Phu Phayak & The Communist History Of Nan


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Tucked away in the far top, north-east corner of Nan is the ex communist stronghold of Phu Phayak.

Phu Phayak has featured on GTR here

Return to Nan & back to the future?

It took me a few goes over several years 2006, 2008, & finally 2010 to find Phu Phayak; after I first heard of it in a newspaper report on the grand opening for a memorial to communist soldiers fighting the Thai government! What the hell was all that about?


In 2019 on 14-15 December it will be the 15th annual Phu Phayak Communist Reunion.


The history & story of the memorial is quite astounding, but there's actually a lot more to understanding the communist story in Nan, but getting any decent reliable detailed info in English has never been easy.


Fortunately through a Phu Phayak contact I was recently given their story and history of the communists in Nan.

Nan is the best province in the North for riding, with hundreds of kilometres of beautiful winding roads on rolling hills. Some of the roads end way up in the mountains in remote villages and many of these villages have a communist history.

Most of, it not all these villages are of ethnic people - Hmong, Lua, Mien (Yao), Khmu, Phu Yuan, and Mlabri (Yellow Leaf). Poorly treated by the governments of the day with little support, they were perfect targets for infiltrating communists to offer help and & so win them over to another set of ideals.

Understanding their story & history will make riding in Nan more rewarding. Here's is what the Phu Phayak people say...

A History of the Stronghold in Nan Province

1. The Stronghold in Nan Province

The eastern border of Nan Province, adjacent to Laos, is an elaborate terrain stretching 100 kilometers. At one time, this region was occupied by the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) with 31 villages under its control in the stronghold. CPT control of the region lasted for a period of 16 years. From 1967-1968 (2510-2511 BE) until 1983 (2526 BE), the population of the liberated region was roughly between 8,000-10,000 people.

The story of the stronghold in Nan Province is an interesting one. It serves as an invaluable lesson and reminder for us to help one another in order to avoid the misery of warfare that once plagued the people of the region. May we, of every faction, learn the lessons of the past in order to create a new nation and harmony among all Thais forevermore.

2. Who Built the Stronghold?

The stronghold in Nan Province was established through the cooperation of two groups. The first group were the organizers of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT), who for the most part, entered the forest as revolutionaries after the year 1962 (2505 BE) with ethnic Lua, Hmong, and Phu Yuan villagers who inhabited the area.

When we look back at the political environment after the year 1957 (2500 BE), we see a period dominated by a dictatorship.
During that time, news reports of journalists, writers, and democratic-leaning politicians being arrested were rampant. Even monks were imprisoned. Printing presses were destroyed and newspapers were shut down.
Such events were becoming increasingly commonplace along with the widespread arrests of anyone accused of being a communist.
In the year 1962 (2505 BE), many of those accused were executed without undergoing a fair judicial process.
The period was so filled with fraud and corruption that no one dared speak out against the regime for fear they would become a target.
A political atmosphere such as this pushed some to flee to the remote upland areas of Nan Province in successive waves to become revolutionaries, especially during the massive purges that were carried out after 1962 (2505 BE).

3. Who Were the Inhabitants of the Stronghold?

All along the border of Nan Province and Laos, there are numerous upland peoples living in the region such as the Hmong, Lua, Mien (Yao), Khmu, Phu Yuan, and Mlabri (Yellow Leaf). Among these groups, the Hmong and the Lua make up the largest populations and consequently, they were the predominant groups that populated the stronghold in Nan Province.

An interesting question is why these upland peoples would join the Communist Party of Thailand, whose members were making their way into the area beginning in 1964-1965 (2507-2508 BE). At that time they started living among the upland peoples.

Furthermore, some of these people, particularly the Lua, had already decided to be openly militant since 1962 (2505 BE). This was two years before there were any CPT organizing efforts in the region.

What was their motivation?

4. The Upland Tax System

Among the upland peoples living along the borders of Nan Province, excluding the nomadic Mlabri, the Lua were considered to be the poorest and most uncivilized.
The men of the Lua previously wore short loincloth to cover their lower extremities.
The women wore old sarongs with their tops bare. As for the children, they were often naked. The Lua people were extremely impoverished. Their annual agricultural production was usually insufficient to meet to their dietary needs, leading many to have insufficient food for many months of the year. This would force some Lua to seek paid work on neighboring Hmong agricultural fields.

Despite being extremely poor, the Lua from the period around 1957 (2500 BE) were the most heavily taxed by Thai officials, often arbitrarily. These taxes included:

a stump tax, collected following the clearing of forest plots for agricultural cultivation;
an electricity pole tax, collected for the purpose of bringing electricity to the lowland areas;
a flashlight tax and flashlight battery tax, collected from any household caught purchasing a flashlight battery or using a flashlight;
a cold season tax, collected after villagers had collected wood for fires and making other preparations for the cold season;
an alcohol tax, collected after alcohol had been fermented;
a breast tax or flabby breast tax, collected from breastfeeding mothers. Those with longer breasts were taxed more than those with shorter breasts. It was a tax that caused tremendous resentment among the villagers. They would say, “Shorter breasts (small breasts) are taxed low while longer breasts (larger breasts) are taxed high. They would insult our women this much!” (from the research of Dr. Cholthira Satyawadhna in the book The Lua of Nan…)

In reality, there were many more annoying little taxes as well. These taxes were not collected from the lowland Mueang peoples, but deliberately collected only from the poor, marginalized, and uneducated upland peoples.

5. The Rebel Phi Boon of Huay Chanin Village

Other than the illegal tax collection described above, there was still the problem of the killing of villagers’ pigs and chickens and the regular harassment of women. The villagers had to endure this miserable state for a while.
Eventually, a village called Huay Chanin (after relocation several times - presently called Huay Lom Village, Amphoe Bo Kluea) tried to find a solution to their problem by consulting a holy man from Laos around the year 1962 (2505 BE).
The holy man spoke of an ideal society, of divine intervention that would liberate all the Lua people from their current state of oppression.
The leader of this fight was Ao Jong Wong (Po Yai Wong) from Huay Chanin Village.
They tried to spread word of the uprising among different villages in the upland areas along the Lao border.
Although the movement was based on superstition, it’s momentum would grow from a collective hatred for the illegal tax system, the mistreatment of women, and the forced labor imposed on the people.
The holy man uprising spread widely in the uplands, bringing many from afar to join the movement.
When news of the uprising reached the ears of the Thai officials, they sent armed forces to arrest Ao Jong Wong and his followers in 1965.
Called the Phi Boon Rebellion by Thai officials, the uprising was crushed. Ao Jong Wong, himself, would eventually die in prison.

6. The Beginnings of the Stronghold

When the first armed military unit of the CPT reached Huay Chanin Village in 1968 (2511 BE), the first sight they witnessed was a village of only women and children with few to no men.
The CPT learned that some men had been taken away in waves, some had died, and others imprisoned.
After that, there was the case of a villager named Bo Rit. He had been taken away to be tortured by poison by Thai officials. Bo Rit didn’t die, but rather escaped and returned to Huay Chanin Village. As a result, the entire village was so fearful of the wrath of the state that they fled to the forest and sought refuge with the CPT comrades.
This is how Huay Chanin Village became part of the stronghold in southern Nan, from which the movement would spread to surrounding areas.

In northern Nan, around Phu Wae and Phu Phayak Mountains, there were other small armed military CPT units that entrenched themselves in the area.
They also found that the villagers there were miserable with both large and small problems.
More and more news of the CPT reached the ears of the Thai officials, which led to a large battle to suppress the uprising around year 1967-1968 (2510-2511 BE).
At the time, there were very few military units in the forest. At Phu Wae, the military strength was comprised of only 10 people. It was the villagers from the Phu Wae area that provided additional support for the CPT when the fighting broke out. Because of this, Phu Wae would become the first liberated area of the CPT.
From the year 1968 (2511 BE) on, other areas like Phu Phayak, Khun Nam Pua, Phu Laem Thong, Nam Wa, Nam Tuang, Nam Phang Noi slowly became liberated areas shortly thereafter.
The stronghold became so enlarged that the area split and became known as Northern Nan Stronghold and Southern Nan Stronghold.

7. The Geography and Area of Operations in the Stronghold

The stronghold in Nan Province stretched from its northernmost point from the Lao border (close to the Amphoe Chalerm Phrakiet Office) down to its southernmost point around the Hmong village of Nam Phang in Mae Jarim District, a linear distance of approximately 120 kilometers. However, if you consider the winding terrain of the area, the border is actually much longer than that.
The stronghold was split into two areas: Northern Nan and Southern Nan.
The two areas were split, separated by a pass between the towns of Pua and Bo Kluea (presently known as the Pua-Doi Phu Kha National Park-Bo Kluea Road).

8. Northern Nan Stronghold

Northern Nan Stronghold was divided into three areas: Area 1 being Phu Wae, Area 2 being Khun Nam Pua, and Area 4 being Phu Phayak.

Area 1 (Phu Wae) was on the western bank of the Nan River, and was liberated by the CPT in 1967 (2510 BE).
The residents here were the Black Hmong ethnic group comprised of eight villages: Pha Daeng, Na Sa, Huay Ngak, Jong Kwo, Jong Chua, Jong Phai, Pa Nong, and Kang Ho.
The village militia stationed here was the 301st Company.

Area 2 (Khun Nam Pua) was the smallest liberated area of the Lua Salod ethnic group. Plod Ploy Village and Khem Khaeng Village were separated by the Pua River which passed through middle of the stronghold.
The village militia stationed here was the 302nd Company.

Area 4 (Phu Phayak) was on the eastern bank of the Nan River. The residents of this area were the Red Flower Lua living in 10 villages: Samakee, Sawang, Koo Chat, Thong Chai, Plod Aek, Rak Chat, Nam Chai, Chana, Soo Rob, and Ekarach.
Area 4 was a heavily populated area that sent many of their children to join the fighting, more than any other area.
The village militia stationed in this area was the 304th Company.

The Nan River separates Area 1 and Area 4 in Northern Nan.

9. Southern Nan Province

Southern Nan Stronghold is divided into three areas: Area 3, Area 5, and Area 6.

Area 3 (Phu Laem Thong) was located on the western and northern border of Wa River.
It was the liberated area of the Lua ethnic group. Southern Nan was once the site of the holy man uprising that occurred in the year 1962 (2505 BE).
The people of the area lived in four villages: Village No. 1, Village No. 2, Village No. 3, and Village No. 4.
The village militia stationed in this area was the 303rd Company.
In addition to the 303rd, the 244th regular military unit, the 315th special unit, and the 83rd all-female heavy artillery unit were also present in the area.

Area 5 (Nam Wa) was the liberated area of the Phu Yuan in the Lower Wa River Basin east of the Bo Kluea Gorge.
This area was comprised of three villages: Village Nos. 1, 2, and 3.
The village militia stationed here was the 309th Company.

Area 6 (Phu Say Hok) was located on the southern bank of the Wa River.
The residents of this large area were the White Hmong ethnic group who lived in six villages: Patiwat, Baeb Yang, Kla Soo, Phu Sanam, Nam Tuang, and Nam Phang.
The village militia stationed in this area was the 306th Company.


10. Governance in the Stronghold

The stronghold in Nan Province was governed by a democratic system, balanced between the executive and legislative branches which were both democratically elected. Those elected to positions within the Tambon Government were usually good, intelligent, and capable people. Additionally, elections were held for positions to the People’s Assembly. The Assembly served as a check to the executive as well as a means to ensure that the laws and regulations passed served to maintain the peace of the community. Other than that, the Assembly was also a place to reflect on the problems of the people and collectively try to resolve them. Such problems dealt with agricultural zones among villages and laws regarding the conservation of pine trees, for example.

11. A Democratic Haven

Our country of Thailand is currently governed by a democratic system that is relatively more stable and stronger than in the past. While there have been revolutionary coups, most modern ones never lasted very long, the country has always returned to democratic rule. In any case, before reaching this point of democratic rule, the country has passed through multiple turning points highlighted by many struggles between dictatorships and democratic rule until the former system would slowly capitulated to the latter with the evolution of Thai society. During the time when Thai society was transitioning between political systems, democratic leaders were constantly under attack, the most tragic attempt at suppression occurring on October 6, 1976 (2519 BE). The stronghold in Nan Province was one place that played a role in absorbing the democratic leaders and sympathizers in the hundreds as they escaped the suppression attempt by the government. The Hmong, Lua, and Yuan villagers of the area provided protection, food and water, and refuge for those that fled to the forest out of the kindness of their hearts. The friendships between the villagers and those from the city are still as friendly and warm as they were 30 years earlier. Students, academics, and artists who once stayed in the forests of Nan remain well-known until today.

For instance, some of these individuals include: Mr. Jaturon Chaisaeng, Mr. Thirayut Bunmee, Dr. Cholthira Satyawadhna , Dr. Anek Laothamtat, Mr. Surachai Jantimathorn, and Mr. Sila Khomchai.

12. The End of the Stronghold in Nan Province

In the year 1977 (2520 BE), two neighboring countries proposed to the CPT that they would help invade and occupy northeastern Thailand. The CPT seriously considered this proposal many times and ultimately decided to turn it down. The CPT reasoned that, although this would lead to a swift victory, the decision to accept help would have long-term effects on the Thai people. The Thai people might have viewed the CPT as the enemy for having used foreign military prowess instead of their own.

While refusing the help from neighboring countries saved the nation from the foreigners’ march into Thai territory in the beginning of 1979 (2522 BE), the decision would prove detrimental to the CPT. As a result of the decision, the neighboring countries that once supported the CPT announced their cutting of ties with the CPT. This led to a loss of support for the stronghold and its military forces in the North and Northeast which bordered the neighboring countries. This opened up the region to attacks on two fronts. In order to maintain defenses, the stronghold reduced its territorial control and condensed its military. This contraction was one factor that lead to the reassessment of the CPT movement itself. The state, too, began to reconsider its approach to the fighting. The state began to reform the government, from the authoritarian regime to a new more democratic system. This change was highlighted by State Policy 66/2523 which called for reconciliation for those who had fled into the forest. This would lead to more and more people continually coming out of the forest.

The stronghold in Nan Province was also impacted by these changes that were transforming the nation. Many people in the stronghold began to move to other areas or asked to return to their homes, leading to the eventual decline of the stronghold around the year 1983 (2526 BE). All this unfolded without even a battle with the state as in the past.

The story of the People’s Army that opposed the authoritarian regime and helped the people who were oppressed for nearly 10 years has become one of the past.

Thank you Phupayak Khunnan for the detailed information.

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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Phu Phayak has an annual reunion for all those who took part in the battles and / or shelter @ Phua Phayak during the conflict with the government of the day.

In 2022 a friend of GTR, JB Jean Baptiste, was able to attend the event & shared these photos with me.



































See also

Phu Phayak is about as far out as you can get in North Thailand.
To attend one of these annual reunions would be something special & a life time memory not to forget.
Its been on my bucket list of things to do for a few years now, but something always gets in the way so that I have not been able to make it.
Many people caught up in the conflict of the day & disagreement with the government were forced to flee for their lives, and the only safe places at the time were to seek refuge with the communists. Most of these people later returned to the cities when the conflict was over & they were able to resume a normal life. Some became politicians and have held important cabinet posts in recent decades. Some became doctors & served the local communities with great care & passion, something confirmed to me by Dr Sudhee just a few days ago.

As time goes by and the older generation is passing on, their personal experience of these extremely difficult times & the struggle to survive make these annual reunions more important for their stories should be told. The world needs more peace, harmony & love. Not war and violence.
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Phu Phayak Characters
In 1966-1967 the first two comrades came to Phua Phayak.
They were Comrade Singh and Comrade Somporn, two pioneers who set up District 4 of the communist insurgency.

Comrade Singh

27 December 1942 born in Narathiwat Province.
1957 he went to study in China until 1965
10 January 2021 died @ 79 years old.

His wife is still alive & attended the reunion
Comrade Mat

Phu Kong Laem (captain).

Fought in South Isan, now he is more than 70… still in good shape
He went to Political and Military School in South Laos and with Khmer Rouge.
The South Isan communist party got support from Khmer Rouge.

Sahai Wut he is in charge of the Phu Phayak Memorial.

He is a Thai Yuan from Bo Kluea.

His daughter Paew, 28 years old, works at the Phu Phayak Royal Project coffee shop

Chonlanan Srikaew. Nan MP. Pheu Thai leader.


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Some interesting info on those who fled in the 70s after the 76 massacre in Bangkok.

Octobrists are in power, but still committed to advancing democracy?


Some of the Octobrists in power (from left) Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, PM’s Secretary General Prommin Lertsuridej, Pheu Thai MP Chaturon Chaisang and Pheu Thai MP Adisorn Piengkes

Many of the activists who participated in the October 1973 student uprising have managed to return to the corridors of power after the May 14 election this year, but they continue to face major challenges in achieving the democracy they dreamed of half a century ago.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, one of the student activists of the uprising generation who are widely known in Thailand as “Octobrists”, is now playing a key role in driving the democratization agenda after nearly a decade of a military-backed regime under Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Phumtham, who always says that he will never give up the fight for democracy, has been assigned to chair a committee to study the frame of reference for the amendment of the junta-sponsored 2017 Constitution. He later picked a 35-member ad hoc panel consisting of legal experts, politicians and political activists to explore possibilities and ways to arrange such a referendum. The Constitutional Court had ruled in March 2021 that the current charter could not be amended without a referendum.

The opposition Move Forward Party and a civic group, iLaw — which had previously submitted more than 200,000 signatures calling for a new constitution — are staying out of the panel as they disagree with the government’s method. Parit Wacharasindhu, spokesman of the Move Forward Party, said his party wanted a completely new constitution written by elected drafters.

The ruling Pheu Thai Party has promised an amendment of the charter to make it more democratic, but compromised with the establishment elite on leaving Section I and II on maintaining the current form of Thailand as a unitary state as well as the privileges and roles of the monarchy untouched.

The term Octobrist originally stems from the October Manifesto issued by Russian Tsar Nicholas II in 1905 to grant certain civil liberties. Thai scholar Kanokrat Lertchoosakul from Chulalongkorn University first used the term to describe the student activists who participated in political movements during the period from the uprising of October 14, 1973 and the massacre in Thammasat University on October 6, 1976. Her Ph.D thesis explained how the people of this generation had managed to play a significant role in Thailand’s political changes over the past decades.

Student activists

Beside Phumtham, many Octobrists are now working with the ruling Pheu Thai Party, including Prommin Lertsuridej, who is secretary general to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, and MPs Chaturon Chaisang, Adisorn Peingkes and Dr. Tossaporn Serirak.

They had all joined the student movement in the 1970s in different ways. Phumtham was involved in political activities with a small group in Chulalongkorn University where he was a student of political science. On the day of the uprising, Phumtham, together with colleagues, including Surachart Bamrungsuk, who is now a professor on security and international relations at Chulalongkorn University, led students to march from the campus in Sam Yan to Thammasat, Tha Prachan, where the protest started.

Prommin, then a first-year medical student at Mahidol University, joined the protest on the morning of October 14 in the area adjacent to Thammasat before rushing to Ramathibodi Hospital to voluntarily join a medical team to rescue victims of the military crackdown on the day.

Chaturon travelled from the northern Chiang Mai province, where he was studying medicine at Chiang Mai University, to join the bloody protest right there at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok.

Like many others, Adisorn, a law student at Thammasat, joined the protest as an activist who called for a constitution and a general election to end the authoritarian regime of Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn.

Both Chaturon and Adisorn have politics in their DNA, as they were born into political families. Their fathers were former MPs, representing constituencies in Chachoengsao and Khon Kaen provinces respectively.

Communist insurgency

Rightists’ suppression of the progressive student movement after a massacre at Thammasat on October 6, 1976 forced Phumtham, also known as Comrade Yai, Prommin a.k.a Comrade Charas, Chaturon a.k.a. Comrade Suphap, and Adisorn a.k.a Comrade Sornchai or Song to join the Communist Party of Thailand’s insurgency in the jungle, mostly in the North and Northeastern areas of the country. Comrades Yai and Sornchai stayed together in a stronghold in the northern Lao province of Oudomxay.

The student-turned-communist insurgents struggled with difficulties in the revolutionary war alongside peasants and proletarians in the jungle for 4-5 years before returning home to continue their education when the government under General Prem Tinsulanonda granted a relaxation in 1980. That eventually resulted in the collapse of the communist party and the end of the civil war in Thailand.

They have different memories and impressions about the revolutionary war, but share one thing in common — the aspiration to liberate Thailand and make it democratic.

Upon his return from the jungle, Phumtham worked as a social worker at Social Volunteer Project, an agency under the Social Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University, before joining a business unit at one of the Shin Corp affiliations, and later joining the Thai Rak Thai Party founded by Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prommin worked as a physician in district hospitals in Khon Kaen province for years before joining the Shin Corp business empire, and later helped Thaksin build and run Thai Rak Thai.

The party was dissolved after the 2006 coup but reincarnated as People’s Power, which was dissolved in 2008, before its transformation into the current Pheu Thai Party. Most of the Octobrists in the party were banned from politics since then, but maintained their link and political activities with Thaksin’s camp.

Both Phumtham and Prommin were regarded as Thaksin loyalists, but Prommin was likely closer to the former prime minister as he served as secretary general to the prime minister when Thaksin was in power. He has been given the same position in the current Srettha Thavisin administration.

Chaturon and Adisorn utilized their families’ leverage to enter politics, running for MP seats in their home provinces. With strong support from his father and former MP Anant, Chaturon, then a member of the Democrat Party, won an election for the first time in 1986. Adisorn of the then-leftist Labor Democratic Party failed his first attempt in 1983 before succeeding in 1988 as a candidate of Chalerm Yubamrung’s Mass Party. Chaturon and Adisorn joined General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s New Aspiration Party before joining Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Disappointed Octobrists

A new generation of activists and politicians have expressed their disappointment with the role of the Octobrists in the Pheu Thai Party during negotiations to forge a 11-party coalition that formed a new government in July. It was Adisorn who launched a verbal attack against the progressive Move Forward Party when Pheu Thai insisted on having its choice as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This was soon after the election when Move Forward was aspiring to form a government in alliance with Pheu Thai.

A major blow to Phumtham’s reputation was cutting a deal with former military-alliance parties, including United Thai Nation, Palang Pracharath, Bhumjaithai and Chartthaipattana to form a new coalition after Move Forward candidate Pita Limjaroenrat failed to get enough support to win the vote for prime minister in July.

Phumtham was slammed as a betrayer of the cause and a pretentious actor when he offered what was seen as an insincere apology to younger fellows in the Move Forward Party and pretended to invite the party to join the new coalition.

Somchai Preechasilapakul, a law lecturer from Chiang Mai University, expressed his disappointment openly against Chaturon for voting for Srettha as prime minister on August 22.

“It’s sad and deceitful to see you, Phi Oi [Chaturon’s nickname], as a part of the elite network which you have fought against in your entire life,” Somchai said in a Facebook post on August 22.

Chaturon, who knows Somchai in person, replied two days later that he admired the scholar and respected his opinion, but the word deceitful was too strong. “I stood firmly to oppose the deal to switch camps and made it clear in public that I’m a minority in the party. I have no choice but to vote to support Prime Minister Srettha in accordance with the party’s resolution,” he said in his Facebook.

Octobrist Chaturon justified his stance, saying he took no position in the government and the party but as an MP intended to work in the House to push forward the amendment of the military-sponsored charter to make the country more democratic as promised.