Wat Ket Karaam and the Wat Ket Museum

Buddhist temple Wat Ket Karaam

Wat Ket Karaam: introduction

Wat Ket Karaam (วัดเกตการาม) is a temple on the east side of the Ping River in the Wat Ket neighborhood. The temple is also known as Wat Sa Ket. The name of the temple is often spelled as Wat Gate Karaam or Wat Ket Karam. According to information at the temple, construction took place in the year 1428 (B.E.1971) during the reign of Phaya (King) Samfangkaen, the 8th ruler of the Mangrai Dynasty. It is the most important temple of the Wat Ket subdistrict, a historic area with a rich and interesting history.

Wat Ket Karaam Viharn Chiang Mai
Wat Ket Karaam

The Phra That Ket Julaa Manee Pagoda

The chedi or pagoda of the temple is very recognizable and is called Wat Phra That Ket Julaa Manee. The pagoda contains a relic of the Buddha. Under the reign of King Nawratha Minsaw (1579-1607/08) they restored the pagoda. The explains the Burmese influence in the design of the pagoda as Nawratha Minsaw was the son of the Burmese King Bayinnaung.

White chedi and blue sky
Chedi of Wat Ket Karaam

The Viharn of Wat Ket Karaam

The roof of the viharn of Wat Ket has a unique, recognizable design with five tiers. There are a number of amazing old photographs of this viharn. These pictures only show the assembly hall and, unfortunately, not the chedi. However,  famous photographer Boonserm Sathrabhaya took a picture that show the temple. In this picture from 1969, you can see the Chansom Memorial bridge, and the five-tier roof of Wat Ket Karaam stands out as well.

Buddhist temple Wat Ket Karaam
Wat Ket Karaam

An old picture of the assembly hall

Another picture is exhibited at the Wat Ket Museum. It shows Wat Ket with a “prasat sop”, a structure of wood and paper containing the coffin of a deceased person that is used in cremations.

Two novices are standing next to it. A car is parked on the right side. The picture is dated 2476 (1932). The caption reads: ”Photos from Broadway PhotoShop. Mr. Anan Rhittidate event data control”. With help from Mr.Som Wang, the curator of the museum, I found out who Mr.Anan is. He is the owner of Ratana House, a beautiful wooden house on Hangdong Road. He also owns the Sen Doi Luang Chiang Dao restaurant.

old picture of Buddhist temple
The prasat sop in front of the viharn of Wat Ket Karaam

The Wat Ket Museum

Chinese residents of the Wat Ket area financed the construction of the building that now houses the Wat Ket Museum. It became the residence of a teacher monk, called Chai Sri Wimon or Muang Jai Wimon (1886-1957), who was the abbot of the temple. Old pictures show a windowless structure on low stilts, that doesn’t look like a residence. A Mr.Ton Shue Pang then repaired the building in the early 20th century after which a group of devotees made some repairs around the year 2000 and made it into a museum.

The person who took the initiative to establish the museum was Mr.Jarin Bain aka Jack Bain, the son of Mr.William Bain, the last manager of the Borneo Company in Chiang Mai. This company was involved in the teak industry in North Thailand from the 1880s until the late 1950s. Its compound was only a couple of hundred meters from the temple. Now, the boutique hotel 137 Pillars House occupies part of the old Borneo Compound. The restaurant of the hotel is the old house of the Borneo Company. The bar is named after Jack Bain.

Old wooden house
The Wat Ket Museum

Jack Bain and Khun Som Wang

The Wat Ket Museum has a unique collection of photographs, utensils, electrical appliances, textiles, and more. Everything appears to be under a thick layer of dust. I remember visiting the museum in 2012. Two gentlemen were sitting in the museum. One of them was Jack Bain, which I didn’t realize at that moment, and the other was Khun Som Wang, his Thai friend. Jack passed away in 2013, after which K.Som Wang took care of the museum. On most days I visited afterward K.Som Wang was there, sitting in his chair.

Inside a museum
The dusty but fascinating interior of the Wat Ket Museum

A Unique Collection

The museum contains a unique collection of photographs. Some of them are in a poor state, unfortunately. I have copied some of them.

There are movable panels with a collage of pictures from Boonserm Satrabhaya and other photographers. Most of these appear on the “Picture Lanna” website of the Library of Chiang Mai University. The museum also has a lot of information about Luang Yonakarn Phichit, a Burmese merchant who restored many temples in Chiang Mai.

I am not a textile expert but the textile collection of the princess consort Dara Rasmi must be very valuable. Besides these, there are other antique textiles.

Thai flag exhibited in the Wat Ket Museum
Thai flag Wat Ket Museum

The future of the Wat Ket Museum

The museum features in some of our samlor tours such as the markets of Chiang Mai by samlor and our customized historical walks. I have visited the museum numerous times over the past ten years. This year I haven’t met Khun Som Wang, the curator. According to a monk at the temple, Khun Som Wang is not in good health and even bedridden at the moment. if you want to visit the museum you have to call this monk, who is the keeper of the keys of the museum.

A couple of years I had a meeting with Anne Arrowsmith, the general manager of the 137 Pillars House, and the daughter of the owner of the hotel about the museum. It seems we need to have such a meeting again.

Buddhist temple
Wat Ket Karaam in the 1920s

Some facts and updates of the Wat Ket Museum – 2022

Khun Somwang, the old curator of the museum, has been absent for  a long time. The monks of the temple now take care of the museum. During my last visit I noticed that they are doing a very nice job.

The museum has no entrance fee but please leave a donation of at least 50THB per person.

The museum is open every day except on Buddhist holy days. In the morning the museum is open from 0830 until 1100 and in the afternoon from 1200 until 1500.

If you want to visit the museum with a big group, please inform the temple in advance and bring a permission letter. These are the contact details:

Wat Ket Karaam temple: 053 243550

The abbot: 081 032 4272

Latest update

The beloved Wat Ket Museum on the grounds of Wat Ket Karaam, close to the Ping River in the Wat Ket neighborhood, is undergoing a major restoration/reconstruction. The late Jack Bain, son of William Bain, the last manager of the Borneo Company in Chiang Mai, established this museum. I hope they take care of the exhibits. The museum was falling apart so action was necessary. I will keep you updated.

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