Much of the history of Thai rural society is a history of frontier settlement. The imagery of long established communities occupying “ancestral” lands is a popular one, but scratch the surface and you will often find relatively recent histories of migration and settlement.
A few days ago, in the midst of cleaning up old papers in my office, I came across this fascinating account of settlement by northeasterners in Chiang Rai province [northeasterners-in-chiang-rai.pdf]. It is a report written by the Research Division of the United States Operation Mission in 1966, prompted by security concerns about the influx of Isan settlers into some of the more remote parts of northern Thailand. It makes fascinating reading, both for its accounts of local suspicion of the Isan settlers and for its highlighting of their active role in commercial transformation. An interesting point, noted at the end, is the role of the improvement of the road to Chiang Khong in facilitating this settlement.
A fascinating topic for a follow up study! Anyone interested?