Cultural Insight

 |  December 25, 2008

Thai chronicles and history tell us little of Lanna in the years after the 1558 Burmese conquest. Richard Hakluyt, in his Voyages tells the story of Ralph Fitch, merchant of London, who, in 1586, travelled overland from Pegu in Burma to Chiang Mai, a journey of twenty-five days. ‘Jamahey,’ he wrote, ‘is a very faire and great town, with faire houses of stone, well peopled, the streets are very large. Hither to Jamahey come many merchants out of China, and bring great store of musk, gold, silver and many other things of China work.’ He was the first, as far as we know, of the many westerners to visit Chiang Mai.

Portuguese soldiers, in the service of the Kings of Ayutthaya, may well have come to Chiang Mai before this with the Siamese armies but there are no credible records – except for Pinto’s dubious account of his travels to the East which he published in 1558 and which contains as much fiction as fact.

The next visitors of whom we know were two English merchants working for the East India Company, Thomas Samuel and Thomas Driver. They were sent upcountry in an attempt to open a new market for cloth. Unfortunately for them the Burmese attacked Chiang Mai yet again in 1615. Samuel, who had lingered in Chiang Mai, probably to protect the unsold cloth, was taken prisoner and sent to Burma where he died. Driver made his way back to Ayutthaya with 614 taels of gold, proceeds from the cloth sold.

During the reign of King Narai in the last years of the sixteenth century, Ayutthaya, the capital city of Siam, was overrun with French missionaries, merchants and soldiers, British merchants, Portuguese adventurers and even the extraordinary Greek, Constance Falcon, but none of them ventured to Chiang Mai. It was not until the nineteenth century that Europeans again reached Chiang Mai.