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This purpose of project was to use multimedia and user interface interactivity to retrace two quite different journeys from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Keng Tung (in Thai, Chiang Tung), Burma separated by over a century. The first was an official expedition in 1887 led by a British military spy, G. J. Younghusband and his four assistants. The second was undertaken in 2010 by a university professor,  Dr. John Hartmann, with the assistance Dr. Ratanaporn Sethakul, his former research assistant at Northern Illinois University, where she completed her doctoral dissertation in Thai history. For some time, both had nurtured an abiding interest in Tai minorities outside of Thailand and had done considerable research on Tai groups such as the Lue in Sipspongpanna, Yunnan (each on separate field trips) and the Tai Kheun, who are concentrated in Keng Tung, Burma. Prior to their trip together in 2010, Hartmann had never been to Keng Tung but long harbored a desire to see the fabled town. Dr. Ratanaporn had traveled there several times to conduct mostly historical research and had established good contacts over the years. One of her major research interests was the history of the failed attempts by Rama III and Rama IV, to conquer Keng Tung, first in 1802, and then in 1852 and 1854, well before Younghusband’s 1887 spy mission. The Thai kings were largely defeated by logistics, which included the provisioning of a large army of impressed men and elephants, the rugged mountain terrain, the weather, and the defense of the city provided by its position on a promontory and its circular high brick wall with a surrounding moat, a type of walled-city that contrasted with the decidedly rectangular Khmer city walls layout found in Thailand. Hartmann was curious to follow the path they took prior to the trek by the British spy so that he could witness with his own eyes something of what the Siamese (Thai) monarchs were up against.  He also knew that Keng Tung was a beautiful city that had managed to preserve much of its local language and culture, thanks to its splendid isolation.

So during his sabbatical leave in Thailand in 2010, Dr. Ratanaporn kindly agreed to arrange for Hartmann, her daughter and son-in-law to travel there together with her. She arranged for a van, driver, interpreter and visa clearance for all to drive to Keng Tung, a visit of only four days, with just two days in the city itself. Travel time was no more than ten hours one-way with multiple stops on the way for taking pictures and having lunch. The distance from the Burmese border town of Tachilek is 160 kilometers or 100 miles. Hartmann took over one thousand photos along the way and also while in the city of Keng Tung.  He was especially interested in the geography and traditional irrigation system of the broad Keng Tung basin that supplied rice to feed the city population of predominately Tai Kheun people. Up until 1991, when the palace was destroyed by the Burmese military, the Tai Kheun, the majority population of the city, were ruled by a Tai Prince, the last of whom died in 1997 in Rangoon, where he was held essentially under house arrest. An imposing government hotel, The Kyaine Tong New Hotel, was subsequently constructed on the site of the former palace, and it is there where they stayed during their short visit.

Their starting point was Chiang Rai, Thailand, as was the case of the British spy. They crossed the border at Mae Sai, the name of the river and village separating Thailand from Burma at the northern tip of Thailand. Their next major stop was at Tachilek just inside the Burma border. From that point onward, the area was populated by a series of small towns, markets and roadside villages, one of which was an Akha village, where they stopped on the way to Keng Tung and chatted with an Akha farmer. He had been converted to Christianity by a missionary who had married his daughter and took her back to England. One of the walls inside his rudimentary house (seen in the slides) was covered with posters of Jesus in the presence of Akha people in traditional dress. On the return leg, Dr. Ratanaporn asked the driver to stop once more at the same village to distribute used clothing that she had brought from Chiangmai in the van.

They reached Keng Tung just before dusk. When they walked into the nearly-deserted lobby of the Kyaine Tong New Hotel, the reception desk informed them that the electricity would be turned on not before 6 p.m. Once they had settled in to their rooms and bathed in the semi-darkness, it was time to eat dinner—somewhere outside of the hotel. It was difficult to find a restaurant in the poorly-lit commercial area of the city, and when they did, they were the only diners 1. The next morning, the food scene was entirely different, however. The open-air market was crowded with people of many ethnic groups eating bowls of steaming noodles or rice and curry in eating stalls in the market’s periphery.

A third journey to Keng Tung (Chiang Tung) that is touched upon briefly here in passing, but in greater detail under the link Journeys, was undertaken by a group of scholars from Chiangmai Ratchaphat University. They published their work in Thai under the title of เรื่องเมืองเชียงตุง (Ruang Muang Chiang Tung, “About Chiang Rung”) 2. One chapter of the book is a very informative essay and tour guide, “Chiangtung: Important Place Names and Terms,” written in English by Albert Lisec. The book also has four maps and diagrams of the city and the city walls, gates and temples, as well a list of important points in the city, including the lake after which the city is named. The notations on the maps are handwritten, mostly in Thai. Nevertheless, they provide a schematic that is informative to a degree. We have scanned them and include them in this project.

Notes:

  1. They later were told that there were two good restaurants near the airport. 
  2. Edited by Arunrat Wichiankhio and Narimol Reuangrangsi. 1994. Chiangmai, Thailand: Suriwong Book Center. 

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