With nearly 670 km north from Bangkok, Lamphun is one of Thailand’s oldest cities whose history goes back into the 7th century, when there was not yet built the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Often overlooked by tourists visiting Chiang Mai, the old town of Lamphun is shrouded in mystery and seldom visited by tourists for an overnight stay. But actually Lamphun has a lot to offer for tourists, when it comes to history and old civilizations as well as arts and culture.
Easily reached from the eastern side of the Chiang Mai Railway Station along a newly built road along the railway line, the old town of Lamphun is some 30 km away and passes the Lamphun Railway Station on the way into the walled town, which is then reached by its northern gate called Pratu Chang Si. The oval and conch-shell plan of the town surrounded by a moat can be done by foot and will pass the Tha Kham Gate in the east, Pratu Li in the south and Pratu Mahawan in the west. To understand the importance of the city founding, it is recommended to start the sightseeing tour going out through the west gate to reach Wat Chamadevi only 1 km away.
Wat Chamadevi, also called Wat Kukut, was built in the 8th century by Lavo (Lopburi) craftsmen. The laterite pagoda has a square shape foundation like the IndianBodhgaya Temple. Great standing Buddha images modeled of stuck in the attitude of blessing are enshrined on each side of the receding five tiers with three in a row. Thus there are exactly 60 Buddha images. The pagoda contains the ashes of Queen Chamadevi and was ordered to build by her twin sons King Anantayot and King Mahantayot. Later the top of the pagoda, formerly covered with gold plates, was broken and lost. Therefore, it is called “kukut” or truncated, but formerly called Phra Chedi Suwan Changkot. In addition, there is an octagonal-shaped brick Ratana Chedi in classical Dvaravati style situated in the northeastern direction. A niche on each side has standing Buddha images. It was King Sapphasit to build that pagoda in the 12th century. Inside the modern built Vihan, built to the east of Phra Chedi Suwan Changkot, there are interesting painted murals to illustrate the life-story of the glorious Queen Chamadevi.
According to different chronicles, Chamadevi was born in a village near Pasang and stolen by a huge bird to carry her to the hermitage of Wasuthep, who lived on DoiSuthep Mountain. She was brought up by him until 13 years old. After that she was sent by a raft and some monkeys down to Lavo (Lopburi), where she became the foster daughter of the King of Lopburi, who later sent her back to become the queen of the new town of Haripunchai, which was created by the power of hermits in 661. There she had the chief of the Lawa tribe to trick and fight, so that she did not need to marry him. Interesting to note is that later her two sons were married to the two daughters of Khun Luang Vilangka, who had died in despair. While Mahantayot became King of Haripunchai, his brother Anantayot became King of Khelang Nakorn (Lampang).
When Queen Chamadevi had died, she was cremated at the ground of Wat Sanpayang Luang, which is the oldest monastery north of Lamphun from the 6th century. Another place and monastery is Wat Mahawan along the old city canal in the west, where is housed the Phra Buddha Sikkhi or Phra Sila Dam, a black stone Buddha image that Queen Chamadevi brought from Lavo (Lopburi). This Buddha image is very important for the reproduction of the popular small image of Phra Rod Mahawan.
Before entering the inner city, it is advised to visit the Queen Chamadevi Monument at the south side of the old town behind the large market, where it is shown that she had brought Buddhism, arts and culture to Lamphun. In the inner city is the huge compound of Wat Phrathat Haripunchai, where is the golden chedi of Phra Boromathat containing the Buddha’s relics and the most important place of worship since ancient times. Dated to the 11th century during the reign of King Arthittayarat, the original six m high chedi was doubled by King Sapphasit, but the biggest enlargement was under King Tilokarat of Chiang Mai in 1447. How important that chedi is, proves the annual bathing ceremony to poor water over it during the full moon day in May. Other important buildings around the chedi are the Ho Trai library and the Ho Rakang bell tower, where once the Phra Keo Khao Buddha image stood, which was transferred to Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai during the time of King Mang Rai (1296-1311). The Pathumwadi Chedi near the golden sanctuary and the Chiang Yan Chedi in the northern temple annex are the other two remaining Haripunchai pagodas from Lamphun next to the two pagodas in Wat Chamadevi.
Leaving Wat Phrathat Haripunchai through its eastern gate guarded by a pair of three meter tall lions, the visitor arrives at the covered Kad Khua Mung Tha SinghBridge, which is spanning the shallow Khuang River. Nowadays, this bridge is a kind of market place selling goods from the neighboring communities such as handmade cotton and silk materials, wood-carvings and local “longan” fruit items. There is a nearly two kilometer long way to Wat Phra Yuen, which is another temple going back to the time of Queen Chamadevi. It was formerly called Wat Aranyikaram being a forest temple, which is now situated in the Wiang Yong.district east of the old town. A stone tablet, dated 1370, tells of the monk Sumana Thera coming from Sukhothai to the Lan Na Thai Kingdom to spread Sri Lankan Buddhism. He was invited by King Kuena (1335-1385) and then continued to stay at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. The present chedi was built in 1904 and constructed on the ruins of the original one. In the ordination hall of this temple is another set of murals telling the life-story of Queen Chamadevi.
Back in town, there is the Haripunchai National Museum, which is just opposite to the west of Wat Phrathat Haripunchai. The museum is open except Monday and Tuesday as well on religious holidays, but the exhibits are only temporary and will be newly organized in early 2019. Actually, there will be a stone inscription hall, while the main exhibition will expose artifacts of the Haripunchai (7th – 13th centuries) and Lan Na Thai (13th – 20th centuries) periods such as pottery, terra cotta items, porcelains and Buddhist sculptures.
Last not least, you can head out on the road more than 1 km to the northeast of the old town to pass the Lamphun Thai Silk Museum and coming to Khu Chang (elephant), Khu Ma (horse), Khu Maeo (cat) and Khu Gai (chicken). These were all sacred animals owned by Queen Chamadevi and then their remains were buried under very special brick pagodas dating to the 12th-13th centuries. Thus, there is still a lot to study about. The way back to Chiang Mai leads along the scenic “yang” tree-lined Highway No.106.
Written by : Reinhard Hohler