On the banks of the Wang river in the small town of Lampang is the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, the town’s main temple.
The town was founded in the 7th century, making it one of the oldest towns in Thailand. It was influenced by Mon, Shan, Burmese and Lanna Thai cultures, which is very evident in the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao temple, which is a mix of Lanna, Burmese and Shan styles.
The temple was built in the 14th or 15th century, probably on the spot of an earlier Mon temple that according to local legend was built by the son of Queen Chama Devi of the Hariphunchai Kingdom (present day Lamphun) in the 7th century.
The Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao is an important temple, because it housed the Emerald Buddha image, Thailand’s most sacred Buddha image during the 15th century for a period of 34 years.
The Phra Kaew Don Tao Buddha image
The temple also housed another highly revered Buddha image, the Phra Kaew Don Tao, that was cast in the 16th century. According to local legend a lady named Mae Suchada who lived in the area centuries ago was offered a watermelon by a monk who had come from the Heavens. When she opened the watermelon she found a large green gem stone, which then magically transformed into a Buddha image, named the Phra Kaew Don Tao. The legend says the temple was founded on the very spot of this occurrence. The image is now enshrined in another temple in Lampang, the Wat Phra That Lampang Luang.
Structures on the temple complex
The structures on the temple grounds show an interesting mix of Lanna, Shan and Burmese architectural styles.
The chedi, mondop, ubosot and viharns
The oldest original structure of the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao is the chedi. The imposing 50 meter high structure consists of a white square base with a circular, gold plated spire on top of it. The chedi that is named Chedi Phra Boromathat enshrines a hair relic of the Buddha.
In a completely different style is the Burmese mondop that was built in 1909. The open structure with a 7 tiered, very ornately decorated Pyatthat roof was built by wealthy Burmese immigrants who were employed in the teak wood logging business and have built many Burmese style monasteries in the Lampang area as an act of making merit. The mondop’s interior that is decorated with colorful glass mosaics houses a Mandalay style Buddha image.
The large ubosot, the building where monks get ordained, was built in 1924. The multi tiered roof is topped with long chofahs, its front façade is elaborately decorated in Lanna style.
The Viharn Phra Non was built in 1926. Like the bot, the viharn has a multi tiered roof with elegant chofahs at its ends and an intricately decorated Lanna style front façade. Inside is a Reclining Buddha image, symbolizing the passing of the Buddha into final Nirvana. In a corner of the temple complex is another, smaller Lanna style viharn with a multi tiered roof.
Statue of the elephant that carried the Emerald Buddha
A statue of a white elephant with a small pavilion on its back reminds of the Emerald Buddha image, that was taken here by an elephant in the 15th century. The image was discovered in the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Chiang Rai, when the chedi in which it was enshrined was struck by lightning. In 1434 the King of Lanna ordered the image to be taken to his capital city Chiang Mai. The elephant that carried the image however, decided to go to Lampang instead. After this had happened several times, the King decided to leave the image in Lampang, where it was enshrined in the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao temple. The image stayed in the temple until 1468, when it was taken to Chiang Mai to the Wat Chedi Luang.
How to get to the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao
The temple is located in the old part of Lampang town named Wiang Nuea. It is found between Suchada road and Phra Kaew road just North of the Wang river. The easiest way to get there is by horse drawn carriage or by songthaew, a converted pick up truck with benches in the back.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The temple grounds open daily from 6 am until 6 pm. Admission is 20 Thai Baht. The ticket can also be used for the adjacent Wat Suchadaram temple.