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Chiang Mai Thailand - All About Chiangmai Thailand


WEATHER-CHIANGMAI

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HISTORY OF CHIANGMAI
Over 700 years - by J.C Shaw



A city and a region steeped in tradition and history, Chiang Mai has weathered seven hundred years of fascinating history.

There has been continuous habitation in what is now Thailand for over 10,000 years. Thailand lies between the two great civilizations of India and China and it has been much influenced by the both. Coastal trade came up the river to Siam, as the old capital now known as Ayutthaya, was called. Elephants or ox carts also carried goods across the narrow isthmus to avoid the long and pirate infested route through the Malacca Straight.

Over the centuries great Empires rose and fell in South East Asia and most of them were maritime states feeding off the merchants who traded along the coast. Such was Srivijaya based, some say, in Sumatra, the Khmer Empire of Angkor and the powerful kingdoms of Burma. Far to the north lay China, which sometimes stretched its tentacles down to the south.

Lanna, as the kingdom whose capital was Chiang Mai was called, sits right in the middle of all these powers - a land-locked country surrounded and divided by forests and great mountain ranges straggling down from the Himalayas, but with many fertile valleys of which the most important was Chiang Mai.

By 1300A.D. the Thai people, moving out from the peripheral areas of China, had established themselves in the northern parts of Thailand. The two most important Thai kingdoms were Lanna and Sukothai, which was, a hundred years later, absorbed into Siam based at Ayutthaya. By the middle of the fifteenth century Lanna was firmly established, it fought successful wars against Siam over disputed territory and it became a major centre of Buddhist studies, hosting the Seventh World Buddhist Conference in 1477. Chiang Mai was also the key market on the trade routes from Yunnan to the Burmese ports where goods arrived from, and were sent to, India and beyond.

In 1557 the Burmese attacked the Thai world, utterly destroying Siam and turning Chiang Mai into a vassal state. For the next two hundred years Chiang Mai was an impoverished backwater cut off from the rest of the world and neglected by its rulers - it disappeared from the pages of history.

In 1767 Burma struck at Siam again and reduced the great city of Ayutthaya to a pile of rubble and it never recovered, the capital was recreated at Bangkok. Slowly the kingdom of Siam recovered under the new Chakri Dynasty.

Chiang Mai, after being deserted for twenty years following the Burmese onslaught, was gradually repopulated and willingly gave its allegiance to the king of Siam. But the journey up the river to Chiang Mai was slow and difficult so that the Prince of Chiang Mai was virtually an independent ruler. The first American Presbyterian missionary to reach the north from Bangkok in 1867 records that the journey took him exactly three months. McGilvary's mission brought in the modern age - as well as, largely unsuccessfully, spreading the gospel, he also introduced modern medicine and education. T

Towards the end of the century British teak companies in Burma began to seek concessions in the north of Thailand and there were frequent conflicts with the Prince who saw nothing wrong with leasing the same concession to two different people. Problems with the missionaries and the teak companies together with fears of British and French intentions along the borders finally forced the Bangkok Government to take firm control of Chiang Mai and the rest of the north in the 1890's. All real power was removed from the Prince and the last hereditary ruler died in 1939. In 1921 the railway blasted its way through the encircling mountains and Chiang Mai became an integral and loyal part of Siam, or Thailand as it came to be called in 1949.

The inhabitants of Chiang Mai are, as one would expect in a city sited at the crossroads of mainland South East Asia, a very mixed lot. The people living in the valleys think of themselves as Thais with a difference - they have their own distinct language and are in fact a mixture of Mon, Lawa, Lao and Thai Lue amongst others. To the west live many Shan and Karen while in the mountains, over the past hundred years, tens of thousands of hill tribe people have settled after fleeing from troubles in Burma, Laos and China - Hmong, Akha, Musser, Yao and the long necked Padaung. There are also many overseas Chinese, Chin Haw Muslim traders from Yunnan and increasing numbers of Europeans and Americans who have come to live in the beautiful and gentle valley of Chiang Mai.  
The inhabitants of Chiang Mai are, as one would expect in a city sited at the crossroads of mainland South East Asia, a very mixed lot. The people living in the valleys think of themselves as Thais with a difference - they have their own distinct language and are in fact a mixture of Mon, Lawa, Lao and Thai Lue amongst others. To the west live many Shan and Karen while in the mountains, over the past hundred years, tens of thousands of hill tribe people have settled after fleeing from troubles in Burma, Laos and China - Hmong, Akha, Musser, Yao and the long necked Padaung. There are also many overseas Chinese, Chin Haw Muslim traders from Yunnan and increasing numbers of Europeans and Americans who have come to live in the beautiful and gentle valley of Chiang Mai.

 


This site was last updated: 25 January 2007

 

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