A Thailand Experience
by René Hasekamp
Lamphun (probably also spelled as "Lamphoon") is a small town, not too far from Chiang Mai, that absolutely is worth a visit.
The town has a special meaning to me personally, because while I was on the plane, on the way to Thailand for the very first time, I was reading a small book for tourists about the Thai language. It was called "Easy Thai". And in that book one of the first sentences in the Thai language I was supposed to be learning, was "Nai Lamphun mee chao naa", to be translated as "In Lamphun there are rice farmers". Very useful information indeed! I discarded the book afterwards, not only because the sentences it tried to teach you appeared to be completely useless for tourists, but mainly because I soon discovered that there is no such thing as "Easy Thai".
The Thai language is a very complex and difficult language, that is far too difficult for tourists like you and me, to learn. Anyway, let me return to my visit to Lamphun. That visit took place many years after I learned that there are rice farmers in Lamphun. At the time we visited Lamphun, my wife and I were married already.
We visited this small town in northern Thailand during one of our stays in Chiang Mai. We took the bus from Chiang Mai to Lamphun for a few Baht, and in about an hour we were there. The bus ride is interesting already, because when you leave Chiang Mai, you pass a long road with very large trees on both sides or the road (if they have not been cut down for the sake of progress in the meantime!)
Many of these trees are considered to be "holy" and therefore have been surrounded with cloths. But all this was an introduction, with some distant memories added. Now let us get to the experience I was planning to write about.
Lamphun is an old town (dating from the seventh century or maybe even earlier) with some fine ancient Wats. One of them is located rather centrally, and is called Wat Phra That Haripunchai. It has a fine reclining Buddha image. A school for Monks is also part of this Wat.
You will also find a local museum in Lamphun, which I can recommend for a visit. It is small, but it houses some fine antiques. One way or another the Thais know how to make a museum appealing to visitors, which I find an Art in its own respect.
After having visited the centrally located attractions, your tourist guidebook will probably also advise you to visit some attractions that are outside the center and they may even be a bit too far to walk to. Therefore you have to choose the local public transport, which in a small town like Lamphun mainly consists of samlors (tricycles, or three-wheeled bicycles, if you prefer that contradictory expression). We found a samlor driver quite easily. An old man, who probably has not been out of Lamphun during the whole of his life. "What is there to see outside Lamphun anyway", he may have thought. He was alone, but he -luckily- did not object against carrying both of us. Samlor drivers often do object against carrying more than one person.
This old and experienced man was very well acquainted with the town, of course, and this came very conveniently to us.
Our tourist guidebook (the "Insight Pocket Guide to Chiang Mai" from several years ago) advised us to go to Wat Phra Yoon, a beautiful old Temple -it said- somewhat outside the center of Lamphun, with some fine standing Buddha images. And here the main reason why I wrote this experience starts. The core of it is a conversation between the samlor driver and my (Thai) wife. Although the whole conversation took place in the Thai language and most of it only reached my comprehension later, I will write it down as if this conversation took place in the English language, for the convenience of my readers.
My wife asked the samlor driver to take us to Wat Phra Yoon, as mentioned in our guidebook. She pointed at the picture in the guidebook.
The samlor driver gave the book a short glance and said that there is no Wat Phra Yoon in Lamphun or in its wide surroundings. He supposed, however, that we apparently wanted to go to Wat Phra Yuen (pronounce the ue like in the French word "Rue").
"No", my wife said, "we want to go to Wat Phra Yoon"! "And we won't pay you if you take us to a different place than the Wat in our guidebook".
That sounds very hard, but some taxi-, tuk-tuk- and samlor drivers rather take you to a different place than the place you ask for, because it is financially more interesting for them. My wife, knowing this, was afraid that the driver would take us on a long ride to the wrong Wat.
"I will take you to the Wat in your book, which is Wat Phra Yuen ", the wise old local man said. Then there followed a conversation, lasting several minutes, of which I only understood a faster and faster (and louder and louder) exchange of the words "Wat Phra Yoon" from the side of my wife and "Wat Phra Yuen" from the side of the samlor driver.
After both names for the Wat had gone from side to side many times, the samlor driver gave an explanation (still in the Thai language) that silenced my wife for a moment, and after this short moment of reflection, she started to laugh until she has tears in her eyes.
I asked her what the matter was, and she said that the book (and so she too) was wrong, because the wise old man from Lamphun had explained her that the correct name must be "Wat Phra Yuen", because there were several standing Buddha images at the Wat, and the Thai word for "standing" is "yuen" and so of course he had been right all the time. "How stupid of me", she said.
The samlor drove us to Wat Phra Yuen, we gave him a large tip and we admired the standing Buddha images.
The Wat was located in a small forest-like piece of ground and it was one of the highlights of our visit to Lamphun. You can see a picture below (from the time before I owned a digital camera!) of one of the standing Buddha's of Wat Phra Yuen.
Now, do not think that my wife should have understood from the start that the book (and she) had been wrong about the name of the Wat, because of the Thai word for standing.
Thai Buddhist Temples often have a name derived from the (nick)name of its founder, or from the (nick)name of an important Monk who has lived there. This (nick)name might well, have been "Yoon". In this case, however, the name of the Wat was derived from the type of Buddha images present, which is not the most obvious choice for the name of a Wat!