Shining light on some obscure history
Published/Last edited or updated: 8th March, 2019
If you have no interest in the region’s recent history then you could comfortably skip the Chinese Martyrs’ Memorial Museum—an unusual memorial-cum-museum—although we found it both strangely compelling and rather moving.
This is a memorial to the soldiers of the old 93rd Kuomintang division. You’ve by now come across this so-called “lost army” on numerous occasions in our descriptions of other northern Thai border towns so these are the Republican soldiers who fled with their families into north-eastern Burma after defeat by Mao’s communist forces at the end of the civil war.
They wandered through Shan State for over 10 years before finally settling in this region. The Chinese martyrs in the memorial’s name then are the many KMT soldiers that subsequently died fighting communist insurgents in northern Thailand during the 70s and early 80s. If you were paying attention earlier then you’ll remember the deal was that the Thai government allowed the KMT remnants and families to settle in northern Thailand in return for help in defeating the CPT (Communist Party of Thailand) forces holed up in the mountains.
Thai forces, well-armed by their US allies but with conscripted foot soldiers were having serious problems in these rugged mountain areas and in many cases the tough, veteran Chinese troops were sent straight into the frontlines in areas of Nan, Petchabun and Phitsanolok provinces as well more locally in areas of Chiang Rai and many made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure their families’ future.
We assume that much of the funding for this elaborate memorial originated in Taiwan and many of the explanations, to what is largely a photographic and map exhibition, are in Chinese although there is just enough English to allow you to follow. Not surprisingly the version of events in the exhibition is rather distorted as firstly they’d have us believe that the CPT forces were entirely composed of ethnic Hmong, (since Thai people wouldn’t do that sort of thing), and secondly manages to avoid any mention of the KMT’s military struggle with Khun Sa’s SUA (Shan United Army) over control of the opium trade.
Anyway, whatever the details it will still give you some insight into the area’s complicated and colourful recent history while if you are interested in delving deeper then we’d recommend getting hold of a copy of The Secret Army: Chiang Kai-Shek and the Drug Warlords of the Golden Triangle by Richard M. Gibson & Chen Wenhua, (Singapore, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
The memorial consists of a car-park bordered by souvenir shops, a couple of cafes and the inevitable tea shops beyond which a garden leads to a Chinese-style walled courtyard housing the exhibition buildings. The entrance is on the right of the highway approximately 1.5 kms before Mae Salong if you’re arriving from Tha Ton.
Note also for history buffs, the leader of local KMT forces, General Tuan, has a mausoleum on the edge of town whose site is also open to the public. You’ll need to follow the path leading up through Khumnaiphol Resort, (which despite appearances is a public access-way) and you’ll find the elaborate tomb on your left in a shady forest grove. A path does continue along the hill-side which we reckon should connect to the steps up to the chedi though we didn’t try it.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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