Scene4 Magazine-inSight

November 2010

Scene4 Magazine - Arts of Thailand - History - The Lost City of Wieng Kumkam | Janine Yasovant - November 2010 -

by Janine Yasovant       คลิกเพื่ออ่านบทความนี้ เป็นภาษาไทย

In 1829, Phaya Meng Rai, who ruled a city in Northern Thailand near the Mekong River, expanded his territory to Chiang Mai and Lampoon. He founded a new city to be a trade center using the Ping River as a transportation route. And then it disappeared. It literally sunk out of sight until it was rediscovered in 1997 amidst some controversy but with excitement and wonder.

When officials excavated and surveyed the area, they found that the forgotten city occupied 650 Rai of land, with at least 25 temples, an elaborate water system, layers of agricultural irrigation, and wide-spread artifacts. They also found ship and boat wreckage including "Scorpion's tail boats," which were quite unique

In 2002, officials announced that the legendary, lost city Wieng Kumkam was indeed an ancient city.

Chiang Mai province is the second largest province of Thailand with many exceptional environmental and cultural tourist attractions. Chiang Mai is the only one province where five districts in the North are located near the border of Burma. The highest mountain is Doi Inthanon which is at Chom Thong district in the South of Chiang Mai city and 2,565.33 meters high .The second highest mountain is at Doi Phahompok national park in Fang district and  is 2,285 meters high, and the third largest mountain is Doi Luang Chiang Dao in Chiang Dao district and is 2,170 meters high. These mountains are part of the Phee Pan Nam mountain range. Because the weather is pleasant, though a bit cold in winter, many people come to visit these mountains each year.


The mountains are the water source of the Ping River, which flows down to the central plain and then unites with the Wang, Yom and Nan Rivers in Nakornsawan province to become the famous Chao Phraya River before flowing southwards to the Thai Gulf at Samut Prakarn province.


The Ping River is quite beautiful and the subject of many paintings and photographs. Its charm also appears in poems and folk songs that emphasize traditional culture and display the beauty and charm of Chiang Mai.


The history of the Ping River is involved with the Northern people and the renowned historical tale of the former sunken city. Before 1997, the mystery comprised only two remaining pagodas, a large Buddha statue and a folk-tale about the river and this unknown place.


Eventually, when people moved into the area and discovered more artifacts, officials investigated and found that the land was covered by mud and sand as if deposited by a flood. And historically, there was an overwhelming flood in the area. As they probed further, they uncovered more evidence. The historical facts and aerial photographs proved that the city plan of Chiang Mai is marvelously surrounded by an old, unmapped, manmade circular-shaped canal. The proof of the construction of Chiang Mai city after Lanna people moved from Wieng Kumkam was engraved in the stone inscription in the year 1296 at Wat Chiang Mun. We might say that Wieng Kumkam is an underground empire.

At the time that Wieng Kumkam thrived, the agriculture was good and the military was strong. Chinese artisans came to produce porcelain using the abundant and valuable varieties of clay near a series of what are now famous kilns. Each of the kilns produced quite different ceramic porcelain. Porcelain from Sankamphaeng was painted in a two-fish pattern, while porcelain from Wieng Kalong was painted in a bird pattern. Phayao kiln used white clay to create statues of small soldiers on war elephants. The porcelain from Sukhothai kiln had a predominant green color. Nan kiln produced porcelain with dark colors and the pattern of owls. The kilns in each place were called 'Chinese dragon-kilns' because they were very large and the production capacity of porcelain in each kiln was more than 1,000 Bowls or plates at a time.

PhayaMeng Rai was the ruler of Nak Yonoknakorn.  According to Buddhist tradition, Nak (Thai serpent) was built as railings of stairs to the temple. Phaya Meng Rai was a friend of the Phaya Ngam Muang who governed the Phayao Empire and Pho khun Ramkamhaeng who was the ruler of Sukhothai Empire.


They were the three kings who founded Wieng Kumkam as both a trading and religious center. People at that time lived near the temples because it was easier for them to support the monks with food and money.  

During the construction of Wieng Kumkam, Phaya Meng Rai governed the Hariphunchai Empire before moving to Chiang Mai and built many temples such as Wat Chet yod, Wat U Mong, Wat Pra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Chiang Man. The extant Lanna art style blended with Burmese and Chinese arts. When Burma conquered the North, nobody talked about Wieng Kumkam. Then the flood and the city was eventually forgotten.

Today, the Ping River, in all of its undulating, romantic beauty is a welcoming route to the no-longer forgotten, lost city of Wieng Kumkam



Paintings by Visoot Charoenporn


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Click Here for this article in Thai 
คลิกเพื่ออ่านบทความนี้ เป็นภาษาไทย

©2010 Janine Yasovant
©2010 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine: Janine Yasovant
Janine Yasovant is a writer in Chiang Mai, Thailand
and a writer for Scene4.

For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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November 2010

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