History states that in the year 1288, King Mengrai relocated the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom to the old city of Wiang Kum Kam. From the former capital Chiang Rai, the capital was moved to the old city on the banks of the Ping River. Although proven to be a good strategic location with many advantages in terms of the city’s defense and trade, the area was low-lying and was extremely prone to flooding, forcing the king to look for a better location for his capital.
In 1926, King Mengrai chose a new site for his capital on the opposite site of the Ping River, the city now known as Chiang Mai. The city was constructed as the kingdom’s capital while the Wiang Kum Kam experienced years of flooding until it was buried meters underground. Over the years, the city was forgotten and became a mere part of Lan Na folklore.
Thai authorities were alerted in 1984 when a number of ancient tablets were found under Wat Chang Kam just 5 kilometers away from Chiang Mai. Archaeologists hurriedly uncovered the remains of the ancient lost city. Over 30 archaeological sites including many ancient temples were found within the lost rectangular shaped city. Findings state that there had been a long history of settlements in the area that dates back to the 8th Century.
Today, the lost city remains open for all visitors curious about the ancient former capital. A visit to the Wiang Kum Kam Information Center should be the first stop where an exhibition, details of its discoveries, a multimedia room and display filled with the history and the importance of the lost city can be found.
Among the vast site of the lost city, two of the most visited and well-kept temples are the Wat Chedi Liem and the Wat Chang Kam. The Wat Chedi Liam is a logical starting point for the tour around the lost city while the vibrant Wat Chang Kam, also known as Wat Khan Tom, is believed to still have the spirit of King Mengari inside. Apparently, these two temples were never affected by the floods. Other temples include the Wat E-Khang, Wat Pu Pia, Wat Nan Chang, Wat Phaya Mangrai, Wat That Khao, and Wat Ku Padom.
The entire site is too large to be explored by foot as it basically extends to several neighborhoods. The best way to tour around the site is to hire a local tour guide along with a pony carriage that can do accommodation for 2-4 people. Open-air trams are good for groups while renting a bicycle would be a good option when touring in limited numbers. A 200 baht fee is charged for every person to see the sites and this already includes a guide, a pony carriage and a ride around the site for about an hour.
Visitors who have a deep interest in learning about the Lan Na history and culture will definitely have an immense kick out of touring around Wiang Kum Kam. This easy-paced 45-minute tour is a great experience for everyone, which includes families with children. Kids will likely love riding the pony-drawn carriage while adults will be able to roam around and explore the ancient ruins of the city.