Finding peace in northern Thailand

Lampang's ancient temples are a good place for Buddhists to make merit

Next Friday will mark the Makha Bucha, also known as Magha Puja Day, another important day for Buddhists. It falls on the Full Moon day of the third lunar month in which 1,250 enlightened monks (or arahant) gathered to listen to Buddha teach his principles known as Ovadha Patimokha more than 2,500 years ago. The teaching roughly consists of three major concepts: do good, abstain from bad action and purify the mind.

Horse-drawn carriages wait for passengers at the entrance gate of Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang. The temple was built in the 13th century to house Buddha relics, which are stored in its bell-shape stupa. The large vihara or Viharn Luang is made of wood and has old and fading murals telling the story of the past lives of Buddha. Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang is located in Koh Kha district about 18km from the city.

To observe the day, Buddhists normally go to a temple to make merit. One of my favourite places is Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang in Lampang province, about 600km north of Bangkok. The old temple is known as one of the most beautiful temples in the North. Locals believe that the temple is designated for people who were born in the astrological Year of the Ox -- which is this year -- because the temple was built and completed in the Year of the Ox.

Some compare the temple to a well-preserved art gallery, with its old Lanna architecture and designs. (Lampang was part of Lanna Kingdom, one of the ancient Siamese kingdoms, founded by King Mangrai in the 13th century.) The Viharn Luang or main hall is unique. The wooden structure was built in 1476 without walls and has dozens of large wooden pillars fully covered with shining gold lacquer patterns. The pavilion houses a seated principal Buddha sculpture called Phra Chao Lan Thong as well as 500-year-old murals painted in Lanna style. The art depicts the story about the last 10 lives of Buddha.

Another highlight is the old Lanka-style bell stupa or chedi, which contains Buddha's relics, or phrathat, in the Thai language. According to folklore, Buddha once visited the site and donated his hair, which has been kept in the stupa together with his relics, part of his right forehead and neck bones. During important Buddhist holidays like the coming Makha Bucha, people visit the temple to perform a wian tian candle ceremony. Adherents walk around the stupa three rounds while holding a lit candle and three incense sticks to pay homage to Buddha, his teachings and the enlightened monks.

Another old temple that has outstanding architecture is Wat Pong Sanuk Nuea located in Muang district. The highlight is the wooden vihara called Viharn Phrachao Phan Ong. It was built in the form of a pavilion with a three-tiered roof, reflecting the mixed designs of Lanna, Myanmar and Chinese arts. The structure houses four seated Buddha images on a platform and is decorated with a relief of animal sculptures including elephants, nagas, singhs or mythical lions, and eagles on its base. The temple also has a museum that displays a collection of Tripitaka boxes. Be reminded that while wandering in the temple, you may come across some friendly dogs and an unfriendly big black one in the area. Be careful.

Before leaving Lampang, don't forget to check out the ceramics, a well-known product of the province. Choices of ceramic factories are plenty including Dhanabadee Ceramic Group, which also has a museum to show visitors the history and process of making ceramic rooster bowls. Another site worth visiting is the Ban Thung Chi Royal Project initiated by HM Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother in 1996. It is located in Muang Pan district, about a 30-minute drive north of the city.

The project is open for the public to see every step of ceramic kitchenware production or join a ceramic workshop that can be arranged for group visitors in advance. The site also supports about eight handicraft groups including woodcarving, sewing and weaving. The centre helps create jobs for up to 1,400 people most of whom are from ethnic groups in the area.

Their handmade products are available at affordable prices at the souvenir shop inside the royally-initiated project.

About 35 people work in the ceramics factory in Ban Thung Chi Royal Project in Muang Pan district. The theme of its tableware is related to nature featuring a green banana leaf, a lotus leaf or a leaf of thong kwao (bastard teak). They accept made-to-order work such as producing vases with patterns or in large sizes. Some samples are displayed in an exhibition room. Every piece is made by hand. The centre is open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Contact 054-823-138 for more details.

If you see people go inside Viharn Phra Phut, a prayer hall, located next to the ancient stupa of Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang, and they close the wooden door, it does not mean that you are not allowed to get in. It is because they want to see the projected image of the stupa. Known in Thai as ngao phrathat, the colour picture reflects through a tiny hole in the window and falls on a white screen to prevent visitors from stepping on the image of the sacred site. The hall also houses a big seated Buddha statue and beautiful decorations in the Lanna style.

Ying Changarun, 47, is a Hmong living in Ban Mai Phatthana in Muang Pan district. She is also a farmer and the president of Ban Mai Phatthana Coffee Group. About 90% of the people in the community grow arabica coffee, about 500 tonnes a year. When they have free time, women will make clothes and decorate them with their fine stitching. It is a tradition that every Hmong woman must learn how to make their traditional costumes. The neat sewing shows that the person who makes it is patient and studious — the qualification of a good wife. Although the belief is fading as the younger generation prefers having fashionable clothes over traditional ones, Ying and some of her peers still keep the tradition alive and pass the sewing skill to their daughters. The needlework earns extra income for the group. Their works are available at the Ban Thung Chi Royal Project.

Sopa Phojai, 49, is a farmer who also works for the Ban Thung Chi Royal Project in Muang Pan district during her free time to earn extra income. She has been a craftsperson for 18 years and can produce about 16 pieces a year. Each piece sells for about 5,000 baht. Her works are available at the royal project as well as in Bang Sai Arts and Crafts Centre in Ayutthaya.

Spanning Wang River in the city of Lampang is Ratchadaphisek Bridge, also known as the White Bridge. It was originally made of wood when it was built in 1893 by Prince Boonyawat Vongmanit, the last ruler of Lampang, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King Rama V. The bridge was destroyed several times during big floods in the past until it was rebuilt as a concert arch bridge in 1917. You may find choices of food at the northern end of the bridge where Thetsaban 3 market is located, or the other end at local restaurants. Try to avoid going there during rush hour as you may get stuck in traffic. The car parking area is quite limited.

Located along the walkway on the southern bank of Wang River and under the Ratchadaphisek Bridge, Lampang's street art was created in 2018 by an initiative of Songpol Sawattham, the governor who retired in 2019. He aimed to introduce a new tourist attraction in the city. Among the 30 paintings, you may find cute pictures of children and tourism highlights of the province such as pictures of a white rooster, which is a logo of the province, and ceramic bowls.

Located in the compound of Wat Pong Sanuk Nuea, a museum exhibits a collection of old Tripitaka wooden boxes. When I was there the door was closed but it was not locked. I went in and it felt a bit eerie while wandering inside the museum. However, the beauty of those art pieces kept me there for almost 30 minutes. Unfortunately, there was no information about each exhibited item.

Located along the walkway on the southern bank of Wang River and under the Ratchadaphisek Bridge, Lampang's street art was created in 2018 by an initiative of Songpol Sawattham, the governor who retired in 2019. He aimed to introduce a new tourist attraction in the city. Among the 30 paintings, you may find cute pictures of children and tourism highlights of the province such as pictures of a white rooster, which is a logo of the province, and ceramic bowls.

Do you like the content of this article?
  COMMENT