Luang Yonakarn aka Luang Yo

Old temple Luang Yonakarn
Frans Betgem

Frans Betgem

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Luang Yonakarn Phichit, a Burmese merchant in Chiang Mai

Luang Yonakarn Phichit (1845-1927) was a Burmese merchant and nobleman from Moulmein. His original name was Mong Panyo or U Panyo.In the early 20th century he was one of the wealthiest and most respected citizens of Chiang Mai. His descendants are the Upayokin family, of whom some members still live in Chiang Mai.

Not much has been written in English about the life of Luang Yonakarn Phichit and his contributions to Chiang Mai and North Thailand. I hope this article fills that void to a certain extent. The research is ongoing so I will update this article regularly. I welcome all feedback and suggestions.

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Three young people on old picture Luang Yonakarn
Mong Panyo and his siblings in Moulmein. Source: www.gotoknow.org

Mong Panyo or U Panyo

Mong Panyo was born in 1845 in the city Moulmein aka Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State in Burma. He had two siblings, named Mayi and Umin. Moulmein was an important trading hub. It was the port of a busy trading route from Burma to Yunnan in Southern China, that ran via Tak (Raheng) and Chiang Mai. Since 1826 Moulmein became a British possession, after which it grew into an established port of the teak trade.

In Mong Panyo’s younger years the British Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation was in charge of the teak trade in Moulmein. The Salween river transported the teak that was harvested upcountry to the port. Mong Panyo went to Chiang Mai at a young age, during the reign of King Kawilorot Suriyawong which lasted from 1854 until 1870.

Rafts of logs in a river East Asiatic Company
Rafts of teak logs on the Chao Phraya River. Courtesy of Mrs.Suwaphon Chuto

The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation

Mong Pan Yo apparently worked for the ruler of Chiang Mai and became involved in the teak industry, which was in its infancy in North Thailand. When the BBTC expanded its operations to Siam in the 1880s the teak industry in Raheng (Tak), Chiang Mai, and Lakon (Lampang) was in the hands of the Burmese who settled in Siam and brought over their elephants. Mong Panyo was probably one of them. It is likely that he started working for or cooperating with the BBTC in this period.

He probably was a citizen of the British empire, which paid dividends in those days. His good contacts with the ruling family of North Thailand paved the way for a successful business career. Consequently, Mong Panyo became a very wealthy person in Chiang Mai.

Man in a uniform Chiang Mai Heritage Houses Luang Yonakarn
Luang Yonakarn Phichit

A respected citizen of Chiang Mai

He certainly was a devout Buddhist and contributed to many temples in the Lanna kingdom. Besides that, he also seems to have been involved in the construction of public works such as bridges, roads, and canals. Of that activity, however, I have not found any evidence yet. I remember having him seen mentioned in relation to Kad Luang, the current Warorot Market. His contribution to society elevated him to the status of a well-known and respected person among local people and foreign residents.

The reputation of Mong Panyo also reached the court of the king of Siam, Rama V.  In 1896 the king elevated Mong Pan Yo’s status to nobility with the title Rong Amnat Ek and awarded him a Siamese name: Luang Yonakarn Phichit. His full name and title, therefore, became Rong Amnat Ek Luang Yonakarn Phichit (รองอำมาตย์เอก หลวงโยนะการพิจิตร).

Rong Amnat Ek was a rank of nobility in Siam.  “Luang” means “big”). Later on, King Rama VI awarded him the hereditary surname “Upayokin” (sometimes spelled Upayogin), the name his descendants are still using.

Luang Yo and his family

Rama V also rewarded Luang Yonakarn Phichit by granting him forest concessions in the north of Siam. At one moment Luang Yo, as he became widely known, owned about 300 elephants to work his forests.

Luang Yo married four times. With his first wife, called Bua Kaew, he had three children, two sons, and a daughter. After Bua Kaew passed away he married a woman called Bua Chin, with who he had two children, a son, and a daughter. With his third wife, he had nine children: five sons and four daughters. They are posing in the below picture in front of the Mosway Manor aka Baan Huean Boran. This picture probably dates back to 1919. With his fourth wife, he had no children.

The Mosway Manor

Two magnificent, entirely different heritage houses on Charoenprathet road in Chiang Mai are related to Luang Yo: the Mosway Manor and the Luang Yo House. The Upayokin Family still owns the Mosway Manor, which has been empty for at least five years. According to a plaque, that was in front of the house in 2016, the eldest son of Luang Yo, Mo Suay, constructed the house 150 years ago.

This information is certainly not correct. It probably dates back to the early 20th century. Mo Suay became Mosway…In 2005 the Mosway Manor housed the restaurant Antique House. In 2015 the family ran a restaurant called Jangarphor, which closed its doors in 2017, I think. In the past, this house was known as Baan Huean Boran (บ้านเฮือนโบราณ).

Woman with nine children Luang Yonakarn
Luang Yonakarn's third wife with her nine childeren in front of the Mosway Manor. Source: www.gotoknow.org
Old teakwooden house Chiang Mai Heritage Houses
The Mosway Manor in 2016

The Luang Yo House

This house is on the compound of the Diamond Hotel. Its design was inspired by the architecture of the Burmese Wat Upakhut, a temple nearby. The ground floor of the Luang Yo House or Building is brick and mortar. The first floor is teak wood. It is a beautiful building that has been unused for several years. It once housed a khantoke restaurant, a traditional massage place, and others. The owners of the Diamond Hotel own the Luang Yo House.

In front of the house, there is a wooden sign with the text: “150 Yrs. Old Teak Mansion”. That sign has been there since at least 2010, which would mean the house was constructed in 1860. Luang Yo was only 15 years old at that time so the age of the house is incorrect. I just guess it was built around the year 1900. This house was known as Baan Huean Luang (บ้านเฮือนหลวง).

Old colonial style house Luang Yonakarn
The Luang Yo House in 2018
Old house with a modern building
Luang Yo House with the Diamond Hotel in the background, 2019

Buddhist Temples and Luang Yo

Luang Yonakarn Phichit was a devout Buddhist. Over the years he funded the restoration of temples in North Thailand and the construction of chedis, statues, and buildings at these temples. Most of these temples already existed but were in a ruined state probably. Reading accounts of visitors such as Ernest Satow, who visited Chiang Mai in 1886, many temples were in a poor state.

Luang Yo’s restorations and additions to these temples had a specific Burmese-Mon character. I dare to say that much of the Burmese influence we see in temples in Chiang Mai nowadays is probably due to his initiatives. I am still doing research into the legacy of Luang Yonakarn Phichit.

Numerous temples

One of the few articles I have found in Thai lists many temples to which Luang Yo contributed. These temples are mostly in Chiang Mai but also in Lampang, Lamphun, and even in Phayao. Most of the temples he contributed to are on Thapae Road such as Wat Mahawan, Wat Saen Fang, Wat Chetawan, Wat Buppharam, and the Burmese Wat Upakut, a temple that was demolished in the late 1950s. Other temples outside the Old City included the Pa’O temple Wat Nong Kham, Wat Sri Don Chai, Wat Chiang Yuen, Wat Chaimongkol, Wat Koh Klang, and Wat Chang Kham and Wat Chedi Liam.

The list also includes the most famous temples of Chiang Mai such as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Pha Lat. In Lampang he contributed to Wat Chaimongkol Chongkha, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, Wat Pong Sanuk, Wat Chedi Sao, and Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in Lamphun also appears on this list.

Old temple Luang Yonakarn
The Burmese Wat Upakhut. Photo by Luang Anusarn Sunthorn. Date unknown.

The Burmese Wat Upakhut

The Burmese Upakhut is not there anymore. It has been very difficult to find any information on this temple but I think it was constructed in the 19th century. It was located on the corner of Charoenprathet and Thapae roads, next to another temple dedicated to Phra Upakhut, the revered monk. The Thai Wat Upakhut is still there and well worth visiting. It is the only Wat Upakhut in Thailand.

The Burmese Wat Uphakut was demolished in 1957 (B.E.2500) for the construction of the Buddha Sathan building aka the Chiang Mai Religious Practice Building. The story goes that no one maintained this temple so they decided to demolish it. There are few photographs of the Burmese Wat Uphakhut. They show a Burmese-style building that is different from Lanna-style temples. Luang Anusarn Sunthorn(หลวงอนุสารสุนทร) took the oldest picture more than 100 years ago.

Old Burmese-style temple
The Burmese Wat Uphakhut in the 1950s. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

Boonserm’s photos of the Burmese Wat Upakhut

The other legendary Chiang Mai photographer Boonserm Satrabhaya took a couple of pictures in the 1950s of the Burmese Wat Uphakhut. The temple features in a series of photos Boonserm took during the Songkran festivities in 1953. It shows the temple from a different angle and also shows a Burmese-style chedi. One picture of Boonserm shows the temple from the same angle as the photo of Luang Anusarn Sunthorn.

Temple with lots of people
The Burmese Wat Upakhut in 1953. Photo by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

References for this article

Much of this article is based on my own research. I have visited the houses and temples, mentioned in this article, often.

The Wat Ket Museum at Wat Ket Karaam is an important source. It exhibits pictures, document and texts related to Luang Yonakarn Phichit.

Much of the information comes from this website.

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