Thailand Historical Tours

Picture of Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem is a Dutch veteran in the travel industry in South East Asia. He is the founder of Green Trails and Chiang Mai a la Carte, amongst others. He also is the founder and admin of the Facebook group Chiang Mai Memories.

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I have chosen the term Thailand Historical Tours for this page because our tours are not limited only to Chiang Mai and also not only to North Thailand. We offer tours to Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Lampang, Phrae and other destinations in the North. In the future we will also offer tours to Sukhothai, Sri Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet but in the future also to other parts of Thailand.

The tours

I want to emphasize that we focus during tours not only on tangible heritage or history, such as historic buildings, temples, ruins and so on but also on intangible heritage. Everything that has a history, that is worth sharing, interests us. This can be food, such as patongko, performing arts, such as traditional dancing, and handicrafts, such as lacquerware or textiles.

Girls in traditional dress dancing
Tai Lue girls dancing during Salak Yom 2012

History of Chiang Mai, the Lanna capital

Our Chiang Mai Historical Tours not only focus on archaeological sites such as Wiang Kum Kam and historic temples such as Wat Chedi Luang but also on more recent history. Chiang Mai has a number of historical buildings and heritage houses such as the Queripel House and the Lanna Ancient House. They feature in our tour In the Footsteps of the Teak Wallahs, a tour that highlights the legacy of the teak industry in Chiang Mai.

There are numerous historical sites of missionary presence in Chiang Mai such McKean Senior Center (the former leprosy hospital) and the Dara Academy. Kad Luang (translated “big market”) aka the Warorot Market is the oldest market of Chiang Mai and is a treasure trove of authentic food, traditional textiles and other examples of intangible heritage. Chiang Mai has two weekly Walking Streets that are worth visiting. Besides these there are lots of other fascinating markets in the “Rose of the North”. Please also check out our page Things to do in Chiang Mai.

We also offer tours that focus on the history of the railway and the railway station. See our Railway Journeys.

Roman style building
McCLanahan Memorial at McKean

Focus on Lampang, the capital of teak

Lampang is one of the most interesting and undervisited destinations in Thailand. For the history buff there is a lot to enjoy. Lampang has the most heritage houses and the biggest diversity of temple architecture in the country.

Lampang, known as Khelang Nakhon or Lakon in the past, was the center of the teak industry about 100 years ago. The British companies involved in the teak industry, such as the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and the Louis T.Leonowens Company, brought with them Burmese and Shan (Tai Yai) foresters and workers from Burma. Our tour “The Teak Trade of Chiang Mai and Lampang” highlights the legacy of the Teak industry in these cities.

As the railway line from Bangkok reached Lampang about six years earlier than Chiang Mai many Chinese immigrants settled in Lampang before Chiang Mai. Burmese, Shan and Chinese influences are visible in architecture of houses and temples.

There are also several archaeological sites in Lampang that few people know about. Just as every community in North Thailand, Lampang has fascinating markets. The weekly Walking Street is one of the best due to its great location on Kad Kong Ta, the street with many historic houses. Please check out our page Things to do in Lampang.

We offer several Thailand Historical Tours to Lampang.

Restored ruined temple
Wat Pa Phrao in Lampang

Lamphun, the capital of the Hariphunchai Kingdom

Lamphun predates Chiang Mai by many centuries. It was the capital of the Mon kingdom Hariphunchai. Its first queen was Chamathewi or Camadevi. There is disagreement on the exact dates of her reign and life but it probably was late 7th-early 8th century.

Some of the archaeological and historical sites date back to that period. Wat Chamathewi (aka Wat Kukut) and Wat Hariphunchai are the most well-known Buddhist temples of Lamphun. There are other historical sites, related to the former ruling Na Lamphun family, that are worth visiting such as the Khum Sampanthawong Khum and the Khum Jow Yod Ruan.

Lamphun still has a considerable “fleet” of samlors, the traditional bicycle taxi. Furthermore there are several interesting markets such as the central Nong Dok fresh food market, the OTOP handicraft market and the nearby weekly “Buffalo market”. All these markets have plenty of intangible heritage. Please also check out our page Things to do in Lamphun.

Old wooden house
Khum Jow Yod Reuan in Lamphun

Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen Historical Tours

People who visit the ancient city of Chiang Saen on the Mekong River also visit Chiang Rai. For archaeology and history buffs visiting Chiang Saen is at least worth a full day. There are lots of ruins, temples and sanctuaries in and around a walled city that dates back at least to the 13th century.The town is one of our favourite small towns in North Thailand and we highly recommend staying overnight. The nearby temple Wat Pra That Pha Ngao is a stunning temple with great views over the Mekong River but also has an interesting history. There is a small museum with traditional textiles.

At first sight Chiang Rai doesn’t have much to offer for the historically interested but that is a bit elusive. There are some significant and very beautiful historical temples and also the seldom visited Phibun Songkram House is very interesting. Also in Chiang Rai there are interesting markets such as the Kad Luang and the weekly huge Walking Street market. Please also check out our Things to do in Chiang Rai page.

Ruined temple ruined cities in north thailand
Wat Mung Muang in Old Chiang Saen

Phrae Historical Tours

Phrae is a charming town that receives few foreign visitors. It has become increasingly popular with local tourists also because of daily flights from Bangkok. Phrae has old city walls, wonderful temples and many historic houses and buildings. About 100 years ago it was a main center of the teak industry. The Danish East Asiatic Company had an office in Phrae, which is now a teak museum.

American missionaries built huge traditional houses on stilts of which one has been restored. In World War Two Phrae was a main center of resistance against the Japanese occupying forces. A museum testifies to that turbulent history.

Phrae has a textile tradition: it is known as the home of Mo Hom, indigo blue shirts. Wat Sung Meng is a temple that houses a large collection of palm leaf manuscripts. Join us on a trip to Phrae. You won’t regret it. Please also check out our page Things to do in Phrae.

Wooden temple
Shan temple Wat Chom Suwan