Legends, lions, and longans in Lamphun province
Approximately 25km south of Chiang Mai, surrounded by lush countryside famed for its production of longan fruit, Lamphun is one of Thailand’s oldest cities—although it’s now merely town-sized—and is a bit of a hidden treasure.
It was founded by Queen Chama Thevi as the capital of the Haripunchai (or Mon) Kingdom, sometime in the 9th century, and the founding queen is revered to this day. Her statue can be found in the south west section of town, near the main morning market, where locals still make regular offerings to her.
Wat Phra That Haripunchai, in the middle of the town centre, is one of Northern Thailand’s most important temples and its likeness is found on the reverse of the one-satang coin. The phra tat in its title indicates the presence of a Buddha relic, which in this case is believed to be one of the Buddha’s hairs—and it is said to have been interred around the same time as the wat was founded, in 897. The chedi is one of the very few examples still remaining of Mon architecture in Thailand, and with its accompanying buildings it’s one of the town’s main tourist attractions.
Exiting by the temple’s main gate, guarded by two stone Singhas—mythical lion-like creatures—one can walk across the road and then continue across the river courtesy of an enclosed wooden bridge that houses a small market offering the usual array of tourist trinkets found throughout Thailand, as well as a selection of local fabrics. It’s a delightful stroll back through the years, and the effect is continued when one exits onto an old road, at the end of which you’ll find the Noo Toon Lam Yai restaurant.
The lam yai in the name refers to one of the types of noodle served here, and it’s a great place to continue your journey through the past while getting a glimpse, and taste, of a typical Thai worker’s restaurant and meal. Rows of bench seats pack the large triangular space and the limited menu is scratched on a chalkboard, or recited for you by your server. To all intents and purposes it’s the old equivalent of a Thai worker’s fast food menu, with delicious dim sum and their signature brothy soups on offer—all of which are cheap, tasty, and filling. Try their hot Thai tea for a sweet contrast to the main course.
The bridge and the restaurant are both quaint reminders of a Thailand that is disappearing far too quickly and are a good example of the Lamphun experience as a whole.
Further afield, travel 35 minutes south and east to visit the Doi Khun Tan National Park, where the Saphan Khao Tha Chompu (also known as the ‘White Bridge’, for obvious reasons), and the Khun Tan Tunnel (at 1,352 metres it’s the longest in Thailand), will appeal to railway buffs—as both are part of Thailand’s train network. But even if you’re not a trainspotter, both attractions are set amidst stunning natural beauty and are just two more of the “hidden treasures” this area is home to.
By Gary Anthony Rutland