Since prehistoric times, Thai people participated in maritime trade with other regions along the Maritime Silk Roads. Their developed culture and knowledge in seafaring enabled them to interact with other populations through the years. Archaeological evidence – such as paintings – show that due to a natural environmental crisis around 6 000 years ago, some pieces of the mainland became islands. Consequently, the inhabitants had to use water transport to reach the mainland. Thus, a naval culture was quite natural amongst Thai people, and lead to the development of maritime trade.
One of the main distinctions of Thai traders and navigators was the fact that they did not travel far from their land, as opposed to Chinese or Arab sailors for example. This was mostly due to the availability of wide resources in the region. Their local ports and the coastal settlements were fairly advanced and varied to provide fine services. And their local products were adapted for international trade. Therefore, through the establishment of local merchants in Thai ports, and their direct trade with foreign traders, the local merchants eventually act as intermediaries.
According to archaeological records, the first coastal cities date from the beginning of the Christian era when a new method of navigation was learned. Indeed, the use of predictable winds, notably monsoon winds, had a considerable impact on the way in which Thai navigators travelled. Journeys between different regions were shorter, hence an increasing number of vessels reaching other ports. Merchant settlements then developed, leading to the creation and growth of diverse ports in the area.
The growth of these ports lead to interactions between diverse regions of modern Thailand and Eastern regions. Indeed, bronze drums, popular in China and Vietnam, were found in different parts of the region, such as Uttaradit in the North, Ongbah cave in the Centre, Ko Samui in the South, and in a number of rivers around the Gulf of Siam. These drums, mostly used in ritual ceremonies, often had illustrations on them, such as boats carrying spirits, or men with bird headdresses.
Thailand also interacted with other western and eastern regions alongside. Gemstones found during excavations made it clear that Thailand communicated with Taxila in modern Pakistan. Another significant sign of these different contacts are glass beads that have been identified and said to have emerged from the Mediterranean area. In fact, boats were coming to Thailand from the Indian subcontinent, which had exchanges with Mediterranean regions thanks to the Maritime Silk Roads. Moreover, archaeological findings such as coins, in the central region of modern Thailand display the entrance of foreign Mediterranean and Middle Eastern merchants into the lands via waterways running to the Gulf of Siam.
International interactions through trade somewhat had an influence on Thai culture and society. By extending their markets to an international commercial trade, Thai people were influenced by other civilizations, such as the Indian civilization. They rapidly adapted themselves to these new conditions created through interactions by combining their own tradition with elements of other cultures, when it was adaptable to their needs and society. Thus, Thai people who eventually became pioneers of sea travel, developed and benefited from the Maritime Silk Roads.