Although Wat Chama Thewi is our clear favourite, Lamphun is perhaps slightly too far to go just to check out a single wat, so worth mentioning is our second favourite temple in town: Wat Prathat Haripunchai.
This is the number one destination in Lamphun for local tourists and is indeed one of the most venerated sites in northern Thailand. As we mentioned in the introduction, Haripunchai is the name of the old Mon city on the site of modern Lamphun and the main stupa -- bit of a ringer for Burma’s famous Shwedagon – is thought to date originally from the ninth century. The wat shows Mon, Lanna and Burmese architectural influences, since the city has been ruled by all three at various times.
This is a busy temple with plenty of visitors from Bangkok and daytrippers from Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanolok and so on. Plenty of vendors including those selling OTOP (One Tambon [district], One Product) products set up in the market opposite the entrance by the Ping river.
The sadly common practice of selling small caged birds for release in the hope that it gets you some kind of Buddhist brownie points happens here and is for us totally abhorrent -- and we’d be grateful if you didn’t buy any. Half the birds die anyway and most others are re-caught. (Some locals claim the birds are addicted to methamphetamines so they automatically fly back for their dose — not sure if that is true but can’t imagine Buddha in any way supporting this scheme!)
Much more attractive is the spectacular gold leaf chedi. It's the temple’s central feature and if you want to find a more eco-friendly way of accumulating Buddhist air-miles then the thing to do is to walk around it three times in a clockwise direction. The scene can be a bit of a circus, especially at weekends, but it’s worth a look if you’re in town.
Wat Prathat Haripunchai is located just to the east of the old town’s centre facing the river. There is an entrance fee is 20 baht for foreigners.
By Mark Ord.