Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of Lan Na

King Mangrai founded Lan Na, one of the two most important early Thai kingdoms. Through his alliance with Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai, the Thai people came to dominate the region now known as Thailand.

Summary of Event

Through alliances and military conquests, the northern Thai (or Lao) king Mangrai established a powerful kingdom in territory that had been under Mon rule. Mangrai placed the capital of his realm in the city of Chiang Mai. He formed an alliance with King Ramkhamhaeng Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai Sukhothai that helped Thai people dominate the region that is now Thailand. Mangrai’s kingdom of Lan Na also helped to safeguard mainland Southeast Asia from the Mongol emperors of China. [kw]Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of Lan Na (1259)
[kw]Lan Na, Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of (1259)
Lan Na
Southeast Asia;1259: Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of Lan Na[2450]
Expansion and land acquisition;1259: Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of Lan Na[2450]
Government and politics;1259: Mangrai Founds the Kingdom of Lan Na[2450]
Ngam Muang

Before the Thai people established themselves as dominant in the land that is now known as Thailand, much of the region was under Khmer (Cambodian) or Mon rule. The Mon and the Khmer spoke related languages, and their descendants still live in Southeast Asia. In the northern part of Thailand, the Mon Mons had established the kingdom of Haripunjaya in about the seventh century. Despite attacks by the neighboring Khmer, the Mon dynasty of Haripunjaya managed to remain in power until the thirteenth century.

Groups of Thai tribes had apparently migrated south from China over the course of centuries, settling in the river valleys of mainland Southeast Asia. Migrations;Thai to Southeast Asia In 1253, the Mongol conquest of the kingdom of Nanzhao Nanzhao;Mongol conquest of , believed by many to have been a Thai state, stimulated this migration and caused an increase in the Thai population south of China. This population became the basis of the two closely related nationalities now known as Thai and Lao. Because the distinction between Thailand (earlier known as Siam) and Laos came much later in history, one can use the term “Thai” for the sake of convenience to refer to all members of this ethnic group. Scholars, however, will often use “Tai” to refer to the people speaking related languages and “Thai” to refer specifically to the people of contemporary Thailand.

The Thai tribes, in the broader sense of all members of the ethnic and linguistic group, generally lived in muangs, collections of settlements that acknowledged common chieftains or kings. These leaders, in turn, recognized the rule of greater regional powers, such as the Mon and Khmer dynasties. Mangrai was the son of the local Thai ruler of Ngoen Yang, located in the region of Chiang Saen. His mother was the daughter of a Thai chief from the Tai Leu group in Yunnan, China.

In 1259, Mangrai succeeded his father. The new ruler possessed considerable personal magnetism, and he rapidly brought the neighboring principalities under his leadership. Mangrai founded the city of Chiang Rai in 1262 and made it the capital of his expanding domain. He formed an alliance with Ngam Muang Ngam Muang , the Thai king of Phayao Phayao , in 1276.

According to historical tradition, the clever Mangrai plotted to overthrow the Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya Haripunjaya , the capital of which was in Lamphun, by enlisting the help of a merchant known as Ai Fa Ai Fa . Ai Fa was a trusted adviser of the Mon ruler, Yiba Yiba , and was appointed chief minister of Haripunjaya. Ai Fa adopted policies that angered the local people and estranged them from the Mon kingdom. Once popular opinion had turned against Haripunjaya, Ai Fa sent word to Mangrai that the capital was ready for easy conquest. In 1291 and 1292, Mangrai attacked the town and took it without great difficulty. Yiba fled and made some efforts at retaking his domain, without success.

The alliance with Ngam Muang helped Mangrai forge ties with Ramkhamhaeng, the powerful ruler of the growing Thai kingdom of Sukhothai. Ngam Muang and Ramkhamhaeng had studied together as children. In 1287, Mangrai and Ramkhamhaeng made their own alliance. According to legend, Mangrai helped maintain relations between Ngam Muang and Ramkhamhaeng when he convinced Ramkhamhaeng to apologize to Ngam Muang and pay reparations for seducing Ngam Muang’s wife. The truth of the legend is uncertain, but the alliance with Sukhothai secured Mangrai’s southern boundaries and enabled him to turn his attention to the north and successfully resist pressure from the Mongols, who ruled China.

Mangrai was continually seeking the best location for his capital. In 1268, he moved it from Chiang Rai to Fang. In 1286, he founded the city of Wiang Kum Kam, on the eastern bank of the River Ping. Still unsatisfied, in 1292, Mangrai decided to build a new capital, which he would call Chiang Mai Chiang Mai , which means “the new city.” He reportedly consulted with his two royal colleagues, and Mangrai, Ramkhamhaeng, and Ngam Muang are supposed to have planned the new city together. Present-day Chiang Mai continues to commemorate this collaboration with a statue of the three, known as the Three Kings Monument, which shows them discussing the plans on April 12, 1296, the date that is recognized as the founding of Chiang Mai.

With the building of Chiang Mai, the kingdom of Lan Na was fully established. From his seat of power there, Mangrai continued to hold off the Mongols. In 1301, the Mongols Mongols;invasion of Lan Na sent their greatest force against Lan Na, attacking the kingdom with 20,000 Chinese soldiers and Mongol archers. The Lan Na forces defeated the invaders, however, and afterward the Mongol emperors of China would be satisfied with payments of tribute from Lan Na.

Mangrai adhered to the Theravāda Theravāda Buddhism[Theravada Buddhism];Lan Na school of Buddhism and gave his support to this religion, which became the faith of almost all Thai people. He built temples and monasteries in Chiang Mai and in other parts of his kingdom. He also became known as a judge and lawgiver. The laws that he is supposed to have written have become part of the Thai legal tradition.

According to legend, Mangrai died when he was struck by lightning in the center of Chiang Mai. The place where he is thought to have died is marked today by a sacred pillar. Mangrai had three sons, and the second, Chai Songkhram Chai Songkhram , became king after his father’s death. However, the passing of Mangrai resulted in a period of instability, and six kings took the throne of Lan Na from 1318 to 1328. In the latter year, though, Mangrai’s great-grandson Khamfu Khamfu came to power and reestablished the dynasty on a secure foundation. Descendants of Mangrai continued to rule Lan Na until the sixteenth century.

In 1558, as a result of struggles over the succession to the throne, the Burmese were able to establish their sovereignty over Lan Na. When Mangrai’s dynasty finally became extinct, in 1578, the Burmese appointed their own kings to rule the northern Thai kingdom. Thailand, then known as Siam, fought with Burma over Lan Na for the next two centuries. In 1775, a Thai army took Chiang Mai. However, Lan Na continued to be ruled by its own king under guidance and control from Bangkok until 1939.


Lan Na was a buffer that helped prevent the southward extension of Mongol power. The city of Chiang Mai became the most important cultural and political center of northern Thailand, and it continues to be Thailand’s second major city, after Bangkok. By bringing northern Thailand together under a single rule, Mangrai and his descendants helped to establish a distinctive northern Thai identity.

Further Reading

  • Coedès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Translated by Susan Brown Cowing. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1968. The classic work on Southeast Asian history. Chapter 12 gives a succinct history of the founding of Lan Na and discusses Mangrai’s relations with Ramkhamhaeng.
  • Freeman, Michael. Guide to Northern Thailand and the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna. New York: Weatherhill, 2002. Illustrated guidebook and history that gives readers a good grasp of the places in the history of Lanna.
  • Freeman, Michael. Lanna: Thailand’s Northern Kingdom. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001. Traces the settlement of northern Thailand by different ethnic groups, examines the kingdom of Lan Na, and describes the artifacts and architecture of the region.
  • Penth, Hans. A Brief History of Lan Na: Civilizations of North Thailand. Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 2001. Short, highly recommended history of the kingdom of Lan Na, covering its earliest times to its present-day influence, by a specialist in northern Thai history at the University of Chiang Mai.
  • Wyatt, David K. Thailand: A Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Provides an introduction to Thai history, including coverage of the thirteenth century kingdoms.
  • Wyatt, David K., and Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, eds. and trans. The Chiang Mai Chronicle. 2d ed. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 1998. A translation of the major historical documents of Lan Na, from the thirteenth through the nineteenth centuries, together with helpful annotations and maps.