The Cultural Evolution of Chiang Rai

By | Thu 20 Oct 2022

Pim speaks with Rebecca Weldon about the Cultural Evolution of Chiang Rai

“When I first moved to Chiang Rai in the early 80s, the city’s cultural events consisted of parades blaring international and Thai pop tunes carrying along beauty queens in white tulle western style dresses on foam and plastic floats,” recalls Rebecca Weldon of her early years in the northern city.

In her speech about Chiang Rai and the advent of the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park at the Informal Northern Thai Group nearly 30 years later in 2008, she expanded, “Artists suddenly discovered a venue for their art close to home, poets were able to declare their northern verses in procession, craftsmen struggled to manufacture recreations of things long gone, fantasies of the past. Lo and behold, one day, the foam floats blaring Thai western music and the beauty queens of the modern day were replaced by a somber procession through town in loincloths and hand woven textiles, accompanied by the sound of gongs, underneath a waving canopy of tung. Ajarn [Nakorn] had divined a need to do something different, something that had a deeper meaning than the humdrum social roundabout of school-based cultural activities and official festivals. What we did not expect was the tremendous surge to sweep up this recreation and make it into something that would transform Chiang Rai and revitalise a memory of what has been lost.”

What Rebecca is talking about are the incredible changes which have turned the ‘behind the mountain’ town of Chiang Rai into a city famed for its artistry and culture. Today, some of the greatest artists in Thailand hail from, and live in, Chiang Rai. The province itself is home to unique initiatives which have been adapted and adopted nationwide. While change has indeed come, as it tends to, Chiang Rai has embraced its changes while infusing them with the city’s very own creative palette.

Rebecca opened Chiang Rai’s first guesthouse, the Golden Triangle, as well as the city’s first art gallery, Ahimsa Gallery. Today she is known around town for her work with the Informal Northern Thai Group and the Payap Lifelong Learning Centre. She is a fascinating woman brimming with knowledge, and better yet, opinions!

Rebecca Weldon is a familiar face to those of us who have lived here for a while. Short, plump, with a white bun atop her head, Rebecca is always seen in her ‘uniform’ of faded dark blue morhom. An unassuming woman, Rebecca says that she likes to stay unremarkable and unexceptional, but after getting to know her, one realises that her life has in fact been quite remarkable, and one of great exception. Get to know here in this one on one interview with editor Pim Kemasingki.