Pronounce: Pry-ah Pitch-eye
Phraya Pichai, also known as Phraya Pichai Daab Hak (General Pichai of the broken sword) was born in 1741 in Changwat Uttaradit in what is now Northern Thailand. He was a historic Siamese warrior in the Ayutthaya Period originally appointed by King Taksin as a personal bodyguard, who climbed to the rank of Commander-in-Chief.
Shaped by Muay Thai
As a boy (originally named Choi) Phraya Pichai would often run away to practice Muay Thai without his parents knowing. Young Choi trained with many masters in this way and eventually while training at Wat Ban Kaeng he became the treasured student of Ajarn (Master) Thiang, who renamed Choi as “Thongdee Fan Khao” meaning Thongdee whose teeth are white—because he didn’t chew betel nut which was popular with the Thai people at the time, but blackened teeth!
As a young man of around 20-years-old, Thongdee went on to compete in a boxing contest held by Phraya Tak during a traditional festival in the City of Tak. The unknown Thongdee approached the ring master who suggested he take an inexperienced opponent to make a good fight. However, Thongdee insisted he’d fight the most skilful boxer in the town.
The famous unbeaten master boxer Ajarn Nai Hao gladly accepted the challenge and a huge crowd gathered to see how quickly the invincible Nai Hao would despatch with the young upstart boxer. Thongdee demonstrated superb Thai boxing style and defeated Nai Hao before Phraya Tak and the home crowd. Following such a formidable display, Phraya Tak immediately asked Thongdee to join his guerrilla army to fight the invading Burmese.
Feared in Battle
Thongdee proved himself repeatedly in the ring and eventually Phraya Tak adopted him as his personal bodyguard. Over the years, Phraya Tak became the great King Taksin and united Siam against the Burmese with the help of Thongdee, who ascended to his Commander-in-Chief because of his bravery and leadership in many battles.
In one such battle in 1767 the ancient capital Ayuddhaya was all but wiped out by the Burmese along with most of the history of Thailand. Phraya Tak managed to escape to Rayong on the East coast of Siam as Ayuddhaya fell. Here, he assembled an army with the help of Thongdee that would eventually defeat the Burmese and free Siam.
Guided by Phraya Tak, Thongdee used guerrilla tactics to successfully win back many small towns and villages from the occupying Burmese. It was during the battle for the City of Pichai that Thongdee would become famous. In 1773, the renowned Burmese General Bo Supla was sent to capture Pichai City. Thongdee with Phraya Sura by his side, met the advancing army head on, inflicting heavy loses and driving the Burmese back in defeat.
During this ferocious battle at Wat Aka, Thongdee was thrown from his horse while wielding his two swords (Sorng Maa Daab). During the fall one of his swords was broken as he attempted to regain balance. Despite this, Thongdee fought on ferociously, forcing the Burmese back over the border. In honour of this great victory Thongdee was renamed Phraya Pichai Dab Hak – Phraya Pichai of the broken sword.
Respected by King and Country
King Taksin remained at war for 15-years until eventually all Siam was reclaimed from the invaders. Phraya Pichai remained the King’s personal bodyguard until the monarch died in 1782. At this time it was tradition that when the King died that all his servants and bodyguards died with him. However, the successor to the thrown, Rama 1 of the (present day) Chao Phraya Chakri Dynasty decided that Phraya Pichai would continue to work as his bodyguard as a reward for his loyalty to his King and country. But, Phraya Pichai was so saddened by the death of King Taksin that he requested his own execution and for his son to become the new Kings bodyguard in his place. Phraya Pichai was put to death on his own orders at the age of 41-years-old.
In 1969 a bronze statue was built in memory of the courageous Phraya Pichai outside the parliament buildings in Uttaradit, with an epitaph reading “In memory and loving honour for the pride of our Nation.”
From humble beginnings as a Thai boxer to historic national hero, Phraya Pichai remains an honoured and respected champion of the Thai nation.
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