Wiang Kum Kam - An Overview
History of Wiang Kum Kam
Wiang Kum Kam was founded in 1286 by King Mengrai of the Lanna Kingdom, it was to be his new capital. However, due to limited knowledge at the time, it was unknown that its location was a poor choice because the nearby Ping river was prone to flood this area on a regular basis. Within 10 years Mengrai moved his capital to the present day Chiang Mai a few kilometers north and on the opposite side of the river. The city, however, remained an active community for some 300 more years despite the flooding until finally succumbing to the mud and shifting riverbanks after the Burmese invasion of Lanna in the mid-1500’s. It was rediscovered in 1984 after some stone tablets were found in the mud and calls were placed to the government. The Thai Fine Arts Department was brought in and excavations began along with the clearing of underbrush. After the excavations, evidence was found that suggests a settlement of some kind had existed there as early as the 8th century.
Wiang Kum Kam contains over 40 separate sites that were excavated during the 1980’s by the Thai Fine Arts Department. They are spread over an area of several square kilometers, although the official site is 800X650 meters.
Wat Chedi Liam
The most well-known site within Wiang Kum Kam is Wat Chedi Liam, the highlight of which is the massive Chedi constructed in 1288. It is a copy of the Mon style Chedi of Wat Ku Kut in nearby Lamphun which King Mengrai had recently conquered. The chedi is constructed of 5 separate tiers. Each tier has a Burmese style spire on every corner as well as a Burmese style spire at its peak, this is due to a restoration undertaken in 1908 by a wealthy Burmese patron the of the temple. The Wat grounds also have an Ubosot and Viharn that were built in the early part of the 20th century to accompany the Chedi.
Wat Chang Kam
That Wat Chang Kam translates to “temple carried by elephants” this is due to the large Chedi on the site in the shape of a bell with large elephant carvings seemingly holding up the rest of the structure. The Chedi has several buddha images contained in the niches on all sides. The temple also has a Viharn, and also has a spirit house where the spirit of King Mengrai himself is believed to reside! The temple was excavated and restored during the excavations carried out by the Thai Department of Fine Arts in the 1980’s.
There are several other Wat’s that occupy the sprawling complex such as Wat E-Kang, constructed in the latter period of Wiang Kum Kam in the 1500’s, much of the site is destroyed with only a brick chedi and the foundations of a Viharn remaining. Wat That Kao has a collapsed chedi as well as the pillars of an old Viharn and a pavilion. Wat Pu Pia has a well-preserved brick chedi with beautiful carvings over the arches of its niches that contain Buddha images. There is also a cultural center as well as an information center presenting several items discovered during the excavations of the site as well as information on what life was like during the period the city was active and examples of various types of architecture found throughout the various sites
Opening Hours, Fees, and other information
While the site is officially open from 8am-5pm, it is spread out over a suburban neighborhood with sites sometimes several hundred meters apart. Admission is free, however, it is recommended that due to the large size and spread out nature of the various sites that you hire a guide or join a tour. There are various options for tours at the information center, Wat Chedi Liam, and Wat Cham Kam, they range from 300-500 baht and take around 1 hour to complete. Additional donations to individual operating temples are very much appreciated. As with any Buddhist Temple, it is expected that you dress respectfully and keep your voice low so as not to disturb those who are praying or meditating.