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North - Gam Muang / Lanna / Lan Na / Chiang Mai

The Upper North Thailand (UNT) consists of eight provinces, namely Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Phrae, Nan, Lamphun, Lampang, and Mae Hong Son. These provinces have been influenced by Lanna culture, with Chiang Mai as the center. The northern region has a generic name for its several dialects, calling them kham mueang, or the language of khon mueang – the local people – which is melodious and gentle. The northern dialects evolved from the ancient Lanna Kingdom. The speech is divided into western Lanna dialects, spoken in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Mae Hong Son, and eastern Lanna dialects, spoken in Chiang Rai, Phayao, Lampang, Uttaradit, Phrae, and Nan.

The northern axis cities of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Lampun exhibited disappointing performance over the first decade of the 21st Century. Population was falling and real economic growth had been stagnant in this region. In conventional economic terms, Thailand’s northern axis is performing poorly. For example, real incomes in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Provinces were no higher in 2007 than in 1997, before the financial crisis. Per capita incomes in nearbyYunnan Province of China are higher than in north Thailand, a dramatic reversal of thepast.

The region failed to position its tourism product effectively, while suffering from an international shift toward beach tourism; Thailand enjoys more comparative advantage in beach tourism. Many opportunities have been lost; for example, high end agro-business such as cut flowers and temperate mushrooms, undertaken very successfully in nearby Yunnan Province, and distinct boutique tourism. In terms of economic relationships with nearby China, there hds not been enough emphasis in marketing products and services in which Thailand enjoyed acomparative or competitive advantage; for example, in spas, jewelry, Southeast Asian oriented international education, excellent hotels enabling circuit tourism, and Thai and traditional Chinese cuisine.

A shift in tourism preferences, particularly by international tourism, from hill tribe and trekking tourism to beach tourism, favors Phuket, the emerging Thai Riviera and KohChang. This trend has been exacerbated by the growth of Chiang Mai into a large city over the three decades since 1980, resulting in it losing much of its mystique, associated with a weakening of Lanna culture with its distinct history, architecture, handicraft products, and performance arts.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the eight northern provinces of Thailand cooperatively host the Grand Lanna Civilization Songkran Festival, to help preserve and carry on the beautiful and unique traditional customs. Lanna Songkran Festival, or commonly known in Thai as Prapayni Pee Mai Muang, originated from the Lanna civilization. The legacy has been inherited from Buddhism, which underscores the custom’s authenticity. As a result, the celebration reflects the true way of life of the Lanna civilization, and this charm has drawn in more tourists to this region during the Songkran holidays. At the festival, the Lanna arts and traditions will be performed forthe participants while the tourist attractions in Chiang Mai province are promoted with an effort to stimulate Thailand’s economy during the low season.

At the same time a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya River at Ayutthaya, there was the equally important Tai kingdom of Lanna, centered in Chiang Mai, which for centuries rivaled Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and still defines northern Thai identity. “Gam Muang” or northern dialect is spoken in the north. Variants for Northern Thai include: Kam Mu¯ang; Kammüang; Kammyang; Khon; Khon Meang; Khon Mung; Khon Myang; La Nya; Lan Na; Lan Na Thai; Lanatai; Lanna; (Northern Thai) Lanna Thai; Lannatai; Mu¯ang; Muang Lanna; Mung; Myang; Payap; Phayap; Phuthai; Phyap; Tai Nya; Tai Yon; Tai Yuan; Thai;, Northern Thai Yuan; Western Lao; Western Laotian; Youanne; Youon; and Yuan.

Thailand's population is relatively homogeneous. More than 85% speak a dialect of Thai and share a common culture. This core population includes the central Thai (33.7% of the population, including Bangkok), Northeastern Thai (34.2%), northern Thai (18.8%), and southern Thai (13.3%). Thais in the North, for instance, living in a cool climate, surrounded by mountains, tend to be calm, gentle, and soft-spoken, while their counterparts in the South are terse in their speech and quick in decision-making, as they live by the sea, with ever-changing weather, forcing them to face adventures at sea quite often. In terms of language and culture, both the Northeastern Thai and the Northern Thai were closer to the peoples of Laos than to the Central Thai. The Lanna or Tat Yuan language of northern Thailand, with its main center now at Chiangmai, is very close to the Lü of the autonomous region of Xishuangbanna in south-western Yunnan.

Speakers of the Tai language of Kham Mu'ang (known as Yuan in its written form) made up the majority of the population of the 9 northern-most provinces from the Burmese-Lao border down through the province of Uttaradit, an area of about 102,000 square kilometers. Highly independent, the Northern Thai lived mainly in small river valleys where they grew glutinous rice as their staple food. The Chakkri Dynasty continued to maintain a court in Chiang Mai, the largest city of the North, which the Thai people looked to as a major religious and cultural center.

Highly dissected, steeply sloped ridges and valleys trending in a north-northeast—south-southwest direction characterize the terrain of the region. Because secondary ridges branch off at all angles from the main terrain features, movement for more than a few miles is di?cult in all directions except along major valleys. Much of the higher terrain is so difficult that it is unadministered by the central govemment on either side of the Thailand-Laos border. Ridge-lines are generally 3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, with the highest point —- 6,896 feet — along the Sayaboury-Uttaradit border. Flat to gently rolling valleys and intermontane basins lie 1,000 to 3,000 feet below the ridgelines. The most rugged territory in the region ?anks the northem segment of the north-south trending range that forms the Sayaboury-Nan border; prevailing crest elevations here are well over 6,000 feet. Terrain in other parts of Nan Province and in most of Chiang Rai and Uttaradit is less rugged, and broad, relatively gentle slopes are more common.

The Menam is the principal river of Siam, rising in the Chinese province of Yun-nan, flowing southwards through the center of Siam, and after traversing for about 800 miles through a rich and well-cultivated country, discharges itself into the the Gulf of Siam. It is the most important river in Siam, and its name signifies, in the language of the country, "mother of waters." At certain seasons it overflows its banks,—a circumstance which contributes greatly to the fertility of the neighbouring land, and to the facility of communication between different parts. On the banks of the Menam stand the ruins of Ayuthia, the ancient capital, and the city of Bankok, which is the chief town. The Menam is navigable as far up as Chiangmai, in the Laos country, but its course is frequently interrupted by rapids and falls.

Broadleaf forests ‘containing both evergreen and deciduous species blanket all of the region except valley floors and lower slopes that are under cultivation and ridges that support mainly coniferous growths. Evergreens predominate in wetter areas such as along streams or on windward, rain-swept slopes; deciduous trees prevail on drier tracts.

Like the rest of Southeast Asia, the border area has a monsoonal climate characterized by two major seasons — the wet southwest monsoon from mid-May to mid-September and the dry northeast monsoon from mid-October to mid-March. These major seasons are separated by two transitional periods — one from mid-March to mid-May, the other from mid-September to mid~October.

The city of Chieng Mai, the chief town of the Lao Pung Dam, stands at an elevation of 1000 feet above mean sea-level. The old city was 1 mile square, and surrounded by a moat and high walls, with five principal gateways. Chieng Mai is laid out in streets, and the temples are numerous and handsome. From the north-east corner a semicircular earthwork, with an irregular outline as high as the city wall, sweeps round to the south-west corner, its greatest distance from the inner wall being about half a mile. This wall, which has gates corresponding to the city gates, was built by the Siamese when, under King Narai, they took the city by storm in 1661.

The North inherited the Lanna culture, as is evident in the art forms, architecture, performing arts, and lifestyle of the people, emphasizing gentleness and slow movements. The northern region is also home to numerous hill tribes, mainly Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Akha, Yao, and Lisu, each with its distinct language and culture. These hill people also have many of their own traditions and beliefs, reflected in their garments, occupations, and handicrafts.

The northern dances are based on the fon style of the Lanna Kingdom, highlighting the gentle and graceful movements of female dancers, normally in large groups, all clad in beautiful local garments, dancing to the rhythms of folk instruments. On the male side, their famous victory drum dance highlights their strength and boosts the morale of the people. It is performed by strong Thai men, who pound on the big drums with sticks and even various parts of their bodies, including their shoulders, elbows, kneecaps, and head.

Another identifying feature of the North is the ancient Lanna architectural motif known as ruean kalae, the horn-like woodcarving crossed over the gable of the house, showing the aesthetic sense of the Northerners, as well as the skill in woodcarving inherited by modern-day craftsmen.

The finest and most famous festival of the North is the Yi Peng Festival, a celebration of Loy Krathong in Lanna style, during which large lanterns, like hot-air balloons, are sent tranquilly soaring into the clear full-moon sky, with the belief that the released lanterns take away all troubles in life. The lanterns themselves also display the artistic skills of the residents.

When it comes to dining, the Northerners have their ancient tradition of khan tok. Several small dishes of food are placed on a round, low tray with legs, surrounded by diners who share the food while conversing among themselves. A khan tok dinner is the most distinctive way to offer a warm welcome to VIP guests, and it is popular at functions to preserve local culture, with participants dressed in local style, as well as demonstrations of local food cooking, and folk entertainment for guests.



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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:01 ZULU