The title sounds like a bus or train journey doesn’t it. “I’m just catching the 106 to Lamphun dear”. It is actually a road number and the road itself runs through the centre of Chiang Mai following the Ping River before heading out of town and ending up in Lamphun, a small town about 25 kms South of Chiang Mai. I have covered the main road system of Chiang Mai in a separate post HERE.
Lamphun is one of Thailand’s oldest cities pre-dating Chiang Mai by several hundred years. It was founded in the 9th century and was the capital of the Mon Kingdom Hariphunchai. You can read more about the Mon HERE.
Our trip here was motivated by an earlier visit we had made to the Terracotta Garden inside the Old Town of Chiang Mai, written about HERE. Having done some research I found out that the owners had a large piece of land that they were developing into a garden area open to the public in Lamphun and this has been on the list to visit ever since. The website for the Terracotta Garden both Chiang Mai and Lamphun can be found HERE.
The 106 for me is one of the most interesting roads in Chiang Mai not for getting quickly from A to B, because it is often frustratingly (if you let it) slow, but because of the variety of scenery you will see as you drive its length. The road officially starts at the intersection with the 1006 as it crosses the Ping River to become Thapae Road leading to the Old Town. You can see this intersection in the map below:
As you can see it follows the river for a little while, not that you’ll see water as there are many businesses lining the street on the river side. The road is very narrow in parts and you get to use all of your Thai driving skills to negotiate the traffic especially when the street markets set up in the afternoon.
The first half of the drive meanders through the outskirts of Chiang Mai with shops lining the road. This would be same oh, same oh if not for the distinctive tall rubber trees. Chao Phraya Surasi Kitisak, the governor of Chiang Mai is credited with having them planted in 1899. Each tree is numbered, the 779th being the largest and healthiest. Many of the trees are blessed with orange cloth and are evidently protected by a conservation society.
Chiang Mai, as with most of developed Thailand I have seen, is a generally a concrete wasteland, so it is lovely to drive through dappled light with the retention of some aspect of nature in the city environment.
We had set aside the day for this trip so weren’t in any hurry. Although the Terracotta Garden was the final destination we were happy to stop at whatever looked interesting along the way. The first stop was at an impressive Wat. Unfortunately it was closed but across the road was another smaller Wat and we popped in there for a peak. GPS: N 18 41.312 E 099 497
Although it was also shut up a monk was sitting by the front gate and he very kindly offered to open it up. The doors and windows were unlocked and lights and fans turned on in a fairly typical display of Thai hospitality. Some monks are really pro-active and obviously proud of their temple, others less so. We got a good one this time.
A smaller temple building sat beside the main one also closed up. I just wanted to take a photo from the outside but the monk insisted on opening it up and turning everything on for me. It is acts of kindness like this that make a visit more memorable than the actual Wat itself.
Leaving our friendly monk behind we were back on the 106. Once you pass over the provincial border into Lamphun the tall rubber trees stop and you are into more suburban backroads leading into Lamphun. A mix of small business, eating places of course, car yards and houses. Occasional glimpses of rural farming land behind the strip development along the road.
Lamphun was a walled city but like Chiang Mai the walls are long gone apart from a photo opportunity construction as you head into the old town on the 106.
Driving the 106 into the centre of Lamphun you meet up with Wat Phrathat Haripunjaya or spelt Haripunchai, the reason why GPS search function is so useless in Thailand, one of Northern Thailand’s most important temples. I have used much of the wording from an excellent site www.renown-travel.com acknowledged at the bottom of this post.
The Lanna style Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built on the site of an earlier 9th century Mon temple and houses one of the very few remaining examples of Mon architecture in Thailand – Mon history link already given above.
According to legend, the temple was founded in 1150 by a Hariphunchai King, to enshrine a Buddha relic found in the Palace garden. It was built on the spot where the Palace of the first ruler of the Hariphunchai Kingdom, Queen Chamadevi used to be.
At the end of the 13th century, Hariphunchai was besieged by King Mengrai who brought Lamphun into the Lanna Kingdom. A good summary of King Mangrai, the founder of Chiang Mai can be found HERE. About mid 15th century, the temple was renovated and expanded with a number of Lanna style structures.
The temple derives its name from the Phra Maha That Chedi, that was built to enshrine relics of the Buddha. The Lanna style chedi was built mid 15th century when Lamphun was part of the Lanna Kingdom.
It is covered with copper plates and topped with a multi tiered golden umbrella weighing 6½ kilos. The 46 meter high chedi encases a much smaller 9th century Mon stupa. The chedi sits inside a square fenced space, not accessible to visitors. The gilded parasols at each of its four corners were added early 19th century.
It is considered good luck to walk clockwise three times around the chedi. We both did this although the hot paving on bare feet ensures a quick lap time.
The main Viharn of the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, the Viharn Luang was rebuilt in 1925. The very large structure has an impressive, very intricately decorated front façade and a multi tiered roof. Inside the viharn that is adorned with beautiful lai kham decorations are several very old Buddha images, including a very highly revered image named the “Buddha with sharp shins”, a large seated Lanna style Buddha image cast in 1489.
The temple’s Ho Trai, the building where the ancient Buddhist scriptures are kept, is a very elegant teak structure with a multi tiered roof and intricately carved doors. The Lanna style Ho Trai is built on top of a 3 meter high red painted stone base, which serves to protect the scriptures from flooding and insects.
A little older is the Mon style Suwanna chedi which dates from the early 15th century. It is one of the few remaining examples of Mon architecture in Thailand and similar in style to the chedi of nearby Wat Chamadevi (I have written about this Wat towards the end of this post). The Suwanna chedi has the shape of a stepped pyramid, with five steps of receding size. Originally, the brick stupa was covered with stucco, of which little is left. The chedi contains a total of 60 niches in which standing Buddha images were enshrined, most of which are missing today.
Just outside the main gates into the parking lot there is a small local market. Ice cream and cool drinks on the essential list of things to do next.
Refreshed we were back in the car and off to the Ban Phor Liang Muen Terracotta Arts garden GPS: N 18 36.226 E 098 58.279.
If you don’t have GPS then take the 1015 at the traffic lights at the Wat Phra That Hariphunchai intersection – turn right if still on the 106 – and follow the road for about 4 km. Just before you hit the bridge over the River Ping turn right onto the 1030 and you will see the turn to the gardens on the right after about 1 km.
I have to say that these gardens are a weird mix of ideas. The place is set out in different zones with vacant gaps in-between. It looks like one of those ideas that haven’t been either completed or supported by visitors, which is a shame because a heap of effort and money has obviously gone into the place.
The first stop is at these gates on the left just before the concrete road runs out.
The website briefly describes this as “Khmer Zone….Feel the magic of Khmer (Cambodian) art. A small garden is beautifully decorated with sculptures of people from ancient Khmer myths”. This garden is half completed. The garden bit is fine but on the right hand side are a several structures all half completed and no work happening at this time. A walled space the garden has a few larger statues located under trees as described above and is a peaceful place to spend a short time.
Just outside the garden I had to take this photo for a reason which will become obvious as you read further.
Bullet Wood in Thai translates to something like Phi Gaun and this is the basis for Gaun’s nickname. Her name is actually based on the flower produced by the Bullet Wood tree, which is used in temple offerings. As Gaun is such a flower lover it has worked out to be a totally appropriate naming. I have never seen a bullet Wood tree or if I have didn’t realise it so it was funny to come across one here.
Thai’s never use their real first names in life. Nicknames were originally designed to fool Phi or spirits. If they didn’t know your real name they had less chance of attaching themselves to you especially when young. Gaun’s real first name is Suban and only used for booking air flights!
Immediately past the Khmer garden is a builders yard taken up mainly with a terracotta brick factory. Now why you would have this in full view of the road in your tourist garden complex is beyond me but there you go. Most people would drive straight past but I love exploring whatever is on offer and terracotta bricks haven’t been big in my life to date.
Past the brick factory on the left is this garden area specialising in bonsai. Rows and rows of beautifully worked trees. Nothing had been made of this area. It is fairly unkempt and has rows of bonsai with no effort made at display or settling. The quality of the plants make up for the lack of presentation.
Continuing on what is now a muddy dirt track you reach the main section of the gardens and the part that is most impressive and completed. The only problem is that it is empty of people. We were there on a Sunday and I guess like everywhere if a place like this is to be busy it will be on the weekend. Such a shame.
Set on its own is this structure described on the website as “Hariphunchai-Lanna Zone….Get a close touch with Hariphunchai-style pagoda capable of holding over 200 visitors. This area is still being developed and is expected to be completed in 2 years” Unfortunately I doubt the gardens will see 200 visitors at the same time although I would be happy to be wrong on that as I wish them every success as I do anyone giving life a go.
I am sorry to be somewhat negative on this garden. It is/was obviously a grand vision but maybe located in the wrong place. Lamphun is small and although Chiang Mai has a huge tourist population they tend to stick to the main Trip Advisor destinations. It was certainly worth the visit as part of a varied day out but I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to see just on its own.
Leaving Ban Phor Liang Muen Terracotta Arts garden behind we got onto the 1015 heading back towards Lamphun. I had seen another interesting looking Wat on the way out and wanted to take some photos. Only two Lamphun Wats are written about in the Lonely Planet, Wat Phrathat being the first and this the other. Called either Wat Chama Thewi, or Wat Chama Devi or Wat Ku Kut the latter name having something to do with the collapsed top of the Chedi after an earthquake. I am delighted that there are some detailed words to be found on this Wat, thanks to Renown Travel again. So unusual to find.
The temple was founded around 1150 when Lamphun was the capital of the Mon Dvaravati Kingdom of Haripunchai. According to local legend, the temple was founded much earlier in the days of Queen Chama Thewi, who founded the town of Lamphun in the early 9th century. Local legend tells that the spot where the temple was to be erected was determined by firing an arrow. The spot where the arrow landed marked the location. The most noticeable structures of the Wat Ku Kut are its two ancient chedis.
The chedi was built by King Athitayarat of the Haripunchai Kingdom to commemorate his victory over the Khmer halfway the 12th century. The current structure is from 1218, when it was rebuilt by King Saphsit after an earthquake damaged the original.
The brick chedi measuring 21 meters high is plastered with stucco. Standing on a square base are five square tiers of diminishing size. Each side of each tier contains three niches enshrining a standing image of the Buddha, decreasing in size towards the top. The images. cast in 1218 in molds, are in the Abhaya mudra (dispelling fear), the right hand raised. The arches over the niches contain intricate stuccoed decorations.
Next to the viharn stands another smaller stupa named Ratana chedi, which translates to “gem chedi”. The early 13th century octagonal chedi measuring 11½ meters high is made of brick and covered with stucco.
Above its high base is a niche on each of the chedi’s eight sides in which a standing image of the Buddha is enshrined. The Ratana chedi is topped with a relic chamber. Small niches just under the chamber contain seated images of the Buddha. The top portion of the chedi has collapsed.
We finished off our Lamphun visit by driving around the old town before rejoining the 106 back to Chiang Mai. We treated ourselves to a stop off at a little hidden cafe at the end of the 106 called Tanita House.
I have written a short review of this cafe under “Shorties” and the link is HERE.
This post is yet another example of the variety of sights one can experience if you have your own transport, the time and inclination to break away from the main tourist destinations. I am well aware that this is an option not available once we move to Isaan and I wonder whether I will miss it.
Thanks for reading.
My thanks to: