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OTHER ITA SITES:
A 700 Year Story – The Moated City Of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, the capital city of the Province of Chiang Mai, is steeped in history. From its foundation the city has enjoyed both successful and turbulent times. The creation of this moated city can be traced back to the Lanna (million rice fields) Kingdom.
A major tourist attraction, lying to the south east of Chiang Mai, is Wiang Khum Kham. This is where the first city of the Lanna Kingdom was built. Due to flooding however the city was not a success and so had to be abandoned.
Chiang Mai was built in 1296 as the capital of Lanna. King Mangrai and his close friends King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao choose this fertile location in the Ping Valley, close to the Ping River. The location served the city well with the trade the river brought. More over the city sat at the bottom of Doi Suthep, a mountain which provided wood for the city.
The Lanna Kingdom enjoyed its most prosperous period in the 15th century. The kingdom was well established and had a vast area of control. From the Burmese Shan territory, to the north western parts of Laos, to the Yunnan province in China the Lanna Kingdom had total control. The official religion was Buddhism which is still the most popular religion in this region today. The Lanna Kingdom is credited with spreading Buddhism throughout this part of Asia.
Temples (wat) were built in Chiang Mai they were beautiful, grand and well decorated buildings. The first temple to be built was Wat Chiang Man. It was built during the 13th century and still stands today. Housed within Wat Chiang Man are Phra Satang Man (a crystal Buddha) and Phra Sila (a marble Buddha) both highly revered figures within Buddhism.
Built in 1345 is Wat Phra Singh. This masterpiece is arguably the most spectacular example of a vintage northern Thai style temple. Housed within it is the Phra Singh Buddha which was transferred from Chiang Rai hundreds of years ago. Chiang Mai’s most famous feature, the moat, was built around the same time as Wat Phra Singh. The purpose of the moat was primarily to keep the Burmese from invading the city.
Burma wasn’t the only enemy that faced Lanna. Many wars had been fought against the Siamese of Ayutthaya. The cost of these wars on Lanna was heavy. Eventually in a weakened state Chiang Mai fell to the Burmese under the leadership of King Bayinnaung in 1558.
It was 200 years before the Burmese were ousted from Chiang Mai. The northern Thais united with the Siamese, led by King Taksin and successfully fought the Burmese, forcing them to leave Chiang Mai. This had more significance for King Taksin as he was trying to protect his kingdom. Having been defeated by the Burmese at Ayutthaya, he realised that without Chiang Mai it would be very difficult for the Burmese to attack Siam.
After the Burmese fled Chiang Mai the city was effectively ruined and so was uninhabited. It was Chao Kawila, appointed viceroy of Chiang Mai by King Taksin, who rebuilt the city in 1796. The walls around the moat that stand today were built at this time and still can be viewed and enjoyed on walking tours of the city.
The present day population of Chiang Mai can be traced back to a Tai ethnicity. This is because the new city was compiled of Shan, Tai Khoen, Tai Yong and some local people. What you will now find in Chiang Mai is a mixture of these ethnicities which through integration and assimilation became known as Khon Mueng. They have their own distinct language which is a dialect of central Thai.
The beginning of the end for Chiang Mai as an independent capital in Lanna was to come with more economic cooperation with Siam. This led to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) overseeing all administrative duties in Chiang Mai. The interest being shown by foreign powers such as Britain in the teak forests was certainly a reason for Rama V to take control of Chiang Mai.
With tighter control on Chiang Mai by Rama V the British began logging on a massive scale. At first this was without problems. However due to a lack of regulations concerning concessions and taxation on logging teak, resentment and fiction began to occur especially in the border area. British loggers began to be killed and so the British turned to Siam for assistance in security.
This had the effect of placing Chiang Mai under the total control of Bangkok. The 1873 Treaty of Chiang Mai took care of this. Siam feared that the British, who were already in control of Burma would, for economic interests, come across the border and take control in Lanna. This would have serious political problems for Siam and so had to be avoided.
With the building of a railway to Chiang Mai and the introduction of a telegraph service trade links grew stronger between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. With the revolution of 1932 the absolute monarchy was finished and so Chiang Mai became a province of Siam. In 1949 Thailand replaced Siam as the official name.
Much hardship and suffering occurred during WWII in Chiang Mai under Japanese occupation. The mountainous terrain and scenery that draws so many visitors to the region also had a sinister side. The Japanese, using forced labourers, built roads through this incredibly tough landscape. These are the same roads that are in use today, and are now an essential and necessary aspect to enjoying the scenery of northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai has seen an annual increase in tourist numbers since the boom in the 1990’s. Also an ever increasing ex-pat community is developing. Both tourist and ex-pat are endeavouring to gain a true Lanna experience by living in historical Chiang Mai.
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