "non-invertable flag" story is so believable.

Interestingly, (5) also seems to be similar, just by description, to the Lao royal flag (and the national flag prior to 1979), and, when the [Laotian] Communists changed their flag, it was changed to something similar to Thailand's! Odd that two (albeit neighbouring) countries would go from two similar flags to another shared similar design.)

David Kendall, 23 Jul 2004

The flag of Kingdom of Laos (Wiang Chhan) 1707-1828 had an ornamented white elephant in red canton of yellow flag and the elephant looks very similar to Thai ornamented white elephant in flag (5) but she or he is facing hoist in Lao case.

The flag of kingdom of Luang Prabang (c. 1707-1893) had three white ornamented elephants on a red field which is similar to Laos Kingdom flag May 11th 1947 - Dec 23rd 1975 but the 1947 elephants are not ornamented. The three ornamented white elephants in Luan Praban flag appear in Thailand's former COA, used 1868-1910. If my memory is correct one of three elephants in Thai former COA represents Laos.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 Jul 2004

I'm at work right now and can't verify it, but if memory serves, the elephants on the Laos flag shown in FOTW are indeed ornamented. [Ed.: they are]

David Kendall, 23 Jul 2004

Cambodian States formerly under Thai/Siamese sovereignty

The territory of Cambodia was enlarged in 1904 (provinces of Meloupre and Tonle-Repou) and 1907 (provinces of Siemreap, Battambang, and Sisophon). These provinces were given back by the kingdom of Siam, whose expansionism in Cambodia had given a "legitimate" motive to France for establishing the protection regime.

Source: Grand Larousse Illustré du XXe siècle (1932).

Ivan Sache, 9 Nov 2001

Malayan States formerly under Thai/Siamese sovereignty

Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, 1988, states:

Perlis was until 1821 subject to Kedah; made separate state by Siamese 1841; came under British protection by treaty of 1909, in which Siam ceded to Great Britain its right over the state.
In Asian Frontiers, Alastair Lamb, 1968, pp. 170-171:
In the first half of the 19th century the Bangkok dynasty considered the entire Malay peninsula to fall within its sphere of influence. In the north this was real enough. (...) In 1943 the Japanese undid the territorial transfer of 1909 and restored Kelantan, Trengganu, Perlis and Kedah to nominal Thai sovereignty. (...) Japan's defeat in 1945 automatically brought the 4 northern Malay states back under British rule. It is not difficult to find Thais who will speak with regret of these lost Malayan territories.

Jarig Bakker, 13 Nov 1999

Basically these four northern states used to pay annual tribute to Siam, and then Great Britain decided Malaya was properly a British sphere of influence, having held Penang since 1786 and Province Wellesley since 1790 from Kedah for the princely sum of $10,000 (still paid each year by the Federal Government to the Kedah Government), and had to protect its commercial interests in its hinterland in the Malay states. The 1909 treaty of Bangkok allowed Great Britain to have Resident Advisors in the northern states, i.e. for them to become British protectorates.

[As for the "regret," I believe] the Thais have enough problems with their southern Muslim minorities who would be more happy in Malaysia.

Andrew Yong, 13 Nov 1999