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Last update: Oct 14, 2018

Unexplored Chiang Mai.

Archibald Ross Colquhoun - 1885

Chiang Mai is situated in the broad valley of the Ping river; a large plain surrounded by low mountains and extensive forests. Well over a century ago, around 1900, the fortified town of Chiang Mai on the Ping river was surrounded by extensive paddy fields. Small palisaded villages were scattered throughout the plains of the Chiang Mai kingdom, but the larger towns like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan and Chiang Saen had moats and high stone walls as protection.

The farmers here cultivated rice, tobacco, sugarcane and tea on the fertile plain, and kept cattle, mules and ponies. The monsoon forests were occasionally interspersed with bamboo groves and teak trees. There were deer, gibbons, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses in large numbers. Nowadays the Asian rhino is almost extinct in Thailand; and a large part of the forests have gone. Teak trees can only be seen in uniform rows in plantations, but the large, old teak trees have disappeared from the forests.

The more remote hill villages around Chiang Mai were inhabited by Akha, White Karen, Red Karen, Lahu, Lawa, Paloung, Padaung and a dizzying number of other hill-tribes. Many of them originated from southern China (Yunnan) and Burma; some like the Akha originated in the Tibetan Highlands. These tribal people came to the morning market in Chiang Mai to sell their vegetables, fruit and other produce.

The towns in the Chiang Mai kingdom had a great number of temples and pagodas. Thousands of villages had a temple, and each temple had a pagoda. The large town of Chiang Mai had the most temples, monasteries and pagodas; most of them created by the Burmese when they occupied the independent mountain Kingdom of Chiang Mai.

The year 1885 was a pivotal year in Burma; Great Britain was busy annexing the last part of the country; Upper Burma. Great Britain's army would conquer Mandalay in November 1885, and henceforth Burma would be a province of British India. A major reason for the Brits to annex Upper Burma was the abundance of teak forests, since teakwood was essential for British ship building, warships in particular. Around the same time the exploration of the Kingdom of Chiang Mai started; which had rich teak forests in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Lampang, and Phrae. The first explorers came to this area in search of trade routes and hardwood. To be more precise: possible train routes and teak.

chiang mai 1904 map
Historical map of Indochina in 1885.

Archibald Ross Colquhoun was one of the early western visitors to Chiang Mai in 1885. A quote from his book "Amongst the Shans" on Teak exploration (page 204):

        Our teak-forests, and those of Upper Burmah, are rapidly being exhausted, and many of our foresters are now working those of Siam. If the country is opened out by railways, the large forests existing between the seventeenth and twenty-second parallels of latitude (The Chiang Mai kingdom in Northern Thailand) will become easily available and be a valuable source of supply.

    .... Although I use the word "Shan" to denote a race of people stretching from the valley of Assam, on the west, far into the interior of China, to the extreme south of Siam, it must be understood that the name is not used by themselves, but is merely that given to them by the Burmese. They generally call themselves Tai."

The northern part of Thailand, Lanna, had been ruled by the Burmese for hundreds of years; and at that time the Chiang Mai was usually indicated with its Burmese name Zimme. In 1885 it was part of the Siamese Shan States.

Another paragraph from Archibalds book "Amongst the Shans":

        The town of Zimmé, Kiang Mai, Tsching Mai, is situated on the right bank of the Meping river, at a height of about eight hundred feet above sea level. It is the largest place in the Meping plain. There are fields between the river, which lies on its eastern side, and the town; which is said to have been built in 1294 A.D.

There is what is called an inner and outer town, each surrounded by fortifications. The inner town, where the chief resides, is a rectangle, six thousand feet (1800m) from north to south and four thousand eight hundred feet (1500m) from east to west. Each wall has a gateway in the centre, except on the southern side, where there are two, placed five hundred yards from the corners. The gates are defended with a small bastion at the sides.

The walls are enclosed by a moat, some fifty feet in width. The depth of the moat, originally some fifteen feet, is hardly anywhere now more than six or seven feet. The walls are fast falling into ruin from continued neglect, and great portions are to be seen lying toppled over and half buried, while only here and there has any attempt been made to patch up the fast crumbling structure.

Although at one time, no doubt, a formidable place to the undisciplined forces of the Burmese and Siamese, it would present no resistance to European artillery of the present day.

The town has some nine hundred houses inside the inner fort, but there are many more than that number in the portion of the town enclosed by the outer fortifications and in what may be termed the suburbs, which are built along the banks of the Meping River.


chiang mai 1904 map
Historical map of Chiang Mai in 1904; Kamphaeng Din is the half circle.
Historische Karte von Chiang Mai im jahre 1904.

Archibald was wrong about Chiang Mai citadel being a rectangle; it is really an almost perfect square of 1600 by 1600 metres. The Meping River is now called the Mae Ping River, and the old Burmese name Zimme has been changed to Chiang Mai. On maps printed before 1900 it is called Zimme. The town Chiang Mai has had more than 100 names in the past; see below for more examples.

The walls that Archibald talks about have disappeared around 1900 and only the bastions at the four corners remain.


Tha Phae gate

The wall and bastions.

The fortifications around the old town of Chiang Mai were rebuilt by General Chao Kawila (Chao Kavila) after he liberated the city from the Burmese at the end of the 18th century. To defend against further attacks by the Burmese, he added the bastions at each corner.

There are four corner bastions: Jaeng Sri Phum (NE), Jaeng Katam (SE), Jaeng Ku Ruang (SW) and Jaeng Hua Rin (NW). A Jaeng means bastion or fort.

There used to be five gates in the four walls, clockwise starting from the northern Chang Phuak gate: Chang Phuak gate, Tha Phae gate, Chiang Mai gate, Suan Prung gate, and Suan Dok gate. The restored remains of the gates are still there; and since most of the walls have disappeared many modern road crossings of the moat have been added.

fortifications of Chiang Mai
The old fortifications of Chiang Mai in the 19th century.

The few remains of the wall at the four corners of Chiang Mai are not original; in 1996 - 1997 archaeological excavations were made, before the wall remains were extensively renovated. They reused old bricks mixed with new brickwork to restore what remained of the walls. Unfortunately the remains are just some low walls close to the corners of the old town.

The bastions on the four corners seem to be quite original; but all of them have been restored, some of them several times, in centuries past. At the north-east corner, Jaeng Sri Phum bastion, the excavation site has been covered with a roof and left open.

Below is a black and white historical photo of Jaeng Sri Phum bastion in the northeast corner.

Jaeng Sri Phum bastion Jaeng Sri Phum bastion in 1967 before it was renovated. Jaeng Sri Phum bastion
Jaeng Sri Phum bastion, on the northeast corner (2017).
Also spelled Chaeng Si Phum or Jaeng Sriphoom.


There used to be more walled cities in Thailand, these walls have mostly been demolished and the bricks reused for houses and road building. Many smaller villages in the Siamese Shan kingdom had just a ditch with a bamboo palisade. Some pieces of the old walls of Nan remain and have been restored, but they are only a very small part of the old wall.

chiang mai compare Mandalay Perhaps the best remaining example of a walled city similar to Chiang Mai is the Mandalay citadel, which has walls of 2032 metres length. This is such a large size that bicycling along these extended walls becomes quite monotonous, especially in the hot midday sun. Mandalay is also a relatively "modern" town, it was founded in 1857. For an ancient walled city you could visit Angkor Thom in Cambodia; which is a huge citadel and about 800 years old. Angkor Thom was built around 1200 by King Jayavarman VII; and the 5 entry gates to Angkor Thom have his face on the four sides of it's towers.

Besides the four corner bastions there is a fifth one: the Jaeng Thiphanet or Thiphanet Bastion on the southwestern corner of Kamphaeng Din; where it makes a 100 degree corner. It is difficult to see from the road to the airport (Mahidol road) because it is surrounded by buildings and trees which shield the old walls and bastion.

Thipanet bastion Thipanet bastion, on the Kamphaeng Din SW-corner.


Kamphaeng Din.

Chiang Mai was originally laid out at the end of the thirteenth century as an almost perfect square fortress, with an additional, outer, earthen and brick wall. Kampaeng Din means earthen rampart in Thai, and it circles around the southeast area of Chiang Mai along the Mae Kha canal. It is mostly made of a quite strong clay substance and has surprisingly survived many monsoon rains.

Kamphaeng Din circles around the southeast area of Chiang Mai - the "suburbs". The square brick city wall around the old town was the "citadel" or main old town where the king and nobility lived along with the Buddhist monks in their monasteries; the clay and earthen wall went around the suburbs and poorer part of the town.

Although Kamphaeng Din is less impressive than an old brick city wall, it is completely authentic. And best of all: the clay wall is for a large part still there - the remains of Chiang Mai's city walls have been reduced to nothing or perhaps a few feet of bricks in some places.

chiang mai wall Kamphaeng Din wall; a 3 metres high earth and clay rampart.

The clay wall is about 3 metres high, and at the photo above the lowest part is strengthened with a stone wall. The rest of the wall is almost invisible behind the brush and trees. Why is the old earthen wall still there whereas the original brick city walls have gone? Perhaps because the bricks could be reused, but nobody was interested in the old earthen walls. Only the trees found a fertile clay soil and started growing abundantly and covered the walls with their lush foliage.

chiang mai 1904 map
The earth wall on Kamphaeng Din road has been eroded severely in some places.

If you want to see the Kamphaeng Din walls then the easiest part to see is east of the old town, along the Kamphaeng Din road which runs along the old wall. Walk down Loi Kroh road and turn left into Kamphaeng Din road; it's just before the bridge over the stream that borders the old earthen walls. Of the original 4000 metre long Kamphaeng Din wall between 1300 and 1600 metres remain; so roughly 30 to 40 percent is still traceable, the rest has completely gone. Only the canal remains; and together with the many trees growing in the clay soil of Kamphaeng Din it creates a green line around the city. On the western side near Thipanet road there is a stretch which completely intact; and where one can walk on the wall itself.

The Chiang Mai Department of Fine Arts and the Chiang Mai Municipality have made plans for a project of restoration of the ancient Kamphaeng Din fortifications, recognized as a potential heritage which can increase cultural Sustainable Architecture and Urban tourism. This project has not started yet.


The Tha Phae Puzzle.

Where was the old 1899 photo of the Thapae Gate?

Tha Phae square is the centre of activities and celebrations in Chiang Mai. Chinese tourists love to feed the pigeons and make selfies; totally ignoring the large signs in Thai, English and Chinese to NOT feed the pigeons. Most of the tourists love to make selfies by the Tha Phae Gate sign on the fresh modern bricks. Been here, done that.

Tha Phae gate 2015
Tha Phae gate selfie.

The modern Thapae Gate (or Tha Phae Gate) looks from afar like a modern wall, and it seems to be a contemporary reconstruction. It is very loosely based on an old photograph of the Thapae Gate from 1899. But it is a rather oversized wall, totally straight as if measured out with Laser alignment equipment and modern tools.

Tha Phae gate 1899
Historical old photo of Thapae/Tha Phae gate in 1899
Boonserm Satraphai, "Chiang Mai in Memories", 2011, p59.

From the old photo it is clearly visible that Thapae Gate used to have a double gated entrance, as was common in many old town walls. On this site www.lanna-ww2.com all the ancient gates are described. Hak Hakanson makes the point that the photo of Thapae Gate in 1899 might have been located to the east of the current location; where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall. The Kamphaeng Din wall is indicated on the map below.

Tha Phae gate
Chiang Mai map from King Inthawichayanon, dated 1893.
Colouring and minor edits by R. Schierbeek

Let's have a look at the detailed map from King Inthawichayanon; also called the Mahadthai map. King Chao Intha-wichayanon was the 7th Ruler of Chiang Mai from 1870 until 1897. The inner Thapae gate is on the left in the moat; the outer Thapae gate is on the right; where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall. Just outside Kamphaeng Din wall is a small canal. The inner Thapae gate has a defensive tower on the NE corner of the courtyard. Holt Hallett describes these two entry courtyards or portals as being made from stone walls in his book "A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan States", but not in detail. (see below).

If we project the old Thapae Gate layout on the modern roads and Thapae square it seems to match. The 1899 Thapae/Tha Phae Gate photo seems to have an offset between the two gates that matches the roads as they are now; and probably as they were at the time.

Tha Phae gate 1899

The inner Thapae gate.

On the right is a map of the old inner Thapae gate projected on current roads. The offset between the inner and outer gate seems larger than in the photo, though this is difficult to determine from such a rough map.

If we look carefully at the wall in the background, it seems there are a quite lot of trees there, instead of houses and rooftops which one would expect inside the city. Furthermore, the shadows seem to indicate that the sun is shining from the right side. Since the sun is most of the time in the south, the photographer could well be looking towards the east.

So, it is probable that the photo was taken from the inside of the old city, looking eastward. The trees in the background would make sense, they probably grew along the moat. Nowadays at the same spot on Thapae square many trees are growing.

Tha Phae gate On the right is Thapae gate as it was drawn on the old 1893 map, having a defensive tower on the courtyard. The photo is not clear, but in the back behind the left figure there seems to be a large structure - perhaps the tower?

However, if you look carefully at the Thapae gate drawing there appear to be a problem. The entry portal on the drawing seems to be quite narrow. The offset between the gates is quite large; it could be offset by 10 metres. It is impossible to make this map match the photograph. Also, the many trees that are now growing on Thapae square were probably not there 120 years ago.

The hypothesis that the photo was taken at the location where Thapae road crosses the Kamphaeng Din wall is certainly a possibility. Has the photo been taken at the outer Thapae gate? That is worth an investigation; let's take another look.

Perhaps it is useful to do some photo analysis on the black and white photo.

Tha Phae gate

Photo analysis on the black and white Thapae Gate photo.

  1. The photographer is positioned in the middle of the road right in front of the gate. He is positioned only very slightly off-center.
  2. Two people are standing in the front gate, a man on the right and a smaller man on the left. In the background another person is posing.
  3. If the man on the right is about 1,50 to 1,60 metres tall, then the camera height is approximately 1 metre. (horizon comparison)
  4. If the right man is 1,50 metres tall (P), then the walls incl. ramparts are about 3 x 1,50 = 4,50 metres high (H = 3 x P), perhaps max. 5m.
  5. The two wooden gates are offset (O) by a bit more than half the wall height (H); therefore, the offset is roughly 2,5 metres.
  6. The gate width is about 4 metres.
  7. The road seems to be well-used. It is slightly elevated toward the gate in the back.
  8. Behind the gate and the wall in the back there are a lot of trees.

The outer Thapae gate.

Tha Phae gate

There is a possibility that the photo was taken at the outer Thapae gate, looking eastward. Could the road, courtyard and gates fit into a relatively narrow road like Thapae road? The trees in the background would make sense, they probably grew along the canal and the rough ground around it.

If we project the old map from King Intha-wichayanon on the current roads and buildings it matches surprisingly well. With some resizing and turning the result is visible below. The Thapae road is 14 metres wide at the east side of the outer gate; which is 3 car lanes plus sidewalks, and the gate fits in like a glove. On the western part of the outer gate Thapae road becomes smaller and is only 2 car lanes.

Tha Phae gate

The Wat south of Thapae road is the whimsical Wat Buppharam; the red-roofed temple buildings north of Thapae road are Wat Saen Fang. Wat Saen Fang is a quite old temple with history going back to the 14th century but the present building was built in the 19th century by the Burmese when they occupied Chiang Mai. The central white/grey square building in Wat Saen Fang is a Burmese-style chedi (a chedi is the thai name for Buddhist stupa).

These walled temple areas fit reasonably with the map, because Wats were holy places which were rarely abandoned, unlike houses which could be sold and converted into modern buildings. The accuracy of the Wat Buppharam temple is a bit off, it is a trapezium (trapezoid) shape rather than a rectangle.

The large ponds east of the gate were filled in and now have modern buildings on them. The canal has also been straightened; but the position of the canal at Thapae road is the same.

The last piece of the puzzle.

Tha Phae gate

Let's have a look at the last piece of the puzzle. On the right is the outer Thapae gate with the offset (O) drawn in; which amounts to a bit less then a car lane. A car lane is generally between 2.5 to 3.25 metres wide (highways are wider); so for the offset we can estimate roughly 2,5 metres. The width of the road is 3 car lanes, 3*3=9 metres plus two sidewalks and a small bike lane equals 14 metres. That offset of 2,5 metres corresponds nicely with the offset in the 1899 Thapae gate photograph.

Is the mystery of the "Tha Phae Puzzle" solved? My impression is that the position of the photographer is at the outer gate. The inner gate with its defensive tower on the courtyard just does not correspond with the photograph.

The offset derived from the road width when Inthawichayanon's map is projected on the current roads matches the estimate offset in the photograph. If you have another option or idea on where the photo was made then let me know!

Back to the current Thapae gate on Thapae Square. It resembled the old photograph of the Thapae Gate from 1899, remember. Well that old Thapae Gate in 1899 looked very different from the modern one.

Yes, the current gate and wall are a totally straight reconstruction from 1985. The wall is built around a hollow concrete support structure; nothing of it is original. Therefore, the new Thapae Gate is very much fake and has nothing to do with the original gate and walls. The only part that looks like the original is the hardwood door which is similar to the city door on the historical photo. All the rest is a rather clumsy piece of imagination.


Archibald Ross Colquhoun


Archibald Ross Colquhoun holt hallett

Archibald Colquhoun and Holt Hallett.

The railway line from Burma to Chiang Saen.

Archibald Ross Colquhoun was by no means the first traveller to visit Chiang Mai in 1879; the missionaries were well ahead of him. In 1867, The first Presbyterian missionary expedition to Chiang Mai was done by the McGilvary family. The first Western building in Chiang Mai was a wooden church which was later built by Dr. Daniel McGilvary on the East bank of the Ping River close to the Nawarat bridge (on Charoen Muang road, the extension of Thaphae road); today it is still there. It is now owned by the aptly named First Church of Chiang Mai which has new buildings nearby. An earlier visitor was Captain W. C. McLeod; who arrived in Chiang Mai on January 12, 1837. The very first westerner though was Ralph Fitch, an Englishman who visited Zimme in 1587.

Holt Hallett's planned rail map Archibald and his colleague Mr. Holt Samuel Hallett however were the first to describe the people and tribes of the Siamese Shan state (northern Thailand); at a time when it was an isolated area, not yet part of Thailand. Holt Samuel Hallett was a retired railway engineer.

Archibald Ross Colquhoun and Holt Hallett were colleagues studying and reporting on a proposed railway connecting British Burma with China. Holt Hallett was tasked with a survey for this railway. His book, "A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan States" was first published in 1890 and is still an excellent source of information on Northern Thailand.

The railway line from Burma to Chiang Saen that Holt Samuel Hallett surveyed was never constructed. The proposed railway would start in Moulmein (Mawlamyine, Burma), go into Thailand to Tak, then upwards towards Lampang, north through Kiang Hai (Chiang Rai) and ending in Kiang Hsen (Chiang Saen); the terminal point. Another possible route went from Moulmein northwards, crossed into Thailand to Mae Sariang, went east to Hot, northeast to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and ended in Chiang Saen. Moulmein or Mawlamyine was the capital of Burma during British colonial rule from 1827 to 1852; thereafter Rangoon (Yangon) became the capital.

Hallett returned to Bangkok to seek Siamese support for the railway; and his meeting with King Chulalongkorn was a success, "the King expressed himself strongly in favour of the railways". However, Hallett’s proposed trans-Asian railway never materialized, largely because the British wanted Moulmein as the terminus, not Bangkok.

King Chulalongkorn
King Rama V during his first grand tour of europe in 1897. Seated left to right: Grand Duchess Olga, King Chulalongkorn, Empress Maria Feodorovna and Tsar Nicholas II.

The people of Thailand were most interested in Western technology like railways, but always managed deftly to keep the colonial powers of Britain and France away from their territory. If they were building a railway it was on their terms; and it went not from Moulmein but from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. In 1901 Thailand started the construction of its own railway from Bangkok; which was to reach Chiang Mai in 1921. The rulers of Thailand never saw a need for a railway to Burma, but the Japanese army tried to build one in World War 2. They succeeded in making a connection at a great loss of life of British, Australian and Dutch war prisoners but for the war effort it was almost useless.

After many decades of isolation, Myanmar has opened up its land borders in 2013; and nowadays, the most popular border crossing is at the towns of Myawaddy (Burma) and Mae Sot (Thailand). That is right where Hallett planned the railway from Moulmein to Tak. The Myawaddy - Mae Sot border has also the largest trade volume of all Myanmar's land borders.

The following two books were written by the two moustachioed collegues about their surveys in the Siamese Shan states, where Siam is the old name for Thailand:

  • Amongst the Shans - by Archibald Ross Colquhoun, 1885. With upwards of fifty illustrations and an historical sketch of the Shans by Holt Samuel Hallett.
  • A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan States - by Holt Samuel Hallett, 1890. A survey for a railway from Moulmein to Chiang Mai and Chiang Saen.
Both books are exploration books; written in the same period and style. Holt Samuel Hallett's book is mainly about surveying possible railroad routes and has detailed maps; Archibald Ross Colquhoun's book is more about the people and tribes of Northern Thailand, sometimes in exhausting detail. They both have colourful descriptions of markets, clothing and habits of the southeast asian population at the end of the 19th century. In a sense these books are the forerunners of modern travel blogs and books.

For example, quite surprisingly, at that time there was still widespread slavery in the Siamese Shan state. Quote from "Amongst the Shans" :

(Page 70) In most of the Karen-nee villages, "Shan-yangs" of the Karen tribes, Yendalines, and Padaungs, of the mountain- ranges to the north-west, are found, all doomed to a hopeless state of slavery, into which, priced like beasts of burden, they are sold to the Zimme Shans, by whom they are re-sold to the Siamese.

(Page 257): Slaves are bought in Zimmé as elsewhere in Indo China, the average price for a woman, provided she is under forty-five years of age, being about 72 rupees (£6), while that of a man, the inferior animal, is about 54 rupees (£4).

These "slaves" however had the ability to leave and change masters whenever they chose to, this prevented undue hardships being imposed upon them. The name slave is perhaps not accurate says Archibald, quote:

(Page 185): Slavery is hardly the term that should be used for the bond-service that is found in Burmah, Indo-China, and the Malay Peninsula. The indebtedness of the people, which is the principal cause of more than one-third of the population of Siam being in bondage, arises from three causes: heavy taxation, gambling, and indolent improvidence (lazy and lacking foresight). The debt-bondage arises from the heavy rate of interest that is given for loans; as much as six percent a month is sometimes charged for the first three months, after which time the rate is reduced to three per cent.


Surveying Thailand

Holt Samuel Hallett map
Holt Samuel Hallett survey map of Chiang Mai, 1890.
Red line = Hallett's surveyed route, blue line = modern roads

Holt Samuel Hallett estimated his location with a compass and by observing the walking speed of his elephants; he went up north from Chiang Mai to Chiang Saen and back via another route. When the Royal Geographical Society's cartographer plotted his survey; he found that Hollett had calculated his location wrong by less than 2 kilometres. The cartographer was quite surprised about this "highly satisfactory result". Maybe this was a bit of luck, for example Viang Pow on the map above is the old name of Phrao, on Hallett's map it is offset by a few kilometres.

At the time Holt Hallett was writing his book, published in 1890, another man was already surveying Thailand with more advanced equipment and methods. James McCarthy was using triangulation to survey Thailand; a much more accurate surveying method that measures the angles in a triangle formed by three survey control points. James McCarthy created Thailand’s first accurate maps from 1881 to 1893 as Government Surveyor and Director-General of the Royal Survey Department of Thailand. He published a book in 1900 about the survey of Thailand:

  • Surveying and Exploring in Siam - by James McCarthy (1900).
The dangers James McCarthy and his men endured resulted in the production of maps and surveys which were used for the planning for Thailand’s railway network.

Chao Uparat Bunthawong
A very early photo of Chao Uparat Bunthawong taken by Francis Chit in 1863
Notice the typical Lanna hairstyle, which is still popular these days.


How to Spell Chiang Mai

The town of Chiang Mai has had more than a hundred names in the past; the French called it Xieng Mai, the Burmese Zimme, Zimay, Zimmay or Zam-may. On most maps older than 100 years Chiang Mai is called Zimme. From Zimme it was changed to Chiangmai or Chiang Mai. Zimme seems a very different name from Chiang Mai, but it may have gone through a phonetic route like: Zimme - Zimmay - Zam-may - Jang-mai - Chang mai - Chiang Mai.

Whereas Bangkok is less than 250 years old, Chiang Mai was founded in the late 13th century. Bangkok's city pillar was erected on 21 April 1782 when it became the capital of Thailand. Previously Ayutthaya and Thonburi were the capital; and Bangkok was just a small village on the Chao Phraya River.

Chiang Mai was once the capital of Lanna, an independent Thai Kingdom and has remained one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements of the Kingdom. The north of Thailand was teak country where elephants used to work in the forests; it was commerce and trade that drew foreign entrepreneurs to northern Thailand. Teak was important for British shipbuilding; it is resistant to termites and rust and could be relied upon not to splinter when hit by cannonballs.

As the explorers and settlers wrote in journals and letters to their families about Lanna, each wrote their own spelling of Chiang Mai. Ralph Fitch, the English gentleman merchant who visited Chiang Mai in 1587 (four hundred forty years ago) spelled the town Iamahey. In 1615 The East India Company favoured Jangoma, while the early Portuguese used Chiangmai. The British in colonial times usually called it Zimme before 1900 and gradually started using Chiangmai. The French called the place Xieng Mai, and the Dutch preferred Ischeen May and Tsieengh Maeij.

Historical names of Chiang Mai (alphabetical)

Cheang Mai
Cheung Mai
Chiang Mai
Chiang May
Chieng Mai
Chung Mai
C'ieng Mai
Kiang Mai
Shia mai
Tschieng Mai
Tsching Mai
Tsieeng May
Xieng May
Xieng Mai
Xieng mai
Xieng Me

Chiang Mai links.

  • www.lanna-ww2.com - Working paper on Chiang Mai walls and Thapae gate.
  • whc.unesco.org/en - UNESCO: Monuments, Sites and Cultural Landscape of Chiang Mai, Capital of Lanna
  • cpamedia.com - Kavila’s Walls. Exploring Chiang Mai’s "Earthen Ramparts".
  • intgchiangmai.com - The Fortifications of Chiang Mai and the Enigma of the Finlayson Map
  • wikipedia.org - Chiang Mai on wikipedia
  • wikipedia.org - Chronology of European exploration of Asia.
  • wikipedia.org - King Inthawichayanon (Prince Inthanon), father of Dara Rasmi.


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All photo's copyright © 2018 R.Schierbeek, Netherlands.