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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 . . . .

Lanna-ww2

Japan in Northwest Thailand during World War II

N18°04.168 E97°40.954[0] Tha Ta Fang:[1] Old Station House[1α]
(Th: โรงพักเก่าบ้านท่าตาฝั่ง / Jp: ターターファン古い駅舎)
page 1 of 2

off Route 4055
Station 000

 

Text Notes


In March 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) attempted an invasion of Imphal and Kohima in India. By July, it had been driven back into Burma, suffering its worst defeat to that point in the war.[1a] In the months after, the retreat back into Burma evolved into a rout. Numbers of IJA troops pushed south towards Rangoon. A significant number of them turned east towards the land of Japan's ally, Thailand. And most of those were funneled into the Thai border district of Khun Yuam.

However, numerous local cross-border trails existed, as well as long-established trade routes, with connections to points other than Khun Yuam. One of those used by retreating IJA troops tied Papun in Burma to Chiang Mai in Thailand:[2]

Southern retreat route

It crossed the Salween River as shown at Dagwin on the Burma side with Tha Ta Fang (not here labeled) facing it in Thailand.

On the Thai side, overlooking the trail where it crossed the Salween River at that time was this structure which still stands today:[3]

View of building from river

Up close, it looks like this:.[4]

Closeup viewed from river side

Most likely, IJA troops following this trail saw the building, and some may have stopped to overnight in it, though it would have been an exhausting climb for most who were starving, wounded, or suffering from malaria --- or, often, afflicted with all three. Thai Police manned the station during the war. There is no evidence to suggest that the IJA assigned personnel there. Since the border at that time ran between friendlies --- Japan-occupied Burma and its ally, Thailand, there was no justification for allocating IJA troops there during the war.

Nonetheless, the building is today called the "Japanese" building / fort / station by tour boat operators, perhaps recalling Japanese war veterans who passed through the area in the late 1970s looking for remains of IJA troops. Guides may justify the name by saying that the IJA built the structure during the war. Those veterans passing through here 40+ years ago were probably ferried by the fathers of the current boat pilots. The veterans made a sketch of their access to the area:[5]

Large scale map stetch

Their approach to the site, via the Saween River from Mae Sam Laep, is the same as that most often used by tourists today. The veterans, however, were concentrating on recovering remains of IJA troops who were rumored to have been buried in the area. Their journal mentions Tha Ta Fang's police post and recalls that it was there during the war.[6]

The building was actually erected in 1901, financed by locals who were trying to encourage the Thai government to protect them from Burmese bandits. It is not known if contributors included the great logging companies working in the area at that time. If so, that would be evidence of the lawlessness of the times in that area. The station was manned continuously from its construction in 1901 through to 1981, when the office was moved to a new building, closer to the town.[7]

A current view of the front of the old station:[7ä]

A view to compare with the old Mae Taeng station

The structure is quite similar to the police station in Mahaphon Subdistrict of Mae Taeng, as photographed in 1927 by M Tanaka:[7α]

Mae Taeng Police Station

Some comments about the Mahaphon photo help explain the station building at Tha Ta Fang:

. . . the police station was built as a two-story fortress so as to repel marauding criminals. The four sides of the ground floor are entirely covered with wooden boards which have gun ports. From the front, there is only one narrow set of stairs so that only one man can up or down at a time. The police officer on the upstairs is able to see whether the suspect carries a weapon or not. There are holes on second ground floor for the light coming through the downstairs – not completely dark. The ground floor is also used as a supply storage of foods and weapons.[7β]

At the Tha Ta Fang structure, the staircase is wider --- enough to accommodate two people. There are no holes in the second floor to allow lighting of the first floor. However, gun ports penetrate the walls in profusion on both floors. While the wall thickness for the Mahaphon station is not recorded, that for Tha Ta Fang is about 14 cm (5 1/2 inches):[7γ]

Wall thickness

Gun port, looking out                     Exposed wall section

The buildings testify to the needs of a different time, for security against armed attack not experienced today in Thailand. Wikipedia's discussion of a blockhouse helps explain:

In military science, a blockhouse is a small, isolated fort in the form of a single building. It serves as a defensive strong point against any enemy that does not possess . . . artillery. . . . [They] were constructed for defence in frontier areas . . . [and were once] commonly made from very heavy timbers . . .

Blockhouses [now of concrete] have become a feature of the conflict in Afghanistan, being used as strong points to control the contested Southern provinces. . . .

While a newspaper article observes deterioration of the wood in the Tha Ta Fang structure,[7δ] it is still remarkably sound after 110+ years. The lack of initials carved in the wood suggests that the teak is still very hard. And that teak continues to prosper despite severe deterioration of the metal roof and resulting exposure to the weather.

The building is well-known locally and is a favorite of a recent Mae Sariang Boriphat Suksa public school[7a] teacher, Seksan Lakbun,[7b] who is interested in the history of the area. His enthusiasm led to the school maintaining a small museum on local history, and that museum is listed as one of the "things to see" in the town. In addition, the teacher succeeded in getting the Thai government to place the building on a national register of historical sites. Finally, he got the building added to a government projects list for restoration.[8]

The teacher's dynamism apparently led to his being promoted to head the school in Tha Ta Fang, very close to the old station building, but unfortunately too far from the local political power structure: his former school closed his museum after he left, no one in the National Museum at Chiang Mai now knows of the site, and funds to restore the building have apparently been transferred to other projects.[8a]

Regardless, a current teacher at the school, Surachai Tipkam, who knows Seksan Lakbun and is familiar with the old Tha Ta Fang station, proved hospitable and knowledgeable, and welcomed our curiosity: he used his smartphone to give us Internet links for more information about it. Prime websites proved to be:

The OK Nation Blog[9]
โรงพักเก่าบ้านท่าตาฝั่ง[9a]

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continued on next page

 

 

See Key for interpreting page content.

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

0.^ Source: Garmin GPS 12.

1.^ Sometimes as only two words: Ta Fang or Tha Fang.

1α.^ The title refers to the building's function as a 'police station'. Technically, the structure might better be referred to as a 'blockhouse'.

1a.^ The battle was recently covered in great detail in Edwards, Leslie, Kohima: The Furthest Battle (Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2009)

2.^ Map is derived from 戦没者遺骨収集の記録 ピルマ・インド・タイ [Journal on Collection of War Dead: Burma, India, Thailand] (Tokyo: All Burma Comrades Organization, 1980), [hereafter Journal on War Dead], p 454; annotations by author using Microsoft Publisher. Derivation of location names in English from the Japanese katakana is explained in the Appendix to this article. Transliteration by Yoshio Fukuda.

3.^ Extract from IMG_20130310_153628.jpg, 10 Mar 2013. Annotation by author using Microsoft Publisher.

 

 

 

 

4.^ .IMG_20130310_152214.jpg, 10 Mar 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.^ Journal on War Dead, p 458. Annotations in English by author using Microsoft Publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.^ .Journal on War Dead, p 458.

7.^ ฝั่งริมฝั่งลำน้ำสาละวินอายุ 111 ปี เป็นแหล่งท่องเที่ยว "แม่ฮ่องสอน", เดลินิวล์, "Aimed at restoring the 111 year old station on the banks of the Salween river as a tourist attraction, Daily News, 20 Nov 2012",

 

7ä.^Photo by Peter Herrett: IMG_3130a.jpg, 07 Jan 2011. I thank Peter for bringing the structure with its history (as alleged by boat operators) to my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7α.^ Photo taken by M Tanaka. Photo from Payap University Collection of Photos donated by Boonserm Satrabhaya. Detailed description from Payap University website. Proper location of the photo's subject from caption on copy of the photo hanging in the Gymkhana Club, Chiang Mai. Date of photo from Satrabhaya, Boonserm, Lanna--mua tawa (Yesteryear in Lanna) (Chiang Mai: Bookworm, 2007) [Thai lang] สาตราภัย, บุญเสิม, ลัานนา . . . เมื่อตะวา (เชียงใหม่: ผลิตและจัดจำหน่ายโดย, 2007), p 176. The Mahaphong station was only recently replaced by today's standard concrete ubiquity.

 

7β.^ Description translated from Thai on the Payap University website. That website has apparently discontinued an online presentation of the university's collection of historical photos: thus the reference to the description cannot be linked. Translation by Tip Boonrang.

 

 

 

7γ.^ Photos IMG_20130310_150627.jpg, IMG_20130310_150545.jpg, both 10 Mar 2013. In the photo on the right, a Garmin GPS12 has been placed atop the wall to gauge its width. The GPS is 14.9 cm long, almost six inches. The wall thickness is a bit less than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7δ.^ Daily News, ibid.

 

 

7a.^ โรงเรียน แม่สะดรียง บริพัตรึกษา

7b.^ เสกสรรค์ หลักบุญ, now at Tha Ta Fang School (โรงเรียน ท่าตาฝั่ง).

8.^ Daily News, ibid.

 

 

8a.^ The last per Surachai Tipkam, a teacher currently at the school.

 

 

9.^ A blog run by the teacher now located at Tha Ta Fang School: Seksan Lakbun.

9a.^ The Old Tha Ta Fang Station (a video) by Kraisak Yongpetch.