Kruba Srivichai, the Patron Saint of Lanna

Statue of a Buddhist monk

Kruba Srivichai, the Patron Saint of Lanna

Picture of Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem is a Dutch veteran in the travel industry in South East Asia. He is the founder of Green Trails and Chiang Mai a la Carte, amongst others. He also is the founder and admin of the Facebook group Chiang Mai Memories.

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The Patron Saint of Lanna

Kruba Srivichai (1878-1939) was a monk who became known as the Patron Saint of Lanna or the Engineer Monk. In this blog, we use the spelling Kruba Srivichai although you will often find his name spelt as Khruba Siwichai. Khruba is the correct translation but we have chosen the more common spelling of Kruba Srivichai. The term Kruba refers to a senior monk in the Northern Thai dialect. Kruba Srivichai has been responsible for initiating and coordinating the restoration of temples and the construction of bridges and roads in North Thailand. His followers constructed the road to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in 1935. One of the most famous old pictures shows the monk and his followers at the bottom of the Naga staircase to the temple. An unknown photographer took this photo on April 30, 1935, the day of the opening of the road.

Group of people and monks Kruba Srivichai Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Kruba Srivichai and his followers on Doi Suthep on April 30, 1935. Kruba Srivichai is standing in the middle. On the left with his arms over his knee is Luang Sri Prakad. The man in the white suit is Chin Ngow.

The most respected monk in North Thailand

Kruba Srivichai is the most respected monk of North Thailand, a symbol of Lanna.  In Chiang Mai, many people visit his shrine at the foot of Doi Suthep and pay homage to the Patron Saint of Lanna. At Wat Chamatewi aka Wat Ku Kut in Lamphun and at Wat Baan Pang, where the monk was born, there are museums dedicated to him. You will find huge statues of him at Wat Doi Ti in Lamphun and Wat Saeng Kaew Phothiyan, Mae Suay district, Chiang Rai province. Apart from that there are smaller statues of the monk at many temples in Chiang Mai. During your visit to Chiang Mai, you will come across an image of the monk at least one time.

Golden statue of a monk Kruba Srivichai temples Chiang Rai
Image of Kruba Srivichai at Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan

The life of Kruba Srivichai

Kruba Srivichai was born in 1878 in the village Baan Pang in Li District Lamphun province, about 100 kilometers south of Chiang Mai. He came from a poor family and became a monk in 1899. His ascetic lifestyle, generosity, and compassion gained him a lot of respect and, over time, a lot of followers. Only after a few years, he succeeded the abbot of Wat Baan Pang, the village temple. Not long after that, he became involved in a long, drawn-out conflict with the Sangha, the governing body of the national order of monks, and Siamese state officials. In short, this conflict was about the ordination of monks by Kruba Srivichai, in which he bypassed religious and secular authorities. This led to his imprisonment a couple of times.

Sleeping monk Kruba Srivichai
Image of Kruba Srivichai asleep at the museum in Lamphun

Restoration and reconstruction of temples in North Thailand

Many of the temples in North Thailand date back hundreds of years. The Burmese occupation of the Lanna Kingdom lasted from 1558 until 1774. The fighting to push out the Burmese in the second half of the 18th century took its toll. It left some areas of the Lanna kingdom in shambles. People had either died in the fighting or left large areas uninhabited. As a consequence, many of the Buddhist temples fell prey to the forces of nature. There is evidence some renovation of major temples took place during the reign of King Kawila (1782-1816), the first king of the Chet Ton dynasty. However, it was not until the early 20th century that major work was done on the restoration of Buddhist temples in North Thailand. The person responsible for this was Kruba Srivichai.

statues of monks Kruba Srivichai
Statue of Kruba Srivichai at Wat Phra That Chom Ping. Kruba is the image on the left.

History of the Road to Wat Doi Suthep

Few people know about the history of the road that leads to Wat Doi Suthep. Followers of the “monk-engineer” Kruba Srivichai constructed the road to the base of the stairs leading to the temple. His name is also often spelled Kruba Sriwichai or Siwichai. He is known as the Patron Saint of Lanna and was involved in more than a hundred projects. There was already a road leading up to the temple suitable for cars, but this was most likely not an all-weather road. Work on the paving of the road started on November 9, 1934, at the start of the dry season. Pictures show Chao Kaew Nawarat (1862-1939), the last ruler of Chiang Mai, wielding a tool to start the construction ceremoniously.

Monk statue with sky lanterns Kruba Srivichai things to do in Lamphun
Sky lantern release during Loy Krathong at Doi Ti. The statue of the monk in the background.
Group of people working Kruba Srivichai
Prince Kaew Nawarat working on the road to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Date: probably 1934.

The opening of the road

Before the start of the rainy season, on April 30, 1935, the road was opened. On that day, one of Kruba’s followers volunteered to drive him up the finished road. That follower was Chin Ngow, a businessman of Chinese descent. Chin Ngow owned a Ford 1925 model T. He had a shop in Chiang Mai selling car accessories. The shop was also a Sub-Agent for Ford Cars and Asiatic Petroleum Co. The Asiatic Petroleum Company was a joint venture between the Shell and Royal Dutch oil companies founded in 1903.

Chin Ngow’s family now runs a gold shop in the Warorot Market area. His grandson Kim told us that his grandfather suffered a gunshot wound during a business conflict. Kruba Srivichai helped him recover from his injury. After this Chin Ngow became a follower and a student. He supplied food and water to his followers while they were constructing the road to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Two men in front of a gold shop Kruba Srivichai
Kim, grandson of Chin Ngow, and Frans Betgem in front of the gold shop in Chiang Mai

Chin Ngow, a businessman of Chinese descent

So on April 30, 1935, Chin Ngow took the monk in his car on the new road to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. Accompanying them was Luang Sriprakad, the mayor of Chiang Mai. A couple of pictures were taken on that day of which one is probably one of Chiang Mai’s most famous photographs. It shows Kruba Srivichai standing among his followers, including two other well-known monks called Kruba Khao Pee and Kruba Chaiya Wongsa. Chin Ngow and Luang Sripakad are sitting right and left in the picture. Another picture shows the car as well. Kruba Srivichai passed away in 1938, and Chin Ngow in 1950.

Silver metal sheet of photograph
Opening of the road to Wat Doi Suthep Wat Muen San

The Kruba Srivichai Museum in Lamphun

You will find statues of Kruba Srivichai in numerous temples in the Northern Thailand. Bridges and roads are named after the most revered monk of the North. Wat Hariphunchai in Lamphun has a statue of the monk. Wat Kukut has a small but very interesting museum, dedicated to the monk. The restoration of the temple was his last project, according to information at the museum. His followers also constructed the viharn (assembly hall) at Wat Kukut. Not far from the temple is the Srivichai Bridge over the Ping River, named after the monk. Next to the bridge is a standing statue of the monk.

Temple with old chedi Kruba Srivichai
Wat Kukut in Lamphun

The viharn of Wat Suan Dok

In 1932 followers of the monk were involved in a major restoration at the Wat Suan Dok. They constructed the new, immense viharn and made some changes to the chedi and surrounding structures. Another temple where you will see a statue of the monk is Wat Muen San, the second silver temple. This temple also has a small chedi that contains relics of the monk.

Even the Phra Borommathat Phutthanimit Chedi at Wat Phra That Pha Ngao near Chiang Saen contains a statue of the monk. In 1934 followers of Kruba Srivichai constructed an assembly hall at the Chiang Dao Cave Temple. Next to the building is a statue of the monk.

Statue of monk next to a temple
Viharn and statue of Kruba Srivichai

Paying respect to the Patron Saint of Lanna

If you visit Chiang Mai and North Thailand it is good to have some knowledge about the Patron Saint of Lanna. He is an immensely important person for local people. Every Thai visitor of Doi Suthep stops at the shrine of the monk at the foot of the mountain. On every tour to Doi Suthep we stop briefly at the shrine. I took the time to drive to Baan Pang, the village where he was born and became the abbot of the village temple. The temple has a small museum dedicated to Kruba Srivichai.

Visiting the museum will take at least half a day in an itinerary. We recommend to combine it with a visit to Lamphun and Pasang.  One of the exhibits in the museum is the vehicle of the businessman Chin Ngow. He drove the monk up the mountain on the day of the opening of the road to the temple.Visiting the museum in Wat Baan Pang only makes sense though for people who are deeply interested in Buddhism and North Thailand.

Old timer car in museum Kruba Srivichai
The vehicle of Chin Ngow in which he drove the monk on April 30, 1935. Kruba Srivichai museum at Wat Baan Pang

This is the location of the museum

The museum has no entrance fee and is open every day.

You will meet Kruba Srivichai during the following tours