With so much to see and do in Chiang Mai it’s not surprising that many tourists visiting Thailand’s northern capital don’t venture too far away from the city centre or the surrounding countryside. However, if you have more time to spare and are keen on history or want to find out more about the culture of north Thailand, a visit to Chiang Mai’s neighbouring areas can be a rewarding experience. The province of Lamphun tends to be overlooked by the majority of overseas visitors and this in itself can be a great reason to visit if you are seeking more of a small-town atmosphere away from the well-worn tourist trail. With tasty northern Thai food to sample, historic temples and scenic countryside, a trip to Lamphun makes for a comfortable and enjoyable day-trip from Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra That Haripunchai
If you’ve visited Chiang Mai, there’s a good chance you’ve made the trip to the magnificent mountain temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The gorgeous temple that overlooks Chiang Mai is one of the most famous temples in Thailand. But the design of Doi Suthep temple is actually based on the much older temple, Wat Phra That Haripunchai, located in the old town area of Lamphun city.
Wat Phra That Haripunchai, Lamphun
The original temple on this site is thought to date back to the 11th or 12th century. Local legend says the temple was established to enshrine a relic of the Buddha who had previously visited the area. The 46-metre high golden pagoda seen today was added in the 15th century when Lamphun was part of the Lanna kingdom. The gilded parasols at each corner are a more recent addition from the early 19th century.
statue of Kruba Srivichai at Wat Phra That Haripunchai
Wat Phra That Haripunchai is one of the most important temples in northern Thailand and a site of pilgrimage for Thai Buddhists born in the Year of the Rooster. Despite the importance of the temple, over the years it slowly fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until the 1930s and the work of Thailand’s famous engineer monk, Kruba Srivichai, that the temple was restored to its former glories.
Kruba Srivichai Monument and Wat Doi Ti
Born in Lamphun province in 1878, the man who would eventually be known as Kruba Srivichai was a remarkable individual. Under his leadership, restoration work was carried out on more than 160 temples in northern Thailand. Born and raised in Lamphun, Kruba Srivichai has a special association with his hometown. From a young age he wanted to become a monk and as a teenager began his life of devotion to Buddhism at Wat Doi Ti in Lamphun. The hill on which the attractive temple stands is now the site of a huge statue of Kruba Srivichai with commanding views over the Lamphun countryside.
Amongst the many works carried out by Kruba Srivichai and his followers, one of the most famous is the construction of the first paved road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Statues and shrines in honour of the engineer monk can be found all around north Thailand including at the base of Doi Suthep and within the temple compound itself.
Wat Chama Thewi (also known as Wat Kukut)
An informative museum dedicated to Kruba Srivichai is located at the back of the temple grounds at Wat Chama Thewi. Most of the information is in Thai, but there are also pictures and exhibits that help explain the monk’s incredible story.
The temple itself also enjoys a fascinating history. A sign at the entrance to Wat Chama Thewi states it was founded in 749 A.D with local legend saying the original temple was either built by Queen Chama Thewi or her son. According to the same legend, the ashes of Queen Chama Thewi are said to be buried under one of the ancient pagodas here. The distinctive pagodas feature recesses where standing Buddha images have been placed. A short walk away from the pagodas, a newly constructed wooden pavilion pays homage to the lady who is also known as Phra Nang Chama Thewi. Many centuries after her death, she remains revered today by the people of Lamphun who make daily offerings here and at the Chama Thewi shrines in the city.
museum honouring Queen Chama Thewi
Sample Lamphun food
Lamphun is a traditional northern Thai town that sees relatively few overseas tourists. Unlike Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, most restaurants don’t have menus in English and if you are travelling independently in Lamphun or don’t speak Thai, you may miss out on the chance to order some tasty local dishes. Khao soi is a popular lunchtime dish in Lamphun just as it is in Chiang Mai and other northern Thai provinces, but don’t miss the opportunity to sample other local favourites including khanom jeen nam ngiao. For a better understanding of the Lamphun food scene and to really appreciate the speciality dishes available, it’s worth considering using a local guide such as Take Me Tour* who have put together some excellent itineraries as part of their Local Table* initiative.
I’ve visited Lamphun independently a number of times in the past and usually take the blue songthaew that departs from near Nawarat Bridge in Chiang Mai. On this recent day trip, I was a guest of Take Me Tour* to test an itinerary that included the chance to sample local northern Thai dishes in Lamphun. For anybody interested in Thai culture and regional Thai food, check out the various experiences offered at locations all around Thailand on the Take Me Tour site*.