Long before Chiang Mai was founded some 700 years ago, the Mon people set up the legendary kingdom of Haripunchai in the area that is today known as Lamphun.
Wat Chammathewi (also known as Wat Kukut) dates back to the 8th century. The spire on top of the chedi is said to have been lost during an earthquake, hence the alternative “nickname”. According to the chronicles, the founder Queen Chammathewi is enshrined in the magnificent five-tier Suwanna chedi itself. Some of the Mon-style Buddha images are in good condition, showing the posture known as “dispelling fear”. They are more robust than later depictions, and the robe somehow appears transparent.
There is a smaller, octagonal chedi beside the temple hall, which is about 700 years old. Respectable old age at this climate – even if you consider all the maintenance and restoration needed over the centuries.
It is a peaceful temple with a beautiful garden, approximately one kilometre outside the town moat.
Lamphun is less than thirty kilometres away from Chiang Mai, easily accessible as a daytrip by local bus, train or songthaew. There are few tourists around.
In the Chiang Mai area, ruins of temples and chedis with Haripunchai influence can be visited in the Wiang Kum Kam historical park. Even though it is only a few kilometres south from the city’s bustling night bazaar, it is like a little village, with herds of goats munching on the grass surrounding the ruins of ancient chedis and horse carts taking visitors from temple to temple. All the ruins were found under a thick layer of silt just a few decades ago, long lost and almost forgotten after the river suddenly changed its course during the Burmese occupation.
Wat Chedi Liam (Liem) is a replica of the chedi in Lamphun, constructed during the Mengrai era (13th century), when the city itself was founded. It was renovated in the 1980s.
You may clearly see from the photo that the sixty Buddha images are relatively new and intact; however, it does not take away from the ancient feel of the monument. The photos were taken shortly before sunset, when the images almost come alive in the strong, colourful light. This is my favourite time to take pictures, the only problem is that it is over very quickly.
Wat Chedi Liam is for some reason really difficult to find. All signs to “Wieng Kum Kam” take you to Wat Chang Kham, the other major temple in the park. I would never have found the chedi without locating it on a map before setting off. The best way to approach it is from the superhighway. The turnoff is about 200 metres before the bridge (you need to approach from the east), with a large sign saying “McKean hospital”. Go straight ahead and ignore the “Wiang Kum Kam” signs trying to send you off to the left, and you will be in front of Wat Chedi Liam within two minutes. It is actually right on the eastern bank of the Ping river.
I posted a map at the forum.
As for Wat Chammathewi, my favourite route to Lamphun goes on the western bank of the Ping river. It is a scenic road with surprisingly little traffic, passing by plantations, villages and offering great views of the meandering river. The turnoff to Lamphun is not signposted, you need to keep an eye on your meter and cross a bridge after 30 kilometres or so, then drive straight ahead. The road passes by Wat Chammathewi as you approach the town centre. It is also easy to proceed straight on after visiting and reach other sights of interest, including the Haripunchai National Museum, which gives a great overview of the era that gave us these two “sister chedis”.