Setting off on a leisurely sojourn to Lamphun with my friend Surasak (Sam), leaving all the hustle and bustle and throngs of visitors in busy Chiang Mai behind us, gave pause, time slowing as the motorbike snaked along the banks of the Mae Ping river. The parched landscape dotted with lam yai orchards, dusty hues of the waning dry season, the intense heat of the sun beating down, all waxing into an almost transcendental passage back into another time and place as we rolled along towards Haripunchai. (Lamphun)
Lam yai (dragon’s eye), in the lychee, rambutan family of evergreens, originating from south China and introduced into South East Asia by Chinese merchants, and particularly prized in the north of Thailand where deep green orchards dot the landscape. The fruit has an earthy parchment like skin that when peeled reveals a milky sweet translucent fruit with a dark lacquer like seed, just visible in the center. The trees fruit twice a year; the main crop at the end of the dry season (April-June) and again the off season crop at the end of the wet season (November- January).
Lam Yai is Thailand’s largest fruit export and an integral part of Lamphun’s agricultural heritage. The fresh fruit is well worth tasting when visiting northern Thailand as it is available fresh only where it is grown. The exported fruit is canned or dried and available worldwide.
Used in soups, sweet and sour savory dishes, salads, sweets, teas and traditional medicinal tonics. Lam yai is rich in vitamin c, iron, copper, manganese, and potassium. Rarely found fresh outside Asia, so be sure to try this deletable fruit if you happen to be visiting.
I have been to Lamphun many times over the years, yet with every visit the charms of northern Thailand’s oldest city never fails to reveal new insights into its fascinating history. Founded by the Hariphunchai people of the Mon Kingdom in the Daravati period in the 6th century and later brought under the influence of the Lanna Kingdom’s King Mengri around 1280, who later founded Chiang Mai as the capital of the north, Lamphun really is a rare opportunity to experience the old world that once graced the north of Thailand.
Today Lamphun it is an unassuming sleepy town with all the attributes of its past woven seamlessly into the present. Friendly people, decorously tidy, with an eclectic and fascinating assemblage of architectural styles, and of course historical sights that attest to Lamphun’s luminous past.
Not to be missed, Wat Phra That, built in the 9th century, Wat Kukut in the8th century, and the Haripunchai National Museum for an impressive overview of Lamphun’s ancient relics and artifacts.
Be sure to to take a leisurely walk about around the moated historic district where you will find local crafts, Lamphun’s unique hand loomed silk weavings, local agricultural products including lam yai, and of course a place to enjoy some amazing local northern Thai cuisine.
I have read over and over again that a day trip to Lamphun is more than enough to take in the sights, but I would recommend an overnight, or even a couple of days, to let yourself slow down to Lamphun time and really absorb the charm of this lovely gem of the north.
Lamphun is 26 kilometers south of Chiang Mai. If you don’t have transport you can catch a blue songtaew (blue truck with benches) east of the old city across the iron bridge (saphan lek) that spans the Ping river. You will see the blue songtaews to your right as you exit the bridge. The fare is 20 baht each way. Transport around Lamphun is readily available on arrival.