With new eyes

Discover the exceptional Burmese art of Lampang

Even when you think you know everything there is to know about Lampang, there are still likely to be surprises to catch your attention and bring you back to the city once more.

Firmly among these wonders is Burmese art.

"Lampang has the largest number of Burmese-style temples in the country," said Poonsri Pattamasaevi, director and secretary of Niyom Pattamasaevi Foundation, established in 1999 to support education and help preserve cultural heritage in Lampang. The foundation also owns and manages the Lampang Arts Centre and will soon open the second arts centre dedicated for performing arts. The centre will further operate as a Lampang heritage information centre.

"There are more than 10 Burmese temples within the city. Many of them are still well preserved," she said.

The main reason was because Lampang used to be home to a community of Burmese people. During the 19th century, British companies had concessions to do logging business in the North, including Lampang. The companies needed experts in logging, so they brought experienced Burmese chiefs with them, along with workers. As faithful Buddhists, they built temples to make merit and to ask for holy spirits to protect them from harm and dangers while they worked in the forest.

Apart from the famous Wat Si Chum, which is known as the largest Burmese temple in Thailand, some other temples recommended by the foundation are Wat Si Rong Muang, Wat Pa Fang and Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao Suchadaram.

Wat Si Rong Muang was built in 1905. Its multi-tiered vihara was made of golden teak from the Bombay Burma Company, one of four foreign companies that received concessions to do teak logging in Lampang. Each pillar is fully decorated from the top to the bottom with small pieces of colourful glass with designs of flowers, vines and leaves.

The ceiling and walls are painted in red. The ceiling is also decorated with colourful glass showing patterns of flowers, leaves, animals and guardian angels.

The vihara houses three seated Buddha images in the Mandalay style; each image has a round face, curled eyebrows and short nose. There is also a small pagoda for keeping ash off the remains of the highly respected former abbot, Sayator Ooyae Thammalanka, who was also Burmese.

About 7km east of Wat Si Rong Muang is Wat Sasana Chotikaram, which is better known as Wat Pa Fang. The temple was built in 1892 by a millionaire Burmese couple who made their fortune in the logging business in the city.

The arts and crafts inside the ubosot (ordination hall) are must-see. Although the interior of the multi-tier roof Burmese style building is small, it is packed with decorative arts on the ceiling of the hall and the altar of the principal Buddha image, the only Buddha sculpture in the building.

Like Wat Si Rong Muang, the principal Buddha image in Wat Pa Fang is sat in a lotus position (legs crossed) posture, with the left hand on the lap and the right hand resting in front of his right knee with fingers pointing to the ground. The posture is known as pang man vichai or "calling the Earth goddess to witness the enlightenment of Buddha".

Almost the entirety of the top of the altar is decorated with small figures telling the story of Buddha. If you observe each piece up-close, you will see that each of them, painted in gold colour, has a different posture and dress.

The ceiling, on the other hand, is painted in red and divided into 12 equal sections. Each part is decorated with colourful glass, like a picture frame. Located in the middle of each frame is a golden artefact of a guardian angel while four corners of each segment are decorated with golden peafowls fanning out tail feathers.

Next to the ordination hall is the golden octagonal shape pagoda. It houses the relics of Buddha that were brought from Burma in 1906. The pagoda is also known as one of the most beautiful sacred sites in Lampang.

About 2.5km north of Wat Pa Fang is Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao Suchadaram on Phra Kaew Road. The complex has two temples in the compound. Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, which was believed to house the image of the Emerald Buddha for about 32 years in the 15th century, and the much smaller sized Wat Suchadaram built to honour the faithful Buddhist Suchada on the land of her home.

Most visitors tend to visit Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao first because of the large stupa that can be seen from the main gate. Built in a Lanna style, the stupa houses relics of the Buddha and is also regarded as one of sacred sites of the city.

On the south of the pagoda is a mondop, a square structure with a pointed seven-tier roof to house Burmese-style Buddha images.

The mondop was made of teak wood and has glittering decorations. Each pillar is fully covered with colourful glass while some pillars are also adorned by golden metal wire, displaying shapes of flowers, vine and standing Buddha images.

Another highlight is the decorative arts on the ceiling as it shows the influence of Western culture. Among them is a British Royal Coat of Arms, which has a leopard and a white horse, along with small figures of a mythical Greek god with wings that reminds people of Cupid.

The last recommended site is a visit to a century-old market called Talat Ratana. The market is also known as Talat Kao Chao, in reference to the morning market. It is located next to Lampang train station. The market offers fresh vegetables, fish, meats, cooked food, snacks, flowers and home accessories.

One thing you should try is khai pam: beaten eggs cooked in banana leaf cups. The cups are grilled over a charcoal stove. The menu is one of the northern-style dishes that taste like a Thai-style omelette, but it is not oily. You may also find breakfast and hot coffee here. One dish costs just 25 baht.

As locals say, Lampang has not changed much over time, but every time you visit, you may find new angles from which to appreciate the impressive arts of this wonderful city.

About the author

Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Position: Travel writer