The Chiang Mai Timeline

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Chiang Mai Timeline

I have collected a large number of dates and facts that are related to the tours and articles on this website. This Chiang Mai timeline is not complete. I certainly have overlooked important dates and some of the dates might not be accurate. This is also not meant to be an academic article. I didn’t want it to be too complicated. It should be fun to read and give you a global idea of some of the things that have happened here and shaped this part of Thailand. I start this timeline quite randomly with the period of the Hariphunchai Kingdom. Earlier events don’t feature on this website.

Old temple with tree
Wat Phra Yuen in Lamphun

This is a work under construction – I need your help

Some of the dates I had to guess such as the first introduction of the samlor (bicycle taxi) in North Thailand. I am trying to find out what the exact date was but it should have been around the mid-1930s. This Chiang Mai Timeline is highly personal, ie very subjective. These are the dates and events I find interesting and important. I consulted a wide range of sources over the years. Most of these you can find at the bottom of this page.

This Chiang Mai Timeline is a work under construction. Research is ongoing. I am open for suggestions so if you have any please send me an email: frans@green-trails.com

The Hariphunchai Kingdom (629-1296)

767 – 768 Queen Chamathewi is the first ruler of the Chamathewi Dynasty of the Hariphunchai Kingdom. Lamphun is the capital.

1044 – King Athitayarai founds Wat Phra That Hariphunchai.

1157 – 1292 This period is known as the Golden age of the Hariphunchai Kingdom. The Wat Kukut aka Wat Chamathewi dates from that time.

Brick chedi with temple Chiang Mai Timeline Wat Chama Thewi Wat Ku Kut
The Chedi Suwan Chang Kot at Wat Kukut

The early years of the Lanna Kingdom (1282–1335)

1282 – King Mengrai (reign 1292-1311) establishes Wiang Kum Kam. This settlement was abandoned because of frequent flooding and changing of the course of the Ping River.

1287 – King Mengrai signs the Three Kings Accord with King Ngam Muang of Phayao and King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai. The bronze Three Kings Monument commemorates this alliance in the founding of Chiang Mai

1292 – King Mengrai conquers the Kingdom of Hariphunchai. After this the Kingdom becomes part of the Lanna Kingdom.

1296  – King Mengrai founds Chiang Mai.

1301 – King Mengrai conquers Nakhon Khelang and initiates the founding of Muang Khelang.

1327-29 – King Saen Phu, the grandson of King Mengrai, founds Chiang Saen.

Ruined temple Wiang Kum Kam
The ruins of Wat Pu Pia

The Golden Age of the Lanna Kingdom (1335–1525) followed by decline and fall (1525 – 1558) 

1345 – King Pha Yu (reign: 1337-1355) founds Wat Phra Singh.

1368 – Start of the construction of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

1371 – King Kuena (reign: 1355-1385) founds the Wat Suan Dok for the monk Phra Sumana Thera, establishing Sinhalese (Lankavamsa) Buddhism.

1391 – King Saenmueangma (reign: 1385 – 1401) starts the construction of Wat Chedi Luang.

1449 – King Tilokarat (reign: 1441-1487) captures Phrae and Nan. His reign is considered the Golden age of Lanna. 

1477 – The Eight World Buddhist Council meets at Wat Chet Yot

1545 – An earthquake damages the chedi of Wat Chedi Luang.

White temple gate Wat Suan Dok
The North gate of Wat Suan Dok

The Burmese occupation (1558–1774)

1558 – King Bayinnaung of the Toungoo Dynasty of Burma conquers Chiang Mai.

There is not much information on this period. It is known as the Dark Age of the Lanna Kingdom.

1730 –  A battle between forces led by Chao Po Thip Chang and Burmese forces takes place at Wat Phra That Lampang Luang.

The last fifty years of the Burmese occupation was a time of revolt against the Burmese oppressor and continuous warafare in the Lanna Kingdom. After Lanna forces with help of Siamese troops defeated the Burmese armies, the kingdom was a wasteland of abandoned cities and deserted countryside. I am collecting more information about this period.

Statue of a soldier Phra Kaew Don Tao
Chao Po Thip Chang statue. He defeated Burmese forces at Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in 1730.

Revival of the Lanna Kingdom (1774-1883)

1804 – Lanna and Siamese forces under King Kawila defeat the Burmese garrison at Chiang Saen. After their victory they destroy the city and resettle the population in Chiang Mai, Nan, Lampang and other places.

1812 – King Kawila becomes the first ruler of the Chao Chet Ton Dynasty of the Lanna Kingdom. It is the beginning of the revival and re-population of the Lanna Kingdom.

1859 – Signing of the Bowring Treaty between the British Empire and Siam, giving extraterritoriality and other privileges to British subjects.

1867 – American Missionary Daniel McGilvary arrives in Chiang Mai. He establishes the “Laos Mission”.

1868 – Dr Marion Alonso Cheek, a missionary doctor, constructs the first wooden church.

1882 – The teak boom in North Thailand begins. We have two tours that focus on the legacy of the teak trade in North Thailand. “In the Footsteps of the teak wallahs” is a day tour in Chiang Mai. Furthermore, we offer the two-day tour “The teak trade of Chiang Mai and Lampang“.

Wooden Church
First Presbyterian Church

Missionaries and Merchants (1883-1922)

1883 – The second Chiang Mai Treaty between Siam and Britain: establishment of a consular court, responsible for all cases involving British subjects. These subjects include Shan, Pa’O, Burmese, Indian and other people.

1885 – Establishment of a British Consulate in Chiang Mai. Edward Blencoe Gould was the first British consul in Chiang Mai.

1885-86 – Ernest Satow, the British minister in Chiang Mai, visits North Thailand. He hikes up Doi Suthep along the Monk’s Trail to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

Colonial style building Chiang Mai Historical Houses
Former British Consulate Chiang Mai in 1995. Picture by Albert Cosi

The early days of the Teak Industry

1892 – Dr Cheek, a missionary doctor, constructs the first bridge over the Ping River. Local people call the bridge “khua kula”, which means “bridge of the foreigner” in local language.

1896 – Establishment of the Royal Forest Department to manage the teak industry and the teak forests.

1898 – 13 British expats and one Thai national found the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club, a social and sports club

1902 – The Shan rebellion.

1905 – Foundation of the Louis T.Leonowens Ltd in Lampang. The “Louis House” becomes the office of the company.

Old house
The Louis Leonowens House in 2018 before the restoration

1907 – Dara Rasmi, of the Na Chiang Mai family and the Princess Consort of King Rama V, moves the stupas with the ashes of the ruling family of Chiang Mai to Wat Suan Dok.

1908 – Missionary Dr James McKean opens the Chiang Mai Leprosy hospital. McKean Senior Center, as it has been renamed, features in our tour that focuses on missionary history.

1910 – The Warorot market (Kad Luang) opens on the west side of the Ping River

1910 – Opening of the first Nawarat Bridge. Work began in 1906.

Old wooden bridge
The first Nawarat Bridge

The development of Chiang Mai

1911 – Expansion of Chiang Mai roads

1911 – Electricity comes to Chiang Mai.

1914 – The beginning of World War One. Some of the British expats in Siam return to Europe to fight in the British army.

1916 – The Northern Railway Line reaches Lampang. Opening of the iconic Lampang Railway Station.

1917 – Siam declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary

1918 – The end of World War One.

1918 – The opening of the Khuntan Tunnel, between Lampang and Chiang Mai.

1921 –  The opening of the Chiang Mai Airport

old airport building
Chiang Mai Airport in the 1960s. Source unknown.

The Railway and the Constitution (1922-1941)

1922 – The Chiang Mai railway station opens in January. It is a watershed moment in the history of Chiang Mai.

1923 – The opening of the second Nawarat Bridge. The first wooden bridge was damaged by teak logs. The new bridge is an iron bridge, that lasted until 1965, when it was demolished.

1927 – King Phrajadiphok, Rama VII, visits Chiang Mai and North Thailand.

1928 – The office of the Siam Commercial Bank opens in Chiang Mai, diagonally opposite the railway station.

1930 – The Siam Commercial Bank opens an office in Lampang.

Old colonial building
The first Siam Commercial Bank in Lampang, now a museum

The first Constitution

1932 – The Siamese Revolution results in the first constitution, a democratic parliamentary system and constitutional monarchy.

1932 – Teak logs damage the Khua Kula bridge, which collapses. From then until 1966 there will be only temporary, makeshift bamboo bridges between the Warorot Market and the Wat Ket neighborhood.

1935 – opening of the road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Followers of the “monk engineer” Kruba Srivichai have constructed the road.

1939 – Chao Kaew Narawat passes away. He was the last ruler of Chiang Mai of the Chao Chet Ton Dynasty.

1939 – The government changes the name of the country from Siam to Thailand.

Elephant parade past temples
Procession of Rama VII in 1927. Source: Oliver Backhouse
Wooden bridge with logs Chiang Mai Timeline
The Khua Kula bridge damaged by teak logs. Picture courtesy of Oliver Backhouse

World War Two or the Greater Asian War (1941-1945)

1941 – December Japanese invasion of Siam. The Imperial Japanese Army stations troops in North Thailand. Chiang Mai Airport becomes a base for Japanese fighter planes, Lampang the base for Japanese bombers. The website Lanna in World War Two is the best source of information on this period.

Wat Muen San was a field hospital of the Imperial Japanese Army. A small museum at the temple exhibits some objects and information on that period.

1943 – December. Allied planes bomb the Chiang Mai Railway Station. The station is totally  destroyed and hundreds of people perish.

1945 – The end of World War Two

Exhibits at museum Chiang Mai timeline
WW2 exhibits at Wat Muen San Museum

The postwar period (1945-1987)

1948 – Opening of the new  Chiang Mai Railway Station

1956 – Foreign teak logging firms gradually end their activities in Thailand.

1956 – The Khum Luang house, former residence of the ruling family of Chiang Mai,  is demolished to make way for the ugly Nawarat Market.

1958 – The Sarit Thanarat government issued an order to abolish the smoking and sale of opium in Thailand.

1962 – Publication of the first Chiang Mai tourism guide book: Guide to Chiengmai by Margaretta Wells.

1962 – SEATO deployment of British Hawker Hunter jet fighters at Chiang Mai from the end of June until Mid-1962.

Row of airplanes at an airport
Hawker Hunters at Chiang Mai airport

Chiang Mai University and new Nawarat Bridge

1964 – Opening of Chiang Mai University.

1965 – Construction of the concrete Nawarat Bridge.

1965 – The inauguration of the Tribal Research Center/Institute (TRI).

1966 – Opening of the Chansom Memorial foot bridge over the Ping River, connecting Kad Luang with the Wat Ket neighbourhood.

1967 – Ox cart caravans are banned from the streets of Chiang Mai.

1968 – February 13, a fire totally destroys the Kad Luang/Warorot Market complex.

1972 – American tourist Nick DeWolf visits Chiang Mai and takes lots of pictures of daily life.

1987 – The Thapae Plaza clock tower is demolished.

Tower being demolished Chiang Mai timeline
Demolition of the clocktower at Thapae Gate, 1987

The years of the economic and tourist boom (1987-now)

1987 – TAT declares the Amazing Thailand Year, the start of the tourism boom.

1990-92 – The restoration by the Fine Arts Department of Wat Chedi Luang. Reactions on the results are mixed.

Ruined temple Chiang Mai attractions
Chiang Mai Timeline: Wat Chedi Luang in the early morning

1993 – Construction of the “Iron Bridge” aka Khua Lek over the Ping River.

2002 – Closure of the Tribal Research Center/Institute (TRI).

2003 – Opening of Tamarind Village, the first Lanna-style boutique hotel. It is the beginning of the mushrooming of boutique hotels in Chiang Mai.

2011 – The Chansom memorial foot bridge damaged by flood and taken down in 2013. Reconstruction of this iconic bridge starts.

2016 – The new Chansom Memorial foot bridge opens in August.

2017 – August, legendary Chiang Mai photographer Boonserm Satrabhaya passes away. Many of his photos appear on the website of Chiang Mai University Library.

2019 – Demolition of the first hi-rise hotel in Chiang Mai : The Poy Luang Hotel on the Superhighway.

2019 – Chiang Mai legend Major Roy Hudson passes away.

Two men posing Chiang Mai Timeline
Frans Betgem and Roy Hudson in 2017

About this Chiang Mai Timeline

I have visited a lot of the places that feature in this timeline over the years. Chiang Mai and Lampang are prominent in this timeline because I consider them the most important cities in the north. Over time I will add dates of other cities and towns in the North of Thailand.

Man in front of Buddhist temple
Frans Betgem at Wat Suan Dok 2021

Sources of the Chiang Mai Timeline

These are some of the sources I have used for this timeline:

Information on plaques and information boards at temples and other sights

My own Facebook group Chiang Mai Memories

My friend Oliver Backhouse

Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005

Michael Freeman, Lanna, Thailand’s Northern Kingdom, Bangkok, 2001

Hans Penth, A brief history of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2000

David K.Wyatt and Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, The Chiang Mai Chronicle, 1998

Oliver Hargreave, Exploring Chiang Mai, City, Valley and Mountains, Chiang Mai, 2017