Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

Gilded chedi at night

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Wat Phra That Hariphunchai: a sacred temple of North Thailand

The Wat Phra That Hariphunchai (วัดพระธาตุหริภุญชัย) is a Buddhist temple in Lamphun, a town about 30 kilometers from Chiang Mai. The temple is located close to the Mae Kuang River within the old walled town of Lamphun.
At any given time of the day, you can observe local people donate and give homage to the many Buddha images in this temple.It is one of the most sacred temples in North Thailand. Please dress and behave respectfully and keep a distance from other people
Golden chedi with colourful towers Wat Phra That Hariphunchai
Wat Hariphunchai during Salak Yom

The name of the temple

The name translates to “Temple of the Sacred Hariphunchai Relic”. “Phra That”, means Buddha relic (from “Phra” meaning monk and “that” meaning essence). This is one of the most sacred and interesting Buddhist temples in North Thailand.
It is one of my favorite temples in North Thailand. You can easily spend an hour or more at this magnificent temple because there are so many interesting things to see and stories to tell. There are several assembly halls (vihara or viharn), galleries with statues of monks and of the Buddha, two museums, and an ancient Mon-style chedi.
I recommend to visit the temple with a knowledgeable guide. I have visited the temple numerous times and still discover new places and stories of greatinterest.
Golden chedi with dark skies Wat Phra That Hariphunchai
Wat Hariphunchai in the rainy season

History of Lamphun

Lamphun is one of Thailand’s oldest cities dating back to at least the 9th century. It was the capital of the Mon Kingdom Hariphunchai. Allegedly the ruler of Hariphunchai constructed a chedi to house a hair of the Buddha in 897.

This chedi was where now the central golden chedi of Wat Hariphunchai is located. King Athitayaraj aka Adityaraja constructed the temple around this chedi in the year 1044, according to information at the temple. In other sources mention the year 1150 as the correct date of the foundation of the temple.

Small building in a Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Hariphunchai
Ho Tham, the scripture library

The Chedi Suwanna

The unusual pyramid-shaped, 46 meter high Chedi Suwanna, dates back from the 11th century, according to information at the temple. The design of the chedi is in the Dvaravati- or Mon-style. It is similar to the chedis of Wat Kukut aka Wat Chamathewi and of Wat Chedi Liam at Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai. The Chedi Suwanna is a brick stepped pyramid with Buddha statues in niches.

Brick tower with Buddha Wat Phra That Hariphunchai
The Suwanna Chedi

The Viharns of Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

There are several viharns with Buddha statues at Wat Hariphunchai. The main viharn houses a 15th century Lanna-style Buddha image. A violent storm in 1913 completely destroyed the original viharn, which was probably a wooden building.

In the 50th anniversary of the Ayudhya Bank museum, at the back of the temple compound, there are several old photos that show the destruction after this storm. They then constructed the current building.

There are also viharns for the Phra Chao Daeng and Phra Chao Than Jai Buddha images.

Destroyed Buddhist temple
Wat Hariphunchai after the storm in 1913. The wooden viharn has been destroyed. Source: Sampanthawong Museum, Lamphun
Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Hariphunchai
The main viharn of Wat Hariphunchai nowadays

The viharn of the Goddess of Lavo

The viharn of the Goddess of Lavo contains statues of the Buddha and of Queen Chamathewi and King Athitayaraj. This building survived the devastating storm of 1913 but was rebuilt at an unknown date. According to a legend the Queen Chamathewi came from Lavo, a Mon kingdom that is believed to have been in the area of Lopburi in Central Thailand.

Two pictures of the Viharn Phra Chao Lavo (วิหารพระเจ้าละโว้) at Wat Hariphunchai in Lamphun. The first one adorns the wall of the stairway at the National Archives in Bangkok. Behind the assembly hall is the Suwanna Chedi (สุวรรณเจดีย์). This photo is undated but I guess it is from the 1920s or 30s at the latest. I took the second picture in Januari 2022. The rebuilt or restored the building but I don’t know yet when.

The Bell Tower

It is unclear when they constructed the bell tower of the temple. Old pictures show two columns of brick with the giant bell or gong suspended in between. This bell was cast at Wat Phra Singh in 1860.

I still have to find out when they built the current structure that also contains another bell that was cast during the reign of King Prince Daradirekratphairot, the 7th ruler of Lamphun (1871-1888).

Red house with giant gong
Bell tower at Wat Hariphunchai

The museums of Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

On the temple compound there are two museums. The 50th Anniversary of the Ayudhya Bank Museum is a huge building with interesting artifacts, Buddha statues and old pictures. The Phra Muang Kaew museum is much smaller. It is more or less a corridor with exhibits on both sides.

There are temple ornaments, statues and ancient scripture boxes in which palm leaf documents were stored. Apart from these museums there are galleries with Buddha images and statues of monks. There is so much to see in Wat Pra That Hariphunchai. We even haven’t mentioned the ancient bell tower and the Singha Gate.

colorful boxes
Dharma Cases of the Phra Muang Kaew Museum
Statue of a Buddhist monk at Wat Hariphunchai
Statue of the monk Kruba Srivichai at Wat Hariphunchai

The religious and symbolic center of Lamphun

Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is more than the most important Buddhist temple of Lamphun. It is also the location of religious events. Opposite the temple is the local handicraft market and on every Friday late afternoon there is a Walking Street market in front of the temple.

Every year in September the Salak Yom Festival takes place at Wat Hariphunchai. I attended this event for the first time in 2012. What was a two day event has now become a four day event. The dates are based on the lunar calendar and thus differ each year.

During this festival, which is a tradition of the Tai Yong people, meters high donation trees dot the temple compound. It is a spectacular sight. We will publish the dates of 2022 as soon as possible on this site.

Wat Hariphunchai features in all our Lamphun tours and is one of the Things to do in Lamphun.

Golden chedi in temple things to do in Lamphun

Some facts about the temple

Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is open from 0600 until 1800.

There is an entrance fee for foreigners of 50THB per person.

Colourful pillars with golden chedi
Donation trees during Salak Yom at Wat Hariphunchai in 2020
Monk with colourful pillars
Salak Yom at Wat Hariphunchai in 2020

References for Wat Phra That Hariphunchai

Most of the information of this article I gathered at the temple itself. I live about 16km from Lamphun so I visit the town very often during my bicycle rides.

Where is Wat Phra That Hariphunchai?

Wat Phra That Hariphunchai features in these tours