Wat Phothisomphon, one of Udon Thani’s finest temples

Wat Phothisomphon is probably the most impressive temple complex in Udon Thani city. It contains 20 or so buildings, some dating back to the reign of King Rama V (1868 – 1910).

Wat Phothisomphon's gray and gold chedi
Wat Phothisomphon’s gray and gold chedi

The gray and gold chedi is probably the most impressive, and possibly newest building.

Phaya Naga eating Phaya Naga?
Phaya Naga eating Phaya Naga?

I’ve seen a few Phaya Naga that seem to be swallowing each other like those above. I asked my tilac what it means, and she said it doesn’t mean anything, it just looks cool.

Gray and gold chedi
Gray and gold chedi

A chedi usually contains relics, and if I understand correctly Wat Phothisomphon’s chedi is no exception. Relics are usually bone fragments of the Buddha. I feel like I saw enough bone fragments to make up several skeletons, in my time in Thailand, but never mind.

Monks and the Buddha
Monks and the Buddha

This temple is very focused on various revered monks, as well as the Buddha of course.

Altar in the chedi's upper floors
Altar in the chedi’s upper floors

The topmost floor is the most beautiful, with great paintings on the walls and what looks like a City Pillar in the center. Udon Thani’s City Pillar Shrine is elsewhere though; I posted about it previously.

Top floor of the chedi
Top floor of the chedi
Top floor of the chedi
Top floor of the chedi
Top floor of the chedi
Top floor of the chedi

From the upper floors of the chedi you get a good view of the entire temple complex.

Wihan from the chedi
Wihan from the chedi

A crematorium can be recognized by the tall narrow smokestack. This one is one of the more beautiful buildings in the Wat Phothisomphon temple complex.

Crematorium from the chedi
Crematorium from the chedi

One of the buildings that flank the chedi houses a long line of monk figures.

More monks
More monks

The wihan was not open when I visited.

The wihan
The wihan

The entrance to this unique shrine is flanked by 5-headed Phaya Naga.

Shrine with Phaya Naga
Shrine with Phaya Naga

Four more guard the four corners of the shrine itself.

Shrine with Phaya Naga
Shrine with Phaya Naga

Next to the shrine is a very cool dragon in the Chinese style.

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

Please enjoy the full gallery of 30 pictures below.

Ban Chiang archeological site and nearby temples

Ban Chiang National Museum

Ban Chiang is an archeological site in Nong Han District, Udon Thani Province, Thailand. It was discovered in 1966, and was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. The site is famous for its beautiful red painted pottery, and has revealed a great deal about the cultural and technological conditions in prehistoric Thailand.

Red painted pottery display
Red painted pottery display

The Ban Chiang Museum offers visitors a look at various artifacts and provides information about the site and its historical importance.

The Ban Chiang museum
The Ban Chiang museum

My first impression of the museum was of its focus on King Bhumibol Adulyadej‘s visit to the site, the questions he asked and the comments he made. He did donate money that helped the project to proceed. My second impression was of the space spent on showing what archeological digs look like.

Museum display
Museum display

The museum does display a lot of different artifacts from the site.

Pottery from the dig
Pottery from the dig

With few such projects happening previously in Thailand, this one offered a lot of history that was unknown before. For example, this archeological dig revealed that Thailand entered its Bronze Age around 2000 BCE.

Museum display
Museum display

The museum grounds feature attractive gardens and art.

Museum grounds
Museum grounds
Museum area
Museum area

The area around the museum has clearly benefited economically from the archeological site and museum. The street is filled with gift shops like those shown below as well as restaurants and cafes.

Street in front of the museum
Street in front of the museum

Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site

Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site is next to Wat Pho Si Nai, just down the road from the museum.

Wat Pho Si Nai
Wat Pho Si Nai

This site is a dig left in a state that allows the public to appreciate what was found by archaeologists.

Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site
Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site

A structure shelters the dig from the elements and creates a museum-like environment.

Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site
Lum Khut 1 Ban Chiang World Heritage Site

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai, located a 20 minute drive from the museum, is a small temple shaped like a lotus flower floating on a lake.

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai

Food can be purchased for feeding the fish in the lake, which go into a satisfying frenzy.

Feeding the fish
Feeding the fish

A sign for the temple features red painted pottery, and also sheep for some reason.

Sign with pottery and sheep
Sign with pottery and sheep

The inside is beautifully painted.

Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai
Phuttha Utthayan Wat Pa Dong Rai

We didn’t spend much time exploring the surrounding area, but we did visit a captive alligator held nearby.

Captive alligator
Captive alligator

Please enjoy the full gallery of 27 pictures below.

Nong Khai, the Mekong River, and the Lord of the Naga

Nong Khai lies on the Mekong River, which forms the northeastern border of Thailand. Nong Khai is the site of the first Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, spanning the river to Laos.  Laos’s capital, Vientiane, is 25km away.

A pair of outstanding Phaya Naga welcome you to the city
A pair of outstanding Phaya Naga welcome you to the city

The Mekong River is the primary home of the Phaya Naga. Thai cities often have “mascots”, and the mascot of Nong Khai is clearly the Phaya Naga. A pair of really excellent Phaya Naga welcome you to the city (above).

A pair of equally outstanding, and very large, Phaya Naga greet you at the Mekong River (below).

Phaya Naga on the Mekong River
Phaya Naga on the Mekong River

A big draw for Nong Khai is the Naga Fireball Festival held during Buddhist Lent at the end of October, when Naga fireballs are said to be most common. Fireballs resembling an orange sun, varying in size from sparks to basketball sized orbs, rise from the Mekong River to as high as hundreds of feet into the sky.

Naga fireballs, from Wikimedia Commons
Naga fireballs, from Wikimedia Commons

Naga fireballs are believed by some to be exhaled by Phaya Naga. I wish I had attended the festival, in part because I find it surprising that it seems to include fireworks, suggesting a lack of concern with really knowing what you’re seeing. Thai people do love the supernatural, and love seeing Naga fireballs during the festival.

The video below examines the scientific and supernatural views on the Naga fireball phenomenon.

Sala Kaew Ku is Nong Khai’s other big draw. The most photographed sculpture at Sala Kaew Ku is probably Sulilat’s unique, and enormous, take on the Naga Buddha.

Naga Buddha at Sala Kaew Ku
Naga Buddha at Sala Kaew Ku

Along the Mekong River there are all forms of Phaya Naga, like the ones that top the lamp posts.

Lamp post Phaya Naga
Lamp post Phaya Naga

Phaya Naga also adorn the fence along the river.

Fence Phaya Naga
Fence Phaya Naga

Looking across the Mekong into Laos you can see a fairly nice temple complex.

Southern Laos across the Mekong River
Southern Laos across the Mekong River

You can also see a number of houses. They look similar to houses in northern Thailand.

Southern Laos across the Mekong River
Southern Laos across the Mekong River

There are house boats along the Thai side of the river.

Mekong house boat
Mekong house boat

The Thai-Lao Friendship bridge was largely funded by a gift to the Lao government from the Australian government. The picture below shows the bridge in the distance, and also some fairly large house boats.

Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong River
Thai-Lao Friendship bridge over the Mekong River

Several temples are among the buildings lining the Thai side of the river.

Temple on the Mekong River
Temple on the Mekong River

They include a Chinese style temple.

Chinese Temple on the Mekong River
Chinese Temple on the Mekong River

Nong Khai has an aquarium that features some of the surprisingly large fish found in the Mekong River.

Nong Khai Aquarium
Nong Khai Aquarium

It’s a small aquarium, but it does feature a shark tunnel. This is the first I’ve seen, so I can’t offer a comparison. Flash photography is prohibited in the aquarium, but I was able to shoot video.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 16 pictures below.

I had no trouble getting to Sala Kaew Ku

Sala Kaew Ku is a garden of enormous bizarre and fantastic sculptures of a spiritual nature.

Huge Naga Buddha towers over the park's other sculptures
Huge Naga Buddha towers over the park’s other sculptures

Buddhist and Hindu imagery are represented, with multi-headed, multi-armed deities, human-animal hybrids, Buddhas, and Phaya Naga towering over visitors.

Huge Buddhas in a variety of poses
Huge Buddhas in a variety of poses

Both sculptures and park were built by mystic, myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and sculpture artist Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.

Sala Kaew Ku
Sala Kaew Ku

Legend says that as a young man, Bunleua Sulilat fell into a cave, and in that cave met hermit Kaew Ku.  Kaew Ku became his spiritual mentor. Sala Kaew Ku means “Hall of Kaew Ku”.

Phra Rahu
Phra Rahu

Phra Rahu, above, swallows the sun, causing eclipses.

Below is the only depiction I’ve seen of Phra Mae Thorani in which she is not wringing water from her hair to protect the Buddha. In this sculpture she is coming to the aid of humans in a boat.

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Bunleua Sulilat built his first sculpture garden, Buddha Park, near Vientiane, Laos , in 1958. He fled across the Mekong River into Thailand in fear of the political climate of Laos after the 1975 communist revolution, and in 1978 began work on “The Hall of Kaew Ku”, which would be more extravagant and feature larger statues than his earlier park. The newer park is located near Nong Khai, Thailand.

It is good luck to enter through this gate
It is good luck to enter through this gate

Pics above and below show the gate to a sort of small courtyard filled with mostly more life-sized statues.

Below is a look inside the courtyard.

Sulilat’s personality and sculpture and his blend of Buddhism and Hinduism attracted followers, and the sculpture park became the center of a religious sect. Followers gave him the title Luang Pu, usually reserved for monks.

Phra Phikanet (Ganesha) riding a rat
Phra Phikanet (Ganesha) riding a rat

Both sculpture parks were built by untrained volunteers working for free. Sulilat was wildly popular among his followers, but the locals thought he was insane.

First floor shrine
First floor shrine

The Sala Kaew Ku pavilion building has shrines/temples on 3 floors, and it seems appropriate that they in the “collection of Buddhas and other effigies” style. Among them are many pictures of Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat.

Second floor shrine
Second floor shrine

Sulilat fell from one of his huge sculptures and his health deteriorated until his death in 1996. His mummified body is enshrined on the 3rd floor.

Third floor shrine
Third floor shrine

Large windows on the 3rd floor offer a nice view over the park.

View from the 3rd floor
View from the 3rd floor

Please enjoy the full gallery of 40 pictures below.

Wat Pa Phu Kon and many mythological creatures

Wat Pa Phu Kon

Wat Pa Phu Kon is one of the most beautiful temples in northeastern Thailand. Its location high in the remote mountains of the northern Udon Thani Province offers some great panoramic views. The temple contains a 20 meter long white marble reclining Buddha.

White marble reclining Buddha
White marble reclining Buddha

Surprisingly enough this was the first time that I experienced enforcement of a temple dress code. I thought I was sympathetic to the dress code but I always seemed to find myself unprepared. Long pants are not my clothing of choice in hot weather. My hosts had always insisted that my clothes were ok.

Steps to Wat Pa Phu Kon
Steps to Wat Pa Phu Kon

Perhaps because of the uniformed authority figure making the call, I was annoyed at being sent to the rack for borrowed clothing, so I insisted on choosing a long skirt to cover my legs. A little girl we took along seemed likewise annoyed as she selected something to cover her own legs. Her little brother appreciated the humor of my own fashion choice. I saw no reaction from any other person there.

Yaksha
Yaksha

Wat Pa Phu Kon is a relatively new temple, built at a cost of 320 million baht, which is around $9,858,294 US. It was donated in honor of the king by an elderly Thai woman.

Wat Pa Phu Kon
Wat Pa Phu Kon

The reclining Buddha cost around 50 million baht, about $1,540,358. It is constructed from 43 blocks of Italian marble.

White marble reclining Buddha
White marble reclining Buddha

The plinth for the huge Buddha is carved with various scenes from the Buddha’s life (above). The walls depict even more such scenes (below).

Wat Pa Phu Kon
Wat Pa Phu Kon

There’s lots of detail throughout, including an especially nice depiction of Phra Mae Thorani.

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

There are entrances on three sides of the temple. Below is the view of the entrance to the temple complex from the front door of the temple.

Wat Pa Phu Kon
Wat Pa Phu Kon

The bottom of the stairs are guarded by a pair of lions, or Singha (see the first pic in this post), and the top of the stairs by a pair of Yaksha (see above), the front entrance to the temple is guarded by an impressive pair of 3-headed Phaya Naga.

A pair of 3-headed Phaya Naga guarding the front door
A pair of 3-headed Phaya Naga guarding the front door

The other buildings of the complex are built in the same style as the temple, and the statuary is top-notch.

Temple grounds
Temple grounds

The views are forest and mountains in every direction.

Wat Pa Phu Kon
Wat Pa Phu Kon

At the back of the temple I was introduced to four more of Thailand’s mythological creatures.

Kinnara
Kinnara

Kinnara and Kinnari are two of Thailand’s most beloved mythological creatures. They are benevolent half-human, half-bird creatures  believed to come from the Himalayas. They often watch over humans in troubled times.

In the Adi parva of the Mahabharata, Kinnara and Kinnari say:

We are everlasting lover and beloved. We never separate. We are eternally husband and wife; never do we become mother and father. No offspring is seen in our lap. We are lover and beloved ever-embracing. In between us we do not permit any third creature demanding affection. Our life is a life of perpetual pleasure.

Kinnari
Kinnari

The Khochasi is a creature with the body of a lion and the trunk, ears and tusks of an elephant.  It is more common in northern Thailand.  The Khochasi below seems to be missing the elephant’s ears, and little of the body looks like that of a lion.  It has a crest like a Phaya Naga. The Khochasi guards sacred places, especially doorways.

Khochasi
Khochasi

Rajasiha is Thailand’s most powerful mythological creature. Rajasiha is a symbol of authority or power. It is apparently a mythological version of a lion, and therefore the same thing as a Singha, although they can be depicted very differently.

Rajasiha
Rajasiha

A short drive from the temple complex is another interesting shrine that is part of Wat Pa Phu Kon. You can get an interesting top-down view using satellite view on Google Maps.

Shrine near Wat Pa Phu Kon
Shrine near Wat Pa Phu Kon

There are 115 stairs in the stairway shown above. It is flanked by Phaya Naga in the same style as at the main temple complex, but with 5 heads. The bodies of these Phaya Naga extend along the entire length of the stairs.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

Half way up, on either side of the steps, is a small shrine in which you can take a break and look around, and if you like say a prayer. Through the windows you can see the tram to the top of the stairs. It wasn’t running during our visit.

Half-way shrine
Half-way shrine

There are two rooms inside the chedi, one above the other. Both seem to be dedicated to venerable monks.

Inside the chedi
Inside the chedi

The creatures holding the lamps, I found out later, are called Hongsa. These are celestial swans, often found at the peaks of temple rooftops.

View from the top of the stairs
View from the top of the stairs

Wat Pa Ban Kho

Wat Pa Ban Kho is a couple hours southeast of Wat Pa Phu Kon, and therefore a good side trip if visiting from Udon Thani.

Wat Pa Ban Kho
Wat Pa Ban Kho

The front of the temple is guarded by a pair of large pink elephants. The rear is guarded by a pair of gray ones.

Pink elephant
Pink elephant

The walls and ceiling inside the chedi are covered with beautifully painted scenes from the life of the Buddha.

Inside the chedi
Inside the chedi
Inside the chedi
Inside the chedi

There’s an interesting and beautiful display in front of the small gold chedi in the middle of the room. At least some of these objects are said to be bone fragments of the Buddha.

Buddha’s relics
Buddha’s relics

One of the outlying buildings is dedicated to 3-dimensional depictions of episodes in the life of the Buddha.

Birth of the Buddha
Birth of the Buddha
Buddha's enlightenment
Buddha’s enlightenment
Buddha teaching the monks
Buddha teaching the monks
Buddha passing from this world
Buddha passing from this world

We arrived at Wat Pha Ban Koh late in the day, possibly after closing. It was very quiet with just a few other visitors and a couple of women monks in white robes.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 52 pictures below.

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple

Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most revered temple.  It is named for the city’s holiest Buddha statue, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

Wihan Luang
Wihan Luang

I read somewhere that Wat Phra Singh is beautiful at night. It is, but it isn’t especially well lit, suggesting to me that night visits are not particularly encouraged.

Front entrance to Wihan Luang
Front entrance to Wihan Luang

A monk did tell us that we were welcome to enjoy the temple grounds until 9:00pm, but the temple buildings were closed to the public. We returned on the morning of the day we left Chiang Mai.

Back of Wihan Luang
Back of Wihan Luang

Wihan Luang, above and below, is the main assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate. The current building replaced the original in 1925.

Inside Wihan Luang
Inside Wihan Luang

Most of the other temple structures are located behind Wihan Luang, including Wihan Lai Kham, the Phrathatluang chedi, and the bot, shown below.

Wihan Lai Kham, the Phrathatluang chedi, and the bot
Wihan Lai Kham, the Phrathatluang chedi, and the bot

With a a south entrance for monks and a north entrance for nuns, Wat Phra Singh’s bot is as actually a song sangha ubosot. A bot is an ordination hall, and the most sacred area of many wats.

Inside the bot
Inside the bot

Regardless of which entrance you use you can access all of the interior of the bot. A structure in the middle displays Buddhas and more on 4 sides.

Inside the bot
Inside the bot

There are effigies of many venerable monks at Wat Phra Singh, both life-like and metallic, and the bot displays quite a few.

Inside the bot
Inside the bot

The photo below, from 2008, shows the Phrathatluang chedi before it was covered in gold.

The bot as photographed in 2008, from Wikimedia Commons
The bot as photographed in 2008, from Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1345, and enlarged several times, Phrathatluang features the front half of an elephant emerging from each side. There are smaller chedi on 3 sides.

The Phrathatluang chedi and smaller chedi
The Phrathatluang chedi and smaller chedi

At the back of the compound a small temple has room for little more than a large reclining Buddha.

Reclining Buddha Temple
Reclining Buddha Temple
Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

Between Reclining Buddha Temple and the chedi is a sort of pavilion sheltering Buddha statues in various styles.

Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh

The Kulai chedi was built by King Mueangkaeo (1495-1525). When the chedi was restored under King Dharmalanka (1813-1822), a golden box containing ancient relics was found. After the restoration was completed, the box and its contents were returned to the chedi.

Kulai chedi
Kulai chedi

Kulai chedi is connected to the back of Wihan Lai Kham by a short tunnel which is not open to the public.

Wihan Lai Kham was built in 1345 to house the Phra Buddha Singh statue.

Wihan Lai Kham
Wihan Lai Kham

The Phra Buddha Sihing statue (seen in the 2 pictures below) is said to be based on the lion of Shakya, now lost, which was once located at the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha reached enlightenment.

Inside Wihan Lai Kham
Inside Wihan Lai Kham

Wat Phra Mahathat in Nakhon Si Thammarat and the Bangkok National Museum both claim to house the real Phra Buddha Sihing statue.

It is also said that the head of the statue was stolen in 1922, so the head may be a copy.

The Phra Buddha Singh statue (center)
The Phra Buddha Singh statue (center)

Next to the front of Wihan Luang is the Ho Trai, considered one of the most beautiful temple libraries in Thailand.

The Ho Trai, or temple library
The Ho Trai, or temple library
Ho Trai (temple library)
Ho Trai (temple library) – from Wikimedia Commons

I’d had a steady regimen of temples since arriving in Thailand, and the pace increased in Chiang Mai. Wat Phra Singh holds its own among the old temples of Chiang Mai’s Old City. It held a special interest for my Thai Buddhist companions.

Monks approaching Wihan Lai Kham
Monks approaching Wihan Lai Kham

Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.

Meeting the elephants of Chiang Mai

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from Chiang Mai. They offer Asian elephant encounters that don’t include rides, which can cause permanent damage to the elephants’ backs, and they don’t use hooks.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

We were picked up from our hotel in Chiang Mai city. The 1.5 hour drive hits windy roads as it enters the mountains, then at the sanctuary goes extreme off-road. Motion sickness pills are advised.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

It was pouring when we arrived. Disposable ponchos were provided. The muddy tracks were slippery, but a spacious sheltered observation deck awaited us.  The views above and below are from that deck.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Camp 7

At Elephant Jungle Sanctuary locals of Chiang Mai work together with members of the Karen hill-tribes, best known for women wearing the neck rings that push their collar bones down and make their necks appear longer. The women of these Karen tribes however don’t wear the neck rings. A large number of Karen people migrated from Myanmar to Thailand, settling mostly on the Thailand–Myanmar border.

A Karen woman
A Karen woman – from Wikimedia Commons

Thai for elephant is “chang”.

To meet the chang we donned shirts with big pockets, made by the local Karen people, and stuffed the pockets full of bananas. The shirts were very similar to the Guatemalan clothing we bought at Grateful Dead shows 30 years ago. Then we put on the rain ponchos again.

The first elephant I met was an adult female. She was very calm and gentle, but it was still disconcerting to have her trunk busy reaching under the poncho and into my pocket for bananas.

Camp 7 chang
Camp 7 chang

Their trunks are easily agile enough to hold several bananas without crushing them, and still take more.

We peeled the bananas for the baby chang, who weren’t really into waiting for us to finish.

Camp 7 baby
Camp 7 baby

I couldn’t resist the urge to pat the little ones on their heads, even if they are covered with very coarse hairs. They seemed to like me taking their trunk in my hand as if to shake.

Our hosts brought more bananas, and when those were gone we fed the chang sugar cane. It was impressive to hear the adults crunch that thick cane with their teeth.

Chang
Chang

An elephant may spend 12-18 hours a day eating. An adult elephant can eat between 200-600 pounds of food in a day.

We crossed the stream to meet the chang at the neighboring camp. We fed them more sugar cane.

Elephants of the neighboring camp
Elephants of the neighboring camp

The youngsters at this camp were much larger. At every break in the feeding they like to get into the mud.

Adolescent elephant
Adolescent elephant

Our hosts served us a delicious lunch of pad thai and chicken wings and fresh fruit.

When we weren’t with the elephants the mahouts took them elsewhere. Adult males don’t hang out with the family groups, and we didn’t meet any. We occasionally heard distant trumpeting.

Elephants walking the trails
Elephants walking the trails

We made medicine balls for the elephants, mostly bananas and rice, with and without the husks. We didn’t put any medicine in the balls.

Medicine balls
Medicine balls

The chang gathered again at camp 7 when the medicine balls were ready to serve. The rain had stopped, but it would resume.

Camp 7 elephants
Camp 7 elephants

When the medicine balls were gone we fed them corn stalks with tiny ears of corn. The babies liked it when we peeled and fed them small ears of corn.

Camp 7 chang
Camp 7 chang

We changed into swimwear and helped the chang with their mud baths. Then we fed them more corn stalks before showering off the mud and getting ready for the ride home.

Below is a 6 minute video of our day with the elephants.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the white elephant

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located on Doi Suthep mountain with a beautiful view over Chiang Mai. It is one of the most sacred temples in northern Thailand.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The first chedi is said to have been built in 1383. It is the most holy area in the temple grounds.

Chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Chedi at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is 15 km from Chiang Mai. I consulted Google Maps for a place to get breakfast on the way out of the city and found a convenient group of restaurants, cafes and shops near scenic Huay Keaw Waterfall, just past the Chiang Mai Zoo.

Huay Keaw Waterfall
Huay Keaw Waterfall

You can just see the stream and trees from the car park.

Huay Keaw Waterfall
Huay Keaw Waterfall

I went for a picture of the river, and decided to follow it just a bit further upstream.

Huay Keaw Waterfall
Huay Keaw Waterfall

It isn’t too far to the waterfall. I saw trails that lead deeper into the Huay Keaw Waterfall area, which looks to be well worth exploring further.

Huay Keaw Waterfall
Huay Keaw Waterfall

From Huay Keaw Waterfall we started up the winding road into Doi Suthep. The parking area near the temple actually has a large number of restaurants and shops.

Art for sale near Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Art for sale near Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

You can choose to walk the 309 steps to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Climbing the stairs is a way to achieve Buddhist merit. We chose to pay a small fee to take the tram.

Stairs to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - from Wikimedia Commons
Stairs to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – from Wikimedia Commons

The outer temple grounds feature shrines and gardens and the walls of the inner temple grounds.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

There are several viewing platforms looking over Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

The structure below provides much needed shade for the highest platform.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The structure itself is decorated with lots of intricate detail.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

According to legend, a bone fragment said to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha was placed on the back of a white elephant, and the elephant was released into the jungle. The elephant climbed up Doi Suthep, stopped, trumpeted three times, then dropped dead. The king promptly ordered the construction of a temple at the site.

White elephant shrine
White elephant shrine

Considering the nature of this origin legend, there are very few white elephants at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The elephant below, although the color of the material from which it is constructed, is the elephant of legend.

White elephant of legend
White elephant of legend

To enter the inner temple grounds you must remove shoes and hat, and wear appropriate clothing. There was no one watching to insure that visitors complied. Inner temple grounds are not all sheltered from the sun, so this is one of those times when you have a problem if you were relying on a hat, rather than sunscreen, to protect your head.

Entrance to inner temple grounds
Entrance to inner temple grounds

Various shrines and effigies are situated around the large gold chedi, which presumably contains the legendary shoulder bone of the Buddha. We joined many other visitors in walking around it in a clockwise direction 3 times.

Chedi and inner temple grounds
Chedi and inner temple grounds

There are several attractive green glass Buddhas, and many gold ones.

Green glass Buddha
Green glass Buddha

The Phaya Naga decorating many of the roofs are done in stained glass, very similar to those at the Dragon Temple in Chiang Mai’s Old City.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

Visitors to  Wat Phra That Doi Suthep included many monks.

Monks
Monks

Some cuter than others.

Little monks
Little monks

The temple is located in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. This is surely a beautiful place, with at least a couple of waterfalls and many nature trails. Unfortunately we had neither time nor energy to explore further.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 41 pictures below.

Chiang Mai: Old City Temple Tour continued

Chiang Mai’s 15 foot high defensive wall protected the Old City for centuries. It was torn down for its bricks when the Japanese occupied Thailand during World War II. In the late 70s the city rebuilt the corners of the wall, and 5 of the gates, using old photographs.

Chang Phuak Gate - Old City
Chang Phuak Gate

We experienced the wall with a quick look at Chang Phuak Gate, and by just driving around the wall and moat in order to leave and enter the 1-square mile Old City. Some parts of the wall, such as the Fort of Hua-Lin, look to be worth exploring more closely, so I’ll make a point of doing that next time.

Fort of Hua-lin, from Wikimedia Commons
Fort of Hua-lin, from Wikimedia Commons

Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple, is just a few blocks from Chang Phuak Gate.

Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple
Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple

The story of this temple, as I recall, is simple; once stables, it was made a temple to memorialize a beloved departed horse.

Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple
Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple

This is a small temple complex, attractive but with few remarkable features other than the horse focus.

Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple
Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple

Wat Kun Kha Ma does have a Buddha with an animated LED halo, with a sort of spider web above it.

Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple
Wat Kun Kha Ma, the Horse Temple

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple, is a short distance further along Sri Poom Road.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

Dragons are unusual at Thai temples, but they’re not what first catches the eye when approaching Wat Rajamontean from the street.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

Most or all of the dragons flank the steps up from the street.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

The Phaya Naga that decorate the roof are done in stained glass.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

Most temples seem to be surrounded by other buildings, but I saw no way to access anything outside of Wat Rajamontean, other than by returning to the street.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

There are temple spaces on two levels, each with its own white Buddha.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

We went for the dragons, but we stayed for a beautifully detailed temple.

Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple
Wat Rajamontean, the Dragon Temple

To reach Wat Lok Moli we crossed one of the pedestrian bridges over the moat, leaving the Old City. Wat Lok Moli is just north of it.

Moat bridge
Moat bridge

The view from across the street promised good things.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

Red and green yaksha guard the gate.

Wat Lok Moli Yaksha
Wat Lok Moli Yaksha

Wat Lok Moli was built some time before its first known mention in a 1367 charter.

Wat Lok Moli Yaksha
Wat Lok Moli Yaksha

inside the gate are a pair of white elephants and trees with gold and silver leaves.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

The phutthawat (temple complex) is crowded with statues of many faced and/or many-armed entities that reveal their Hindu connections.  Phra Phrom, below, is the Thai representation of the Hindu god Brahma.

Phra Phrom
Phra Phrom

Below is Phra Mae Kuan Im, the East Asian “Goddess of Mercy“. In Thailand she is often depicted with a mere 2 arms.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

The wihan and chedi were built in 1527 by King Ket.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

The wihan appears to be built from teak, but the outside eschews the usual gold trim.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

The inside is more reminiscent of other Chiang Mai Old City temples.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

The exposed brick of the chedi looks its age, but it’s in pretty great shape.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

Across from the chedi is a display that appears to feature replicas of chedis of other temples.

Wat Lok Moli
Wat Lok Moli

I was drawn across the street to an attractive Phra Phikanet, or Ganesha.

Phra Phikanet, or Ganesha
Phra Phikanet, or Ganesha

How could I resist the general surrounded by an army of roosters? My little Tukata’s explanation: the general loved roosters. I guess so!

Rooster loving general
Rooster loving general

That was enough temples for one day, so we took a tuk tuk (my first) back to the hotel.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 51 pictures below.

Chiang Mai: Exploring Old City Temples on foot

Chiang Mai is nestled among the forested foothills of Thailand’s mountainous northwest. Old City is dominated by temples and surrounded by a medieval wall and moat.

Gate to Chiang Mai's City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang
Gate to Chiang Mai’s City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang

We immediately noticed that there are a lot of foreigners in Chiang Mai. What I noticed was the large number of North Americans and Europeans. It was only on the second day that I noticed the large numbers of Chinese and Koreans.

The shrine's giant tree and a yaksha
The shrine’s giant tree and a yaksha

Above are the gate to Chiang Mai’s City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang and the giant tree that towers over the walls. Below you can see the City Pillar Shrine, the nearest building. There is a small fee to enter this temple complex.

City Pillar Shrine
City Pillar Shrine

The City Pillar or Lak Mueang was moved here from Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang in 1800 by King Chao Kawila. I don’t know why this City Pillar is in the shape of a human figure, unlike those in Udon Thani and Ban Dung – or why women are forbidden to enter this shrine.

Chiang Mai's City Pillar
Chiang Mai’s City Pillar

Next door is a wihan, the shrine hall that contains the principal Buddha images of this temple complex. This is the assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate.

Wihan
Wihan

Among the Buddha images inside is Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha).

Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha)
Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha)

Behind the wihan is Wat Chedi Luang. Construction of this temple started in the 14th century, but finished in the 15thn century. It was then 82 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters, at that time the largest building in the Lanna Kingdom.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

In 1545, the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. The result is somewhat controversial, as some claim the new elements are in Central Thai style, not Lanna style. The top was not reconstructed because no one knows what it looked like.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

Some of the temple’s elephants were reconstructed.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

From the chedi/stupa there’s more space to get a good look at the wihan.

Wihan
Wihan

The chedi is surrounded by impressive buildings and statues and such.

At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang hosts monk chats daily. Tourists are invited to speak with monks (usually novices) and ask them anything about Buddhism or Thailand.

At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang

We had set out on a walking tour of Old City temples. City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are highlights of Chiang Mai’s Old City. They became our first stop because they were near our hotel, and too enticing to save for later.

At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang

With over 120 temples within the city walls it is important to prioritize. We had a route and a map, but I’d suggest reviewing each temple on any such tour to be identify the ones you most want to visit. Walking between sites is tiring in the Thai heat, and we spent a good amount of time at many of the temples sites we visited.

At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang
At Wat Chedi Luang

City Pillar Shrine and Wat Chedi Luang are a must-see in Chiang Mai.

reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang
reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang

Even though we left Wat Chedi Luang with new ideas about the length of temple visits, and knowing that it would be important to prioritize, we made it less than a block along before we made an unplanned stop at nearby Wat Phan Tao.

Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao

Wat Phan Tao was founded in the 14th century. Like most of the temples of that time, it is constructed from teak with gold accents.

Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao

An especially striking teak and gold temple beckoned from Intrawarot Road. We didn’t realize at the time that this is Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang, the original home of the City Pillar.

Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang
Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang

Three Kings Monument is a bronze statue of and shrine to Kings Mengrai, Ramkamhaeng and Ngam Muang, who worked together in the late 1200’s to design and build Chiang Mai.

Three Kings Monument
Three Kings Monument

Less than a minute away from our next destination we were drawn into a small alley by the beauty of Wat Lam Chang. The gardens contribute nicely to the beauty of this small temple next to ruins of an old chedi.

Wat Lam Chang
Wat Lam Chang

Lam Chang means “shackled elephants”. King Mengrai kept his white elephants in the forested area here during the construction of Chiang Mai.

Wat Lam Chang
Wat Lam Chang

King Mengrai lived at the location of Wat Chiang Man during the building of Chinag Mai.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

In 1297 he built Wat Chiang Man as Chiang Mai’s first temple. One of the standing Buddhas below is said to be the oldest intact Buddha in Chiang Mai.  It has the year 1465 CE engraved on its base.

Inside the wihan at Wat Chiang Man
Inside the wihan at Wat Chiang Man

Chiang Mai was build to replace Chiang Rai as the capitol of the Lanna Kingdom. Chiang Mai means “New City”. The Lanna Kingdom became the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, a tributary state of Thailand from 1774 to 1899, and then the seat of a  ceremonial prince until 1939.

Inside the wihan at Wat Chiang Man
Inside the wihan at Wat Chiang Man

Also inside the wihan is a display with 9 different Buddha statues, with signs suggesting appropriate prayers for 8 of them. Those 8 are each associated with a different day of the week, with Wednesday morning and evening separately represented. Depending on the day you were born, one pose will have particular significance for you.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

Before my little Tukata explained further, I saw it as a gallery of the various Buddha statue poses. From left to right they are (above): Earth Touching Buddha, the most common pose found in Thai temples, Sunday Buddha is similar to Contemplation Buddha, and the pose suggests mental insight, and Protection Buddha (Monday).

Below middle: Reclining Buddha (Tuesday), Alms Collecting Buddha (with the bowl for donations – Wednesday morning).

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

Below: Buddha sitting with Monkey and Elephant (Wednesday evening), Meditation Buddha (Thursday), Naga Buddha (Friday).

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

There are more poses that appear in traditional Buddha statues. You can learn about them in more detail here.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

The ‘Elephant Chedi’ is the oldest construction in the Wat Chiang Man temple complex.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

There’s an outdoor shrine to King Mengrai.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

I found the shrine below to be a very cool and innovative approach.

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang) is hidden away in the middle of an Old City block, and the buildings seem to be open to visitors at limited or irregular hours, but it’s one of my favorite temple complexes in Chiang Mai.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

The area is crowded with structures, but full of spectacular detail.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

There don’t seem to be many tourists here.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

A Google Maps review suggests that some of the architecture may show a Burmese style.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

The stupa would appear to be the oldest structure at the site.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

Some reviews warn about the stray dogs. I couldn’t miss them, but they gave us no trouble.

Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)
Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang)

Our walking tour of Chiang Mai’s Old City temples continued, but experience has taught me to limit the size of my posts. I’ll bring you the second half of our walking tour in my next post.

As always, Wikipedia was invaluable in providing information for this post.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 60 pictures below.