Burmese History in Chiangmai

Arrived few days ago to Myanmar (Burma) and am working on material about that. But this post is about Chiangmai in Thailand (Siam). Was surprised to learn about my old home town being part of both countries over the course of history.

History in brief

Visitors of today in north Thailand probably come across the term Lanna or Lan Na. Lanna was independent medieval Tai kingdom (Tai are people speaking same family of languages, Thai being someone from Thailand). Its capital moved few times, but eventually Chiangmai, the New City, was founded 1296 by King Mengrai.


Lanna mural in temple wall in Nan

Perhaps not as many are aware for over 200 year Burmese influence. Burmese rule in the region started 1558 when King Bayinnaung occupied Lanna and subdue it to his vassalage. Many other kingdoms would follow, eventually Bayinnaung’s empire would stretch from modern day Bangladesh to Cambodia, see: map.

Andrew Forbes & David Henley, The Khon Muang: People and Principalities of Northern Thailand:

Unlike the Siamese of central Thailand, the people of Lan Na do not retain bitter memories of the Burmese conquest. Judging by the histories, when a suzerain was just and his rule generous, the Khon Muang (Lanna people) would support him even against Siamese

Burmese and Siamese main battle tanks in action

Later, continuous conflicts would empty Burmese war chest, resulting a heavy taxation and worsening relations. Burmese lost control entirely when Lanna rose to revolt with the help of Siamese 1775. Independence wasn’t to be anymore, and Burmese were replaced by Siamese with Bangkok as their new capital.

So if Burmese had over 200 years of influence in Chiangmai, they must have left a mark that is still recognisable? Both countries are Theravada Buddhist countries, and if people loved to do something in the old times, they loved to build religious buildings. In Chiangmai, people built stupas (chedi), temples and monasteries (wat), and city said to have almost as many of them as 50-times bigger Bangkok.

After a bit of research, I jumped on a scooter and drove to the city to find about its Burmese connection.

Wat Myanmar, south-east corner of old city – I cruise to the yard early, before monks alms walk had begun. Pack of wat dogs (monks pet them, but don’t really train them to behave) started getting territorial. Luckily someone at temple was also awake and sweeping the yard. He hushed the dogs silent. Wat is fine example of a 19th century Burmese temple which would not look out of place in Mandalay. It is mainly associated with the lowland Burman tradition in the city, and pictures of the Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon can be seen on the walls.

Time seems to have frozen in Wat Myanmar

Wat Ku Tao. Remains of Tharawadi Min, the Burmese Prince of Chiangmai and son of Bayinnaung. In 1607 the Prince died after a reign of nearly twenty-eight years, his ashes are said to be buried in Wat Ku Tao.


In Wat Ku Tao

Kawila’s lions, Khuang Singh, or “Place of Lions”. This was erected by Chao Kavila at the end of the 18th century, when rebuilding of depopulated city had started. Some say lions are symbol of power designed to overawe the armies of Burma, in case they choose to try occupation again. Superstition played big part in everyones lives during those years, but would two stone lions really stop an army is everyone to judge by themselves. Lucky for lions, their test never came: by early 19th century Burmese threat in the region disappeared, when it in turn end up being occupied by the British Indian Empire.

“Chedi Khao”, or “White Chedi” is on the bank of the river Ping. It is a round-base cone shaped chedi, 6 meters wide ad 8 meters high. The body is covered with smooth cement with no decorative patterns. It is painted in white.

Legend was told that once a Burmese King led his troops to surround the city and challenged the ruler of Chiang Mai to bring the best diver to compete with the Burmese. His deal was if the Chiang Mai diver could stay under water longer than his, he and his army would return home. “Lung Piang” an old man volunteered to compete and the ruler of Chiang Mai accepted him. The two rulers agreed to hold the competition near the area where the chedi is situated now. They had two poles posted in the river at a distance. When the two army commanders were seated and the divers waited at the post, the generals signaled for the contestants to start diving. So much time passed and the people started to feel uneasy. Finally one of the divers came up to breath. He was the Burmese representative. The people on the Chiang Mai side were relieved and waited for their hero to come up to declare victory. Time passed; so long that it was clear that Chiang Mai had won the victory so the ruler sent his men down to tell the old man. The men returned and reported that Lung Piang could not return. He had sacrificed himself for the city. He tied himself to the post and was drowned in the river. As a monument for his bravery, the ruler commanded a chedi to be built at the Ping River bank.

(from link)

Warorot Market near White Chedi, by the river Ping. Visitor can try a Burmese cheroot from market supplies. Here too one may find a wide selection of lungyi—sarongs—from Mandalay, Lashio and even Mytkyina. There are also fresh/dried fruit, vegetables, flowers, butchery and bakery items, herbs, condiments, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, jewellery, lacquerware, silks, hemps, handicrafts, ceramics, wood carvings, beauty supplies, household appliances, electronic gadgets, sunglasses, watches, souvenirs, fireworks…

Large Warorot market hall

Best Sai Oua, or northern Thai sausage can be found from Warorot Market

Ps. my Burmese Days (and Thai) are over now, and am moving Europe. I lived over two years in Chiangmai and will definitely want to go back one day. The region has its unique qualities that am already missing. Different that of south Thailand or Bangkok region for instance.

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