Chiang Mai, our new home, is the second largest city in Thailand and it’s far north from Bangkok and the beaches. It was founded by the legendary King Mengrai in 1296 so it’s about to be 722 this year. For comparison, Quebec City was founded in 1608 and New York City in 1624.
Chiang Mai sits just east of the Doi Suthep mountain and is protected from rain run-offs by multiple natural reservoirs creating a buffer. It’s surrounded by a respectable moat and the ruins of the city wall whose gates are still the ways in and out the inner city.
Chiang Mai was the capital of the former Lanna kingdom and was subject to frequent and unkind Burmese incursions, until 1775 when the Lanna chiefs left the Burmese control to join Siam as a protectorate under King Taksin during the second Anglo-Burmese war.
The Lanna Kingdom became an integral part of Siam in 1920 when the 13 years old Princess Dara Rasmi, the heiress to the Lanna throne got engaged to king Rama V. She became his consort and joined his other 4 wives, 32 consorts, and 80 concubines. Ever since, both she and the Lanna Kingdom became irrevocably attached to the fate of Siam.
King Rama V, also known as King Chulalongkorn, became a king by accident, after being a buddhist monk, studying the teachings and bringing blessings to his family. When his father and brother died unexpectedly, he became king and had to produce a heir. He married 3 wives in one ceremony, and eventually produced 33 sons and 44 daughters who continued the Rama dynasty until today’s king Rama X.
Rama V ruled between 1868 and 1910. He was well beloved and to this day he is called Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช, the Great Beloved King). He started modernizing Siam, protected it from colonialization and reformed it, and he abolished slavery in Siam.
Even if part of the kingdom, Lanna was still far from Bangkok to the point that it took weeks – and elephants – to make the 423 miles trip through the mountains. This made its cultural integration difficult. Train service which started in 1922 allowed for a closer intermingling, but even now the train trip takes 13 hrs. A new high speed train line is planned for 2022. A flight only takes about one hour.
Accordingly, Chiang Mai and northern Thailand is Lanna first and Thai second. The food is spicier , the language is similar but not quite the same, and the people are Shan, genetically closer related to the Burmese than that Thai. They are very proud of their Lanna heritage and there is a significant resurgence of Lanna everything – culture, architecture, food, art.
In case you wondered, “Lanna” means the kingdom of a million rice fields. You’ll understand why when you wander outside Chiang Mai into the greener than green rice fields. There are also coffee and tea plantation, producing some of the best tea and coffee in the world, but the opium which used to be the life’s blood of the region is gone now, even in the golden triangle between Thailand Burma and Laos, a couple of hours north.
Chiang Mai is too cool. From the temperature – an average of 25C (77 F) throughout the year, cooler than the rest of Thailand, to the cool vibe of being one of the top 5 on the list of best cities for Digital Nomads, ahead of other cool places like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Montevideo, thanks to its excellent weather, food, safety and infrastructure, Chiang Mai is cool and full of cool people.
Check nomad list.com, and stay in touch will you?