ThailandTour 1: Changmai and the North
Thin Red Line tour. I found the north a welcome relief from Bangkok with a slower, less aggressive pace. I would, particularly, recommend Chaing Mai as a nicer alternative to Bangkok.
As related on other tours, the history of Southeast Asia typically ends up referring back to either China or India. In the case of Thailand, it refers to both. As in the case of Vietnam and Burma waves of peoples gradually came to Thailand, overwhelming older and more primitive peoples and pushing them to the uplands. For a time, the Indianized state of Funan ruled the whole area of Southeast Asia. For Funan, however, Thailand lay somewhat on the fringes. As Funan declined by the 6th century, the related Mons, Khmers, and Burmese took over the areas of Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. The Mons converted to Thervada Buddhism, the more austere forms that emphasizes mediation and monasteries. For a time, Mon states dominated most of Burma and Thailand, only to lose Thailand to the rise of the Khmer Empire. Meanwhile, the present day Thais lived in a Chinacized state in southern China, on the Yunnan plateau. Gradually, as time went on, individual bands of Tai wandered southward becoming today's Lao, Shans, and Thais. The arrival of the Mongols dramatically changed the balance of power. They destroyed Nanchao sending Tais southward. The Tai, meanwhile overthrew Sukhotai, the Khmer's outpost in Thailand. The Mongols, further, sacked Pagan, the Burmese capital. This meant that by 1240, the Thais ruled at least the northern and central parts of today's Thailand. To the south the Khmer, temporarily allied with the Mongols, held them back. To the west, the Burmese would slowly rebuilt their power, but for the time being, various independent Mon kingdom (with inevitable allies in Thailand) ruled petty states in Myanmar. Their division worked for the benefit of Thais. To continue on to later periods in Thai history, go to Tour 2: Central Thailand.
In 1296, Tai war parties conquered the northern Mon state of Haripunjaya and founded a kingdom based at Chiang Mai. For a time, this kingdom existed independently of Sukhotai and the south. However, the South held the more fertile land, particularly for rice farming and, with time out for a Burmese invasion or two, the South generally ruled the North. This remains the case today, with Chiang Mai a distant second in importance and influence to Bangkok or even to such lesser southern cities as Pattaya. The government continued, when I visited, to send almost 80% of its money to the south, and most foreign aid and investment seldom got beyong Bangkok and its suburbs. The North did, however, have one claim to fame: opium. More mountaineous than the South, the North claims a number of hill tribes. As in Laos efforts to persuade the hill tribes to grow other crops typically fail.
Related tours: Back to Thai Tour # 3: Bangkok
Forward to Tour # 2: Central Thailand
Onward to Laos
Read The Thin Red Line.
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