National Geographic : 1967 Jul
the reviewing stand, to make the ceremonial address to the King. He pledged the army's loyalty; referred to the "unprecedented infil tration and subversion of the Communists"; and reported that all Thai were uniting against this threat. General Prapas also headed the Communist Suppression Command. That night, in His Majesty's honor, public buildings-and many others, and even trees were festooned with lights. It seemed as if some god had sprinkled Bangkok with thou sands of rubies and tens of thousands of pearls. Only in one spot were the lights not electric, at the 18th-century fort left over from the dis mantled city walls. Here flickered hundreds of little oil lamps, casting a spell of gold. There I sat along a leftover klong, in an open-air restaurant beneath the old cannons, and watched men scaling the battlements on ladders, to relight oil lamps blown out by the wind. I could imagine them to be warriors, on the attack. It was an image that has haunted Thailand's history. Thailand's Past Remains a Puzzle As cities go, Bangkok is not old, not much older than Washington, D. C. It was founded in 1782, after the Burmese had sacked the old capital, beautiful Ayutthaya, 45 miles to the north (page 116). Previous Thai kingdoms centered still farther north, in Sukhothai, in Chiang Mai, and probably elsewhere. Where? Archeologists-Thai, French, Danish, Dutch, and American-think that what they have found lately will change Thai history books. "The widespread notion that the Thai came from southern China, to get away from Kublai Khan, rests on insufficient evidence. We're just not sure where they came from." So declared Mr. J. J. Boeles, the scholarly Dutchman directing the Siam Society's Re search Center. And Prince Subhadradis Dis kul, Dean of Archeology at Silpakorn Univer sity, told me: "We have found a new historical period in Thailand. Sites not far from Bangkok extend into the time of the empire of Funan, namely the first to the sixth centuries A.D. Until re cently, Funan was thought to have centered on what is now South Viet Nam, or on Cam bodia. Now it appears that its capital may well have been here." Archeology was booming, added the Prince. But so was the illicit export of valuable im ages of the Lord Buddha unearthed lately. "We would like to get them to museums, be fore they are all stolen and sold to foreigners. I am afraid this is now quite a problem." The time had come for me to take a close look at the thorniest problem in Thailand: the Northeast. Imagine a hard land, a poorly drained pla teau about the size of New England, water logged under the monsoon but generally arid and dusty. The rice fields are hard to irrigate, and yield poorly. Imagine 9,000,000 farming people, two out of every seven Thai, hardened by the land. Many are forced to go south and seek work in Bangkok, where they are looked down upon as yokels. In language, dress, and customs they are closer to the farmers across the Me kong, the ethnic Thai who are the people of Laos. Imagine the officials sent from faraway Bangkok, pining for comforts and advance ments they left behind, eager to get back. Northeasterners feared them. In Bangkok, during my visit, it was agreed that this is how things had been in the North east for decades, at least until recently. Now the air was full of hopes and plans for great changes, quick: better farming, more roads, more police with helicopters. Otherwise wouldn't the terrorists, based in the jungles and calling themselves the Thai land Patriotic Front, step up their murderous operations even more? In a way, that war wasn't so very distant. Maj. Somboon Intraprasart, 35, a father of five and the highest-ranking officer yet killed in the Northeast, had just been cremated in Bangkok. Before the ceremony, Field Mar shal Thanom awarded him a posthumous promotion to colonel and the Order of the White Elephant, Third Grade. Colonel Som boon had fallen in a skirmish on his 12th wedding anniversary. Wild West Lives On in Booming Udorn After a 300-mile flight to Udorn, the capi tal of the northeastern province of the same name, my first impressions were of resound ing changes indeed. "You're on the newest street in town," said the taxi driver. "Paved last week. Here's our first traffic light, two months old." At the race track I put my money on Som boon Chai, or Perfect Victory, who was nosed out by Ratana Thevan, or Divine Jewel while Yord Ming Mano, or My Soul, came in last. But that didn't disturb me half as much as the thundering of the jet fighter-bombers the Republic F-105's, or Thunderchiefs, of the U. S. Air Force, landing on the big airstrip right near the track. Didn't the planes disturb the horses?