Visit the Cultural City of
Lamphun and catch up on its new sites
No visit to Northern Thailand would be complete without a trip to Lamphun (This is an official spelling, but pronounced as Lumpoon), the beautiful capital of the province of Lamphun. At a mere 26 km. south of Chiangmai, it makes an ideal destination for a day out. Lamphun can be easily reached by a fifteen minute journey along the Superhighway or alternatively, by the scenic route along the tree-lined Chiangmai-Lamphun Road. Due to current construction work on this road, it's best to take the superhighway until September 2003. You can catch the local bus on the eastern side of the Nawarat Bridge, heading south or at regular intervals along the Chiangmai-Lamphun Road, although, it's advisable to hire a car or motorbike for total freedom.
You cannot fail to notice how the towering Yang-Na trees, (Dipterocarpus alatus, evergreen or briefly deciduous tree to 45 m., similar to D.costatus, but with narrower crown, uncommon in the wild, usually close to streams, often planted in temples and along roadsides.) marking the Chiangmai province border, suddenly change into pretty yellow flowered "Khee Legk" trees, indicating that you have entered Lamphun province. Lamphun is the smallest and oldest province in the Northern Thailand. Legend tells of two princes of the neighboring provinces who agreed in ancient times to set the boundary between the regions by planting these different trees. However, that scheming prince of Chiangmai arrived at the location, hours before the agreed meeting time and planted more trees, ensuring that his principality would cover the most land.
The two main attractions of this delightful town are Wat Pra Thart Haripoonshai and the Haripoonshai National Museum. Built in 897 AD, the unique temple houses one of the largest and grandest Wiharns in the north. The wat entrance faces the Guang River and is fiercely guarded by two oriental lion statues. The temple grounds contain two impressive chedis, the tallest of which, Ahtit Dayalat, stands a majestic 51 meters high and its nine tier umbrella, crafted from pure gold, glisten gloriously in the midday sun. Take time to explore the teak wood library, which houses many ancient Pali scripts and be awestruck by the old Lanna style pagoda and the tremendous call-to-prayer gong.
Lamphun stands on the site of Haripoonshai, an ancient Mon Kingdom and the first recognized civilization of Northern Thailand. Haripoonshai was rich in culture, art and religion and active in trade some 600 years prior to King Mengrai's invasion in the 13th Century. Fortunately, the legacy of this marvelous culture has been preserved at the Haripoonshai National Museum, situated on Inthayongyot Rd. in the center of town. A vast collection of authentic artifacts dating from the Pre-Thai Mon dynasty along with those from the Korm, Thai-Sukothai and Lanna-Thai periods are well displayed here. The pre 13th Century figures are strongly influenced by the Pala art of India and the Dvaravati art of north-eastern Thailand, whereas, post 13th Century terra-cotta, sandstone and bronze statures are indicative of the late Mon Dvaravati Period. The Thai art spans eight centuries and clearly shows the progression and evolution of styles and their mutual influence on one another. Informative booklets and brochures are available for those who wish to learn more about the significance and history of these amazing artifacts.
Were it not for these two attractions, there would still be plenty to see and do in Lamphun, thanks in part to a massive investment to build a tourism center, comprising an indoor meeting and exhibition area and an outdoor entertainment area. Lamphun has recently become home to the country's first covered bridge and the site of the Gaad Khua-Moong Tha-Singh Folk Market. Gaad (pronounced kad) means open-air market, Khua means bridge, Moong means cover or roof, Tha means pier and Singh refers to the lion figures at the temple gates. So you see, the market is aptly named. A variety of products marketed under the government plan OTOP (One Tambon One Product) are available here, ranging from fresh fruits, vegetables and herbal juices to handwoven textiles, candles and wood carvings. The bridge, which is built in the style of ancient Lanna architecture is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10.00 - 18.00 hours and contains 54 stalls. It is located in the grounds of Wat Pra Thart Haripoonshai.
If you take time to examine the intricate weaves of the fabrics, you will be able to discern the different patterns, including "Khun Nai Tuen Sai" (literally, Madam wakes up late and it is the common name of a flower), "Lai Med Sohn" (pine cone) and, the signature weave of Lamphun "Lai Dawg Pigoon" (ylang ylang). These traditional designs originate from the nearby villages of 3 ethnic groups : Muang Yong, Muang Yew and Muang Luay. The village ancestors were taken captive during the great wars between Burma and Chiang Saen of Siam as well as Siam and Muang Thai (Shan State). A new pattern has recently been introduced by Mrs. Gaew and her daughter and can be found for sale by her husband, Loong (uncle) Thunya, who is a regular vendor at the market.
The eastern end of the covered bridge opens out onto a "walking street" of the Yong community, which leads to Wat Tohn Gaew. The friendly abbot will be more than happy to point out sights to visitors and share his wealth of knowledge. He is the first locally born monk to be appointed to abbot of this temple and has recently been on sabbatical to trace the pilgrimage of Lord Buddha through India. It is worth the time to look round his little museum which displays various monk regalia along with photos of the town and its residents from days gone by. The weavers' co-op "Pah Taw Wiang Yong" is also located in this temple compound, where women of all ages can be seen weaving at eight looms. Due to the intricacy of the patterns, a weaver can only produce about 15" in length a day. There is also a newly built folk museum housing antique radios, TV, phonographs and traditional items from everyday village life.
Those who have come well equipped with good walking boots and sun hats, may also like to visit the old Wat Phra Yuen in a easterly direction from Wat Tohn Gaew, although it is preferably reached by car. Switching to the other side of the city, situated on Lamphun-Pazang Road, the "Huen Samoon Prai", a center for traditional Lanna health and beauty services is also well worth a visit, as well as the Dhamma Gallery Park, a modern center for Buddhism and the arts.
Those lucky enough to be in the area in early August should make sure that their trip coincides with the famous Lumyai Festival, held annually from 1st to 10th August. The Lumyai fruit was introduced to Thailand from China in 1898 when a Chinese man presented a gift of two bushes to Princess Dara Rasamee of Lanna who planted them in Bangkok. A further three bushes were given to Prince Noy Tun and he planted those in Chiangmai. Unsurprisingly, the largest orchards are to be found in Lamphun, which makes it the ideal location for the festival.
The brown shell is easily peeled off to reveal the succulent juicy flesh inside. The pale pink fruit is also known as the Longan, of which it is actually an exceptionally good variety and bears a resemblance to the Litchi or Lynchee. The fruit is delicious when cooked and can also be dried and enjoyed as a tea. Historically, the young men of the province would climb the trees and pick the fruit, whilst the young ladies caught it in baskets below. This tradition provided the opportunity for courting and is how the Lumyai fruit came to be associated with love and romance.
Ten days of celebration, August 1-10, are held in honor of this favorite delicacy in Lamphun's provincial stadium. On Friday 1st August, from 3 p.m. onward visitors will have the chance to watch or take part in the competitive Lumyai eating contest and see an exhibition of agricultural produce. You can witness a spectacular parade of floats, exquisitely decorated with Lumyai fruits accompanied by some traditional Haripoonshai dancing. There will also be performances from Thai rock groups, Muay Thai boxing and the crowning of Miss Lumyai Orchard Maiden. On 6th there will be a car rally sponsored by Esso and lots and lots of Lumyai eating! This feast of an opportunity is not to be missed out on.
Sadly, this gem of a town is often overlooked by visitors to Thailand, however Lamphun has a wealth of culture and beauty to offer and should definitely be placed firmly at the top of the list of places to see in Northern Thailand. Strolling through the charming narrow streets makes a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Chiangmai, and with more places of cultural interest appearing all time, you never know what marvel you may stumble across. Happy Lumyai Eating !.