Just outside of downtown Chiang Mai, on the edge of the ‘super highway’, lie the recently excavated ruins of the ancient city of Wiang Khum Kham. The ruins themselves aren’t exactly spectacular – several brick temples and pagodas in fairly ruinous states – but it is a historically important site and a visit is made worthwhile by the pleasant setting and the fun means of transport provided for your tour of the ruins.
Although there are thought to be at least 40 ruined temples in the ancient city most still lie unexcavated under gardens and suburban houses but some nine sites have been cleared of earth and vegetation and lie scattered amongst the leafy gardens and lanes of this quiet residential suburb. There are also a couple of more recent but attractive functioning temples that have been constructed adjacent to the ruins.
The city must have covered a fair area and the various sites are too spread out to be visited on foot, but lie mainly on quiet lanes, so enterprising locals have given you the choice between renting a bicycle or taking a horse and cart to get around. The carts wait in the grounds of Wat Chedi Si Liem and cost 200 baht for a 45 minute/1 hour tour of the main sites – excellent value since they can seat 4. Whilst if you haven’t got your own bike you can rent one outside the information centre on the super highway for 50 baht. There is no entrance fee for the site itself.
Information on the site can be slightly confusing, despite there being said information centre and each site having an English description. The problem lies in the accuracy of the info rather than the availability!
Being Thailand, as far as Thais are concerned these ruins must have been built by Thais so have been ascribed to King Mengrai in the 13th century who was supposed to have built Wiang Khum Kham before deciding it wasn’t a great spot – too close to the flood prone Ping River – and moving his capital to Chiang Mai instead, whereupon Khum Kham was abandoned.
However from the extent of the ruins it’s clear the city must have been occupied over a lengthy period by a large number of people and indeed most archeologists now put the city’s founding to the 11th century and the Mon of the Dvaravati civilisation as a satellite town for their local capital of Haripunchai, (today’s Lamphun).
The ruins cover a period from the 11th century right up until the 16th and 17th centuries, (including Mon/ Dvaravati, Mon/Khmer/Sukhothai and Thai Lanna periods), so was obviously never completely abandoned until the 18th century when there were some catastrophic floods which really did finish the place off and covered all the remains in a layer of river mud, under which they stayed hidden until recently. (The first ruins were uncovered in the 1980s and some, which you are also welcome to visit, are only being excavated now.)
The Mon Chedi of Wat Chedi Si Liem and Wat Chang Kham are the most noteworthy and Wat Chang Kham also has a reconstructed traditional style Thai house which is remarkably similar to any of the hill-tribe houses you can see in most of Northern Thailand.
The information centre area, Wat Chedi Si Liem and Wat Chang Khan have drink stalls and at weekends or busy times food stalls. Most of the statues, carvings, inscriptions etc found here are in the Chiang Mai National Museum.
All in all a cheap and interesting half day trip.
How to get there
A tuk tuk from Chiang Mai will be around 80 to 100 baht and you could either ask the driver to wait, or wander up to the super highway and flag one down when you’re ready to go back.
By Mark Ord.