Lampang: Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

Table of Contents

Introduction to Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

The Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao housed the image of the Emerald Buddha from 1436 until 1468. Because of this, it is the most important temple of Lampang. Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao is an extensive temple complex with several very interesting structures and statues. The temple has Lanna, Burmese, and Shan influences, which makes it very different from, for instance, temples in Chiang Mai. Next to the temple, or rather on the same compound, is another very interesting temple: the Wat Suchadaram.

In the period that Lampang was part of the Mon Kingdom Hariphunchai, a Mon ruler seems to have constructed the first temple at this location in the 7th century. This ruler was the son of Queen Chamathewi. The name of the temple means “temple of the Emerald Buddha on the water jar knoll”. Followers of the monk Kruba Srivichai restored the temple in the 1920s.

You can easily spend at least an hour at this beautiful temple. There are many stories attached to the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao so take your time.

The full name of the temple is Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao Suchadaram. This complex includes the Wat Suchadaram which is a separate temple with its own interesting history.

Golden chedi and Burmese temple
Chedi and Phra Mondop

The Golden Chedi

The oldest original structure of the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao is the Chedi Phra Boromathat. It is an impressive structure of 50 meters that is visible from afar. This chedi is believed to enshrine a relic from the Buddha. On a white square base stands a golden stupa. The main entrance used to be a short Naga staircase, which is sometimes closed. This will probably the original entrance until it became necessary to have an entrance for vehicles with parking space.

The ubosot of the temple is under reconstruction at the moment.

Naga staircase with golden chediWat Phra Kaew Don Tao
Naga staircase of Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao
Temple roof and chedi Phra Kaew Don Tao
Pyatthat roof of Phra Mondop

The Burmese style Mondop

I find this small temple the most striking of this complex. At the end of the 19th century, several British Teak firms established their base in Lampang. These were the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and the Borneo Company. Later on, the Louis T.Leonowens Ltd Company and the Anglo-Siam Company joined them. All had offices in Lampang, which became the center of the teak industry. These firms employed many experienced Shan and Burmese teak workers and managers, who settled in Lampang. Some of them became wealthy and respected citizens and funded several temples. The Phra Mondop, which stands next to the large chedi, is one of them. It is a beautiful, ornate open structure with some remarkable craftsmanship.

So Burmese and Shan people funded the construction of this lovely Phra Mondop in 1909. Inside the building is a Burmese-style Buddha image with some smaller statues in front. The interior is amazingly decorated with colorful glass mosaics. Just take a look at the ceiling. The roof of the mondop is the Phyatthat, typical for Burmese royal and Buddhist architecture. It is a multistaged roof, with an odd number of tiers (from three to seven). The Phra Mondop has seven tiers.

ceiling with mosaic
Ceiling of the Phra Mondop at the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao
Buddha statues in a temple
Buddha Statue in the Pha Mondop

The reclining Buddha of Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

There is one main assembly hall, the viharn, at the temple and two other smaller buildings, housing Buddha statues. When I visited the viharn was closed. It measures 14 by 29 meters and housed the Emerald Buddha statue. According to legend lightning struck the chedi of Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai. Inside this chedi, they found the image of the Emerald Buddha. In 1436 King Samfangkaen (1410-1441), the 8th ruler of the Lanna Kingdom decided to bring the statue from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai.

It was placed on the back of an elephant. For some reason, the animal refused to go to Chiang Mai and instead headed for Lampang. The King decided to redirect the procession and finally, the statue ended up in the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao in Lampang. In the end, they moved the statue to Chiang Mai after 32 years. They found a willing elephant to bring it to Wat Chedi Luang where it stayed until 1551.

White elephant with small temple on its back Emerald Buddha
Statue of the elephant that took the Emerald Buddha to the temple

The reclining Buddha

In a smaller building on the side of the chedi there is a reclining Buddha statue, covered with gold.

Sleeping Buddha statue Phra Kaew Don Tao
The reclining Buddha

The ruined chedi of Wat Laam Chang

This looks like the oldest ruin at Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao. According to a sign at the temple, this is the ruins of a round pagoda on a square foundation. Legend says that the ruler of Lampang tied his elephant at this location when he came to worship the relics of the Buddha.
It is not clear when this took place. Apparently, they constructed a temple at this location and called it Wat Laam Chang. “Laam chang” means “tie the elephant”.

Brick ruin at temple
Ruins of Wat Laam Chang

The Legend of Mae Suchada

This is a famous legend of Lampang. Mae Suchada was an elderly local woman who donated a piece of watermelon to a monk. When he opened the watermelon an emerald stone appeared from it. The emerald stone then transformed into a Buddha image. Local people started to become suspicious of the woman and decided to behead her. Afterward, people realized they made a terrible mistake and decided to build a temple and name it after her. According to some people, this sad story cast a spell over Lampang, known as the Curse of Mae Suchada. This curse would have grave consequences for the city of Lampang later on. In a small sala close to the main entrance the meeting of the monk and Mae Suchada is depicted.

Statues of monk and woman
Mae Suchada and the monk

The hero of Lampang

Chao Po Thip Chang liberated the Lanna Kingdom from Burmese occupation in 1732, according to an explanatory board at the temple. According to Sarassawadee Ongsakul in “History of Lanna”, Chao Po Thip Chang ruled Lampang from 1732 until 1759 with Burmese support. He is regarded though as the progenitor (or founding father) of the Chet Ton dynasty. Members of this bloodline liberated the Lanna Kingdom from Burmese occupation with the support of the King of Siam. They ruled Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Lampang until the King of Siam abolished the dynasty. On the temple grounds, there is this statue of Chao Po Thip Chang.

Statue of a soldier Phra Kaew Don Tao
Chao Po Thip Chang statue. He defeated Burmese forces at Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in 1730.

How to get to the Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

The temple is located on Phra Kaew road, north of the Wang River. There are no taxis in Lampang so you will have to get there by either horse cart or the yellow and green songtaews, a public transport vehicle.

The temple grounds are open every day from 0600 until 1800. I recommend visiting in the early morning or in the late afternoon. The light is best and it is not so hot. The entrance fee is 20THB per person. This map shows the location of the temple:

Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao features in these tours: