Cultural Insight

 |  January 29, 2009

After the departure of Driver in about 1615 we know of no farang visitors to Chiang Mai for the next two hundred years.

For many years Chiang Mai was a complete blank to the west. The one definite fact, all seem to have agreed, was that there was a great lake – Chaammay Lake, the famous geographer Herman Moll called it on his c.1700 map of India beyond the Ganges – from which flowed, so it was thought, several great rivers, amongst them the Irrawaddy. Of course this lake did not exist.

In 1767 the Burmese again struck at the Thai Kingdom, or Siam as it was generally called by Europeans, and utterly destroyed the capital, Ayutthaya, which is a ruin to this day. The people of Lanna joined forces with the Siamese and, after a prolonged struggle, during which Chiang Mai was abandoned for twenty years, finally drove the Burmese out of their last stronghold, Chiang Saen, in 1802.

The new rulers of Chiang Mai paid tribute to Bangkok but continued to be Lords of Life and Death over their own subjects. The north remained a closed book to westerners.

In 1836 Dr. Richardson and Captain Macleod made their way to Chiang Mai from Moulmein in Burma, which had been annexed by British India twelve years before, in an unsuccessful attempt to open a trade route to China.
In 1855 Sir John Bowring made a treaty with King Mongut of Siam which effectively brought the country into the orbit of world affairs for the first time since the death of King Narai in 1688. Chiang Mai, too, was soon to be discovered by farang – in particular by missionaries of whom the first, and the greatest, was the Reverend D. McGilvary.