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.

Sukhothai, the Dawn of Happiness

Sukhothai was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom which existed from 1238 until 1438 in what is now Northern Thailand. Today the area contains over 200 temples and other structures from that time that have been excavated and partly reconstructed. The three Sukhothai historical parks have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Historical Park.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat , part of Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Sukhothai
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat , part of Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Sukhothai

Sukhothai means “dawn of happiness”. At one time Thai historians considered the Sukhothai Kingdom to be the origin of Thailand because little was known about the time before. We now know that Thai history started before Sukhothai, but the founding of Sukhothai is still celebrated in Thailand.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Sukhothai is 12 km west of the modern city of Sukhothai Thani. It lies on the route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and also from Udon Thani to Chiang Mai.

Si Satchanalai (“City of good people”) was founded in 1250 as the second center of the Sukhothai Kingdom, and as a residence of the crown prince. Si Satchanalai Historical Park is located in Sukhothai Province, about a one hour drive from Sukhothai Historical Park.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat (pictured above and below) is the biggest and the most important historic temple in Si Satchanalai Historical Park. It is located on a U-bend in the Yom River, and is flanked on both sides by that river, separate from the bulk of the ruins at Si Satchanalai Historical Park.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat was built as a Mahayana Buddhist temple in the late 12th century during the reign of Jayavarman VII when the area was part of his Khmer Empire. It shows similarities to the temple ruins at Angkor Wat, also constructed by the Khmer Empire, and located over 800km away in Cambodia.

A tower of Angkor Wat
A tower of Angkor Wat – from Wikimedia Commons

Inside of the tower at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat is something that looks a lot like a City Pillar. King Rama I probably erected the first city pillar on 21 April 1782, when he moved his capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The practice quickly spread to other cities in Thailand.  The prang (tower) of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat was redesigned to its current form by Borommakot in the 18th century, so maybe the City Pillar was placed at that time.

Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

In the view below of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat from the tower you can also see the back of a newer temple.

View from the tower
View from the tower

Inside is an extensive collection of Buddhas, including a large one made of a dark green stone. During our visit men were scrubbing the gold-colored foil from that large Buddha. In many temples you can buy small squares of “gold” foil to rub onto the statues. In the picture below you can see several Buddhas that have been partially coated, and one that has been fairly thoroughly coated, in this way.

Inside the newer temple
Inside the newer temple
Inside the newer temple
Inside the newer temple

Behind the tower is a large stupa – a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics, typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns.

Pagoda at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Pagoda at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

A stupa is used as a place of meditation. In Buddhism circumambulation or pradakhshina – walking around a sacred object or idol – has been an important ritual and devotional practice since the earliest times, and stupas always have a pradakhshina path around them.

Behind the stupa is a large standing Buddha.

Buddha at Pagoda at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Buddha at Pagoda at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

It’s a short drive to the rest of Si Satchanalai Historical Park, most of which is shown on the map below. We had lunch at one of several restaurants there.

Si Satchanalai Historical Park
Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Wat Nang Paya means “temple of queen”. An unsubstantiated local legend says that the temple was built by the daughter of a Chinese emperor. The temple features a large stupa. Like most of the buildings here, it is constructed of laterite.

Wat Nang Paya
Wat Nang Paya

There are also the remains of a seven-roomed monastery.

The monastery, viewed from the stupa
The monastery, viewed from the stupa

Wat Nang Paya is famous for the remains of beautiful stucco-reliefs,  protected by the tin roofed shelter shown above.

Stucco reliefs at Wat Nang Paya - Wikimedia Commons
Stucco reliefs at Wat Nang Paya – from Wikimedia Commons

Many moss covered moats protected the various temples and the city itself.

Si Satchanalai moat
Si Satchanalai moat

Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo means the temple of seven rows of stupas.

Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo
Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo

It is  considered unique among the temples in Sukhothai Kingdom, because it consists of 32 stupas of different sizes in different styles. This temple was apparently built for the royal family.

Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo from Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo from Wat Chang Lom

Wat Chang Lom is named for its 39 full sized elephants. Usually only the front half of the body is sculpted in Sukhothai temples. Here the full bodies are sculpted. Unfortunately they haven’t held up well to the elements.

Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chang Lom

On the second tier of the stupa base are 20 niches, some of which still contain the original 1.4 m high Buddha images.

Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chang Lom

The temple grounds contain the remains of a monastery and several other structures.

Wat Chang Lom
Wat Chang Lom

Large noisy birds infested the trees behind Wat Chang Lom. Most appeared to be Asian openbill stork, but egrets and herons also live in the park.

Asian openbill stork
Asian openbill stork

It was easier to see large groups of storks from Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng the top of the hill.

Asian openbill storks
Asian openbill storks

144 laterite steps lead up the hill to Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng.

Stairs to Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng
Stairs to Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng

There’s an old stone Buddha in the remains of a temple.

Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng
Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng

There are also several stupas and other ruins.

Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng
Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng

The hill is high enough to look down on the tops of nearby trees and into the nest of the storks.

Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng
Wat Khao Phanom Ploeng

Back at the bottom of the hill we looked back on the top of the stupa at nearby Wat Khao Suwankhiri protruding above the trees.

Stupa of Wat Khao Suwankhiri
Stupa of Wat Khao Suwankhiri

There are at least 4 more temples and the ruins of the royal palace inside of the defensive wall at Si Satchanalai Historical Park, and a large number of monuments and other ruins, and over a dozen more temples outside the wall.

We didn’t visit Sukhothai Historical Park or Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park, so we barely scratched the surface of the ruins of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

Buddhas at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
Buddhas at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat

Please enjoy the full gallery of 46 pictures below.

Wat Phra Thaen and a cast of thousands

Wat Phra Thaen is a temple surrounded by giant sculptures that tell a wide selection of Buddhist folktales and parables. From the street you can see two giant Buddhas and dozens of human and animal figures, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Not every sculpture and scene are part of a story. Below I’ll tell you the ones I know, mostly as told to me by my little Tukata.

Note the old man with the young wife in the ox cart in the picture below. They are situated in a fairly prominent spot near the front gates of the temple.

Chu Chuuk and Amitada
Chu Chuuk and Amitada

The old man, Chu Chuuk, seems to have taken advantage of many who were just trying to be good people. His friend owed him money, and had to give him his beautiful and good hearted daughter Amitada. She was so good to him that his peers started to criticize their own wives, so Amitada asked for a slave, so that she wouldn’t be seen to work quite so hard. Chu Chuuk asked the prince, who aspired to be a Buddha. The prince gave Chu Chuuk his own son and daughter. Chu Chuuk took a wrong turn on his way home, and was seen the the king. The king paid Chu Chuuk with money and food for the return of his niece and nephew. Chu Chuuk was so greedy that he ate until he burst. His wealth was offered to Amitada, who declined, and simply went home to her father.

Cobra with eggs
Cobra with eggs

A monkey and an elephant wanted to be good creatures, and to serve the Buddha. The monkey brought the Buddha a gift of wild honey. The elephant, shown here bringing flowers, offered to serve him – it sounds like the elephant offered to become the Buddha’s beast of burden.

Buddha with monkey and elephant
Buddha with monkey and elephant

It isn’t always clear to me what the moral of the story is, and in some cases there may not be one.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

An angel-like being took the form of an old man and went to speak with a king. He explained to the king that he had no wife, and badly needed one. The king aspired to a Buddha-like level of goodness, and offered his own wife to the old man. The queen in the scene below seems to approve of the arrangement. The angel-like creature then revealed itself, and the king got to keep his wife.

The king, the queen, and the old man
The king, the queen, and the old man

The Buddha left his home and life behind to seek enlightenment. When his mother became ill he returned to help her and to be with her when she died.

The Buddha and his dying mother
The Buddha and his dying mother

Below is Wat Phra Thaen’s village of spirit houses.

Spirit houses
Spirit houses

Phra Mae Thorani , the earth mother of southeast Asia, came to the Buddha’s aid when Mara, the Evil One, tried to stop him from reaching enlightenment.

“Mara brought his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, and tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and fled, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning Phra Mae Thorani to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.” – A Study of the History and Cult of the Buddhist Earth Deity in Mainland Southeast Asia

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Some monks would isolate themselves in the forest, live in a hollow tree, eat only fruit, and spend their days in meditation.

Monk in a hollow tree
Monk in a hollow tree

The scene below seems to simply show a teacher at work. Several giant birds seem to be enthralled with the lesson.

A teacher at work
A teacher at work

A giant monk-like figure currently under construction is by far the largest effigy at Wat Phra Thaen.

New construction of a giant monk-like figure
New construction of a giant monk-like figure

Below is a whole array of figures and some interesting architecture.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

A closer look at the reclining Buddha.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

Zoom in for a close look at the figures on the rooftop in the picture below. There are some very cool Phaya Naga, including a couple entwined with some kind of Thai mermen.

Some great rooftop figures
Some great rooftop figures

The golden hour cast a flattering light on the Buddha, monks and temple in the picture below.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

The temple below has a unique style. I haven’t seen one quite like it. The Phaya Naga flanking the stairs are entwined with Thai mermen like on the roof above, something I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Wat Phra Thaen
Wat Phra Thaen

Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani & Ban Dung

A City Pillar Shrine is built to house a City Pillar or lak mueang, placed in most Thai cities to be the center, heart and soul of the city and her citizens. The Pillar is a continuation of ancient customs in which a City Pillar was erected first and represented the intent to build a city.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

The shrine is also believed to house Chao Pho Lak Mueang, the city spirit deity. In the cities of Udon Thani and Ban Dung, and probably in many other Thai cities as well, there are other guardian and protector spirits and deities to honor, and so the City Pillar Shrine is part of a complex of shrines and effigies to those deities.

City Pillar Shrine, Udon Thani

Udon Thani’s  City Pillar Shrine is a sort of park in Udon Thani’s city center with a number of shrines and temples, and a large statue of the Udon Thani Province‘s protecting god.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

The City Pillar is visible inside of the shrine in the picture below. People remove their shoes before entering this shrine as the would a temple, and kneel and pray before the Pillar.

Udon Thani's City Shrine
Udon Thani’s City Shrine

Wetsuwan is one of the Four Heavenly Kings; four Buddhist gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.

Wetsuwan is the chief of the four kings and protector of the north. He is the ruler of rain.  He is often associated with the ancient Indian God of wealth, Lord Ganesh. His name means “he who hears everything”.

The Chinese depict Wetsuwon as a human king, but in Thailand he is depicted as a Yaksa, a usually friendly nature spirit, often appearing in southern Asia as a guardian deity. He is seen as the guardian deity of the Udon Thani Province.

I’m sure whether Chao Pho Lak Mueang is a proper name or just a title applied to any city spirit deity, but I was told that the name of Udon Thani’s guardian deity is “Udon Thani”. It is said to reside in the shrine below.

City Pillar Shrine
City Pillar Shrine

The gold statue in the middle of the shrine, in the picture below, may be an effigy of the guardian deity, or may be seen as the deity itself, I’m not sure which.

The park is surrounded by government buildings, including the Udon Thani Provincial Hall and the Office of Buddhism. Smaller villages in the area still have faded pictures of the departed 9th king, who passed away nearly one year ago at the time of my visit, but the center of Udon Thani displays a new picture of the 10th king.

Udon Thani Provincial Hall
Udon Thani Provincial Hall

Apparently there’s always construction going on in the park. There’s still lots of room for new stuff. The structure below reminds me of the one built in Bangkok for the cremation ceremony of Thailand’s 9th king which took place at the end of October.

A new structure in the works
A new structure in the works

The interior of the building below is lots of pillars, and nothing else.

An empty building
An empty building

The Chinese temple is interesting for many reasons, starting with its very different style.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

The cute Phaya Naga in front of the temple would seem to be an acknowledgement that this Chinese temple is located in northeastern Thailand.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

A small building nearby offers a good look at some little Chinese dragons.

Chinese dragon
Chinese dragon

It’s a great little structure with a lot of detail.

On the grounds of the Chinese temple
On the grounds of the Chinese temple

Dragons and various other creatures decorate the roof of the temple…

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

…and the rest of the temple as well. This temple was fenced off for some reason, so it wasn’t possible to get a closer look.

Chinese temple
Chinese temple

Placed around the temple are the animals of the Chinese zodiac; below are the rabbit and the ox.

Rabbit and ox
Rabbit and ox

City Pillar Shrine, Ban Dung

In Ban Dung I visited Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine.

Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine
Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine

The most prominent feature of this park is a large statue of  Por Si Sut Tho, the Phaya Naga who lives in the Kham Chanot Forest. “Por” is an honorific commonly given to Si Sut Tho that is normally applied to monks, which he is not. “Chao”, which is apparently also used at times, is normally applied to kings, which Por Si Sut Tho also is not.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

My little Tukata tells me that Por Si Sut Tho takes the form shown below, with a human upper body (or even a fully human form), when he emerges onto the land, but takes the more commonly seen serpentine form when he’s in the water.

Por Si Sut Tho
Por Si Sut Tho

There are a number of nice buildings in the park, and there may be interesting stories behind the entities to whom they are dedicated. The shrine below has something to do with Por Si Sut Tho and his wife, Ya Bat Tho Ma.

Unidentified shrine
Unidentified shrine

Below is the shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar.

Shrine of Ban Dung's City Pillar
Shrine of Ban Dung’s City Pillar

Below is the City Pillar itself.

Ban Dung City Pillar
Ban Dung City Pillar

Please enjoy the Udon Thani City Pillar Shrine gallery of 18 pictures below, and the Chao Por Si Sut Tho City Pillar Shrine gallery of 8 pictures below that.

Forest master Luang Ta Maha Bua’s Wat Pa Ban Tat

Wat Pa Ban Tat is a Theravada Buddhist monastery in the Udon Thani Province of Thailand.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

Wat Pa Ban Tat was established by the famous Thai meditation bhikkhu Luang Ta Maha Bua.

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

Bua is one of the best known Thai Buddhist monks of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was widely regarded as an Arahant — a living Buddhist saint. He was a disciple of the esteemed forest master Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta, and was himself considered a master in the Thai Forest Tradition. Following the death of Ajahn Thate in 1994, he was considered to be the Ajahn Yai, or the head of the Thai Forest Tradition lineage until his death in 2011. – Wikipedia

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

The first building we visited was a sort of shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua, shown above and below.

Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua
Shrine to Luang Ta Maha Bua

This structure reminds me of the way many Thai houses are build on stilts to provide a shady space beneath for people to work and rest in the heat of the day.

Kitchens are often set up beneath houses. The one below is its own roofed but open space. The monks of Wat Pa Ban Tat live nearby.

Monks' kitchen
Monks’ kitchen

The dwelling structures themselves – called kutis – are single units scattered throughout the dense forest. They stand fairly far apart and are separated from each other by strips of forest dense enough so that the inhabitants can’t see one another. The whole area is tranquil and quiet… A monk will stay alone at his kuti without interactions with others. He spends all his time concentrating on his own practice – exerting himself in the practice of sitting and walking meditation in the area of his own kuti as if he were the only person around. He doesn‘t stop to chat with others, but follows in full detail the methods and forest practices taught by the Lord Buddha. – Wikipedia

Blonde Thai squirrel
Blonde Thai squirrel

Walking from Bua’s shrine to his temple we encountered many of Thailand’s blonde squirrels. We saw these in many wooded areas in the north. We saw no other type of squirrel, although I believe there are many.

We also met this cool old tortoise.

Thai tortoise
Thai tortoise

Printed banners that line the fences of the temple complex tell of the donations that Bua collected from around the world to help the people of Thailand. His temple is very nice, but very simple and modest compared to many.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

There are no Phaya Naga, Phra Mae Thorani, Garuda, or any other figure besides the Buddha, and pictures of Luang Ta Maha Bua.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

The temple is a large roof over a cool tile floor, open on the sides.

Wat Pa Ban Tat
Wat Pa Ban Tat

Below is a model of a future addition to the temple complex.

Plans for the future
Plans for the future

Early in my visit to Thailand I was given a pendant with a likeness of Luang Ta Maha Bua. I wore it during most of my time there. Every Thai person I spoke with about him was in complete agreement that Bua was a very good monk.

Luang Ta Maha Bua pendant
Luang Ta Maha Bua pendant

Please enjoy the full gallery of 12 pictures below.

Phu Pha Lek National Park & Wat Tham Phuang

Phu Pha Lek National Park extends over more than 100,000 acres, from Sakon Nakhon province to Udon Thani to Kalasin. It contains the Phu Phan mountain range, with its highest peak, Phu Ang So.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

The park is covered with deciduous and evergreen forests, along with various types of bamboo and herbs. Wild hogs, barking deer, mouse deer, monkeys, and many species of birds call the park home.

Lookout tower
Lookout tower

We had lunch near the lookout tower above, and took in the view below.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

Phu Pha Lek confirmed my suspicion that everything in Thailandwaterfalls, mountains, and even national parks – must also be a temple.

Wat Tham Phuang is a series of temples in the park, many of which tell a story from the life of the Buddha. We started at the temple dedicated to the end of his life, but I’ll take you first to the last temple that we saw, and give you the story of the Buddha in chronological order, as told to me by the temples of Wat Tham Phuang, and by my little Tukata.

Phaya Naga at the big temple
Phaya Naga at the big temple

I’ve given names to the temples that make up Wat Tham Phuang, but it isn’t likely that anyone else calls them by these names.

The big temple doesn’t actually tell a story. It has a more standard temple theme.

The big temple
The big temple

It provides space for large congregations.

The big temple
The big temple

The rock of the mountain is incorporated into the building.

The big temple
The big temple

Below is one of the main entrances.

The big temple
The big temple

The resident monks seem to live near the big temple.

Monks of Phu Pha Lek
Monks of Phu Pha Lek

Below is a shrine to a venerable monk.

Shrine to a venerable monk
Shrine to a venerable monk

I would guess that this monk founded one of the original temples here in the park.

Shrine to a venerable monk
Shrine to a venerable monk

Near this shrine we were lucky enough to get a glimpse of a monkey, some kind of macaque I think, in the trees.

A shy monkey
A shy monkey

The small temple below is dedicated to the birth of the Buddha.

Temple to the birth of the Buddha
Temple to the birth of the Buddha

It is said that Siddhartha Gautama, who would become a spiritual teacher, and later come to be known as the Buddha, didn’t cry when he was born. He stood, and took seven steps. Then he raised one hand into the air and proclaimed himself the Buddha. Then he slept, and when he woke he behaved as a normal baby, and proceeded to develop as a regular human being.

The Buddha and his mom
The Buddha and his mom

There’s a rest area with a roof and water for drinking and a great view.

Phu Pha Lek National Park
Phu Pha Lek National Park

Among the trees near the rest area is the small temple shown below. We didn’t go in for a closer look, so I don’t know if the figure inside is the Buddha, or whether this temple has a story to tell.

A small forest temple
A small forest temple

The temple below has a real Aztec look to it. I saw other Thai temples that make me think of the Aztecs, but they’re all ruins.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

This temple is focused on the time that the Buddha spent meditating under the Bodhi Tree in order to reach enlightenment.

The Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree
The Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree was a large and very old sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya. In religious iconography, the Bodhi Tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which you can see in the picture above.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

Each of the four towers has a small temple inside of it.

Temple of the Bodhi Tree
Temple of the Bodhi Tree

Nearby is a small temple with stairs flanked by Phaya Naga.

Small temple
Small temple

A small shrine to Phra Mae Thorani sits above a pool next to the temple above. She is Thailand’s earth mother, and one of the supernatural beings that came to defend and protect the Buddha as he sat under the Bodhi Tree, so that his meditations would not be interrupted.

Phra Mae Thorani
Phra Mae Thorani

Below is another small temple that we didn’t enter. Through the window we can see the Buddha with an elephant kneeling before him. He is often depicted teaching an elephant and a monkey.

Temple with elephant
Temple with elephant

I don’t know the meaning of the scene below either. This, and the elephant and monkey, are things I’ll try to learn more about.

Creatures with dharmachakra (Wheel of the Dharma)
Creatures with dharmachakra (Wheel of the Dharma)

The temple next to the scene above tells of the time that three hundred monks arrived to be taught by the Buddha.

The Buddha teaching the 300 monks
The Buddha teaching the 300 monks

Notice the deer in the scene above.

Monks being taught by the Buddha
Monks being taught by the Buddha
Temple ceiling
Temple ceiling

When all of his work was complete, the Buddha lay down and passed from this life.

Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha

We didn’t take advantage of the hiking trails or camping, and didn’t see any of the waterfalls, or even much of the forests. That’ll be something to do next time.

Temple of the reclining Buddha
Temple of the reclining Buddha

Please enjoy the full gallery of 36 pictures below.

Fire and brimstone monk deals sternly with monkey bite

After sustaining a monkey bite one must of course seek out a fire and brimstone monk to expel any malign spirits or influences. We left the paved roads for those of red dirt and drove deep into the countryside, passing many rice and sugar cane fields and rubber tree plantations along the way.

Rubber tree forest
Rubber tree forest

I’ve found the rubber tree forests especially interesting, having never seen one before Thailand. Those above have the sap collecting bowls tipped down. When collecting the bowls fill with a white liquid that seems to at least partly solidify before it is collected.

Northeast Thailand countryside
Northeast Thailand countryside

In the middle of all of this uninterrupted agriculture we arrived at a gate, currently under either repair or construction.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

One monk lives at this temple. He has one of the most bizarre collections of religious accoutrements I’ve ever seen.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

When he appeared he patted my belly and compared it to that of his enormous orange Buddha.

Buddha with centipede
Buddha with centipede

A 19th century Tibetan poet warned his fellow Buddhists that “if you enjoy frightening others, you will be reborn as a centipede.” I don’t really know of any connection with centipedes in Thai Buddhism. I have no idea why this Buddha has a giant centipede on his shoulder.

A cobra is coiled around the Buddha, apparently watching his back. Phaya Naga are sometimes portrayed as more common snakes.

Cobra guarding the Buddha
Cobra guarding the Buddha

This monk also has in his collection a large cobra with 9 heads.

9-headed cobra
9-headed cobra

He also has a Phaya Naga in a form with which I’m more familiar, giving a ride to a red humanoid that I haven’t identified.

Phaya Naga and rider
Phaya Naga and rider

The monkey bite victim and her mother changed into garments resembling baptism robes and sat in chairs at the edge of the temple, still just under the roof. The monk shouted the loudest I’ve heard from a monk and threw water on them. I’m not sure I would describe it as angry, but forceful would be fair. Later I was told that he was not speaking in Thai. It may have been Cambodian.

Outdoor Buddha
Outdoor Buddha

The monkey bite victim has had serious health problems for some time. I’m told that doctors know what it is, and she has been receiving treatment for some time. It seems that her mother has been seeking spiritual remedies to supplement the medicine.

Outdoor reclining Buddha
Outdoor reclining Buddha

Later the fire and brimstone monk produced dolls, similar to Ken and Barbi, and having gotten my attention, proceed to use them to act out the bumping of uglies. Apparently he was offering to bring his spiritual powers to bear on our sex lives. My little Tukata declined his offer.

Domain of the fire and brimstone monk
Domain of the fire and brimstone monk

The open roof behind the orange Buddha may be intended to let rain fall into an odd pool behind him. In this pool sit pink-skinned baby Phra Phikanets, or Ganeshas, on lotus flowers.

Pink-skinned baby Phra Phikanets, or Ganeshas, on lotus flowers
Pink-skinned baby Phra Phikanets, or Ganeshas, on lotus flowers

I’ve seen fish raised in pools like this.

Phaya Naga in outdoor pool
Phaya Naga in outdoor pool

I’ve seen creatures something like those below, but these seem to have the lower bodies of mermaids, so I’m not sure.

Unidentified creatures
Unidentified creatures

I had no idea that Buddhist temples like this existed. I was glad to see it for myself, and also that our visit was brief.

Please enjoy the full gallery of 14 pictures below.

The long-tailed macaques of Kumphawapi monkey park

My hosts knew that I was interested in seeing monkeys, so they took me to Kumphawapi monkey park.

Kumphawapi monkey park
Kumphawapi monkey park

This is just a city park in Kumphawapi district in the southern part of Udon Thani Province, northeastern Thailand that happens to be overrun by macaques (long-tailed macaques I think), but they’re the defining feature of this park. You can find it here on Google Maps.

Mother and baby macaques
Mother and baby macaques

There were quite a few mothers carrying their babies on their backs or clinging to their stomachs.

Mother and baby macaques
Mother and baby macaques

The moms were very busy.

It looks like half of the park is wooded. Surrounded by trees may have been a better space in which to observe the monkeys than the car park. I did watch a lot of juveniles playing in the trees near the restrooms. They’re very curious, and this one hooted at me a bit.

Juvenile macaque
Juvenile macaque

They don’t sit still long, and seem to have endless energy.

Young macaque
Young macaque

Most of the monkeys I saw in the trees were about this size.

My hosts had brought some bananas from their back yard. The monkeys were happy to have them. Vendors at the park sell peanuts for you to feed them, but you need to think about what you’re doing. Tossing it to them is safer than handing it to them, and holding on to it or withholding it can get you bit. I had a lot of fun just watching them, and taking pictures.

Feeding peanuts to the macaques
Feeding peanuts to the macaques

The feeder shown above didn’t have any problems, but disputes did erupt in the form of a larger monkey running off a smaller one as the other little guys scattered.

Display of monkey dominance
Display of monkey dominance

Then one of our party walked too close to the feeding frenzy and was bitten on the ankle.

I’ve heard a lot about unpleasant experiences with monkeys. Fortunately we witnessed no flinging of poo. There were no public displays of monkey passion. But I guess I saw just about every other form of monkey shenanigans I care to imagine. On the other hand, some of the pics on Google Maps show a market in this park, and I imagine they find lots of creative ways to cause problems in a setting like that.

I did see fleeing mothers pursued by shrieking babies. I didn’t see the vain monkey below do any damage, but I’m sure the bike owner would not have been pleased.

Monkey vanity
Monkey vanity

Of course the owner of the truck below was surely far less pleased.

Very bad monkeys
Very bad monkeys

I don’t know why anyone would leave a car here unattended. I like to think I’d take one look at a park full of monkeys, and find somewhere else to park.

Very bad monkeys
Very bad monkeys

I asked them if they realized that they are very, very bad monkeys, but I used my least confrontational tone of voice. Apologies to the car owners, but I didn’t want to risk getting gang-rushed by angry macaques.

I like the way they didn’t bother to taste the rubber until they’d ripped it completely free from the car.

Let’s close with a less sociopathic monkey moment.

Macaque family grooming
Macaque family grooming

Please enjoy the full gallery of 15 pictures below.