The Temples of Khun Yuam

Shan Temple

The Temples of Khun Yuam

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Temples of Khun Yuam

For most visitors of Thailand, Khun Yuam is not more than a stopover on the Mae Hong Son Loop. Khun Yuam’s claims to fame are the Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall and the nearby sunflower fields that are in bloom in November and December. Khun Yuam district has several very interesting temples, to which this article is dedicated. Some of these temples feature in our Mae Sariang Loop tour.
Temple building Tai Yai People
The viharn of Wat To Phae

Wat Muai To, a field hospital in World War Two

The Wat Muai To is Khun Yuam’s most well-known temple, located on the main road. According to information in the museum, this temple used to be two different temples: Wat Muai To and Wat Hua Wiang. During World War Two, to the north of Wat Muai To was Wat Hua Wiang. The temples were at slightly different elevations and separated by a small gate. Today, Wat Muai To has absorbed Wat Hua Wiang.

It has a large viharn with Buddha statues and a number of Shan-style chedis. Wat Muai To was an important place during World War Two. Khun Yuam was the logistical center for the construction of a road to Burma. The Japanese 56th division apparently had its headquarters at the temple.

Wat Muai To, Khun Yuam, Khun Yuam District, Mae Hong Son 58140

Golden temple towers Temples Khun Yuam
Chedis at Wat Muai To
Statues of people
Statues of Japanese soldiers and Shan civilians, Wat Muai To

Beautiful Wat To Phae

The Wat To Phae or Tor Phae is an ancient monastery situated in the plain and valley of the Yuam River. It is about 5 km from Khun Yuam, in the Shan village Baan To Phae. According to a legend, Lawa people once built a place of worship at this location.

A monk called Phrathammathani arrived in To Phae village more than one hundred years ago from Shan State. He practiced meditation at the site of the ruins of the Lawa sanctuary. He then asked the villages to reconstruct the monastery in 1918. Phrathammathani became the first abbot of the Wat To Phae.

Shan traders donated a large amount of money for the reconstruction, which was finished in 1920

Chedi of Buddhist temple Temples Khun Yuam
The chedi of Wat To Phae

The Ruby Curtain of Wat To Phae

Shan people also donated a piece of textile, called the “Ruby Curtain”, to the abbot. Burmese artisans created the curtain, that tells the story of the Buddha and contains pearl beads and 164 ruby stones.

During World War Two Japanese troops utilized the monastery as a communication and repair center. They also printed banknotes at the temple

In 1944 the temple became a field hospital for soldiers, retreating from Burma after their defeat at Imphal and Kohima in 1944. Allegedly they buried their dead in fields around the temple and at foot of the mountain.

Wat To Phae, Mae Hong Son 3007 Rural Rd., Khun Yuam, Khun Yuam District, Mae Hong Son 58140

Piece of textile Temples Khun Yuam
The famous Ruby Curtain at Wat To Phae

Charming Wat Khum

The Wat Khum is in Khun Yuam proper, on the right side of the main road if you come from Mae Sariang. Khum seems to translate as lowland, which means that Wat Khum is in the lower section of Khun Yuam. It took me some time to find this temple as the location on Google Maps was incorrect.

Shan people funded the construction of this temple, which took place in 1824. The current monastery though dates back to 1899, according to an inscription on one of the columns in the Buddha Hall.

During World War Two the 56th division of the Imperial Japanese Army stationed soldiers at the temple and used it as a communication center.

Wat Khum, Khun Yuam, Khun Yuam District, Mae Hong Son 58140

Buddhist monastery Temples Khun Yuam
The monastery of Wat Khum

Wat Muang Pon

The Wat Muang Pon is in the Shan village Muang Pon, which is about 12 km south of Khun Yuam. Coming from Mae Sariang the village is on the right side of the road.

The monastery belongs to the Maha Nikaya, one of the two principal monastic orders of Thai Buddhism. The monastery dates back to 1867.  The Muang Pon monastery acts not only as the community and religious center of the village but also as the main institution to preserve and distribute the Shan culture to the new generation. It is a beautifully located temple, well maintained.

Wat Muang Pon, Mueang Pon, Khun Yuam District, Mae Hong Son 58140

Buddhist temple

References for this article

I visited Khun Yuam several times over the years, most recently in June 2021. I will go back there as soon as I can. I stayed three nights in Khun Yuam and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sources:

Information at the temples and at the Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall.

Hak Hakanson’s website Lanna in World War Two. Hak also sent me valuable information on Khun Yuam and the Japanese presence in Northwest Thailand during World War Two.

Oliver Hargreave, Exploring Chiang Mai, City, Valley and Mountains

Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005

Michael Freeman, Lanna, Thailand’s Northern Kingdom, Bangkok, 2001

Hans Penth, A brief history of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2000

Chotima Chaturawong, The Architecture of Burmese Buddhist Monasteries in Upper Burma and Northern Thailand: The Biography of Trees, Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy, Cornell University, 2003

Yu Yu Thwin, A comparative study on the architectural characteristics of 19th and 20th century Shan monasteries in Southern Shan State of Myanmar and Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai University/Chiang Mai, 2008

If you are interested in Shan or Burmese-style temples, please have a look at the temples of Lampang and the Shan Temples of Mae Hong Son.

Man posing at temple
Frans Betgem in front of the Phra Upakhut shrine at Wat Muang Pon, Khun Yuam district
Buddhist temple
The viharn of Wat To Phae
Rural landscape Temples Khun Yuam
Khun Yuam landscape
Old temple building Mae Hong Son Temples
The viharn at Wat Muang Pon

Khun Yuam and its temples feature in this tour: