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Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai

Michael Babcock, October 1st, 2014

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

Outside the Cultural Park

Approaching the Cultural Park

Golden Pavilion

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.

Covered Walkway

Covered walkway

Pavilion detail

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

Elephant carvings on the staircase

Doorway Detail

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.

Pavilion interior

Inside the Golden Pavilion

Central Pillar

Central pillar

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.

Candelabra #1

One candelabra

Candelabra #2

Another candelabra

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

Princess Mother

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.

Water Basin

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.

The Garden

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.

Air Plants

Giant air plants

Tropical Leaf

Tropical leaf

The garden has some beautiful specimens, such as these giant air plants (above left). Many plants have interesting leaf structures.

Pond

Pond and urns

3 statues

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.

Stones #1

Stone garden

Stones #2

Stone garden

There’s a lovely use of rocks and stones to add accents and interest, such as the two photos above.

Carving #1

Garden carving

Spirit House

Spirit house close-up

Carving #2

Carved pillar

These three photos show some of the other features in the garden.

Wall

Wall with carvings

Carving Detail

Carving detail

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.”

Painting

Portrait of the Princess Mother

Museum Entry

Museum entry

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).)

Painting

By Dr. Kamol Tassanaanchalee

Bas Relief

Creation by Jarron Chaijajit

Banner

Modern banner

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.”

Modern Sculpture

Modern sculpture

Sculpture Close-up

Close-up of the sculpture

Sculpture Detail

Sculpture detail

I loved this wooden sculpture with all of it’s textures and folds.

Naga Carvings

Lanna temple naga carvings

Enshrined Buddha #1

Enshrined Buddha

Wooden carving

Wooden carving

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.

Manuscript Chest

Manuscript chest

Enshrined Buddha #2

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.


Location

อุทยานศิลปะวัฒนธรรมแม่ฟ้าหลวง
313 หมู่ 7 บ้านป่างิ้ว ต.รอบเวียง อ.เมือง จ.เชียงราย 57000
โทร. 053 716 605-7, 053 601 013 โทรสาร 053 712 429
อีเมล : rmfl@doitung.org

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
Fax: 053-712-429
Email: rmfl@doitung.org

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)

Explore Further

Information from this blog comes, in part, from the following websites:

See Also


Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

Outside the Cultural Park
Golden Pavilion
Pavilion detail
Covered Walkway
Elephant Carvings
Doorway Detail
Pavilion interior
Central Pillar
Candelabra #1
Candelabra #2
Air Plants
Tropical Leaf
Pond
3 statues
Carving #1
Carving #2
Stones #1
Stones #2
Spirit Houses
Spirit House
Wall
Carving Detail
Princess Mother
Water Basin
Painting
Museum Entry
Paintingn
Bas Relief
Banner
Modern Sculpture
Sculpture Close-up
Sculpture Detail
Naga Carvings
Enshrined Buddha #1
Wooden carving
Wooden Carving #2
Manuscript Chest
Enshrined Buddha #2
Headboard
Naga
Enshrined Buddha #3
Buddha Statue

The pond and walkways approaching the Cultural Park

The Golden Pavilion - Haw Kahm - at Mae Fah Luang Cultural Park

Details on the side of the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Covered walkway approaching the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Elephant carvings on the staircase to the Golden Pavilion

Detail above the doorway to the Golden Pavilion

The white sand floor and the Golden Pavilion from below

Central pillar at the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kahm)

Candelabra at the base of the Golden Pavilion

Another candelabra at the base of the Golden Pavilion

Some air plants in tho Cultural Park's garden

Tropical leaf at the Cultural Park's garden

Pond with urns at the Cultural Park's garden

3 statues at the Cultural Park's garden

Carving found in the Cultural Park's garden

Carved pillar in the Cultural Park's garden

Stone feature in the Cultural Park's garden

Another set of stones in the Cultural Park's garden

Spirit houses in the Cultural Park's garden

Close up of a spirit house in the Cultural Park's garden

Wall with carvings in the Cultural Park's garden

Detail of the carving on the building wall

This relief of the Princess Mother is found outside the museum

A common Lanna feature outside homes - water for washing your hands

Portrait of the Princess Mother in the Museum's entry

In the entry room of the Museum

Modern painting By Dr. Kamol Tassananchalee based on the love song "Lovelorn Song"

A modern wood-carving titled "Creation," by Jarron Chaijajit

Banner by a (modern) Chiang Rai Artist

Modern wood sculpture

A close-up of the modern wood sculpture

Detail of the modern wood sculpture

Naga carvings from Lanna temples

Lanna depiction of an enshrined Buddha

Wooden carving

Decorated panel below one of the ceilings

Manuscript chest for Buddhist scriptures

Sign says "Enshrining an image of the Lord Buddha Shan (Teak)"

Carved demon on the headboard for a bed

Sign says "Naga, temple roof decoration"

Buddha enshrined in a painted, wooden cabinet

Buddha statue. So peaceful.

Outside the Cultural Park thumbnail
Golden Pavilion thumbnail
Pavilion Detail thumbnail
Covered Walkway thumbnail
Elephant Carvings thumbnail
Doorway Detail thumbnail
Pavilion Interior thumbnail
Central Pillar thumbnail
Candelabra #1 thumbnail
Candelabra #2 thumbnail
Air Plants thumbnail
Tropical Leaf thumbnail
Pond thumbnail
3 Statues thumbnail
Carving #1 thumbnail
Carving #2 thumbnail
Stones #1 thumbnail
Stones #2 thumbnail
Spirit Houses thumbnail
Spirit House thumbnail
Wall thumbnail
Carving Detail thumbnail
Princess Mother thumbnail
Water Basin thumbnail
Painting thumbnail
Museum Entry thumbnail
Painting thumbnail
Bas Relief thumbnail
Banner thumbnail
Modern Sculpture thumbnail
Sculpture Close-up thumbnail
Sculpture Detail thumbnail
Naga Carvings thumbnail
Enshrined Buddha #1 thumbnail
Wooden Carving thumbnail
Wooden Carving #2 thumbnail
Manuscript Chest thumbnail
Enshrined Buddha #2 thumbnail
Headboard thumbnail
Naga thumbnail
Enshrined Buddha #3 thumbnail
Buddha Statue thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, October 2015

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2 Responses to “Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai”

  1. Stefan says:

    Nice article, I’ve been to Chiang Rai in June and enjoyed it a lot. I only had like 4 days so I’ve done the most popular things like visiting the White Temple, Wat Phra Kaew even rented a motrobike and went to Mae Salong (beautiful!) and obiously the nightlife that was a lot more happening than I expected. Will definitely come back – and then also give Mae Fah Luang a visit.

  2. This is definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Northern Thailand, especially by bicycle.

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