The House of Many Pillars

Baan Sao Nak (บ้านเสานัก) is an old unique teak house located in the quiet Northern Thai village of Baan Tha Ma O, Lampang – situated on Ratwattana Road on the north bank of the Wang River opposite the city’s main market precinct. In the Northern Thai dialect, Baan Sao Nak means “House of Many Pillars”, because it rests on 116 solid teak posts — the originals, merely fortified in the 1960s. Adding to the ambiance of the compound, in front of the house stands a huge 133 year old Sarapee Tree (Ochocarpus Siamensis).

The house is constructed in a blend of Burmese and Lanna (Northern Thai) architecture. The verandah around the house is designed in Burmese style while the roof, general structures and the showcase are constructed in Lanna style.  It was built in 1896 by a  Burmese Mon teak merchant named Mong U San Ohn, the grandfather of the late Khunying Walai Leelanuj – a former neighbour of mine. See below for a collection of photos of Baan Sao Nak and some of the heritage pieces it contains.

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Khunying Walai’s grandfather (b. 1863) migrated to Lampang from Moulmein, Burma in the late 19th century to seek his fortune in Thai teak. U San Ohn was  granted many teak  Lampang teak forest concessions and became a wealthy teak merchant, assisted by his large team of  several hundred elephants and mahouts. Eventually he married a local Lampang woman and built his home close to a Buddhist temple he sponsored and named Wat Tha Ma O.

U San Ohn his Lampang Tai Yuan wife U Shwe O, founded Wat Tha Ma O in 1894. It is one of 9 Burmese Buddhist temples that that exist today in Lampang. When I first interviewed Khunying Wailai in 1982, she recalled with fond memories, visiting the temple with her grandfather every evening with offerings. Together they would sit for hours, enjoying the peace and harmony of the temple and  gardens. While living in Lampang, conducting anthropological research, I often found myself enjoying the peace and serenity of this special little Burmese temple during the heat of the afternoon sun. It was nearby my house in Tha Ma O Village at the time. Inside the temple, there is an inscription dedicated to the man who brought this temple to life:

During the reign of the celebrated King Chulalongkorn, renown as the great well-beloved monarch who was King Rama V of the Chakri Dynasty of the Kingdom of Thailand, there came a gentleman from Burma named U San Ohn to this city of Lampang and settle here making his livelihood as a timber merchant, being devoted to the three gems, of generous nature and his desire for the welfare of the Sasana. The said U San Ohn in the year of our Lord Buddha 2427, in the Burmese Sakka Era 1256 (1884) founded a place at Baan Thammao on the bank of the Wang River and erected a monastery on that land for the Sangha.

The temple is still maintained by Khunying Walai’s family and is currently renown as a Burmese Buddhist meditation centre. At the time of our interviews and when I was her neighbour in the early ’80s, Khunying Walai was the principal of Lampang Kallayanee School and resided at Baan Sao Nak while transforming it into a private museum and organising gala weddings with Khan Tok (Northern Thai) dinners. She was a lively, informative and very intelligent and interesting woman.

Baan Sao Nak is opened to the public with its remarkable collection of S.E.Asian colonial artifacts including the heavy chairs and halters used by U San Ohn’s elephants. There are  intricately carved antiques, delicately woven handicrafts,  traditional laquerware, handcrafted silverware and ceramics. Baan Sao Nao is featured in the Thailand Tourism video below:

For an American tourists’ video experience of this old wonderful house, check out this video.

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