Chiang Rai’s Oub Kham Museum exhibits thousands of rare Lanna items, as well as the artefacts of the Tai people from neighbouring countries
Starting as a passionate collector of items of Lanna art and culture 20 years ago, a retired teacher Julasak Suriyachai opened his house as a private museum to exhibit thousands of rare and hard to find northern-style items, as well as the artefacts of the Tai people from neighbouring countries.
He named the place Oub Kham Museum, derived from a northern term referring to a golden serving bowl used by the royal family during the Lanna period, which lasted from the 13th-18th centuries. The museum is located in Muang district in Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province.
Although the entrance fee is a quite high compared to other museums, it is worth a visit to admire this showcase of a venerable and valuable cultural heritage.
“I do not want to get rich by running the museum,” said Julasak. “I simply want to express my deepest gratitude for our nation because I want Thais to know about their roots and learn more about their own culture.”
Julasak travelled to many places from Chiang Tung and China to Laos and Vietnam to find artefacts related to the Tai people. “Many times I was surprised that in such remote places in China and Vietnam, I could understand some words used by the local people because we share the same Tai linguistic roots,” he said.
The Tai ethnolinguistic grouping is comprised of 56 tribes spread across mainland Southeast Asia, including Thailand, he said, adding that the Tai or Dai, have a long history and he wanted the next generation to know about this cultural heritage.
On a one-rai of land, he started with a two-storey building with three exhibition rooms 15 years ago. Over the years his collection has gradually increased and now occupies seven rooms.
The first room exhibits Lanna arts and accessories such as silverware of Tai peoples such as the Tai Lu, old coins from China’s Yunnan province and an old divorce certificate made of silver. There are also royal court utensils used during the Lan Xang period in Laos, crowns worn by Tai rulers and a 3,000-year old bronze drum used in rituals to pray for rain.
The second room houses a collection of Buddha images including an ancient seated Buddha statue from the Chiang Saen era, a white marble image from Chiang Tung in Burma’s Shan State and various small seated figures made from colourful stones, some of which date back 15 centuries.
The third room exhibits crafted wooden Buddha images from Burma as well as a very small Buddha figurine made of gold measuring 0.5 centimetre in height. The image is around 500 years old, said a museum guide.
The fourth room shows various items from the royal court, including an old silk sarong with gold threads from the family of the ruler of Nan, as well as old fabrics from Chiang Tung, Xishuangbanna and Mandalay. There are also ancient beads and an old oub kham from Chiang Tung.According to the museum guide, oub were also used for offering food to monks. They are usually made of woven bamboo covered with lacquer. Oub kham, on the other hand, were used by royal families, so they were decorated with beautiful ornaments, covered with lacquer and coated with gold leaf while the cover bore a legendary phoenix. The museum also displayed various oub kham. Julasak said some of them were his family heirlooms because he is a descendant of the first ruler of Lampang.
Another highlight of this room is a weird looking animal called ‘Panjarup’ or Phaya Luang _ a legendary creature of the Lanna period that was often used to decorate giant gongs used for auspicious ceremonies. This example was made of wood, which had been crafted to imitate the organs of five animals; the body of a naga, wings of a bird, horn and legs of a deer, trunk and tusks of an elephant and tail of a fish.
Next is a room that imitates a cave to show how Lanna people kept their valuable items. The sixth room is a fashion exhibition where samples of colourful garments worn by Tai peoples such as the dai yi, dai li, jingpo and zhong dai are displayed.
The last room is the museum’s highlight, displaying a complete set of Lanna-style throne.
“Thrones aged more than 400 years old are hard to find today,” Julasak said, adding that the set was comprised of nine items, including a pair of statues representing guardians of the throne. The throne was made of artistically crafted wood shining in gold and decorated with propitious items such as Brahma at the top, angels on left and right and a real gold Buddha image in the middle of the backdrop.
“It is a rare piece and the proud of my collection,” he said.
However, Julasak did not want to keep the valuable items secret. He said they are a examples of a rich cultural legacy and he wanted the next generation to know the grand and widespread heritage of the Tai people.
“It’s a pity that our children do not care much about visiting museums, unlike students in Japan or China. If they do, they will learn the old wisdom and this will make them love the nation and want to preserve our cultural inheritance by heart,” he added.
– The Oub Kham Museum is open daily from 8am-5pm. Entrance fee is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. The museum has a special rate for group visitors. Visit www.oubkhammuseum.com or call 053-713-349 or 08-1992-0342.