Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is one of the most exquisite temples of Thailand. It is located in Ko Kah district, approximately 20 kilometres Southwest of Lampang in the Northern part of Thailand.
Literally, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang means Temple of Lampang’s Great Buddha Relic. According to legend, the Buddha once visited the site some 2,500 years ago and donated a hair, which is now kept in the temple’s large chedi together with the right forehead and neck bones.
It is also the temple of those who were born in the Ox year because the construction of the temple is held to have begun and finished in years of the Ox.
Legend and architectural background
There are many legends citing the foundation of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, but evidence suggests 11th-12th Century during the time of Princess Chama Devi, ruler of the Hariphunchai Kingdom.
The temple is a remarkable example of an early Lanna style architecture in Thailand. Its viharns are open on all sides with the pillars lacquered with gold. Inside viharns, there are many mural paintings using vivid color on both side of the walls.
Another uniqueness of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is its white high brick walls, creating the appearance from outside of a fortress, locally known as “wiang”. This fortified monastery was built on a man-made earth mound similar to Wat Pong Sanuk.
The position of the viharns, gates and balustrades indicate the influence of Buddhist cosmology. Two large guardian lion statues stand at the foot of the staircase with the steps to the entrance gate representing the connection between the Earth and the Holy land. Both sides of the staircases are adorned by a multi-headed Naga coming out of Makara’s mouth, revealing a Burmese connection. Makara is an imagined hybrid animal combining serpent and crocodile. It can be found in Burmese, Khmer and Indian myth.
Once you walk to the gate, you will see it was decorated with carved animals in Himmapan forest. In an ancient myth, this forest is located at the foothill of the mountain of Meru, the central-world mountain in Buddhist cosmology.
So when you enter the gate, you will encounter the Earth represented by Viharn Luang, a large building with a three tiered roof. Next to it is the chedi which is intentionally built at the center of the compound representing Meru and the Holy land.
Around the compound has other 3 viharns – Viharn Phra Put, Viharn Nam Tam and Viharn Lavo represent the other three civilized continents. The ground of the temple is covered with sand, symbolizing the ocean that surrounds Mount Meru.
At the back of the Viharn Luang is a massive gilded niche called ‘Ku’, sheltering Phra Chao Lan Thong, the main Buddha image. It was built in the year 1563 with the mixture of Chiangsaen and Sukhothai art. This style reveals the connection between the Lampang and Sukhothai Kingdoms in the past.
For Buddist art lovers, Wat Pratat Lampang Luang is like a large well-preserved art museum. There are many things in this temple you cannot see in other areas, not even in Chiang Mai, former capital city of the Lanna Kingdom.
Whereas many temples in the other Northern provinces have been restored using modern materials and modern building techniques, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang has been praised by many Buddhism art experts that it is one of the few unique temples that have been best preserved in its original state. Located far from the battlefields between the Lanna and Burmese armies, the temple has survived and maintained its architecture.
Another highlight of this temple is the upside down shadow reflection of the chedi inside Soom Phra Baht chapel. This chapel is a small tower behind the Viharn Luang and contains the Buddha’s footprint. However, women are not allowed to enter. They can instead, see this rare reflection phenomenon from Viharn Praput.
How to get there
At the time of writing (2014), there is no local public transportation stopping near the temple! So the quickest and most comfortable way to get there is by private taxi. Most hotels in Lampang will be able to book one for you.
Alternatively you can charter a songtaew, a converted pick up truck with benches in the back. If you are not in hurried and have budget, you can also charter a horse drawn carriage in the city to go to the temple or charter one of the horse drawn carriages waiting outside of the complex to get a good overview of the fortified temple and see the local area.
For the budget traveller, you can rent a bike in the city and hop onto the dark blue songtaew route Lampang -Ko Kah and get off at Ko Kah Hospital. Then ride a bike straight passes the district office (municipal office) on your right, after that you will see the T-junction. Turn right at the junction and continue for another 3 kilometers. The temple is to your left.
Best time to visit
The temple is open all year round. To join the annual temple festival, visits on the full moon of the 12th lunar month (sometime in November). Locals come to give praise to the main Buddha image and seek blessings.
Opening Hrs. : 07.30 – 17.00
Similar to Chiang Mai, Lampang is an ancient city of the Lanna Kingdom and today still preserves a lot of heritage sites. If you would like alternative travel route and avoid the tourist crowd of Chiang Mai, you should definitely reroute your visit here.
There is a local saying that if you would like to see Chiang Mai before it was overtaken by tourism, you must come to Lampang.
A lot of Lanna-Burmese temples are still in good condition. Every weekend, there is the walking night market which located on the old street with many old buildings on both sides.
The city is also well-known for its horse drawn carriages. Try to experience this unique way of travelling. One carriage has two seats and offers various sightseeing routes. Fare can start from 150 – 500 Baht depends on the package you choose.
Story and photo by Wanweena Tangsathianraphap