The village of Bang Rachan was historically located north of Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam and the predecessor state to modern Thailand, situated in Khai Bang Rachan District of Singburi province nowadays. The village is remembered in Thai history for its alleged resistance against the Burmese invaders in Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767) that ended the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
According to Thai tradition, the Burmese northern invasion army led by Gen. Ne Myo Thihapate was held up for five months at Bang Rachan, a small village northwest of Ayutthaya by a group of simple villagers. However, not all the points of this traditional Thai story could be true as the entire northern campaign took just over five months (mid-August 1765 to late January 1766), and the northern army was still stuck in Phitsanulok, in north-central Siam, as late as December 1765. Burmese sources do mention "petty chiefs" (cf. "mueang") stalling the northern army's advance but it was early in the campaign along the Wang River in northern Siam (not near Ayutthaya) during the rainy season (August–October 1765). The Burmese general who was actually stationed near Ayutthaya was not Thihapate but rather Maha Nawrahta, whose southern army was waiting for the northern army to show up to attack the Siamese capital. It appears that the three verified events—petty chiefs resisting Thihapate in the north, Thihapate's campaign period of five months, and Maha Nawrahta staking out by Ayutthaya—have merged to create this popular mythology.
Nonetheless, the Thai version appears to be an ingrained part of Thai popular culture. The 2000 Thai film Bang Rajan dramatizes the Thai version of events.
One of the more iconic images is that of Nai Thong Men, who becomes drunk and furiously rides a gigantic water buffalo into battle against the Burmese. The legacy of the battle has been likened to the legacy of the Battle of the Alamo in the Republic of Texas and, by extension, the place of the Alamo in the military history of the United States: a symbol of determination and heroism against overwhelming odds.
In 1767, Burmese armies entered Siam. While Burmese accounts narrate the invasion as having a deliberate and predetermined ambition - credited to the King Mang Ra - other sources and analysts of the period, most notably Damrong Rajanubhab, the father of Thai history - consider this to be historical revisionism and believe that the Burmese did not initially invade with the intention of permanent conquest nor with any designs on Ayutthaya itself.
The Burmese forces encountered little competent resistance from the Siamese and advanced close to the capital, but refused to attack due to uncertainty regarding the strength of the forces they would have to face. There was much raiding of the surrounding country and, in addition to the general policy which required the submission of the Siamese, they began to demand the unmarried daughters of families as well, a policy which provoked the Siamese people into resistance.
The beginning of resistance and the first notable appearance of Bang Rajan occurred when a group of Siamese from various villages - notably Sibuathong, Krap and Pho Thale - led by Nai Thaen, Nai Choti, Nai In, Nai Muang, Nai Dok and Nai Thong Kaeo lured a group of Burmese raiders into a forest with the promise of young women and then turned upon them, killing the entire group of twenty. After this they retreated to Bang Rachan where, we are also told, most of the population of the villages of Mueang Wiset Chaichan, Mueang Sing and Mueang San had fled.
Bang Rajan is recorded as being ideally situated: "A place where foodstuffs were plentiful...a village on high ground and...it was difficult for the enemy to get at."
In addition to its ideal situation geographically and its position as a focus of those fleeing the Burmese, Bang Rajan had at this early point approximately 400 fighting men who elected five leaders amongst themselves and worked on the erection of fortifications. There was also a Buddhist priest, Thammachot, who had been invited into the village monastery where he was held in great veneration by the inhabitants, who believed him to have great knowledge and power with regard to spells, charms and other incantations.
The Burmese leaders camped at Mueang Wiset Chaichan, were aware of the slaughter of their men by the Siamese who had fled to Bang Rajan and sent a small force of about a 100 men to capture them. The Burmese were taken by surprise when they were attacked while resting and were almost entirely wiped out by the force led by Nai Thaen, who had been elected leader of Bang Rajan.
News of this victory spread quickly across the country and resulted in many more people coming out of hiding to join the resistance movement, swelling the ranks camped within Bang Rachan to 1,000 fighting men. This amateur force was well organized along the lines of a professional military unit but were considerably disadvantaged by their lack of equipment, especially firearms, although this was countered to an extent by their great faith in the presence of the priest Thammachot and his various magic spells and talismans.
Well aware that he was facing heavy resistance, the Burmese leader at Wiset Chaichanw requested reinforcements before sending another force against the village. He had underestimated them, as they managed to rout a second army of about 500 as well as a third force, again greater in numbers and under a new leader.
A pivotal event occurred during the fourth attack on the village by a force of 1,000 Burmese under Surin Chokhong. This force was not immediately defeated by the Siamese villagers but their commander was killed and after much fighting the villagers retreated. At this point the carelessness of the Burmese appeared once again as they lowered their guard to begin preparing food and caring for the corpse of their commander. Seeing this, the villagers quickly returned to the field and the surprised Burmese force was truly routed and lost most of its manpower due to the determined pursuit by the Siamese villagers. While victorious again, the leader of Bang Rajan, Nai Thaen, was shot in the knee - an event which would have grave consequences for the resistance as it meant he was no longer capable of fighting or leading from the front.
The aftermath of this fourth battle saw both sides receive reinforcements, with Bang Rajan selecting a new leader to replace Nai Thaen - a fighter named Nai Chan who was famed for his ferocity and "bristling moustache". The fortunes of Bang Rajan remained good under Nai Chan, who saw their forces increase and achieve ever greater levels of organization, and their reputation grow to such extent that the Burmese came to fear them and the raiders had great trouble recruiting troops to send against the village.
After seven attacks and seven defeats, an eighth force, under a Mon commander who had lived in Siam, volunteered to take an army and promised to defeat Bang Rachan. What set this commander apart from the previous Burmese leaders was his knowledge of the land and the Siamese and his lack of arrogance - he did not underestimate the villagers and adjusted his tactics to disadvantage them. He progressed slowly towards the village by building a series of forts along the route and, when faced with the villagers, refused to fight except from within these fortifications.
The lack of artillery was now crippling for the villagers, as they could not destroy the forts built by the Burmese and suffered great casualties from infantry assaults upon the forts. One of the Siamese leaders - Nai Thong Men - became drunk and furious and, upon a water buffalo, took a force of men and attacked the Burmese in what remains one of the iconic tales and images from the legend of the village. He was killed and his men routed - the first time the Burmese had defeated the villagers.
Bang Rajan sent for help from Ayutthaya in the form of cannons they could use against the forts, but the capital displayed a diffidence typical of its strategy throughout the war and refused the request. However, one man, Phraya Rattanathibet, was sent to help them forge their own weapons. Unfortunately for the village, the guns they cast were cracked and useless. Soon after this, Nai Then died of the wound to his knee and the other great leaders, Nai Chan and Khun San died of wounds taken while trying to take the Burmese forts.
The village was by now dispirited and hopeless, and faced a siege by the Burmese in the form of cannon fire, siege towers and tunnelling under the village walls. Eventually the village was overrun despite resistance to the end - five months after the first act of resistance and the only notable act of successful opposition by a Siamese force in a war characterized by the failure of Ayutthuya, its professional armies and its Generals.
Bang Rachan in film
Two Thai films about Bang Rachan have been made. One was in 1966 and it starred Sombat Metanee. Better known is the 2000 film by director Thanit Jitnukul and starring Winai Kraibutr. Oliver Stone adopted the film and "presented" screenings of it in the United States in 2004.
- Wyatt, p. 117
- Phayre, pp. 188-189
- Duncan Stearn (Friday 18 Jul – 24 July 2003). "Thai ‘Alamo’: Defence of Bang Rajan, 1766". Pattaya Mail (Pattaya: Pattaya Mail Publishing Co). Vol. XI (No. 29). Retrieved August 27, 2013. "The story of Bang Rajan has become to the Thais what the siege of the Alamo (1836) is to Texans and, by extension, the United States: a symbol of determination and heroism against overwhelming odds."
- Sunait Chutintaranond (1992). "The Image of the Burmese Enemy in Thai Perceptions and Historical Writings" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society (Siam Heritage Trust). JSS Vol. 80.1.1l (digital): image 2. Retrieved August 24, 2013. "The Burmese sack of Ayudhya in the second half of the eighteenth century was dramatically different from the attack in 1569. Prince Damrong in his Our Wars with the Burmese states that "the expedition led by the king of Hamsavati (Bayinnaung) and the one carried out by the king of Ava (Hsinbyushin) are not the same ... the primary purpose of the former in attacking Ayudhya was to reduce the Thai to vassalage and to expand his kingdom in the manner of a king of kings (Ratchathirat or Rajadhiraja), while the major aim of the latter was just to loot the city and take away war prisoners. Thus, in the last attack, the Burmese, with no intention of retaining Ayudhya as their client state, burnt all big and small cities they captured, including the capital, down to ashes."
- Rajanubhab, Prince Damrong. Our Wars with the Burmese: Thai-Burmese Conflict 1539-1767, ISBN 974-7534-58-4
- Kyaw Thet (1962). History of Union of Burma (in Burmese). Yangon: Yangon University Press.
- Phayre, Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur P. (1883). History of Burma (1967 ed.). London: Susil Gupta.
- Wyatt, David K. (2003). History of Thailand (2 ed.). Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08475-7.