Pai Bridge

The bridge over the River Pai is often cited as the most conspicuous evidence of the presence of the Imperial Japanese Army
in Thailand during WWII. Unfortunately the statement is in error, as is much other information about that period . . . .


Japan in Northwest Thailand during World War II

N18°46.63 E98°59.10[1] Wat Muen San (Th: วัด หี่มนสาร / Jp: ワツトムンサーン[1a] )
page 1 of 2

Route 0108a
Station 000.5[2]


Text Notes

Wat Muen San and its "companion", Wat Si Suphan, are located about 0.6 km southwest of the old Chiang Mai City Gate (Pratu Chiang Mai).[3]

Overall location map


Current aerial imagery of Wat Muen San from Google Earth can be supplemented by an Allied aerial photo from 1944. The two are compared below, with key points on the two connected by red lines. The most striking difference between the two is the change in size and location of wat building itself. See aerial overlay below.[3a]

Wat Muen San aerial views 1944 & 2009

An enlargement of this comparison is available here (caution: large file, slow download).

Chiang Mai Point of Interest Plaque No. 34 provides some history of Wat Muen San:[4]

Temple plaque no 34

The English text reads in part:[5]

[Chiang Mai was founded in 1296.] The existence of Wat Mun San [about half a kilometer south of the town's south moat] was first recorded in 1438. It was named after a government official with the rank of "mun" (10,000), whose work was concerned with royal documents, or "san"; hence, "mun san". It appears that in 1522 the monastery was a place where royal documents were being translated and many senior monks lived here. [In 1556, the town was occupied by the Burmese, who in turn were driven out by the Thais in 1775.]

The monastery was renovated in 1799, in the time of King Kawila of Chiang Mai, who brought the population of Ban Ngualai [also Pu and Kong] Community from the west bank of the Salween River to this location [as part of a program to repopulate the area after so many years of conflict]. These people were skilled silversmiths and formed the community "Ban Ngua Lai Mun San" with the monastery as its centre.

World War II

Comparison photos of the front of Wat Muen San, "then and now":

Photos of old and new wat

1944[6] 2009[7]

That on the left was possibly taken during WWII, while that on the right was taken in 2009. The earlier structure, built entirely of wood, burned sometime after the war due to an electrical short.[7a] The camera position from the old photo cannot be duplicated today because of additional foliage and the construction of a wall and gate. Nonetheless details can be spotted which differ between the two (click here for an enlargement of the above photos). It is important to note that Thais seem generally not to be concerned with "historically accurate" restorations. In this extract from the 1944 aerial photo following, 2009 structures in the wat are outlined in yellow and the wat can be seen not to be the same size nor in exactly the same location:[8]

Outline of current buildings over 1944 aerial


Wat Muen San was one of many facilities in Chiang Mai used by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the war.[8a] The wat was first occupied by Royal Thai Army troops; they were later replaced by IJA troops.[8b]

Following its failure to invade British India in mid-1944, the IJA are assumed to have established a field hospital on the grounds to treat incoming war casualties. Located on the southern outskirts of Chiang Mai, the hospital presumably received IJA troops arriving from the south and middle (central) supply routes emanating from Khun Yuam.

A printing press was also located there to print banknotes.[9]

The IJA apparently also housed POWs at the companion wat, Si Suphan.[9a] Boonserm Satrabhaya added detail:

During the war, the Japanese brought English, Australian, and New Zealand prisoners of war to work and drive for them in the Chiang Mai city centre. . . . 46 prisoners-of-war from England, Australia, and New Zealand . . . .[10]

. . . the prisoners of war in Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Muen San . . . .[11]

An interesting tale involving Wat Muen San in the latter stages of the war is recorded by Boonserm Satrabhaya: a young Thai, Orachun Tanaphong, living down the street from Boonserm, became involved in a minor smuggling operation, providing medicine, cigarettes, news, etc to Allied POWs at San Suphan. Following the war, the lad further proved his metal by eventually joining Thailand's diplomatic corps where he served as an ambassador to several countries.[12a]

A water well figures prominently in a more detailed recounting of the story by Bob Bergin: it served as a drop point for supplies to the POWs.[12b] That well is visible in the 1944 aerial photo ("100+ year old well" as marked above); it looked like this in 2009:[12c]

Oblique view of old well

Currently, the structure to the left in the photo has been enclosed, further limiting the view of the well. A look down into the well reveals walls with a venerable history:[12d]

     Well shaft walls

Continued on next page


Revision List
2012 Aug 15
First published on Internet



See Key for interpreting page content.

Revision list. See bottom of Text column on this page.

1.^ GPS fix on front of Japanese Memorial Hall.

1a.^ Also apparently

2.^ Wat is 0.4 km east of Road 0108a Station 000.5 near intersection of Wua Lai Road and Wua Lai 3 (marked by the cattle statue. See below)

3.^ Map is from Nations Online Project: Searchable Map and Satellite View of Thailand using Google Earth Data. Annotations are by author.







3a.^ The upper image is from Google Earth dated 27 Jan 2010 and accessed 29 Jul 2012. The lower image is an extract from 02486.jpg, taken 03 Apr 1944 by the RAF; source: Williams-Hunt Aerial Photos Collection; original from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London Digital Data from Center for Southeast Asia Studies (CSEAS), Kyoto University; Digital Archive from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy (CRMA), Thailand. Extraneous lines and circles link key features, common to both images, for alignment purposes. Annotations are by author.














4.^ CIMG4965a.jpg
        23 Sep 2009.

The plaque could not be located in Aug 2012.










5.^ Text below is edited. Additional historical information is available at:

History of Wa Lai Village
History of Wat Muen Sarn
Wat Muen Sarn in the Past
History of Sutthajitto Art Gallery Cultural insight: Identity crisis in Citylife, Chiang Mai, 18:8 (Aug 2009)
[Bracketed text was obtained from these sources.]

Note: the location of Ban Ngualai in Burma seems to have been lost.

Conversely, the information plaque at the cattle statuary shelter indicates that King Kawila brought the people from Ban Wua Lai in Burma. That the name was transferred from Burma is noted as common in:

Grabowsky, Volker, "Forced resettlement campaigns in northern Thailand during the early Bangkok Period", Journal of Siam Society, 87.1 & 2 (1999) p 61 col 2.

6.^ Photo on exhibit at Japanese Memorial Hall. CIMG4918a.jpg, 23 Sep 2009

7.^ CIMG4889a.jpg
      23 Sep 2009

7a.^ Date not defined. Replacement structure was funded by a Thai-German couple. Source: Interview with Sing Khom Chai Boonlong, 80+ years old, at the wat, by Jack Eisner and author, 21 Oct 2009.

8.^ The image is an extract from 02486.jpg, taken 03 Apr 1944 by the RAF; source: Williams-Hunt Aerial Photos Collection; ibid. It is overlain on a Google Earth view of the area. Annotations by author. Additional views are available at Wat Aerial View Study.

8a.^ In addition to Wat Muen San, there were also other wats: Chedi Luang, Buddha Sattan School, Meaunkong, and Muang Man. Thai soldiers stayed at Wat Chai Pra Kiat. สีงคมดมืองดชียงใหม่ ดล่ม 2 (เชียงใหมี, สะป๊ะดชื่อง ตะงา) (เชียงใหม่: พิมพ์ที่ ใรงพิมพ์ ครองช่าง เชียงใหม่, 2549) [Stories from Chiang Mai's Past (Chiang Mai: Krong Chang Printing, 2006)] (hereinafter Chiang Mai's Past), p 51.)

Bob Bergin specifies the IJA used temples and schools, attributing this to a belief that Allied aircraft would not harm them ("The Youngest Operative", Studies in Intelligence, 52:3 (hereafter Youngest Operative), p 26). While certainly contributory in that decision, buildings in temple and school complexes were also simply larger and of better construction than other structures, and could thus provide better quality shelter for large numbers of troops and equipment.

8b.^ Interview with Sing Khom Chai Boonlong, ibid. This source also states that POWs were housed at Wat Muen San; this contradicts Bob Bergin's finding that POWs in the area were housed at Wat Sri Suphan. Bergin's finding was however supported by an old constructionman in Wat Sri Suphan: he said 10-20 POWs had been housed in Wat Sri Suphan. Source: informal interview with unidentified worker at the wat, 13 Sep 2009, by Bob Edgar and author.

To add to the puzzle, the old constructionman identified the 10-20 POWs as Dutchmen from Indonesia. Countering that recollection, a year after the war ended, Great Britain awarded Orachun Tanaphong and family a plaque in appreciation of their efforts to assist Allied POWs in Chiang Mai.

9.^ Respect paid to fallen Japanese soldiers from WWII, in Chiangmai Mail, III:34 (21-27 Aug 2004). The field hospital function is specifically noted in a dedication plaque at the site. See below.

9a.^ Youngest Operative, p 26.

10.^ บุญเสิม สาตราภัย
(กรุงเทพฯ: วิญฌูชน, 2003),
Boonserm Satrabhaya
Chiang Mai and the Air War
(Bangkok: Winyuchon, 2003) (hereinafter, CNX & the Air War), pp 117, 118.

11.^ ibid, p 118. Confusing, but accurate: a drop point for supplies smuggled to POWs housed at Wat Si Suphan was at a well in Wat Muen San. Youngest Operative clarifies, p 27.

12. (deleted)

12a.^  CNX & the Air War, p 117.

12b.^  Youngest Operative, pp 25-28.

12c.^ CIMG4847a.jpg
       13 Sep 2009

12d.^ CIMG4732a.jpg
       21 Aug 2009