U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai: Then & Now

U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai: Then & Now

Photo captions

  1. The American community in Chiang Mai welcomes the visit of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great and HM Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother to northern Thailand, February 27 – March 17, 1958.  (Photo from American Threads in the Lanna Fabric)
  2. A ceremony elevating the U.S. Consulate to a U.S. Consulate General in 1986 (Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate staff).
  3. U.S. Consulate General staff in front of the U.S. Consul General’s Residence in 2019 in celebration of Loy Krathong (Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate staff).
  4. U.S. Consulate staff with Consul Rufus Z. Smith (1953-1955) in front of the U.S. Consul’s Residence in the 1950s (Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate staff).
  5. In celebration of the U.S. Consulate’s 70th year anniversary in Chiang Mai, the Consulate proudly displays on the Consulate walls four areas of collaboration with our partners and allies in northern Thailand through Security, Trade & Prosperity, Public Health, Education & Culture (Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate staff).
  6. Front view of the U.S. Consul’s Residence in the 1950’s (Photo courtesy of U.S. Consulate staff).

The relationship between northern Thailand and the United States is woven together from many strands. Starting with the arrival of American missionary Rev. Daniel McGilvary in Chiang Mai in 1867, countless teachers, students, entrepreneurs and government officials have formed the foundations on which today’s relationship stands.

The United States established a consular presence in northern Thailand in 1950, opening a Consulate in Chiang Mai on December 10 on the historic Chedi Ngam Palace of the former Prince of Chiang Mai. Robert Anderson became the first U.S. diplomat to lead the Consulate in 1950.

Over the years, the focus of work across northern Thailand has expanded. Our first priority has always been serving our fellow Americans in northern Thailand. Whether renewing a U.S. passport or assisting a U.S. citizen in distress, Consular Officers have been present in Chiang Mai to serve U.S. citizens since 1950. Our consular mission expanded in 1985 when we began issuing U.S. visitor visas in Chiang Mai. One year later, the post was upgraded to a Consulate General to reflect our expanded mission.

During the Vietnam War, the United States had several small military bases nearby, including one in Lampang. When the war ended, the north saw significant inflows of refugees and the establishment of refugee camps in Nan, Uttaradit, Chiang Rai, and Phayao provinces. The cooperation that developed among the U.S. and Thai governments as well as international organizations and NGOs during that refugee crisis continues today as northern Thailand hosts thousands of refugees in camps along the Myanmar border. The U.S. Information Service (USIS) managed press, cultural, and educational programs out of Chiang Mai for 46 years until oversight was moved to Bangkok in 1996. In 1970, three USIS Thai staff that were part of a mobile movie unit were tragically killed in a communist ambush in Nan Province. Their sacrifice is remembered on the Consulate grounds and at a monument in Tung Chang District, Nan Province. The library and English teaching programs begun by USIS continue to serve Chiang Mai students and residents now as part of American University Alumni Association (AUA) while the Consulate and Embassy enhance our other educational and cultural programs.

In the early 1960s, the United States began to work closely with Thai counterparts to stop the flow of illicit narcotics. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration opened offices in Bangkok in 1963 and Chiang Mai in 1971 that today maintain an active partnership with Thai police and military to interdict drug shipments and arrest drug traffickers.

During the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded extensive poppy replacement research in cooperation with the Royal Projects. Chiang Mai and Maejo Universities were partners in this effort, which continued through other U.S. channels even after the USDA finished its work in the region in 1986.

The United States was also a major player in medical research, including childhood malnutrition, infectious and tropical diseases, and HIV/AIDS. U.S.-funded health research remains active today. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has its largest overseas office in Bangkok, has worked side-by-side with Thai Ministry of Public Health officials to monitor and prevent disease in Thailand and throughout the region.

The work of these U.S. government agencies in 15 northern provinces has been supported by the Consulate General during its 70-year presence in Chiang Mai. Operating out of a historic royal residence known as Khum Chedi Ngarm, the Consulate General is staffed today by nearly 100 Thai and American employees.

The Consulate today provides visa services to Thai and other applicants and assists American citizens while also tracking developments concerning refugees, trade in illicit narcotics, trafficking in persons, the environment, education, and the economy. Equally important are music and other cultural programs sponsored by the U.S. Consulate and U.S. Embassy that attract thousands of Thais annually to listen to popular American music, discuss the U.S. elections, or learn about opportunities to study in the U.S. As an increasing number of Americans continue to visit and settle in northern Thailand and a growing number of Thais seek to study, work, and travel in the U.S., the Consulate will continue to play a central role in this important region for many years to come.