Northern Thai art is predominantly religious in inspiration and as such the region’s finest work can be found in its temples. As the repositories for Lanna’s artistic legacy, temples offer visitors the chance to discover the beauty of the region’s architecture, mural paintings and sculpture as well as its numerous craft traditions.
Notably different from Bangkok temple architecture with its emphasis on height, grandeur and refinement, northern Thai temples are characterized by a simple yet striking contrast of whitewashed plaster set against dark teakwood beams. The majority have an almost rustic quality with thick, low walls and a tiered, clay tile roof that sweeps downwards towards the ground with dramatic effect.
Lanna temple interiors feature red lacquered columns decorated with gold leaf stenciled patterns and mural paintings illustrating stories from the Buddha’s life. Lanna murals, which represent another important part of the area’s rich artistic heritage, are full of colorful, vibrant scenes depicting local people and everyday life. Unfortunately, few examples remain, yet those which do provide a wealth of information about the beliefs, customs, and culture of northern Thai people in the past.
The influence of Burmese, Shan, Lao, and Tai Lue culture is clearly seen in Lanna art and architecture from the 19th century onwards. As these groups settled in Chiang Mai and the northern cities of Lampang, Phrae and Nan, they brought with them an intriguing mix of artistic styles. It is this blending of outside influences with local traditions and sensibilities that gives Lanna art its surprising variety, adding to its distinctive charm and character.