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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Large windows on the 3rd floor offer a nice view over the park.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 40 pictures below.
Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most revered temple. It is named for the city’s holiest Buddha statue, the Phra Buddha Sihing.
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.
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.
Wihan Luang, above and below, is the main assembly hall where monks and laypeople congregate. The current building replaced the original in 1925.
Most of the other temple structures are located behind Wihan Luang, including Wihan Lai Kham, the Phrathatluang chedi, and the bot, shown below.
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.
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.
There are effigies of many venerable monks at Wat Phra Singh, both life-like and metallic, and the bot displays quite a few.
The photo below, from 2008, shows the Phrathatluang chedi before it was covered in gold.
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.
At the back of the compound a small temple has room for little more than a large reclining Buddha.
Between Reclining Buddha Temple and the chedi is a sort of pavilion sheltering Buddha statues in various styles.
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 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.
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.
It is also said that the head of the statue was stolen in 1922, so the head may be a copy.
Next to the front of Wihan Luang is the Ho Trai, considered one of the most beautiful temple libraries in Thailand.
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.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It isn’t always clear to me what the moral of the story is, and in some cases there may not be one.
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 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.
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
Some monks would isolate themselves in the forest, live in a hollow tree, eat only fruit, and spend their days in meditation.
The scene below seems to simply show a teacher at work. Several giant birds seem to be enthralled with the lesson.
A giant monk-like figure currently under construction is by far the largest effigy at Wat Phra Thaen.
Below is a whole array of figures and some interesting architecture.
A closer look at the 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.
The golden hour cast a flattering light on the Buddha, monks and temple in the picture below.
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.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 26 pictures below.
Tham Phra Waterfall is a great way to spend a day in the heat of Thailand, and a great way to cool off after a visit to nearby Wat Phu Thok. Getting there requires a 15 minute boat ride along the Nam Ning brook.
Tham Phra is just one of the waterfalls in the Phu Wua wild life sanctuary about 40 kilometers from Bung Khong Long. It’s really a series of waterfalls, all flowing down over rock overlooked by sandstone cliffs and surrounded by thick green forest. Rock steps take you up to the first level, and you can continue upward from there to reach the highest level. The panorama below shows one of the lower levels nearly deserted as we made our way back to the boat at the end of the day.
This was when I realized that in Thailand, everything is a temple. Waterfall? Needs a Buddha! Wildlife Sanctuary? Needs Buddha! There was an actual temple at this spot, but it was moved so that visitors could better enjoy the water.
I think the falls below are at the highest level. This is where we stopped and finally got into the water. I’m told that in rainier times the whole rock face seen below flows with water.
There are quite a few natural slides like those shown in the pic below.
Below is a video of such a slide, shot in 2016. You’ll see many more videos of Tham Phra Waterfall on YouTube.
At about 5:00pm people came around to tell us it was time to leave. After thinking about it, it made sense; the people who run the boats need to shut it down and go home.
At the end of our boat ride back they had pictures of everyone framed and ready to sell. This is the most upset I’ve seen my Tukata, and she let them know directly, accusing them of stealing. No one bought a photo. I don’t have a good guess at when they took the pictures.
Tham Phra Waterfall is a natural waterpark in northeastern Thailand. It’s a great way to spend a hot day, but don’t go to late!
I’ll guess that the temple came first, and then the park-like surroundings. There’s plenty of space for a picnic, quiet time in the shade, feeding of fish, or a visit to one of the shrines among the many small lakes.
I wore hiking boots, but the walkways are very good, and walking shoes would have been better. Most visitors wore some form of sandal. I was still adjusting to the heat, but we took it slow, and soon I was feeling like myself for maybe the first time since arriving in Thailand.
I was confident in the structure of all stairs and platforms. The stairs can be very steep, so we made use of the hand rails, and occasionally walked sideways down sets of stairs with particularly shallow steps.
After climbing stairs through the rock (see the pic above) we arrived at the first significant flat, open area. It contained shady places to sit and rest, water faucets, and a small temple below a rocky overhang.
Here I saw the first of two cable conveyances for building and other supplies.
There are seven levels on Phu Thok which represent the seven levels of spiritual enlightenment in Buddhist philosophy.
If you look closely at the pic below you can see walkways at three different heights, each probably representing a different level.
This is very interesting use of the rock, and I’m sorry we didn’t see whether it leads somewhere other than the next level. We never visited any actual interior spaces.
The small roof along the rock at the top of the pic below causes water to drip down onto the walkway rather than flow along the rock to dampen the spaces below.
The same rocky overhang shelters a host of monk statues. A pair of visitors we met counted 58 and 59.
Another level up we encountered a small rocky peak that contains a small temple.
That wall is pretty thin.
Here we got our first good look at the back of the larger peak.
There are great views of the surrounding area, including another mesa nearby.
The walkway along the back of the mountain started out with rock underfoot…
…but soon became much more interesting.
The structure still inspired complete confidence, but there was just enough difference in board height to create the possibility of stumbling. Looking at where I was walking meant looking between planks at the ground below, which made things all the more exciting.
Along this walkway we found several wild bee hives. At the same spot there was a cave whose entrance was barely visible, but from within we heard the constant chirping of bats.
In my favorite of Phu Thok’s many spots for quiet meditation, a gold Buddha reflects on the sweeping panorama.
I’m not sure where we ascended to level six, but it was somewhere on the back of the mountain. Determined to leave no stone unturned, some of us climbed to level seven, the top of the mesa. There we found trails, rather than walkways. The going is still not precarious, but there are no railings.
We took a different way back to level six, and I realized that Wat Phu Thok is a bit of a maze.
It took a while to find our way back to the rest of the group.
My little Tukata’s youngest son frequently drives the local monks to temples in Udon Thani and surrounding districts, so he knows many of the most beautiful wats in northeastern Thailand. With Wat Phu Thok, might our guide have peaked early? Stay tuned!
Actually, he is good at taking us to a second destination after the highlight. This post ends here, but our day out did not – tune in in two days to see how our guide followed Wat Phu Thok.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 43 pictures below.
Pre-fabricated concrete buildings must be a relatively inexpensive option for creating an impressive temple. I’ve seen several, usually in poorer areas. Government buildings also seem to often be built this way.
The decorative features of this roof are among the coolest I’ve seen. They include a number of intertwined Phaya Naga, with 3-headed 2-bodied Phaya Naga at the top of each roof. People here pronounce that “pa ya na”, but I suspect that the pronunciation might vary.
Phaya Naga show up frequently in temples, with varying prominence. Very soon I’ll show you an island temple complex in a forest believed to be the border between the human world and the netherworld, and home of the Naga.
Although the walls are clearly unfinished, with rebar still sticking out, the shutters and doors are beautiful. I wonder if they were salvaged from an older temple.
There’s a white Buddha seated on a lotus flower nearby.
Spirit houses are also an important feature of temples in Thailand. They’re also found outside of businesses. Spirit houses are intended to provide a shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased. They’re often placed along an edge or corner of the property. There’s something different about this one; the fact that it appears alone, and away from the edges of the property, but my little Tukata tells me it’s just another spirit house. On the signs are the names of people who have passed away.
I was initially told not to photograph spirit houses, or really to take any notice of them. At first I hesitated, but I find them far too interesting to not take pictures. Like a true Buddhist, my little Tukata doesn’t try to change what she cannot control.
I like the spirit houses that look more like small houses or temples, like the one below, photographed at a different temple.
Pictured below is not a spirit house, I’m told, but a monument to a respected monk of the temple who passed away.
The second temple has much more typical Thai temple architecture, including a gate covered in Phaya Naga.
The temple looks to be another pre-fab concrete building, although this one is finished.
It has some nice Phaya Naga flanking the steps.
On the gable is a figure that I haven’t seen on any other Buddhist temple: Garuda, dancing with a pair of Phaya Naga.
The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her 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 often appears at Thai temples, and in my experience is always shown wringing water from her long hair.
Across the paved path is a gold Buddha seated between two Phaya Naga, and a building in which I suspect communal worship might normally take place.
Next to the other gate to the temple complex is a whole village of spirit houses.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at these two temples.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 22 pictures below.
Steppin' the miles, enjoying the view, bringing it all to you.