Khua Kula, the first Ping River bridge

Khua Kula, the second bridge over the Ping River

The construction of the bridge 1888-1890

Khua Kula (ขัวกุลา) was a teak wooden bridge over the Ping River on the current location of the Chansom Memorial footbridge. Dr. Marion A. Cheek, an American missionary doctor, designed and built this teak wooden bridge. The construction started in 1888 and finished in 1890. Floating teak logs damaged the bridge in 1932 after which it collapsed.

“Khua” means bridge in Northern Thai. “Kula” was a word used for foreigners, similar to “farang” nowadays. Cheek resigned from the mission in 1886 and worked for the Borneo Company, a British teak logging company that had its office in the Wat Ket area. The former office is now part of the boutique hotel 137 Pillars House.

Cheek had his own construction company and also built the first Christian Church on the Ping River as well as the residence of the rulers of Chiang Mai. The Borneo Company contributed 600 logs for the construction of the bridge but I have not found any confirmation of this.


Picture of the Khua Kula bridge. Boonserm Satrabhaya didn't take this picture.

Tanaka, the Japanese Chiang Mai-based photographer, probably took this picture.



View on Khua Kula

View on Khua Kula. Date and source unknown









The First bridge over the Ping River

The first mention of a bridge over the Ping River appears in the report of the British Captain McLeod, who traveled to Chiang Mai, called “Zimme” in those days. On January 23, 1837, McLeod wrote: “The town of [Chiang Mai], . . . stands in a plain on the right bank [looking downstream] of the [Ping River]. . . . The river is now fordable in several places near the town . . . but a good wooden bridge, of 200 yard long, is thrown across it near the north-east angle of the [town], over which bullocks and carts pass. During the rains this is the only way across, and is on the high road to [Lamphun]” (307-308).

Holt Samuel Hallett, the retired British railway engineer who visited Chiang Mai in 1884, wrote: “The following day (Frans: February 27, 1884) , accompanied by Drs Cushing and M’Gilvary, I made a round of visits to the king and members of the Court at Zimme. Leaving the house, we followed the bank of the river to the timber bridge, and crossed it to the western suburbs.

The centre span is removable, so as to allow the royal boats of the chiefs to pass through, and is raised about a foot above the rest of the flooring, thus being a great hindrance to the passage of carts and carriages. When driving over the bridge, our carriage had to be lifted on and off this raised portion. No nails or bolts were used in the structure ; consequently the planks moved up and down like the keys of a piano as we passed over it.”

Photographs of the Khua Kula

My friend Hak Hakanson sent me several photos of the bridge. Most of them appear in a book called “The Yesteryear of Lanna” by famous photographer Boonserm Satrabhaya. Boonserm didn’t take these pictures himself but copied them from other photographers. Boonserm started taking pictures after World War Two.

A Frenchman called Azassiz took the below photo. He traveled in September 1903 with two employees of the Danish East Asiatic Company to north Thailand. There are only a couple of photos Azassiz took at the Ping River in Chiang Mai, probably in late 1903 or early 1904.
This picture shows elephants moving (“ounging”) logs in front of the bridge.
Elephants moving logs in front of bridge

Elephant ounging logs in front of the Khua Kula.

There are several pictures that show the damage done to Khua Kula before its collapse. This is one of them.

Khua Kula damaged before its collapse

The bridge was damaged before its collapse. This picture looks like it has been taken from the Warorot side. Source unknown.

The featured image shows a mass of teak logs next to the bridge. Damage is visible at the back end of the bridge. This picture was taken on July 26, 1932, probably shortly before the bridge collapsed.

Picture by Morinosuke Tanaka. Teak logs piled up.

Teak logs piled up at Khua Kula. Picture by Morinosuke Tanaka. Sent to me by Oliver Backhouse.


View on Khua Kula from the Nawarat Bridge

View on Khua Kula from the Nawarat Bridge. Date and source unknown.



Teak logs near the Khua Kula bridge in 1898. Source unknown.



Undated picture of Khua Kula.  Ivo Hoornstra sent me this picture



Undated picture by Morinosuke Tanaka taken from the Nawarat Bridge, probably during the dry season.

Updated, June 3, 2018

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