CULTURAL INSIGHT: The last years of old Lanna

 |  September 30, 2009

The 1902 Shan Rebellion was contained, after the sacking of Phrae, by the prompt action of Leonowens who was based in Lampang, of Lyle who galloped from Nan where he was Honorary British Consul, and of Captain Jensen, seconded from the Danish army to the Thai Gendamerie. They stopped the attack on Lampang and persuaded most of the rebels to lay down their arms. Jensen was killed at Phayao while pursuing the remnants of the rebel force.
After this excitement the north settled down to be a peaceful and integral part of Siam. In 1921 the railway finally reached Chiang Mai, having blasted its way through the Khun Tan mountain, but only those with work to do braved the twenty four hour journey to the primitive north. This perception changed slightly when King Prajadhipok and Queen Rampai came to open the railway station in 1926. The Borneo Company took the opportunity to present a white elephant calf and its mother, which the company owned, to the King.
Three entries in the minutes of the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club give some feel of life in the 1930’s: In September 1931 a contract was signed for the installation of electricity and it was suggested that a water supply be installed. In April 1935 six members attended the Annual General Meeting. In October 1935 it was decided that the club should take the initiative in inviting a dentist from Bangkok to visit Chiang Mai at Christmas.
Then came the war, Japanese residents put away their cameras and donned uniforms. All the allied residents who were unable to flee to India were interred in Bangkok. The Thai airforce bombed Kentung which was later occupied by an ill-equipped and unsupported military expedition. The Americans bombed the railway station.
Peace came, but it did not bring prosperity with it. Soon, too, was to come the scourge of communism. Mae Salong and Wieng Hang were handed, as buffers against the threat of Chinese communists, to Kuomintang soldiers _ supplied with medicines and other goods from Taiwan. In 1965, when I first visited the north there were many other no-go areas; I could not spend the night in Nan, there were soldiers billeted in the villages around Phan and there were warnings to keep far away from all the borders. As late as 1973, when I and my wife planned to visit the ancient kilns at Sankampaeng, my father-in-law insisted that we be accompanied by an armed airforce sergeant.