The historic town of Lamphun, if
not definitively the oldest city in Thailand, must certainly be a
contender for the title "longest continually inhabited settlement".
ancient fortified city was founded, according to legend, in 660 AD,
almost six centuries before the nearby city of Chiang Mai, and fully
1,122 years before the Thai capital was moved to Bangkok. Historians,
who question the date given by the annals, fix the founding of the city
in about 950 AD yet even by these punctilious standards, Lamphun is old
At the peak of its power and influence, Lamphun was
better known as the capital of the Kingdom of Haripunchai. Established
by Buddhist monks from Lopburi, under the legendary Queen Chamadevi,
Haripunchai flourished as a centre of Mon culture and influence until
its eventual conquest by King Mangrai of Lan Na, in 1281 long after the
demise of the more southerly Mon Kingdom of Dvaravati.
quiet, provincial town of Lamphun, located just 26 kilometres south of
Chiang Mai, is generally visited as an enjoyable and rewarding
excursion from the northern capital. Tranquil, lotus-filled moats and
some of the most distinguished historical architecture in Thailand
combine to attract both Thai and overseas visitors.
for these modern times, one of the great pleasures of a visit to
Lamphun is the actual journey from Chiang Mai. The traveller should
head south along the old road Highway 106 avoiding the busy new
superhighway. This road, which once ran directly between Chiang Mai
Gate and Lamphun's northern " Elephant Crush " Gate, is steeped in
history. From the Chiang Mai suburb of Nong Hoi south, for a distance
of 12 kilometres as far as the Chiang Mai Lamphun provincial boundary
the road is lined by lofty 30-metre high yang trees, interspersed with
fruit orchards, small farms and paddy fields.
En route the road
passes through the quiet village of Saraphi, renowned for its basketry
and bamboo furniture products. Numerous shops selling these goods stand
beside the tree-lined road. Between the yang trees and fruit orchards
are frequent signs for garden restaurants quiet, rural venues, set back
off the road and much appreciated by local people and visitors alike.
remains of Lamphun's ancient city walls, though the heart of the Old
City is still surrounded to the north, west and south by well-preserved
moats. To the east, the shallow, slow-flowing waters of the River Kuang
once provided protection in times of war, but now offer shady banks, a
boating park for children, and a peaceful place to fish.
interested in the history and layout of Lamphun should begin with a
visit to the informative and well-maintained provincial museum. Here
there are displays of various fine bronzes, stuccoes and terracottas
from Mon times, including masks and carvings of figures with the fierce
eyes and enigmatic grin which are the hallmark of Haripunchai Art.
at the museum may be the sensible way to begin a tour of Lamphun, but
truth to tell few people, even dedicated antiquarians, will have such
strength of mind. For directly opposite, on the east side of
Inthayongyot Road, the city's main street, eclipsing every other
monument in Lamphun, stands the splendid Wat Phra That Haripunchai.
This magnificent temple, unequalled in north Thailand except, perhaps,
by Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, was founded in 1044 by King Athitayaraj
of Haripunchai on the site of Chamadevi's royal palace.
Legend has it
that the queen's personal quarters are enclosed in the main 46-metre
high Lan Na style chedi, covered in copper plates and topped by a gold
umbrella it's a nice story, but if true Chamadevi's quarters must have
been rather cramped.