Battles, coups, elections and revolutions are what typically come to mind when I think of pivotal moments in national histories.
Would you believe that one key event in the history of Siam/Thailand was a full solar eclipse observed at a beach in what is now Prachuap Khiri Khan province? In more ways than one, the 1868 eclipse viewing at Hat Waghor altered the course of Thai history.
Imagine Siam in the 1860s. With no railroads or highways, long-range travel was mostly done by sea and rivers that reached into rice paddies and jungle. Loose-fitting attire was typical, with both men and women often going topless in public.
A host of minor kings and rajas sent tribute from semi-autonomous territories — such as Nakhon Si Thammarat and Chiang Mai — to the powerful monarchy in Bangkok. Borders along all of Siam’s frontiers remained ambiguous. The Imperial British had yet to take full control over neighboring Burma and Malaya; and likewise the Imperial French over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Big changes loomed.