During the 13th century, the Kingdom of Lanna had covered and ruled over almost all of the areas in Northern Thailand including the other neighboring areas such as Myanmar, Laos, and even China. The beautiful city of Chiang Mai, which has already reached 700 years, was built in the year 1296 to be the flourishing capital of the Lanna Kingdom.
Chiang Mai means “a new city”, and even if it has already reached 700 years and has celebrated its anniversary in the year 1996, the city has still retained its name up until now. The founder of the beautiful city, King Mengrai, who was also the ruler of the Lanna Kingdom, transferred the capital from Chiang Rai in the year 1296; and at its peak of success and glory, the Thai Lanna was able to broaden and expand deep into Laos and Burma, as it reaches south to Kamphaeng Phet which can be located just north of Sukhothai Kingdom.
The Lanna Kingdom
Lanna or the Lannathai is the name given to the affluent and rich self-ruling kingdom which was actually the main power of the entire portion of Northern Thailand, as well as certain portions of Myanmar and Laos. The title of this kingdom means “Land of a Million Rice Fields” which describes the beautiful kingdom of Lanna.
King Mengrai, the person who built the Lanna Kingdom, was also responsible for bringing a newfound unity and wholeness to the northernmost portion of Thailand while also adjoining the southern territory of Chiang Mai. When the town fell, King Mengrai began searching for a new area to create a city and found a meadow that was well-watered and supplied with numerous animals, wild and not. During his search, King Mengrai was accompanied by two of his friends namely King Ngarm and King Rama Kampeng; all three of them traveled to explore and inspect the site and also assisted in the construction of the said city King Mengrai was planning on.
The three made a pact where they slit their wrists and allowed the blood to flow into a fine silver goblet; once filled, all of them bravely drank the liquid before making an oath of eternal support, cooperation and assistance. Because of their history, a monument was built in honor of these three kings and the site can be located right at the heart of the old city in Chiang Mai. When the city was built in 1296, it was first named as Nopburi Sri Nakorn Ping Chiang Mai and was soon changed and shortened to the name we all know, Chiang Mai.
King Mengrai of the Kingdom of Lanna did not choose to live in Chiang Mai and instead, stayed in Chiang Rai which was then the capital of his kingdom; and because he was able to take over numerous areas in the northern portion of Thailand, he was said to have the role of a conqueror and an extremely powerful person.
However, at the age of 80, the king fell after being struck by lightning so to honor this powerful man, a shrine was built in the market where he died, which can be found right at the center of Chiang Mai’s old city that is close to the statue of the three kings. The Lanna Kingdom’s most powerful period in history was during the rule of King Tilorokarat from 1548 to 1580, yet the kingdom’s power began to dwindle by the end of the 15th century especially when the area was constantly attacked and occupied by Burma and Laos’ puppet lords and troops. During their occupation in the area, these people introduced their own style of fashion, culture, food, and a lot more – the reason why Chiang Mai ended up swaying between Central Thai and the Burmese with sporadic spells of self-governing.
Chiang Mai History
The first capitals of the kingdom had been Fang, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, and Lamphun then Wiang Kum Kam which was the final capital before it finally became Chiang Mai. Wiang Kum Kam was created in the year 1281 and can be seen about five kilometers away from the currently existing Chiang Mai. The last capital was devastated by strong flooding caused by the Ping River, and has then been hidden and submerged for almost 700 years. Wiang Kum Kam was only then rediscovered in the year 1984. In the present, the excavated remains of the ancient city are protected and preserved as the country’s national treasure, plus, it is a perfect tourist spot for guests who visit the country.
The history of Chiang Mai starts from the time King Mengrai created the Kingdom of Lanna, an area surrounded by high verdant mountains that were rich in teak tree forests, as well as rich rivers and very fertile valleys. The land was a rich source of agriculture thus making Chiang Mai the main trading spot between Burma and Southern China, yet unfortunately, it was constantly attacked by its neighboring countries who continued to try and claim this magnificent area as their own.
After continuous struggles of protecting itself, Chiang Mai was eventually invaded and occupied by Burma in the year 1557 as their vassal state; and in the year 1558, Chiang Mai ended up being captured by Burengnong and for 38 years, the city was under his reign until King Naresuan of Ayutthaya captured Chiang Mai from the Burmese people. Again, before the king of Ayutthaya was able to regain the area, the town once again fell in the hands of the Burmese, which eventually had Chiang Mai ruled alternately by them until it became independent.
In the year 1892, King Rama V of Siam was forced to take over the administration of Chiang Mai when Western interests began increasing due to the lush teak forests that can be found in the north. At some point, the status of Chiang Mai was eventually altered from vassal town to a portion of a monthon (administrative unit during those times), but once the Thai government dissolved the unit, Chiang Mai then became a territory of Siam in the year 1933.
The Lanna citizens of today are guided by television and the internet while capitalism has influenced and brought modernized conveniences such as theaters, shopping malls, hospitals and universities to replace the traditional way of living to match up with the new global standards. However, the people have not lost the traditional ways of the Lanna culture, since the region is still prosperous and rich with its religious and cultural values of natural and social conformity.