By Gabriel Tan at the Rajamangala Stadium
Jakkapan Pornsai opened the scoring for the War Elephants when he applied the finishing touches to a sweeping move in the 39th minute, before Anucha Kitpongsri added a second two minutes later to give his side a commanding lead at the break.
But despite continuing their dominance in the second half, the hosts failed to put away their chances and were made to endure a nervy end to the game when Paul Mulders pulled one back for the Azkals in the 77th minute, although they ultimately held on for all three points.
The result meant Thailand's bid to win Southeast Asia's biggest international prize got off to a perfect start, and they certainly showed for most parts on Saturday why many regard them as favourites for the title.
However, it was Philippines who created the first real opening of Saturday's clash when Phil Younghusband looked set to race through down the left until the door was slammed shut in his face by a firm sliding tackle from Chonlatit Jantakam, after Angel Guirado had played a penetrating ball in behind the Thai backline.
But from then on, it was all one-way traffic and Thailand threatened the opposition goal for the first time in the 25th minute when Anucha burst down the left and cleverly cut the ball back to Datsakorn Thonglao, but with the goal gaping, the Muangthong United star saw his shot bravely blocked by Ray Jonsson.
From the resultant corner, another chance came their way when Eduard Sacapano flapped at the cross and was left in no man's land, but fortunately for Philippines, Chonlatit could only head wide of the unguarded net.
Nonetheless, the deadlock was eventually broken six minutes before the break when Theerathon Bunmanthan found space down the right and whipped a ball into the box. The chance looked to have gone to waste as his cross evaded Pichitpong Choeichiu at the near post but none of the Azkals noticed the late run of Jakkapan, who proceeded to plant an emphatic effort into the back of the net.
A couple of minutes later, it was 2-0 after the lively Teerasil Dangda picked up the ball just inside the final third and held off a challenge, before sending Anucha through with a lovely through-pass. The Chonburi winger raced towards goal before skilfully making his way past the onrushing Sacapano, leaving himself with an empty goal to blast into.
Desperate to halt the rampaging hosts, Philppines coach Michael Weiss immediately brought captain Emelio Caligdong off, and straight after halftime, Younghusband followed, with Jeffrey Christiaens and Patrick Reichelt coming on in their places.
Still, the War Elephants continued to dominate proceedings in the second half and Teerasil perhaps could have been slightly more selfish in the 57th minute when he was picked out unmarked inside the area by a right-wing cross from Jakkapan but opted to flick the ball on to Anucha, who blazed over from close range.
Seven minutes later, Teerasil did opt to go for goal when he was once again picked out by a delivery from Theerathon but on this occasion, he could only manage to send his header over from six yards out.
Thailand were then dealt a blow in the 71st minute when influential playmaker Datsakorn had to be stretchered off and three minutes later, his replacement Sumanya Purisay wasted an gilt-edge chance to make it 3-0 when he fired wide with only Sacapano to beat after being sent through by Teerasil.
13 minutes from time, Philippines threatened to make their opponents pay for their profligacy when they pulled one back after Reichelt left Chonlatit for dead with a sharp turn down the right, before weighing a perfect cutback into the path of Mulders to hammer home.
By now, tempers were beginning to boil over as Thailand looked to run the clock down, while the Azkals were trying desperately to win the ball back at all costs.
And while it looked increasingly likely someone was going to get sent off, it was Weiss who was handed his marching orders by referee Sato Ryuji in the 81st minute after throwing the ball at a fallen Thai player.
With Philippines missing their tactician barking out orders by the side, it was the hosts who almost scored again a minute from time when Teerasil sent Jakkapan through down the right, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, Juan Luis Guirado blocked him with a great sliding challenge.
As the final whistle blew, it was Thailand who were left celebrating a valuable three points although realistically speaking, given their dominance, it should have been far easier than it proved to be.
Thailand: Kawin Thamasatchanan, Piyaphon Buntao (Nataporn Phanrit 86'), Panupong Wongsa, Chonlatit Jantakam, Theerathon Bunmathan, Adul Lahsoh, Pichitpong Choeichiu, Jakkapan Pornsai, Datsakorn Thonglao (Sumanya Purisay 71'), Anucha Kitpongsri (Arthit Sunthornphit 90'), Teerasil Dangda.
Philippines: Eduard Sacapano, Ray Jonsson, Rob Gier, Juan Luis Guirado, Dennis Cagara, James Younghusband (Patrick Reichelt 61'), Paul Mulders, Jerry Lucena, Emelio Caligdong (Jeffrey Christiaens 42'), Angel Guirado, Phil Younghusband (Marwin Angeles 46').