If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, heading out of Chiang Mai for the small town of Lamphun. This northern destination has abundance of atmosphere and history.
Follow route 106 which takes you along a lovely country road lined with 200 year old giant gum trees that provided great shade. As you approach to Saraphi district, the road is bordered with longan orchards. Somebody once said that Lamphun was famous for its beautiful women and tasty longans. This is still true.
Legend handed down for more than 1,400 years refers to this ancient town as the centre of the Hariphunchai Kingdom. Its first ruler was Queen Chamthewee who was of Mon descent. In the late 12th century AD, the King from Chiang Mai invaded and captured the town and subsequently integrated it into the Lanna Kingdom.
Today, Lamphun still retains the enchanting ambience of a small and old community. It has numerous ancient temples and ruins that present picturesque scenes of the past. It's hard to believe that a modern city like Chiang Mai is developing rapidly for tourism but neighbouring Lamphun remains untouched.
It is worthwhile to visit to the Hariphunchai National Museum (established in 1927) to help understand the Kingdom's background. The museum is situated in the town centre, opposite Wat Phrathat Hairphunchai. The museum's displays and exhibits include historical and archeological items, including a small collection of artifacts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai and Lanna kingdoms. It is quite a small museum compared to many others and is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 8.30am - 4pm.
Across the street from the National Museum to the monastery called Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai, which is the principal landmark of Lamphun province and dates back 958 years. The 46-metres tall golden Chedi there is of the original Hariphunchai style and is said to contain relics of the Lord Buddha. A nine-tier umbrella made of pure gold surmounts this Chedi, which is set in the middle of the monastery.
Outside the temple walls are souvenir shops and stalls that sell hand-made local cloth, carved wood items, postcards, Buddha images and amulets.
Past the town moat, just two kilometres away is Wat Chamthewee, situated on the Chiang Mai-Sanpatong Road. Commonly known as Wat Ku Kut, this temple was built in 1298 B.E. (755 A.D.)
The stupa is a square structure similar to the one at Buddhagaya in India. Around the stupa are levels of arches holding a total of 60 Buddha statues. Queen Chamthewee was the first ruler of Lamphun and her ashes are enshrined within. She was the longest living ruler in the Lanna Kingdom's history and was over 100 years old when she passed away.
Just 10 kilometres from Lamphun is Pa- Sang, a small village and on both sides of the main road are notice boards saying: "Wanted, longan at good prices, in front of the dealer's premises. The fruit is in season during July and August. There are several species which are popular among consumers.
Today, 60 percent of the longans produced in Lamphun are exported to Europe and other countries in Asia. Over two decades ago, the district of Ban Pa-Sang was a handicraft centre, famous for its hand-made cotton materials, mainly produced in Ban Nong Nguak village. Most of the shops were crowded with tourists, both Thais and foreigners, because it was the main stopping point and the only access road to Chiang Mai. Since the construction of Highway No.11 linking Chiang Mai with Lampang, Pa-Sang has been by-passed. It has now become quiet and sleepy.
The peaceful cotton weaving village of Ban Nong Nguak can be reached on the road to Li district, turn right after about 4 kilometres, following the signs. Several houses have in-house showrooms that displayed their products and you can see the local women who delicately weave hand-made fabric on wooden looms. The cotton fabric of Ban Nong Nguak is moderately priced and of designs and colours that have been improved, yet retain an indigenous feel and tradition. It is generally made into tablecloths, plate rests, drapes, cushions and other decorative items. Many items are made to order and sell in big department stores in London.
About seven kilometres from the cotton village is the temple named Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha once stayed here.
Further on is Ban Hong district, the site of a 1,400 years old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom, located 40 kilometres south of Lamphun. It has some beautiful scenery and a delightful vista of green fields and mountains.
Lamphun is located 25 kilometres south-east of Chiang Mai. The easiest way to get from Chiang Mai to Lamphun is by bus, departing from Changpuak Bus Station. You can also take a blue taxi (songtaew) just south of Nawarat bridge opposite Rimping Supermarket.
Visitors are recommended to rent a motorcycle or a car for self-drive tours as there are many things to see and do. Remember to check the rental agreement carefully.