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A Short History of Chiang Rai

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Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northern-most city a land of outstanding natural beauty and excellent base of history. Today, Chiang Rai is a small, charming city that provides the perfect base for exploring the scenic and cultural attractions of Thailand’s far north. Let’s get into one of the most boring subjects – history. Like every city in the world, Chiang Rai has it history. Let’s get back to how Chiang Rai come to existence.

It is believed that ancestors of northern Thai people migrated from China through Burma and Laos some 5,000 years ago, and the first organised city state in this region was founded at modern-day Chiang Saen along the Mekong River. These nomadic people brought with them the traditions and beliefs of China, Burma and Laos, ultimately wedding them into the distinct culture that thrives in Chiang Rai today.


Map of Yonok Chaiburi Sri Chiang Saen Kingdom

Chiang Rai province was originally part of the Yonok Chaiburi Sri Chiang Saen Kingdom (อาณาจักรโยนกไชยบุรีศรีช้างแสน) established by King Singhnawatkuman (พระเจ้าสิงหนวัติ) whose name has become the name of the kingdom’s capital city. The area is known as Chiang Saen (เชียงแสน) today. During the age of the Hiranyanakorn Ngen Yang Kingdom, the Mang Rai Dynasty was established with King Lawachakaraj as the first King of this dynasty. The kingdom was located in Doi Tung area by Sai River before being expanded to the Mekong river. Ngen Yang may have been located close to Chiang Saen, or even in the same location.

The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle

King Lawachakaraj’s children became kings of some of the kingdom’s cities. During the reign of King Laomeng, the king was married to Princess Aua Ming Chom Muang aka Thep Come Kayai, daughter of King Rung Kaen Chai of Chiang Rung or today’s Xishuangbanna, and had a son, Mangrai, later to become King Mangrai (พ่อขุนเม็งราย).

The age of Chiang Rai began when King Mang Rai ascended the throne in 1259 AD and established Chiang Rai city on the Kok River (แม่น้ำกก) in 1262 AD. Later, he conquered Chiang Tung (เชียงตุง) and Fang (ฝาง) and set his sights on expanding the kingdom even further south to include the prosperous Hariphunchai Kingdom (อาณาจักรหริภุญชัย).

The Monument King Mangrai.

The Monument King Mangrai. Image: Wikipedia


The King sent Ai Fah to Hariphunchai as a spy and finally conquered the kingdom. Afterwards, he expanded the kingdom to Payao and Bago. He returned to Chiang Rai triumphant with various items gained as tribute, among them the king of Bago’s daughter. He also brought blacksmiths, silversmiths and goldsmiths to Chiang Rai.

In 1296 AD, King Mang Rai built a new city called Nopburi Sri Nakornping Chiang Mai or today’s Chiang Mai, where he lived until his death. By then Chiang Rai had become the city for the crown prince. After the founding of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s status was diminished to that of a minor city while Chiang Mai became the center of the kingdom.

With Chiang Rai’s reduced political and economic status, the city became an important center for culture and arts, which importantly were less influenced by foreign cultures. Being isolated artists from Chiang Rai were inspired by their natural environment and the local culture. Chiang Rai’s rich cultural heritage has also attracted artists from elsewhere to settle in and around the valley.

Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Chiang Rai Clock Tower

Wat Rong Kun

Wat Rong Kun


Chiang Rai Air Port

Modern Chiang Rai Air Port, image:

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