Lamphun is a small Northern province of valleys, mountains, forests and historical sights. Its agriculture consists mainly of rice farming and longan orchards. The provincial seal shows the chedi of its most highly revered temple, the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai.
The capital of the province, also called Lamphun, is a small town with a relaxed atmosphere situated on the banks of the Kuang river in a valley surrounded by mountains.
One of Thailand’s oldest towns, Lamphun is rich in historical sights from several eras. A number of monuments date back to the towns founding like the Ku Chang-Ku Mah chedis, that according to legend enshrine the remains of two animals that belonged to the town’s founder.
History of Lamphun
The town of Lamphun is believed to have been founded in the early 9th century. It was the capital of the Hariphunchai Kingdom, a Mon Kingdom in North Thailand. Then called Hariphunchai, the town was bordered on the East side by the Kuang river and surrounded by a moat and defensive walls on the other three sides.
The town was founded by Queen Chama Thewi, believed to be a Princess of the Lavo Kingdom from Lopburi. A large bronze statue of her in the Nong Dok public park honors the Queen to this day.
According to ancient chronicles the city was founded much earlier in the year 661 when a hermit named Suthewa Rusi requested Chama Thewi to found a new city and establish Buddhism in the area. A statue of the hermit stands in front of the Lamphun town hall.
In 1281 King Mengrai of the Lanna Kingdom conquered the city and incorporated Hariphunchai into Lanna. The Lamphun area was under the control of the Burmese for over two centuries until the end of the 18th century.
To do & see in Lamphun
Being one of the oldest cities in Thailand, Lamphun is rich in historic buildings from various eras including the Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin era.
Lamphun’s most important temple is the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai. The large temple in the center of Lamphun town was built on the site of Queen Chama Thewi’s former Palace. One of its most interesting structures is the Suwanna chedi, a stepped pyramidal chedi with receding tiers, which is one of the very few surviving examples of Mon architecture in Thailand.
The Wat Ku Kut, also known as Wat Chamthewi is a 12th century temple named after Queen Chama Thewi. The temple is known for its two chedis in Mon Hariphunchai style.
According to legend the Wat Mahawan was founded by Queen Chama Thewi in 657. The temple consists of a golden chedi, an elaborate viharn, and ordination hall and a large Ho Trai (a library building where the Buddhist scriptures are kept).
The Wat Phra Yuen, the “Monastery of the standing Buddha” was built in the 14th century by King Ku Na of the Lanna Kingdom. Its most striking feature is a large chedi that was rebuilt early 20th century. The chedi sits on a high base with receding tiers, at the center of each side is a niche enshrining a golden standing Buddha image.
The Ku Chang-Ku Mah chedis found North of the old town are two ancient chedis that according to legend go back to the days of Lamphun’s founding. Ku Chang, meaning “elephant chedi” is a cylinder shaped chedi on a circular base enshrining the tusks of an elephant. According to local belief Queen Chama Thewi owned a mighty war elephant named “Pu Kam Nga Kheao”. People standing in the direction its tusks pointed to would drop dead. For that reason, the tusks were enshrined in the chedi pointing upwards. Ku Mah, meaning “horse chedi” is a bell shaped chedi that enshrines the remains of a horse that belonged to one of the Queen’s sons. The chedis are located on Ku Chang Alley, 200 meters West of the Kuang river banks.
Hariphunchai National Museum
The Hariphunchai National Museum exhibits artifacts originating from the Lamphun area from the Mon Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin eras. On display are a collection of stone tablets with inscriptions in Mon language and ancient Northern Thai script, ancient Mon style Buddha images and Hariphunchai and Lanna art such as wood carvings, terracotta items and masks. Most items are labelled in both Thai and English.
The museum is located opposite the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai on the West end of Inthayongyot road (Highway 106), on the West bank of the Kuang river. Opening hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 8.30 am until 4 pm except National holidays. Admission 100 Thai Baht per person.
Getting to Lamphun
The most comfortable way to get to Lamphun is by private taxi. Hiring one for 4 hours to visit sights in the Chiang Mai and Lamphun area would cost around 800 to 1,000 Baht excluding fuel. Agree on price, duration of the trip and places to visit before leaving.
Lamphun is easily reached by train from Chiang Mai. The 22 kilometer trip takes 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the type of service. Fares for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class are 21, 11 and 5 Baht respectively. For more info, visit the website of the State Railway of Thailand. The Lamphun train station is located North of the town center. To get to the sights, take a songthaew, a converted pick up truck with benches in the back.
Busses to Lamphun leave from Chiang Mai’s Chang Puak station near the South city gate. The trip takes around one hour, the fare is 25 Baht.