Robert Greg visits Chiengmai in 1922

Bangkok British Legation 1901

The British Legation in Bangkok in 1901. This is most likely the place the residence of British ambassador Robert Greg in 1922. Source:



Robert Greg was the British plenipotentiary 1 in Bangkok from 1921 until 1925. He traveled to Chiengmai (Chiang Mai) in December 1922. I found this report at the British Library in London. I added notes, links and pictures to the text.

Frans Betgem

Robert Greg visits Chiengmai in 1922

British Legation, Bangkok, 27th December, 1922

My Lord,

I mentioned in my despatch no.116 of the 31st August last that I had a opportunity of visiting our consulate at Senggora 2 on my return from Java where I had made a semi-official tour with Mr.Consul General Crosby  3 with a view to examining and reporting on future consular requirements in that densely populated and commercially important island. It has all along been my wish to visit in person all the consular posts in the Far East staffed by the Siam Consular Service even those posts which like Batavia or Saigon are not directly under this legation. For some time past Mr.Fitzmaurice 4 , at present Acting Consul at Chiengmai in the absence of Mr. Consul General Wood 5, had been urging me to come north in the cold season in order to visit as many places of interest as possible and to meet the leading members of the big Asiatic community, mainly Burmese, who are scattered over the country from Phre 6 to Chiengmai in connection with the teak industry. The proposal seemed a good one and I had decided to leave Bangkok early in November in order to make part of the return journey by river through the famous gorges and rapids of the Meping 7while the rivers were still in flood. This project I had to give up owing the meeting of an international Red Cross  at the end of that month. I felt it would be churlish to be absent myself on the first occasion of this kind in Siam and His Serene Highness Prince Amoradhat 8, the able and energetic organiser of the Conference, had moreover personally begged me to give a dinner to Sir Claude Hill, K.S.C.I. 9, and the other British delegates on December 2nd. I therefore agreed to postpone my departure until December 6th.

Robert Greg travels to Lampang by train

The railway to Chiengmai was completed last January and it is only in the last few weeks that a bi-weekly express runs from Bangkok to Chiengmai – with excellent sleeping accommodation and restaurant car. The capital of the north which only a few years took anything from three to six weeks to reach by river is now within twenty-six hours distance from Bangkok. The Minister of the Interior, Chao Phya Yomaraj 10, and his Royal Highness Prince Kambaeng Bejra 11, the energetic Director-General of the Siamese State Railways had taken considerable trouble to make my journey a success and had notified the officials in all the places I was likely to visit of my impending arrival. Chao Phya Yomaraj indeed was good enough to come and see me off at the station in the afternoon. The actual details of my tour I had left to Mr.Fitzmaurice who turned out to be a most competent and attentive staff officer and to whom I am mainly indebted for the great success of my tour. The news of my visit had evidently created no small excitement among the large British Asiatic Community in the north who are said to number 30,000 souls and they had spared no pains to give me a warm not to say enthusiastic welcome wherever I went. The Burmese form the preponderating majority and are the richest and most influential section of our community owing to their long and intimate connection with the British teak firms like the Bombay Burmah Corporation, Borneo Company, Anglo-Siam Corporation and Messrs. L.T.Leonowens Limited. Their loyalty to the King Emperor is ardent and sincere and they were only too anxious to emphasise their desire to enter into closer relations with this Legation. Their relations with Mr.Wood are most cordial and it is not from a mere love of phrase making that he is generally known as the King of Chiengmai. He is both beloved and respected there. Apart from these considerations I think they were anxious to prove that they could give the British Minister as imposing a reception as the Siamese give their princes, two of whom, Nagor Svarga 12 and Jained 13, had been to Chiengmai in the course of the summer. The former I understand was none to pleased with his visit and the general arrangements made for his tour and let his annoyance reach the ears of the authorities concerned.

People watching at the Kaeng Luang rapids in 1917 along the railway

Railway at the Kaeng Luang rapids in 1917. Source:

Prince Kambaeng Bejra was good enough to cause the express to be stopped the morning after my departure from Bangkok at a picturesque spot on one of the main tributaries of the Menam 14 known as Keng Luang or the Great Rapid where a huge conglomeration of teak trunks had got caught up in the rocks and were slowly and laboriously sifted and arranged by elephants with a view to being floated down next year’s flood. As long as eight years often elapses between the felling of a teak tree and its arrival at Bangkok and a closer inspection of the men and elephants at work in a wild forest and mountainous region north of Muang Ngao 15 some days later made me realise what a formidable amount of capital, energy, foresight and patience must have been expended on perfecting an industry of which the Siamese are I am afraid growing more jealous daily – see my despatch no.132 confidential of September 28th last on the renewal of the leases for cutting timber.

Logs stuck in the Yom River

Teak logs stranded in the Khaeng Luang rapids of the Yom River. Logs on the far bank awaiting the next high water, about 8 months hence. Before that elephants will have gotten the stranded logs into the stream, so they will also go on down. Near Pak Pan Ry Station, Prae province, Northern Thailand. December, 1935. Picture by Robert Larimore Pendleton.

This attitude is, I suppose, understandable on human grounds but there is little doubt that it is largely thanks to British capital and the long presence of a body of unusually energetic and able pioneers that the north of Siam is, on the whole, in such a civilised and flourished condition. I was met at Keng Luang by Mr.Fitzmaurice, who had come from Lampang to join me. Mr. Vice-Consul Walsh 16who had just returned from England accompanied me from Bangkok as he is about to take up his duties at Chiengmai and afterwards Lampang. Our party arrived at that place at night fall and we were met by  a large crowd of Asiatic British subjects at the station which is three miles from the town as well as by the small resident British community.

Front of the Lampang Railway Station in 1923

Lampang Railway Station in 1923. Source unknown.

The Vice-Consulate had been brilliantly illuminated by the said Burmese and a large temporary hall erected where I formally received an address of welcome the following day and made what I trust was a suitable reply of thanks. A small dinner was given me later on in the Consulate Building by the leading Burmese who had invited besides myself and staff the other British subjects of the place. An entertainment followed of which the principal features where the Lao dances of the district. We next proceeded to make a two nights expedition to Muang Ngao along the new north road which is being constructed from Lampang to Chiengrai and were put up in the beautiful compound belonging to the Anglo-Siam Corporation. Thence we were able to make the intensely interesting excursion to the Corporation’s teak forests some 16 miles to the north where, far up a narrow and romantic gorge, elephants were engaged in pushing teak trunks over an earth slide some 70 or 80 feet high and collecting and sorting them at the bottom. Ultimately these huge logs will have to be dragged down this narrow defile which was too difficult even for the ponies to proceed along and brought to the river some miles below to be floated down to Bangkok. The sagacity and experience of these huge beasts is most remarkable and often they show a more intelligent appreciation of the tasks imposed upon them than their Kamuk 17 mahouts who engaged by the firms from French Indo-China on a two yearly contract, a wild jungle folk who seem content to pass years at a time in these remote forest regions, full of big game and where the tiger plays an important and not always pleasant role.

From Lampang to Chiang Mai

The Governor of Lampang and Amphur of Ngao had placed themselves at my disposal and though I was too well looked after by my own people to require further assistance their offers were, I am sure, genuine and sincere. I may say that I have always met with extreme courtesy on the part of the Siamese officials when travelling in the Provinces, not only on this tour, but on every previous occasion in Southern and Central Siam. The journey from Lampang to Chiengmai takes some four hours by the express and the line runs through wild and exceedingly mountainous country. The train passes over at least two very deep gorges and the apparently fragile steel bridges swayed and shook to an alarming extent as the train passed over; one long tunnel pierces the central massif of Khun Tan. The German engineers 18 who constructed the line before and during the earlier stages of the war were I understand unduly pressed by their Siamese employers and the result is not perhaps as entirely satisfactory as might have been the case had more time and possibly more money been devoted to the difficult operation.

Engineers and workers at the Khuntan Tunnel

German engineers and Thai officials at the Khuntan Tunnel during construction. Source and date unknown

Some two hundred persons met me at the station at Chiengmai including the leading members of the British and foreign community, the French Vice-Consul 19, representatives of the Viceroy and local authorities and the headmen of the different groups of Asiatic British subjects. The afternoon was devoted to visiting the Viceroy 20, hereditary chief of Chiengmai 21and one of the numerous widows of the late King, and enthusiastic grower of roses and orchids 22, and returning cards on the numerous people who had been good enough to write their names at the Consulate,  commodious and agreeable new building situated in a large and beautiful compound on the broad but shallow river Meping. The following day the Burmese and other British Asiatic subjects gave a great entertainment in the consulate grounds at 2 p.m. with a regatta. About 4 o’clock a large barge was seen slowly descending the stream fantastically decorated with huge allegorical dragons and on the upper deck with a monstrous phoenix in whose beak had been placed an address of welcome to myself which was subsequently presented to me in a silver casket. A charming ballet was performed by a group of small Burmese boys under the awning of the barge with a native orchestra on board as well as one a neighbouring island in the river. The barge was then moored off the Consulate landing stage and the addres read and presented to me on the lawn of the Consulate garden. There must have been some two thousand persons in the compound though presumably not all British subjects. I made a short speech which was translated to the Heads of the various groups represented, Burmese, Shans 23, Toungsoos 24, Chinese, Sikhs 25, Pathans 26, etc., thanking them for their welcome and for their loyalty to the King Emperor 27 and his Majesty’s government and then walked down the line speaking to such persons of local importance as were pointed out to me. A display of fireworks followed as night fell.

Garden of the British Consulate in Chiang Mai

This might well have been the meeting in the gardens of the British consulate in Chiang Mai Robert Greg wrote about. Picture from

In the evening the Viceroy gave a dinner in my honour at which some forty persons, including the Hereditary Chief and leading Siamese officials and prominent members of the British and American communities, were present. The healths of the King Emperor and the King of Siam were duly drunk and after dinner a very charming performance of Lao dancing was given, the performers being, I was told, all members of the Chief’s own household.

Robert Greg in Chiengmai

Chiengmai is the centre of all the important American Missions in Siam and I was able to inspect the large school 28, new hospital 29and leper hospital 30admirably run by these missionaries. The pick of their men are always posted at Chiengmai and those that I met struck me as unusually attractive people who relations with our community are, I am happy to say, so close and cordial that one was scarcely conscious of a difference of nationality. I was not sorry to escape from these activities for a three days’ trip up the famous “hill” of Chiengmai 31, a very beautiful wooded mountain which rises 4,500 feet about the plain some three miles outside the town and 4,500 feet above sea level.  Mr.Wood has a small bungalow on the eastern slopes as also the Chiengmai representative of the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation, Mr.Queripel 32, and I was able to spend two nights I was absent in considerable comfort in these houses.

Evelyn, Kathleen and Adrian van Millingen in a BBTC forest bungalow on Doi Pui

BBTC Forest Bungalow on Doi Pui, 1930s. Evelyn, Kathleen and Adrian van Millingen. Picture courtesy of Oliver Backhouse

The five consulate elephants carried the luggage and bedding as elephants still act as transport throughout the north on account of their power of breaking through rough jungle country; they are good climbers and are hobbled at night and turned adrift in the jungle where they find abundance of fodder and on the “hill” plenty of water too. It is by no means unlikely that the Chiengmai hill may in time become the sanatorium of Siam and it occurs to me that possibly it may one day solve the difficult question of providing a retreat for the Legation during the torrid months of March, April and May before the rains break. At present the unfortunate Minister and staff have to grill in the capital or scarcely cooler seaside resort of Hua Hin or seek recuperation in the distant mountains of Java, Sumatra or Cochin-China – all far away and infinitely expensive of access. I rounded up my stay at Chiengmai by visits to the Chief of Lampoon, a busy little place within motor reach of Chiengmai, a famous pilgrimage wat in the neighbouring hills and an exceedingly prosperous village in the plains where all the local scarfs and shirts worn by the natives are woven.


I have ventured to report my experiences in the north at what I fear may seem inordinate length but as I am the first British Minister, since Sir E.Satow 33 in the eighties, though not the first foreign representative to make this trip and as my arrival gave such unfeigned satisfaction to our large and respectable Asiatic community as well as to the scattered British employés of the big teak firms and British legal and forest officials in the Siamese government, I have ventured to be somewhat diffuse. The tour really resembled a progress rather than a mere visit and I was absolutely amazed at the depth of welcome given me and the pains taken by the Siamese as well as by the British subjects to make this visit a success.
The style in which the British employés live, the size of their compounds, the magnitude of the teak industry tend to give a strong British colour to northern Siam, the relations between the firms and the Siamese authorities seem on the whole excellent in spite of the tendency reported in my despatch no.132 above mentioned and it was at moments difficult to realize that I was not in a British protectorate, so anxious were the Siamese officials to make a good impression and the Asiatic subjects to  please. Chiengmai is a delightful old-world town of some forty thousand inhabitants and it is devoutly to be hoped that the railway in developing will not destroy what strikes the newcomer as an almost ideal community in a beautiful setting, although I cannot help feeling that Lampang may play a more important commercial role in the future when the new Chiengmai road is open to motor traffic. I propose to revert to this subject later on when the question of the Consular redistribution, touched upon in my private letter to Mr.Gye 34 of September 5th last, is dealt with by Your Lordship.

I have, etc.,

(Signed) Robert Greg


  1. The word plenipotentiary  refers to a diplomat fully authorized to represent a government as a prerogative (e.g., ambassador)
  2. Senggora aka Singora is the current town of Songkhla in Songkhla province in South Thailand
  3. Sir Josiah Crosby became ambassador in Bangkok from 1934 until 1941
  4. H.Fitzmaurice was consul in Phuket, Songkhla and Chiang Mai
  5. William Alfred Rae Wood (1878-1970) was a British British Consul-General in Chiang Mai from 1921 until 1931
  6. Phrae is the capital of Phrae province in North Thailand
  7. The Ping River along with the Nan River, is one of the two main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River.
  8. research is under way
  9. Sir Claude Hamilton Archer Hill (1866–1934) was Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man. In retirement he became Director-General of the League of Red Cross Societies
  10. Chao Phya (Phraya) Yommarat Pan Sukkum (1862-1938) was a diplomat and politician
  11. His Royal Highness Prince Purachatra Jayakara, Prince of Kamphaengphet (1881-1936) was a Prince of Siam and a member of the Siamese Royal Family (later Thailand). He was a son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V the Great) of Siam. He was often called the Father of the Thai radio and the Father of the Thai railways, due to his contributions in both fields
  12. Prince Paribatra Sukhumbhand of Nagor Svarga (1881-1944) is well-known as the Father of Western-style Thai Music. Prince Paribatra was a son of King Rama V
  13. Marshal-Admiral Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, Prince of Nakhon Sawan (1881–1944), was a highly influential Thai military officer and government minister in the early 20th century during the last years of the absolute monarchy
  14. the Yom River
  15. Ngao is a district in Lampang province. The district Mueang Ngao was renamed to Ngao in 1938, as the prefix Mueang was then reserved for the capital districts of the provinces
  16. research is under way
  17. Robert Greg probably means Khmu. The Khmu are an ethnic group of Southeast Asia. The majority (88%) live in northern Laos where they constitute the largest minority ethnic group, comprising eleven percent of the total population
  18. Emil Eisenhofer (1879-1962) was the German engineer who was in charge of the construction of the tunnel
  19. research is under way
  20. research is underway
  21. Major General Prince Kaew Nawarat (1862-1939)was the 36th and last King of Lanna and Prince Ruler of Chiang Mai, reigning from 1910 to 1939
  22. Greg refers to Princess Dara Rasmi (1873–1933). She was a princess of Chiang Mai and Siam (later Thailand) and the daughter of King Inthawichayanon of Chiang Mai and Queen Thipkraisorn Rajadevi of Chiang Mai descended from the Chet Ton Dynasty. She was one of the princess consorts of Chulalongkorn, King Rama V of Siam and gave birth to one daughter by King Chulalongkorn, Princess Vimolnaka Nabisi
  23. The Shan are a Tai ethnic group of Southeast Asia. The Shan live primarily in the Shan State of Burma (Myanmar), but also inhabit parts of Mandalay Region, Kachin State, and Kayin State, and in adjacent regions of China, Laos and Thailand
  24. I think Greg refers to people known as Thaungthu or Thoungtoo. They are subgroup of the Karen
  25. A Sikh is a person associated with Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that originated in the 15th century based on the revelation of Guru Nanak
  26. Pathans are Muslims and speak Pashto (or Pushtu). They are the largest and second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. Historically, Pathans have been noted as fierce fighters, and throughout history they have offered strong resistance to invaders.
  27. George V (1865-1936) was the King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 1910 until his death in 1936
  28. Prince’s Royal College
  29. McCormick Hospital
  30. McKean Rehabilitation Center
  31. Doi Suthep, is a mountain west of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is 1,676 metres in elevation and is one of the twin peaks of a granite mountain. The other peak is known as Doi Pui and is slightly higher. Doi Suthep is 15 kilometres from Chiang Mai city centre
  32. Arthur Lionel Queripel (1878-1946) was a forest manager of the BBTC
  33. Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929), was a British scholar, diplomat and Japanologist
  34. research is underway

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