Lanna Folk Museum
On Thipanet Road, as it runs towards the Chiangmai-Hang Dong Road, near Airport Plaza is the Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre. Within the Centre's property is the Lanna Folk Museum and, for anyone interested in viewing an old, genuine Ruean Lanna (Northern Style House) and artifacts, it is definitely worth a visit.
The centre-piece of the Museum is the old house of "Reuan Galae", which used to be situated on Kaew Nawarat Road, and was owned by Naang (Mrs.) Piang. Mrs. Piang was the niece of Mr. Zor and Mrs. Hong so the house became known at the "Ruean Zor-Hong". The Chiangmai Cultural Centre dismantled, transferred and rebuilt the old house, on their property, to become the focus of the Lanna Folk Museum. The Museum was officially opened in 1982 and has attracted thousands of interested visitors. Currently it is open daily to individual guests and party groups.
The Reuan Zor-Hong is a typical "Ruean Galae" which was the home of wealthy or middle-class people who were notables in their local community. The "Galae" is a Lanna architectural motif, looking like a carved "X", which sits astride the roof apex at the gable-end of Northern Thai houses. The name "Galae" hints at an unusual, and perhaps gruesome, beginning. Literally, the name means "Crow" (Ga) and "Look" (Lae) but it was not a Crow's Nest (lookout) as we may think of it.
During some Lanna ceremonies of long ago, the head of a buffalo was brought for the delicacy of the meat. Once the meat had been removed, the skull and horns were hung from the house roof so that the crows could pick and peck at any remaining flesh. Thus was born the tradition of "Galae" but, thankfully, the buffalo horns have been replaced by the beautiful, intricately carved "X" which adorns many Thai houses and buildings today.
A North Thailand, old style house was elevated above ground, perhaps by 2.5 meters, and supported by thick, sturdy pillars. From the floor of the house (underneath was used for storing farm implements or as a sheltered working space) the walls rose, not vertically, but leaning slightly outwards before being joined by tying joists at roof level. It was built entirely from wood as the use of any natural stone or brick was only for the abode of the Lord Buddha. An airy, covered verandah (Dtoen) extended from the inner living area and, from the verandah, a staircase descended to ground level.
Inside the house was basically a large living area (possibly divided in two) for communal sharing and sleeping. Beds were not used but mattresses and mosquito nets, plus curtain-screens, provided comfort and privacy. The verandah was an outdoor living space where, in daytime, the girls of a family could weave or embroider. At nighttime, the verandah became the sleeping quarters for teenage boys of the family or perhaps other male guests who were visiting. A Buddha shrine would also be on the verandah placed in such a way that people would not sit or sleep with their feet pointing towards the Buddha.
The high pitched roof was finished with teak wood shingles so, in all, the raised house with its light, spacious verandah, surrounded by lush, tropical greenery was a very satisfying and picturesque sights.
Antiques typical of the period are on display at the Lanna Folk Museum and these include a Buddha Shrine (on the verandah) various food and water containers (made from fired clay or lacquer ware) . The settee is also an elephant howdah adorned with lacquer ware and gold leaf.
Inside the house there is large, wooden, octagonally shaped trunk which was used for the storage of garments, cloth and valuables associated with Lanna wedding ceremonies. Musical instruments and weapons of defense are also featured. And a weighing balance which was used to measure the weight of opium, silver or gold.
Above the bedroom door is a wood carved "Hamyon" which means "Magic Genitals" (the author prefers the translation "Potent Yantra") which, according to superstition, guards the home against devils, demons, hobgoblins and such like.
In the kitchen, aside from coconut shredders and a variety of cooking utensils, there is a mortar and pestle which are about 700 years old. These ancient tools were used for pulverizing rice into flour, spices and also the crushing of herbs to brew traditional medicines (Tom Ya).
The Lanna Folk Museum is a unique display of an old Lanna Thai house, together with many artifacts of the time, lovingly brought together at the Old Chiangmai Cultural centre complex. If a glimpse of old, genuine northern Thai living style is your interest, then the museum is very much worth a visit. So do wander around and have a browse.
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