Outside The City
We’ve been riding a motorbike through the central northern part of Thailand for the last three weeks. Our final stop, before begrudgingly returning the bike to Chiang Mai, was the city of Lamphun. Typically, we found ourselves in the middle of a celebration without planning on it.
But just before hitting the city we were distracted by an enormous golden monk perched on a hill. A cake shop was in close proximity, so it was win-win.
A Golden Stupa
Exploring the tiny walled area of the city inevitably led us to the town’s centerpiece: a towering golden stupa. This stupa sits in the grounds of a royal wat with the rather long name of Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai Voramahvihan. As we approached it, it was clear that some big event was happening. Thousands of people crowded the grounds of the temple, hands clasped in prayer as a monk’s voice boomed through speakers. We tiptoed around the proceedings and joined other tourists (mostly Thais) snapping photos. The grounds of the temple were adorned with hundreds of lanterns, presumably hung for the impending Loi Krathong festival.
After exploring the wat we bought some guava at a small fruit cart.
“You dropped your keys,” said a voice from behind. We turned and saw a smiling man dressed in traditional formal Thai clothing. I picked up the keys I’d dropped and thanked him. He asked where we were from, and we told him.
“Apakaba! Makan makan!” he said to Caroline. “You speak Hokkien?”
“No,” said Caroline.
“My mother was Singaporean,” he said, “And she spoke Fu Chien. I was born in Phuket. We lived in Penang where I studied English and Chinese, but the Malaysian government started killing Chinese so we left.”
We marveled at the stupa. “It’s about 40% gold at the base, and about 70% gold near the top. And there are also precious stones, like diamonds,” he informed us.
“What’s this festival about?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not a festival. This is part of an annual royal event. But there’s nobody from the royal family here this time.”
The man then got distracted by other people, and we didn’t learn anything more.
If you stay within the confines of the city wall, you can explore everything in a relatively short time. We took a walk up on the wall, checked out a few other corners of the city, and then found our way to a park that contains a famous statue of Queen Cham Thewi, the ‘Beloved Queen of the Lanna People‘. When we arrived at the park, we found another lantern-fest.
On the way back to our guesthouse we decided to stop again at the giant golden stupa. Soft Chinese music was playing, the lanterns were shining, and the devout walked about quietly admiring their surroundings.