Keeping Phayao’s past alive


The Wiang Phayao Museum is a treasure trove of objects d’art, putting together hundreds of rare items to vividly represent the history, local wisdom and culture of this northern province.

Nestled in the heart of Ban Lai Ing in tambon Wiang of Muang district, the shady compound of the five-century old Lee Temple is an excellent reminder of Phayao province’s rich history, with its diverse collection of antiquities housed inside the Wiang Phayao Museum. The sacred sanctuary of archaeological treasures originates from Phra Khru Anurak Buranan, a highly-revered abbot of the temple who is known for an avid consciousness and appreciation of the Lanna cultural heritage.

The abbot’s keen interest and passion for art history and archaeology started during his early years as a monk, when he first began to gather artefacts of priceless value left unattended in and around deserted ancient temples throughout the city.

Through 50 years of such conservation actions the artefacts gradually accumulated, until finally the storeroom at the monastery was full to the brim. This eventually initiated consideration of a new and larger home where all the valuable pieces could be safely kept.

His determined goal remained just an abstract idea due to a lack of funds, however, until the year 2006, when the provincial authorities decided to take concrete steps toward founding a museum. With cooperation between local government and the private sector and strong support from residents of the Wat Lee Community, the museum was set up in a former sermon hall in the compound of the monastery one year later.

The sermon hall, adjacent to a distinguished Lanna-style stupa, was turned into a treasure trove of objects d’art, putting together hundreds of rare items to vividly represent the history, local wisdom and culture of this northern province.

The collection displays an impressive array of exhibits. The lower floor highlights artefacts that include ancient stone inscriptions and sandstone Buddha statues. These distinctive works, most of which belong to the 15th and 16th centuries, are symbolic of the old city of Phayao and come in different postures.

Also worth mentioning are surviving woodcarvings which give evidence of the craftsmanship that prevailed in the northern region and created the sophisticated character of the local architecture. Splendid examples lie in the intricate pieces of carved wood decorating the walls of the stairways to the upper floor, where countless folk items ranging from traditional household utensils to weaving and agricultural tools are presented in an interesting manner.

Besides its value in conserving the rich heritage of the province, the Wiang Phayao Museum stands as solid evidence of the sturdy ties and harmony of this small community. Matters involving the venue are managed through the collective responsibility of a local committee whose members are comprised of neighbourhood residents.

The daily procedures of opening the museum early in the morning and securing it at the end of the day belong to elder members of the community, who take turns to look after the site, whereas younger residents are engaged in the museum programme through extra-curricular educational activities that aim to develop and train them into well-rounded local guides.

It is hoped this strategy will raise awareness and instil a sense of homeland pride in these children, who the elders believe hold the future of the community in their hands. Bangkok Post