Lamphun claims to be the oldest existing city in Thailand (but so does Nakhon Pathom). Originally called Nakhon Hariphunchai, it was founded in AD 660. Its first ruler was a queen, Chamthewi, who has a special place in Thailand's pantheon of powerful female leaders. There are two striking statues of her in the sleepy little town, and one of its wats bears her name. Queen Chamthewi founded the eponymous dynasty, which ruled the region until 1932. Today the compact little city is the capital of Thailand's smallest province, and also a textile and silk production center.
Lamphun has two of northern Thailand's most important monasteries, dating back more than 1,000 years. The smallest of them, Wat Chamthewi, holds the remains of the city's fabled 8th-century ruler, Queen Chamthewi. The other, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, is a walled treasure house of ancient chapels, chedis, and gilded Buddhas.
Several Chiang Mai travel agencies offer day trips to Lamphun, including Cattleya Tour and Travel Service. Once you're here, the Tourism Authority of Thailand office, opposite the main entrance to Wat Hariphunchai, has irregular hours but is generally open on weekdays from 9 to 5.