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Chiang Mai History

The Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Three Kings Monument - King Ramkhamhaeng, King Mengrai and King Ngam Muang

Chiang Mai was founded by King Mengrai in 1296 and succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. King Mengrai conferred with his friends King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where Chiang Mai (meaning “new city”) was to be founded.

Chiang Mai soon became an important spiritual and cultural center of the Lanna Kingdom. It was also the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. Many of Chiang Mai’s temples, which are still important today, were founded during this period.

At the height of its power, the Lanna Kingdom extended its territory into the eastern Shan states of Burma, as far north as Luang Prabang in modern Laos, and southwards to Kamphaeng Phet a province above Sukhothai.

In 1556 the Lanna Kingdom was conquered by the Burmese ending the Mengrai dynasty. Chiang Mai was under Burmese control for over two centuries until 1774 when the Thai King Taksin, with the help of King Kawila of Lampang, drove the Burmese out.

Kawila was appointed viceroy of northern Thailand, and during his leadership Chiang Mai became an important regional trade center. In 1800 Kawila built the brick walls around the inner city and also established a river port at the end of what today is Thapae (meaning “raft pier”) Road.

Chiang Mai was then governed by a succession of princes who ruled the north as a Siamese protectorate under the Chakri dynasty. Chiang Mai rose in both cultural, trading and economic terms to adopt its current status as the unofficial capital of the north of Thailand. In 1939 Chiang Mai came under the direct control of the central government in Bangkok.

In 1921 upon the completion of the northern railway Chiang Mai became linked with central Thailand. Up until then Chiang Mai had only been accessible by river and elephants. Tourism and sale of local handicraft soon became the primary source of outside revenue. Chiang Mai was and still is an important center for handcrafted pottery, weaving, umbrellas, silverwork and woodcarving.