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TRAVEL THAILAND » NORTHERN » History of Chiang Rai
History of Chiang Rai 

Chiang Rai


In 1253, Kublai Khan and his Mongols attacked and defeated Nan-chao. With Shan aid, they then defeated the Burmese at Pagan. The power of the Mongols and their Yuan Dynasty Chinese Empire were a clear threat to the people of the entire region.

In 1263, young King Mengrai came from Hiran Nakorn Ngoen Yang Chiang Saen, the centre of Tai Yonok, to found Chiang Raiat Doi Jomtong, by the village of Pantu Nakorn, on the banks of the Kik River. this was only the first capital of his nw Lanna Kingdom, though. The village there was Muang Chiang Lao until about 1050 AD, when it became Chai Narai. Chai Narai was destroyed, perhaps by the Mahachai earthquake and flood, however, had produced just the barrier Lanna people needed for protection against invasion from the north. a story taught in Thai public schools tells of Mengrai's warelephant wandering off and stopping at Doi Jom Tong, and how when Mengrai tracked it to there, he decided it a good place to build a city. Perhaps the war elephant is symbolic of military necessity.

Mengrai's mother was a daughter of the Tai Leu ruler of Chiang Rung (Jinghong, on the present border of Burma and Laos). Born in 1238, he ascended to his throne in 1259, after his parents' early deaths (deaths quite convenient ot any potential sucess for his rule) he was soon calling on the leaders of smaller Tai city-states in the Kok River basin to pay homage to Hiran Ngoen Yang. Extending his territory p0ast the Ping River, he first called the area Khwan Ping, then brifely Muang Chiang Rai.

At that time, there seems to have been a trading gap - Mon influence came up to Haripunjaya, Chinese influence came into Yonok and some Shan states, where it met Idian influence.

Mengrai mediated peace between neighboring kings, Ramkhamhaeng and Ngam Muang, who had become rivals for Ngam Muang's wife. By maintaining that peace, and instituting theravada Buddhism as the state religion, he consolidated political power in central and north Thailand (around 1287). Ramkamhaeng, third in his line of Tai kings of Sukhothai, later became regarded as the first Thai, or Siamese, king, due to his inauguration of a tradition involving direct royal responsibility for the propagation of Theraveda Buddhism. The three T'ai kings strengthened the "Culture of the Dhamma Letters," combining Mon and Khom written languages, and protected each other's backs. Thus much more secure, Mengrai grew strong enough to keep the Mongols at bay.

When Mengrai came to power, important towns were Doi Tung, Chiang Kwang, Yong, and Chai Prakan. Quickly expanding his power, Mengrai moved his court frequently, in 1272 going to Fang. eventually he had strong fortreeese at Chiang Rai, Chiang Khong, Lamphun and Wiangkumkam. Able to move his forces between these fortresses, and even abandon one or more if overwhelmingly attacked, he was able to harass invaders by disrupting supply lines and engaging in hit-and-run attacks from the rear. Mongols did invade, but were soon effectively dissauded. Lanna soldiers later raided far north, well into the territory Mongols ruled.

Another well-planned strategy enabled Mengrai to seize the wealthy and influential Haripunchai (Haripunjaya, later Lamphun). The northernmost of Mon-Dvaravati cities, fou8nded in 675 AD by Phanang Jamatevi of Lopburi, the Khmers took it in the 10th century. When the Mon-Dverati Empire lost power to the Khmers in the early 11th century, Haripunchai managed to gain extensive political independence and wealth. Its lucrative trading connections went for to the south. Mengrai met a man who could act as his spy by re-entering government service there. it took this capable man, Ai Fa, seven years, but he eventually undermined the local ruler's authority, and paved the way for Mengrai's successful entrance (1281). Mengrai ruled from there 3 years, then moved just a few miles away to Chawae and shortly thearfter a little further on to Wiangkumkam.

He founded Chiang Mai in 1296, where Wiang Nophaburi (an existing Lawa city) was; nearby were also the Lawa cities of Muang Ruang, Pinkarat, Wiang Chet Rin, Chesanthaburi, and Wiang Suan Dok, all former communities of the site. Much that now seems superstition was given in explantion for the decision.