Last of the traditional Dha sword makers in South East Asia

Last of the traditional Dha sword makers in South East Asia

LAMPANG, Northern Thailand - On a small rural road in the suburbs of Lampang in Northern Thailand, tucked behind a buzzing Tesco Lotus sign, sits one of the last traditional Dha sword makers in South East Asia.

Dha is the Burmese word for knife and refers to a wide variety of knives and swords used by range of peoples across Indochina, especially those in Myanmar, Thailand, Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Long and curved, with one side edged and a two handed grip, the sword is depicted throughout the regions history, making its origins and creators difficult to pin down. It possibly came with the Burmese people as they moved across the northwest from India, alternatively it might have come with the Tai people as they migrated south from what is now Yunnan province in China, or it might have also come from the Khmer and Mon people, who were long established in the region before either the Burmese or Tai peoples arrived.

Depicted in legend and myth, on the walls of Angkor Wat, and the movements of Thai Krabi Krabong masters, the Dha is truly a regional symbol. Yet it is also a symbol whose traditional creation is slowly fading as older craftsmen and swordsmiths fail to pass on the skills and history of the Dha's creation.

Ajarn Kor Neeow is one of the few sword masters in South East Asia that continues the art of sword making and is reputedly the best sword maker in Thailand. All his swords are forged from imported high quality Japanese steel and are all hand finished by his team of craftsmen. The build quality is so high and his reputation so well know and far reaching, that he has even made swords for the King of Thailand.

It is a unique look into a rapidly fading craft, and one that truly embodies the history and culture of the region.

James MacDonald is a photographer and photojournalist based in South East Asia. You can view his work at and

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