Lamphun pursues tourism potential


Like many other northern provinces with the history, heritage, culture and natural attractions to qualify as good tourism destinations, Lamphun considers itself neglected and undervalued.

Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is perhaps the only landmark that is already well-known to tourists in Lamphun, which traces its history back 1,343 years.

The province feels it suffers discrimination from national tourism agencies that pour their resources into promoting the northern capital, Chiang Mai, just 23 kilometres to the north.

Lamphun considers that it has been overlooked in promotion campaigns and excluded from Tourism Ministry and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) investment.

Originally known as Hariphunchai, Lamphun dates back 1,343 years – nearly twice Chiang Mai’s age – and has historical, cultural and natural sites to rival those of the “Rose of the North”.

Lamphun’s old town, with its ancient temples, shophouses and buildings, is more beautiful and rich in culture than Luang Prabang in Laos, listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Social and Culture Organisation (Unesco), said Lamphun governor Direkoch Ponkornkleep.

“We’ve been a victim of discrimination and have long been overlooked by the tourism bodies as a destination,” the governor said.

In his view, the province has been left to struggle on its own to make itself known to tourists, with little success.

Lamphun, whose economy relies on industrial estates and longan plantations, attracted 490,000 visitors in the year to September 2008, compared with 5.4 million for Chiang Mai.

Only 20,000 to 30,000 of the visitors were foreigners and tourists also only spent about 45 minutes in Lamphun, thus contributing very little revenue.

The most popular site for visitors is Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, with a 46-metre golden chedi restored in 1443 by a king of Chiang Mai.

As the province attempts to put itself on the national and international tourism maps, this site may feature in a renewed bid to nominate Lamphun as a Unesco World Heritage Site. World Heritage status would go a long way to enhance the city’s tiny tourism industry.

Local agencies have already completed five or six out of seven or eight criteria for proposing the nomination to Unesco, said governor Direkoch.

“We are verifying our historical facts as part of the final process of completing the nomination,” he told the Bangkok Post.

A concerted drive on the ground is now pushing forward the bid, which was conceived a decade ago but not vigorously pursued, he said.

The province now hopes to become listed as a World Heritage Site within five years, joining five other sites in Thailand including Ayutthaya and associated historic towns (listed in 1991), Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuaries (1991), Sukhothai and associated historic towns (1991), Ban Chiang archaeological site (1992) and Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex (2005).

But Lamphun would avoid Chiang Mai’s path of attracting mass tourism by building infrastructure and focus on local charm and culture, he said.

Lamphun has only four hotels with a total of about 1,000 rooms while Chiang Mai has more than 30,000 hotel rooms.

Lamphun’s strategy is also to integrate with Chiang Mai to make use of its tourism infrastructure.