Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, at Ko Kha about 18 km (11 mi.) south-west of Lampang, is one of Thailand's most beautiful temples. The finest ornamentation probably dates from the time of Princess Chama Devi (c. 650-700), supposedly the founder of this temple complex. During its long history this may well have been where the local people sought refuge from plundering invaders such as the Burmese, sheltering behind the thick walls which encompass the wat and give it its fortress-like appearance.
Long flights of steps lead up to the entrances in the north and east, their balustrades in the serpentine form of a many-headed Naga, an unmistakable feature of Burmese architecture.
Atop a hill surrounded by ancient trees in the center of the wat compound - the present buildings date from the 16th c. - stands a high chedi, sectioned by ledges, with a tapering gilded spire, the central part consisting of gold on copper. It is surrounded by a bronze balustrade with copper filigree canopies at each of the four corners. Legend has it that a hole in the balustrade was made by a cannonball which killed the Burmese general who forced his way into the wat and captured it with his troops. The Thais are supposed to have crept into the compound through a drainage pipe, surprising the enemy while asleep and then killing them.
The chedi is flanked by two shrines. The decoration of the wiharn is particularly magnificent, with superb carvings of flowers, leaves and scrolling and a "wheel of the law" on the inner side of the portal, and imaginative sculpture on the pillars, façades and portals.
The wiharn contains two Buddhas in the Chiang Mai style and the open sala, which supports a stepped roof covered with glazed bricks, has an altar in the center, richly embellished with reliefs in the Burmese style, surrounded by carved wooden "thongs", emblems hanging on poles. The ceramic tiles were not part of the original decor. Tucked away almost out of sight in a corner of the precinct is a teak temple which is actually Wat Phra That Lampang Luang's holy of holies. It houses a little Buddha, behind strong bars, which is supposed to have been carved from the same piece of jade as the Emerald Buddha, although it may only be a copy of the original, referred to earlier, which since 1778 has been in Bangkok.
A small temple museum nearby holds several precious objects, including red lacquered bookcases, Buddhas inlaid with gemstones, a head of Buddha in the Chiang Mai style, wooden carvings with animal motifs and several "thongs". The figures of Buddha in the promenade along the inner wall are also worth seeing.