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.