One of the highlights when we visited Northen Thailand earlier this year (January 2014) was the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Hosting the region’s largest collection of folk art and teak artifacts from the Lanna Kingdom, the adjective I would use to describe it is gracious. The highlights, aside from the art, are a beautiful golden pavilion, an elegant peaceful garden and a museum of Lanna art, contemporary and old.
This is a rather long blog with 6 sections:
(Click images to see larger version.)
Haw Kham – The Golden Pavilion
Approaching the Cultural Park
The Golden Pavilion
When we came here, I knew nothing about the place at all. As we walked in on foot towards the Cultural Park, we came upon a wooden walkway over a lovely pond, surrounded by natural beauty and peacefulness. In the back we saw the Golden Pavilion: a beautiful teakwood building in the Lanna style of architecture that was presented as a gift to the Princess Mother to celebrate her 84th birthday in 1984. It was constructed by 32 wooden houses given by various people in Chiang Rai out of love for the Princess Mother. The Golden Pavilion reflects the deep love and gratitude towards the Princess Mother and all that she had done for the Northern people.
Detail of the Golden Pavilion
The walkway itself is a work of art, with it’s wooden beams and supports. There are lovely details on the sides of the pavilion as well (see upper right).
Elephant carvings on the staircase
Detail above the doorway
The stairway and door of the pavilion are rich in detail and beauty, as these two pictures show: a row of elephants walks you up the stairs and on the lintels above the door, celestial beings great you.
At the bottom of the stairs we were met by a young woman in a lovely Thai dress who was our guide into the pavilion.
The Pavilion is not a museum. The idea was to include notable religious and secular objects, many used in Lanna ritual and displayed within context; there are ritual items such as candelabras, wooden standards and containers for floral offerings. The interior is candlelit and there is a feeling of sanctity. One of the more prominent images is a wooden Buddha statue named Pra Pratoh, which, according to inscriptions, was created in 1693.
Inside the Golden Pavilion
Photography is forbidden inside the pavilion. The ritual objects are around a hallway or balcony surrounding the interior of the building overlooking a central courtyard with a white sand floor. A red and gold pillar rises from the center of the floor. It’s a lovely, quiet space.
You can see the inside of the pavilion in this picture (above left) from down below, looking up from the white sand floor. If you click on the (left) picture (to enlarge) you can see part of the walkway with the objects displayed in the back of the photo.
Many of the ritual objects displayed in the Pavilion were candelabras that hold 7 candles. The two photos shown above were taken from outside the pavilion where a number of these candelabras were displayed around the building’s base.
Background of the Cultural Park
The Princess Mother
Mae Fah Luang is one of the titles of Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother, who was the mother of the current King of Thailand. It means “Royal Mother from the Sky,” in part a reference to the Princess Mother’s work in bringing medicine to the rural areas of the north by helicopter, often accompanying the medical teams herself. The Foundation grew out of all of her work on behalf of the Thai people. It began life as the Thai Hill Crafts Foundation that the Princess Mother founded in 1972 to offer market access for craft-making villages in Northern Thailand; it was renamed in 1985 to reflect the increasing emphasis on social issues, including education and sustainable development, that were being developed based on the Princess Mother’s philosophy and ideas.
Lanna water container
The Cultural Park was established at what was called the Rai Mae Fah Luang, a center for education and skills training for hill tribe youth in Northern Thailand. It was established to house the Royal Collection of Lanna Art in order to make the art available to the northern people in order to educate them about their cultural heritage. It is the largest collection of Lanna art in the region.
The word Lanna means “a million rice fields” and the Lanna Kingdom was founded in the 13th century AD by King Mengrai. It was basically a federation of smaller princialities in the north, including areas in Burma, Laos, Thailand and southern China. Conquered in the mid-16th century by the Burmese, it became a vassal state of Siam in the late 18th century, remaining a loose federation with up to 57 city states or principalities. In 1892, Siam officially annexed Lanna and it became part of Thailand.
From the Golden Pavilion, we spent time wandering around the second main feature of the Park: the garden, a botanical collection with indigenous and rare plants from the northern region.
Giant air plants
The garden has some beautiful specimens, such as these giant air plants (above left). Many plants have interesting leaf structures.
Pond and urns
3 garden statues
There are graceful details throughout, such as these urns at the edge of a pond. Statues are nestled in amongst the plants.
There’s a lovely use of rocks and stones to add accents and interest, such as the two photos above.
Spirit house close-up
These three photos show some of the other features in the garden.
Wall with carvings
Even the walls of the building are interesting, with wooden carvings part of the structure.
Haw Kaew – The Museum
The other main part of the Cultural Park is the Haw Kaew. According to the brochure handed out at the Park, “Haw Kaew presents a permanent exhibition based on artifacts and religious items made from teak, as teak was used in people’s everyday lives. In addition there are revolving exhibitions featuring “topics related to the diverse ethic cultures of Lanna.”
Portrait of the Princess Mother
One of the first things that you see when you come into the museum is a portrait of the Princess Mother. It is hard to convey the devotion that most northern people feel for this extraordinary woman. She was instrumental in bringing education, skills training, medicine and dental care to the rural northerners. In the west we seem to have a somewhat jaundiced view of royalty. It’s different in Thailand because of the dedication of the current royal family, which began with the Princess Mother. (See the Wikipedia entry on Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother).)
By Dr. Kamol Tassanaanchalee
Creation by Jarron Chaijajit
The museum includes a collection of contemporary art by northern Thai artists. Above left is a painting by Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee based on what the sign calls “Thailand’s most popular love song” – Lovelorn Song, the lyrics by Chalie Intravichit. In the center is a wood carving – “Creation,” by Jarron Chaijajit. To the right is a banner, attributed only to “a Chiangrai artist.”
Close-up of the sculpture
I loved this wooden sculpture with all of it’s textures and folds.
Lanna temple naga carvings
Still, the bulk of the collection consists of older Lanna art. Above left is a row of nagas (the naga is a mythical dragon) taken from various Lanna temples. The museum includes a number of enshrined Buddhas, such as the one in the center above. There are numerous wooden carvings, such as the one above right, presumably of a celestial being or princess.
Another enshrined Buddha
The picture above left shows a manuscript chest that would have been used to store Buddhist scriptures. To the right is a teak carving of the Buddha enclosed by 2 protective nagas; the sign for this piece says “Enshrining an image of the Lord Buddha Shan.
The Slideshow below has further images from the museum.
Note: There’s also a smaller buiding on the grounds called the Haw Kham Noi . It houses mural paintings originally done in tempera painted directly on teak panels in a temple in Phrae province; they were saved from sale as antique by the villagers and sent here for safekeeping. We did not see the murals when we were there.
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Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
313 Moo 7, Baan Pa Ngiew
Tambon Robwiang, Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai,
Chiang Rai 57000 Thailand
Phone: 053 716-605 (to 607), 053-601-013
Hours 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed Monday
Entrance fee: 100 to 200 baht.
Bangkok Post Map of Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park
Mae Fah Luang Map of Chiang Rai (with center)
Website (in Thai only)
Information from this blog comes, in part, from the following websites:
Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.
Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.
Written by Michael Babcock, October 2015