Golden Triangle is the area, from where colorful hill tribes
came into Thailand from Burma and Laos.
The cosmopolitan image of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second
largest city with a population of nearly a quarter of a million, is a
consequence of its close proximity to the world-famous Golden Triangle. This
area stretches from Northern Thailand (Lan Na) to the border areas of
Myanmar (Burma) and the former Lao Kingdom of Lan Chang (Laos). It also
reaches areas in China’s Yunnan Province.
Throughout the historical period starting in 1296 to the
present day, Chiang Mai has attracted non-indigenous migrants, refugees, and
since the end of the 19th centuries the colorful highland minorities, which
tourists can see during their visits to the Vieng Ping Night Bazaar. Thus
the contemporary ethnic heterogeneity of Chiang Mai’s population contrasts
significantly with that over other cities within present-day Thailand.
Since the time of King Mengrai in the late 13th century,
the practice of Chiang Mai’s rulers was to import craftsmen from the
neighboring countries to produce lacquer goods, silverware, gong-smiths and
pottery-makers. Due to a more than two hundred years occupation by Burmese
forces, Chiang Mai was deserted and abandoned for 20 years at the end of the
18th century. In 1796, Prince Kawila from Lampang re-
established the town and brought back war prisoners from Kengtung in
Burma’s Shan State and Sipsong Panna in China and settled them in the east
and south outside the inner sacred city, where Kamphaeng Din was built to
protect these new settlements.
Phra That Suthep protects and dominates the city of Chiang Mai in the west.
Since the mid-19th century the immigration of ethnic
groups to the city of Chiang Mai occurred for flight from war zones and the
pursuit of trading opportunities. First the Ngiao or Shan traders arrived
and were settled along today’s Tapae Road. As links with Bangkok as a new
center strengthened, the first overseas Chinese arrived, traveling up the
Ping River and settled along the Wat Ket Pier on the eastern bank of the
river, later to cross over to the area of Warorot Market. In contrast,
Chinese from Yunnan, called Haw, arrived in Chiang Mai after the
collapse of the Muslim revolution in Yunnan, which centered at the town of
Dali. The Haw organized mule and packhorse caravans, now living as
shopkeepers in an area called Ban Haw. After the Communist take-over in
China during 1949, there was an exodus of Kumintang Han Chinese from Yunnan
into Burma’s Shan State that ended up on Thai soil. Later, some of them
settled in Chiang Mai as part of huge cross-frontier trading networks in
opium and jade.
Interesting to note are the two Muslim commu-nities in
the city known
as Changklarn and Ban Changphuak, who trace their ancestry to wandering
Bengali cattle herdsmen from Chittagong, in present-day Bangladesh, passing
through Arakan in Burma and reaching the Thai border at Mae Sot by the turn
of the 20th century. From there, they arrived in Chiang Mai later.
Subsequent immigration brought Sikhs and Hindus from India via Bangkok to
the city. They settled in the commercial district of Changmoi and traded
mainly in cloth. Also, there was a new Shan immigration after the New Win
take-over in Burma since 1962. These Shan ended up as petty peddlers and
traders and are engaged in a lucrative cross-border gem trade.
The most recent ethnic minority groups to migrate to the
city constitute the most mobile components in the complex ethnic mosaic that
characterizes Chiang Mai as distinct from other cities in Thailand. These
are the Highland Minorities, normally called hill tribes. They are mainly
engaged in the tourist sector and the related production of profitable
handicrafts for the tourist market. Thus members of the Akha, Hmong, Karen,
Lahu, Lisu, Mien and even Kachin are looking for an economic niche market
being very successful to find all kind of jobs, lately even in the
entertainment business, catering to Thai clients and tourists alike.
American missionaries and resident Caucasians complement the population
of the cosmopolitan city of Chiang Mai for more than 100 years. A number of
embassies and consulates are established in Chiang Mai as a consequence and
surely will grow in the new age of globalization.
Chiang Man is in the heart of the sacred old city and was founded by King