Tai Lue Heritage


Oct 23, 2009
1 . Introduction

North Thailand features a wealth of interesting destinations linked by an amazingly well-built road network. This is an invitation to travel and attracts many visitors, locals as well as foreign tourists. There is, however, more to the Lanna region than asphalt ribbons, mountainous landscapes, lush forests and yellow rice fields; it is home to a unique diversity of populations still showcasing ancestral traditions.

Knowledge fosters interest, the deeper our acquaintance with an area’s residents the more likely we are to slow down and to get in touch with strangers. The immediate rewards are additional insights in different cultures, often proudly maintained against the odds of civilization.

For a series of short North Thailand stories, I will focus on one particular ethnic family: the “Tai Lue”. This group is not as popular with visitors as the various “hill-tribes”,it is, nonetheless, well represented and can be found in numerous dedicated villages (see list at the end).


A group of Tai Lue ladies dressed for a Chula Kathin festival in Sri Donchai; these festivals make great pictures opportunities.

Globalization leads to uniformity, and, in addition, for about one century, Thailand’s central policy promoted “Thai-ness” as a way to integrate minorities. The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen a revival in local costumes, a proudness to be part of an ethnic group and to showcase inherited cultures.

Despite its official acceptance and support, the pride to be different and the sense of belonging to a particular community, might not be enough to maintain all traditions alive for future generations. It is a favor to experience bustling societies, content to share their traditional lifestyles. Interest from outsiders, visit to villages, participation to festivals and support to craftsmen will foster preservation of this valuable diversity.

Not every culturally interesting places or activity can be experienced on a daily basis; festivals, notably, have their particular calendars. Other interesting features, like temples, handicraft shops and museums visits, are available all year round.


Traditional Tai Lue temples feature a unique architecture (Wat Tha Fa Tai)

The most striking aspects of the Tai Lue’s way of life are found in the following rubrics: temples (building and decoration), traditional houses, handicraft production (particularly weavings), dedicated museums, festivals, food outlets, handicraft shops, clothing and apparels, dances and music, social life.

Depending on individual interests, visits have to be scheduled at specific times and to particular destinations (i.e. festival periods and precise localizations). For the casual traveler, however, it is already enriching to stop for a short visit and appreciate the cultural gems found along the North Thailand roads.


« Lue Lai Kham », a dedicated Tai Lue museum in Sri Donchai, near Chiangkhong


A Tai Lue house with an history, a modified architecture to adapt it to Lanna style (Chiangmai University)


Woven banner decorations are a colorful features of Tai Lue temples


Tai Lue food can be enjoyed in restaurants or during festivals


Weaving looms are still found under the houses in Tai Lue villages


Handicraft demonstration -Wat Phrathat Sob Waen, Chiang Kham


Tai Lue are skilled in sword manipulation and dances (Had Bai festival)


Traditional music is played during festivals – the picture shows a musician performing in Wat Nong Bua


Tai Lue no longer wear costumes for daily chores – the traditional dresses are reserved for festive days and temple visits


Tai Lue artists greatly influenced the Nan school of painting – iconic examples are mural painting like the “Whispering Lovers” (wat Pumpin in Nan)


In memoriam: Nikham (Fai ) Kuntawong wearing her Tai Lue outfit

Nowadays, people from North Thailand refer to themselves as “Khon Muang” (People from the Principalities). This appellation replaces the name “Yuan” fallen in disuse. However, as populations were heavily mixed in the 19th century, after Lanna’s complete repopulation, it covers more ethnics groups, with similar languages and cultural backgrounds.

The Tai Lue have partly kept their vibrant heritage, but they also share many similarities with the Yuan, notably religion, architecture and many traditions. In larger cities and with integration in other communities, an increasing number do not retain their specific customs. This is, again, a reason to take the chance to support and appreciate what is still available, now-a-days, from their ancestral legacy.

To conclude this “introduction chapter”, I am adding two quotations relevant to the Tai Lue integration in North Thailand:

« Officially, around 83,000 Tai Lues live in Thailand according to an early 2000 census. In reality, though, the population of Tai Lues is believed to be much higher than that »

“Half of the people in Chiang Mai today are of Tai Lue descent,” said Dr Vithi

In: A tale of a mythical, lost kingdom and the Tais from China
Pear Maneechote, August 7, 2020

« Prior to the 1980s, the Lue of Thailand commonly avoided calling themselves Lue, for fear of ethnic discrimination. The Lue assimilation into Thai nationality was almost complete in the 1990s.They spoke standard Thai, wore mainstream clothing and built houses in Thai design. Since then, however, Lue communities in Thailand were encouraged from outside, especially by the Ministry of Education in Bangkok, to recall their Lue heritage. In response to these influences, the Lue underwent a cultural revival and today are proud of their origin. Lue tradition and customs are now promoted across the northern”

In: Tai Groups of Thailand volume 2
Profile of Existing Groups
Joachim Schliesinger
White Books, Bangkok 2014

Tai Lue villages can be found several North Thailand provinces.
(References: Displayed panels in “Lu Lai Kham museum” - Wikiwand :Tai Lue in Thailand – personal visits)


Doi Sakhet: Ban Luang Nuea – Ban Luang Tai
San Kamphaeng: Ban Buak Khang
Samoeng: Ban Mae Sap Nua - Ban Mae Sap Tai
Mae Ai: Ban Wang Phai - Ban Hua Muang Ngam


Chiangkhong: Had Bai - Sri Donchai - Wiang - Mai Thung Mod
- Huay Meng
Baan Tha Kham, Muang Yai,
Wiang Kaen
Chiang Saen (district), Mai Sai (district)


Tha Wang Pha (ditrict)
Pua (ditrict)
Chiang Klang (ditrict)
Thung Chang (ditrict)
Chaloem Phra Kiat district

Phrae: Ban Thin


Chiang Muan (ditrict)
Chiang Kham (ditrict),


Mueang Lampang/Tambon Kluay Phae : Ban Kluang Luang – Ban Klang Klang – Ban Klang Phae, Ban Klang Fai – Ban Kluay Muang
Mae Tha: Ban Mae Pung – Ban Hong Ha


Mueang Lamphun - Ban Thi (district),

Bibliographical notes:

While all illustrations are my own pictures, the accompanying stories are based on published researches.

A Brief History of Lanna
Northern Thailand from Past to Present
Hans Penth
Silkworm Books, Chiangmai 2004

Tai Groups of Thailand Volume 1
Joachim Schliesinger
White Lotus, Bangkok Press 2001

Tai Groups of Thailand volume 2
Profile of Existing Groups
Joachim Schliesinger
White Lotus, Bangkok 2014

Khon Muang. People and Principalities of North Thailand
Andrew Forbes and David Henley
1997 A Teak House Publication

Cultural heritage of Tai Lue textiles
Soangsak Prangwatanakun
Faculty of Humanities, Chiangmai University
August 2008


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Fantastic Jurgen.
Looking forward to this greatly.
I sincerely hope this thread helps riders to be more aware of the different ethnic communities they travel through, especially the Lue, and so make each trip more rewarding.

DKT Dave

Sep 25, 2019
What an interesting read! Great work Jurgen. I am looking forward to reading the next chapter. The Tai Lue are certainly spread out across the Northern provinces, as you have pointed out. Keep it coming please!!

Steve Merchant

Dec 11, 2009
Lovely photos Jurgen. When I arrived here and travelled around more I was aware of the different groups but it was the "hilltribes' that stood out due to the outfits. I read that the Thai Lue were mainly near the Mekhong so it was some surprise to find those two villages you mention, Luang Nuea and Luang Tai right next to my home in Doi Saket. Good to see these people taking pride in their history isn't it? Thanks for the story.


Oct 23, 2009
Thank you everybody for your interest in the gentle Tai Lue folks and for reading and commenting on my post. I have scheduled to write a comprehensive overview, but I am still in the process to gathering more information as legends for the pictures.


Feb 27, 2008
Nongprue, Cholburi, Thailand
Well, Jürgen, you did it again, and again, and again. Thank you profoundly for your time, dedication and passion into a subject so often overlooked and ignored by many.
It is people like you who keep such forum alive and the rest of us should almost feel ashamed not contributing more. Mea culpa, I know.
I was wondering; if you know the webmaster it might be of interest to clear out the old rubbish on this site; some entries (not the cultural but more road, hotels, etc.) are completely outdated, misleading or at least irrelevant. Just a thought; maybe David should pull some strings there.
Merci, encore une fois, c'est simplement SUPER!


Oct 23, 2009
2 . Tai Lue Migrations

As a backdrop for my “Tai Lue in North Thailand” stories, I will sketch their migration and fate from Sipsongpanna, their original kingdom (Muang Lue/Jinghong/Chiang Hung), to Lanna where we can meet some of these folks in modern times.

Searching the Internet will present the Tai Lue (called Dai by the Chinese), as an officially recognized ethnic group, living in Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna), a Dai Autonomous Prefecture in South China.

This shortcut, however, does not make justice to the long history of these populations. Even so, there is no consensus, nor evidence, about the early origins of the Tai ethnolinguistic group, they are already well documented as settler, in the first Millennium, in modern times Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces.

Probable pressures by Mongols and Chinese Imperial armies seem to have split them, pushing some southward and others toward Yunnan. In the twelfth century (1180), the later founded Chiang Rung (Muang Lue), a kingdom located on both shores of the Mekong. In small groups, some others migrated southward toward Tonkin (Vietnam), Laos and Thailand.

In addition to the Jinghong Lue kingdom, in Sipsongpanna, an offspring Lue principality was later established in Chiang Khaen (fourteen century), and, finally, partly moved to Muang Sing (1885) by the ruler at that time, Chao Fa Silinor.


The Lue prince Chao Fa Silinor (Sirinor), as portrayed in Muang Sing museum

After years of warfare, invasions, occupation and quarreling the Lue polities were left in weak conditions, squeezed between Burmese and Chinese suzerain; their fate was definitively nailed by the colonial powers occupying the region. In 1896 and 1904, with Franco British agreements, the former Chiang Khaen kingdom was definitively teared to pieces.

Sparse vestiges of the principality can be seen inside modern Muang Sing; the region also still features a majority of Tai Lue villages, with their typical temples and looms under the houses.


Wall vestiges of Muang Sing’s ancient fortification


The Muang Sing museum - a Tai Lue design house, residence of the last “Cao Ban” (city lord)


Vat Xieng Chai (Wat Luang), Muang Sings oldest and most famous Tai Lue temple


Xieng Tung Stupa (1792), a venerated Buddhist Chedi, anterior to the city’s construction, erected on a hill by Nang Kemma, widow of the Chiang Khaen ruler

The French obnubilation with the Mekong, and their obsession to master the big river as a commercial link to China, completely baffled their political vision in the region. Instead of agreeing to a British proposition to keep Chiang Khaen as a buffer state, which might well still exist today, they insisted to split the Tai Lue territories and population between China, Burma and Laos, denying any possible independency to these folks.


August Pavie, “the barefoot explorer”, was the mastermind of French colonial policy in Laos. His (last “original”) statue is still erected inside the French embassy in Vientiane.


The new (unused) Lao Myanmar Bridge is a modern link between Tai Lue populations of the former Chiang Khaeng principality. These people were separated by the British Scott and the French Pavie. Nowadays, Chiang lap (west side) is in Tachilek province, part of the Shan States.

GTrider story Chiang Kok:
Chiang Kok and the Lao Myanmar Bridge

Forcibly or by own choice, the Tai Lue folks not only populated North Thailand, they are also found in several dwellings around North Laos. Muang Sing, of course, still hosts a number of Tai Lue villages; I also visited some places in Luangnamtha and Bokeo provinces, along Route 3 to Houei Xai, In Xayaboury along Route 2W to Muang Ngeun and even two villages near Luang Prabang, were a king had “invited” them because of their gracious dancing and weaving skills.


A traditional Tai Lue house with a village pillar in Ban Nam Nguene (Bokeo/Laos)


A group of Tai Lue villagers posing after I had distributed picture from a previous trip - Ban Tha Fa (Bokeo/Laos)

North Thailand, on its side, has not always been populated by ethnic Tai people. Without going back to the Paleolithic period, where Homo erectus left some bones around Lampang, more recent ages had various undocumented population inhabiting the region.

One remaining link to earlier times are Proto-mongoloid representatives, the Mlabri people (Phi Tong Luang) who, in a very small number, still live in Nan Province.


A Phi Tong Luang (Mlaqbri) dwelling in Nan province


Phi Tong Luang (Mlaqbri) mother and child (Nan province)

In the first Millennium, the Lawa had already settled around Lamphun, where, in the year 750, the legendary hermit Suthep, founded Haripunchai city. He invited the Mon princess (Chamadevi/Jam Thewi) as a ruler and opened the doors to Mon people from Lopburi.

While the Mon from Lamphun, Lopburi and Pegu quarreled and fought the Khmer invasions, small Tai groups migrated quietly from the North and East, down the Mekong river and toward the Menam basin. These new dwellers slowly gained importance, formed alliances and became the region’s next leader.


Phaya Mang Rai statue in Chaingrai, a city that he founded

The first emerging chieftain, in the Lanna territory, was Phaya Mang Rai (1239). His father ruled Chiang Saen and his mother was a Tai Lue princess from Jinghong (Sipsongpanna). He united the region and founded Chiangrai (1263) and Chiangmai (1296) cities. He was key in setting up the alliance between the region’s dominant kings, Phaya Ngam Mueang of Phayao and Phaya Khun Ruang (King Ram Khamhaeng) of Sukhothai (the “Three Kings”).


Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, with statues of King Ngam Muang (Phayao) King Mengrai and King Ramkhamhaeng (Sukhothai )

Lanna lived two hundred years of stability and wealth, notably under king Tilokkarat, an engaged follower of Theravada Buddhism. Finally, corruption and decadence gangrened the country, leaving the doors open to the Burmese who took it over without effort (1558). Their occupation not only covered Chiangmai (Chiangrai) and Payao, but also Nan, the other Important principality in the region.

The following two hundred years saw turmoil, internal warfare, migrations and massive deportations, letting the territory completely exsanguinate. When the Burmese finally also lost their grip, it was time for king Kawila (from Lampang) to rise as the new Chiangmai ruler (1775).


Statue of Price Kawila at his monument park in Chiangmai

With Siam’s support (Rama I), Chiangmai (Kawila) and Nan armies (Sumonthewarat and Anantaworaritthidet) launched several campaigns (1804, 1806, 1812,1853, 1856) toward the North, subduing the Shan, Yong, Khoen and Lue states (Chiang khaen and Sipsongpanna). The objectives of these attacks were massive hoardings of war prisoners and volunteers being transferred to repopulate the whole Lanna.


A series of information panels, sometimes quoting “Cultural heritage of Tai Lue textiles from Soangsak Prangwatanakun” are displayed in Lue Lai Kham museum (Sri Donchai/Chiangkhong)

The final regional reshaping came with the French colonial pressure (Pak Nam incident) allowing them to annex all Lanna’s vassals on the Mekong’s East rim. After negotiations, the British conceded them Muang Sing, while Burma kept all Tai states on the West Bank and China consolidated its grip on Sipsongpanna.

The regional reshuffling fostered more migrations and a lot more people left their original “muangs”, after 1975, and Mao Tse Tung occupation of Yunnan.

For additional information about the Tai Lue integration in North Thailand, a list of specific Tai Lue villages and some background bibliography, refer to part 1, chapter 1 “Introduction.


Mar 18, 2013
Thanks again for an amazing report. I've noticed when riding in the Xiengkok-Muang Long-Muang Sing area that something is different from the rest of Bokeo.
Other fellow riders say the same. Thanks Jurgen, now i get it.;)

Screenshot 2020-12-05_18-14-45-723.png


Oct 23, 2009
3 . Lue Lai Kham Museum (Tai Lue)

As strong as the blend might be, a pit stop for a black coffee is not always just another wake-up call; at times, the attraction is a cosy environment, an amiable service or a great view. But there might even be more to it, for instance, an instructive cultural experience.

This can all be enjoyed at “Lue Lai Kham”, a private museum along Route 1020, some twenty kilometers south of Chiangkong, in the Tai Lue village of Sri Donchai.

View from the museum’s coffee shop balcony

This Tai Lue museum, brainchild of Khun (Mr) Suriya Wongchai, a native of the village, is installed in his family propriety, a large traditional house, slightly adapted to serve the purpose. The exhibition’s location includes a coffee shop with a large balcony and a delightful view over rice fields and, as a backdrop, the Thailand highland mountains bordering Laos.

Gorgeous rice fields view from the balcony with a mountain range backdrop

“Lue Lai Kham” coffeeshop rear view

“Lue Lai Kham” museum cum cafe offering drinks, snacks and cakes

Khun (Mr) Suriya Wongchai has been collecting Tai Lue textiles and costumes since a long time; he first displayed his acquisitions in a place in Chiangkhong’s walking street and, finally, made it permanently available to the public in a dedicated building.

Khun (Mr) Suriya Wongchai

Mother Wanrak Wongchai was her son’s main inspiration

The adapted familial house’s ground-floor displays a series of information panels, mostly excerpts of the book “The Cultural Heritage of Tai Lue Textiles” by Soangsak Prangwatanakun (Chiang Mai University). It features an instructive and pleasant walk through pages of a rare publication. It is an essential information source about the Tai Lue history, visualized through textiles and handicraft objects.

An information panel displayed in the museum

The Tai Lue residents of “Sri Donchai” village, who, amazingly, mostly all wear the same “Wongchai“ surname, migrated during the reign of Rama V, in the late 19th century (history narrated on a displayed panel).

Sri Donchai’s history narrated on a panel

“Cultural Heritage of Tai Lue Textiles”
Paperback – January 1, 2008 by Soangsak Prangwatanakun
A comprehensive reference book

With its notoriety and Khun Suriya’s efforts to promote handmade textiles, Lue Lai Kham museum, is an important contribution to keeping ancestral skills alive. Weavings, produced in looms under private houses, in Sri Donchai, provide additional incomes to local families.

The, all wooden, splendid upper floor, of this traditional Tai Lue house displays original objects, particularly a valuable textile collection and some other artifacts. Rare items are kept in glass cabinets but most other pieces are openly displayed, sometimes on mannequins, to allow the most enjoyable experience.

Khun Suriya in his museum

The museum’s upper floor

Some cloth are displayed on mannequins

A woman Tai Lue dress

Tai Lue ceremonial man dress

A traditional Tai Lue bedroom is displayed in the museum

This operational weaving loom is used by Mother Wanrak Wongchai

At times, Lue Lai Kham, becomes a living museum with special events organized at the premisses. These manifestation offer privileged moments to get an insight in Tai Lue customs and to make acquaintance with locals, usually wearing their traditional clothing, a rare opportunity in modern times.

The pre-opening ceremony, in February 2015, already featured a show with pageants in costumes and traditional dance performances

Pre-opening show, Tai Lue ladies wearing their traditional headset

Traditional dance and music performance

A bird dance

The official Lue Lai Kham inauguration, with a ceremonial blessing by monks of What Tha Kham Sri Donchai, was organized on November 13th of 2015. It was an absolutely captivating venue, all along the day, with insights in various Tai Lue customs.

Symbolic monks’ morning alms walk, along Lue Lai Kham bamboo bridge

Morning alms chanting, in from of Lue Lai Kham museum

Blessing ceremony for Khun Suriya and his mother

Visitors, in Tai Lue costumes, took the opportunity to have their pictures taken along Lue Lai Kham’s bamboo bridge

Residents of Sri Donchai village happily pose for pictures

Even kids wear full Tail Lue costumes

The evening’s highlight was the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the official opening of Lue Lai Kham Museum.

Khun Suriya with friends attending the ceremony in Tai Lue dresses

On stage Tai Lue costume presentation

A lady singing and playing traditional Lue music on stage

Fai Kuntawong, in Tai Lue dress, at the Lue Lai Kham opening ceremony

Evening on stage dance performances

Another venue was organized on Lue Lai Kham premises on November 9th, 2018. I was a preliminary to next day’s fashion show in What Tha Kham temple (Sri Donchai). It also provided opportunities to meeting pageants nicely dresses with Tai Lue costumes.

Various motives on Tai Lue tube skirts

Portrait of a Tai Lue pageant

Portrait of a Tai Lue pageant

Portrait of a Tai Lue pageant

Live performances, on Lue Lai Kham premises, are seldom as the museum’s main purpose is to display collected textiles and artifacts. Nevertheless, and at times, there might be interesting venues open to visitors. The best way to be informed is through their Facebook page, to be liked and followed:
ลื้อลายคำ Lue Lai Kham

In any case, a visit to the museum, with a relaxing coffee stop, will provide an instructive overview and a good background about Tai Lue culture. Even in our information age, with everything apparently available through Google, being able to see the real things is a blessing and it is worth to cheer people dedicated to collect valuable testimonials and make them available to the public.


Cultural Heritage of Tai Lue Textiles Paperback – January 1, 2008
by Soangsak Prangwatanakun (Author)

GTrider published post:
https://www.gt-rider.com/se-asia-motorcycling/threads/chiang-khong-khamu-new-year-the-tai-lue-lai-kham-museum-a-ck-meander.12390/#post-61512 3 Lue Lai Kham museum

Old wordpress - Jurgen


Dec 9, 2008
Thank you Jurgen. A highly detailed and interesting report with superb accompanying photographs.