From Kua Gula to Kua Khaek
Nawarat Bridge is no doubt the most famous bridge in Chiang Mai. Over the River Ping, the bridge connects Charoen Muang Road on the east bank with Tapae Road on the west bank to form a signicant strip that has long had a significant role in city’s economic growth. Despite the fact that Nawarat Bridge was an impressive large teakwood bridge in years gone by, it was not the first bridge over the River Ping in Chiang Mai. What went down in history as the very first bridge ever built across the River Ping turned out to be a small bridge located just 200 metres to the north of Nawarat Bridge joining Warorot Market with Wat Gate neighborhood on the other side of the river.
Back in 1878, the bridge known as “Kua Gula” was erected by Dr. Marion Cheek, an American missionary who also built the First Church of Christ in Chiangmai. Since Dr. Marion was caucasian, the bridge was subsequently refered to by the locals as ‘the Foreigner Bridge” or Kua Gula in northern dialect to give Dr. Marion the credit for building the bridge. Kua Gula contributed greatly to the settlement of Chinese and Indian merchants in the area of Wat Ketkaram Temple.
Despite Kua Gula being the main access for people on both sides of the River Ping to travel through and fro, it would eventually become inadequate due to the growing number of residents and in particular motor cars – the new vehicles that would later replace wagons and carts. So in 1890, another bridge, Nawarat Bridge, was raised to better accommodate to the constant growth of the town. Naturally, the people refered to Nawarat Bridge as ‘the new bridge’ and Kua Gula became ‘the old bridge’. Kua Gula was, however, demolished in 1932 after a severe damage caused by teak logs floated down the river by a logging company.
As having a bridge to cross the River Ping was indispensible, the locals then joined forces to built a bamboo bridge known as “Kua Tae”. But Kua Tae was rather a makeshift than a permanent bridge. In the rainy season, high tides and torrents would sooner or later detroy Kua Tae. During the absence of the bamboo bridge, people crossed to the other side by boat or on foot via Nawarat Bridge.
After the rainy season, Kua Tae would be raised again.
Chiang Mai saw the life cycle of the temporary bamboo bridge this way year after year until in 1964, a Pakistani textile merchant Mr. Gorana, who ran a fabric store in Warorot Market, donated Bht. 200,000 as a capital to build a footbridge across the River Ping. With the additional Bht. 40,000 from other doners, the concrete footbridge was constructed. Mr. Gorana named the bridge ‘Chamsom Memorial Bridge’ in memory of his beloved wife. The footbridge was fondly nicknamed ‘Kua Khaek’ (Indian Bridge) – the same way the first bridge obtained its name Kua Gula. In 2011, after serving the people of Chiang Mai for more than 5 decades, the Chansom Memorial Bridge had to be closed for reconstruction due to the severe damage caused by torrential storms.
From Kua Gula to Kua Khaek, the very first bridge across the River Ping in Chiang Mai was once again officially re-opened on August 15, 2016 to the delight of Chiang Mai residents and visitors.