Currently a flourishing city in Northwest Thailand, Chiang Mai as it is know today was founded in 1296 by the King Mengrai. He based his metropolis, however, on an even more ancient city of the Lawa people.
I was dong some research for Disorder of War (I’m a big history buff) I happened to come across the information that the Lawa people are related to the Naga people known to live farther to the West. This totally threw me for a loop, as some of you may recognize the weird fish people from World of Warcraft. Turns out they got the name and some reference art from some real South Asian tribes. Not sure how they feel about that, but anyway…
Chiang Mai was expertly designed on a strategic riverside position in a fertile valley. The square city was built on an organized grid and surrounded by high walls and a serious moat fed by the river. They were constantly under threat from old enemies to the West in Burma as well as the Mongol Empire. They held out for many years but finally lost the city to the Burmese in 1556. That was the beginning of the end, as a period of strife and bloodshed ensued which finally resulted in the city being abandoned until 1791. It was not until the area was incorporated into the Kingdom of Siam that it began to return to prominence with increased trade revenues. On and off over the centuries the city also played host to Ronin, or leaderless Samurai from Japan who worked as mercenaries along the silk road.
Even to this day the city is impressive. Enough remains of the thick walls and moat to allow one to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. The tops of the walls are wide enough for files of defenders three deep and thick enough to repel any artillery that could have been brought against them. The moat is wide as well, preventing it from being bridged easily and is still quite dangerous.
The Thais have a water festival known as Songkran. It’s essentially an excuse for a three-day, all-ages massive water fight. All generations pile out into the streets and have at each-other, with no passerby spared. The easiest form of transportation over there is motorbike, and there is a 100% chance at least one 6-12 year old will get you in the head with a bucket full of water as your driving along.
One day I was out participating in the mayhem with a few of my coworkers when we joined in the throng tossing each other into the moat. I prided myself on being the last man standing on dry ground when a little old Thai lady, desiring to re-balance the scales of justice, gave me a surprisingly violent push and dumped me head first into the moat.
Now this was not moving water. Or in any way fresh. This was fetid, ancient, trash laden muck full of thousands of years of detritus. By that evening I was alone curled up in my apartment, losing every ounce of liquid had I ever retained in my body. It was awful. It was absolutely the worst , but luckily I was already taking antibiotics to ward off malaria so I felt sure they would clear out whatever miasma I had picked up from the moat. It definitely brought home the challenges that ancient warriors were met with before the advent of modern medicine. Imagine surviving a battle: arrows, hand to hand combat, burning oil, falls from the wall, only to shit yourself to death after swallowing a bit of moat water.