Located 5 km in the South of Chiang Mai, the ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam is relatively unknown to tourists and therefore very little visited. It is nevertheless a nice place for bike rides in its charming small streets (even if sometimes some dogs come to bark at you). Here you travel in the past of the region with pretty temples sometimes red bricks ruins, sometimes more complete and recent temples. King Mhangrai, the first Lanna king, founded the city of Wiang Kum Kam during the years 1286 to 1295. Chiang Mai was founded afterwards with the ambition of making it the center of the Lanna Kingdom, while keeping Wiang Kum Kam as a twin capital. At the time the two cities were similar in size and number of inhabitants. It was the wars, especially with Myanmar, who reduced the inhabitants of Wiang Kum Kam to slavery in the 16th century, which led to the abandonment of the city.
The main temples to visit in Wiang Kum Kam, preferably in the order in which I list them, are:
- Wat Chedi Liam, formerly known as Wat Ku Kham, its most notable element is its old five-level Mon style chedi similar to the one at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in Lamphun. This temple also has an ordination hall and is still active.
- Wat That Khao which consists of a ruin of a red brick temple whose remains are a chedi are and the foundations of the ordination hall. To the right of the chedi is a sitting Buddha statue. For information, if you need to buy water, do it here to the merchant in the parking lot because after you will have no other opportunity.
- Wat Pu Pia, again a ruin of a brick temple with more architectural features.
- Wat E-Kang in red brick, has a more impressive chedi.
- Wat Nan Chang, next door, is the least interesting ruin in my list.
- Wat Chang Kham is, by contrast, my big favorite in Wiang Kum Kham. It might be the ancient Wat Kan Thom temple built during the reign of King Mhangrai when Wiang Kum Kam was still functioning as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and the king had ordered a craftsman called 'Kan-Thom' to import timber from Chiang Saen and build a wooden viharn. Today, the temple has a magnificent wiharn with a Naga staircase with impressive heads and refined statues on each side. The interior whose paintings were being made during my last visit (May 2018) houses a Buddha. Behind is a white chedi and in front of it a standing golden Buddha statue. On its left is a revered tree and a little further the ruins of the foundations of the ancient temple. For me, this temple is the best way to complete your Wiang Kum Kam visit.
Note that there are other small ruins that I did not mention here because they are a lot less interesting. Wiang kum Kam temples that I quote here are quite close to each other. The largest distance between two temples is around 2 kilometers and often there are just hundreds of meters between 2 locations.