Tag Archives: Phaya Naga

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 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.

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.

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.

Wat Mai Ban Tan, a beautiful white temple trimmed in gold

We saw Wat Mai Ban Tan from the highway and decided to stop and have a look. We were just east of Udon Thani Province, in Sakon Nakhon Province, on .

Wat Mai Ban Tan
Wat Mai Ban Tan

This is a fairly new temple, and I haven’t found out much about it. There’s still a lot of work being done on the outer grounds (those near the temple are immaculate). The temple and immediate surroundings show that Wat Mai Ban Tan is very well funded.

Ground floor interior
Ground floor interior

I took off my shoes when everyone else did, but I forgot about my hat. Everyone there smiled at me and didn’t say a word. Eventually one of my Thai companions mentioned it, and I took it off.

Ground floor Buddha
Ground floor Buddha

This beautiful little temple on the pond would have to wait until we finished inside.

Small shrine near the temple
Small shrine near the temple

The second level looks down on the first from an interior balcony that runs all the way around (see the 3rd pic up). The walls are lined with statues of venerable departed monks. They’re all very well done, and all executed in the same style, presumably for this space. I was drawn to the one below with his snake staff.

Venerable departed monk
Venerable departed monk

Doors on four sides lead out to an exterior balcony. From there stairs lead up to the third level. I’ve seen vessels like the one shown below claimed to contain a bone fragment of the Buddha, but I have almost no information on this temple.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

In two corners are small collections of Buddhas.

Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior
Third level interior

Outside we got a close look at Buddha riding a three-headed gold elephant. He is flanked by a pair of Phaya Naga that either have very large horns, or are breathing fire (and have very small horns).

Third level exterior detail
Third level exterior detail

Above the Buddha’s head is the dharmachakra, or “Wheel of the Dharma“. This is the symbol of Buddhism in Thailand. The flag below, alternating with the flag of Thailand, is flown along the way to temples in Thailand – and to Thai temples elsewhere in the world.

The Dhammachak Flag - from Wikimedia Commons
The Dhammachak Flag – from Wikimedia Commons

The elephant is a symbol of physical and mental strength, as well as responsibility and earthiness. The elephant also appears as a guardian of temples and of Buddha himself.

The peacock is a symbol of openness and acceptance. Peacocks flank the four entrances to Wat Mai Ban Tan.

Peacock
Peacock

Flanking the entrance to the smaller temple shown above are one green and one gold Phaya Naga.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

This may be my favorite Phaya Naga so far.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

Inside the temple is a “Naga Buddha”, a Buddha seated on a Phaya Naga. One account I have seen said that a Phaya Naga in the form of a large cobra sheltered the Buddha with it’s hood to protect him from the elements, so as not to interrupt his meditations.  Phaya Naga are often shown as guardians or protectors of the Buddha.

"Naga Buddha"
“Naga Buddha”

On the Phaya Naga’s “hood” is the dharmachakra. This Buddha is very consistent in style with the Buddha in the larger temple.

Back of "Naga Buddha" with dharmachakra
Back of “Naga Buddha” with dharmachakra

Some temples are decorated with collections of Buddhas and other entities and symbols in a variety of styles. At Wat Mai Ban Tan nothing is redundant, and everything fits so well that it appears to have been created specifically for this temple. The exception is the collection of Buddha figures, but those are presented in glass display cases.

Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds
Wat Mai Ban Tan temple grounds

Please enjoy the full gallery of 19 pictures below.

Wat Kham Chanot, temple of the Phaya Naga

Wat Kham Chanot is a Buddhist temple that is very focused on worship of Phaya Naga. It is located in Kham Chanot forest,  believed to be the border between the human world and the netherworld. Both forest and temple are located on an island in Kut Kham, a marshy lake in which a Phaya Naga is said to live.

The temple complex has expanded off of the island, and includes a large standing Buddha and a permanent country market.

Standing Buddha and market
Standing Buddha and market

Among the many items for sale are offerings to the Phaya Naga. The likenesses below are mostly constructed of folded banana or coconut leaves. The products of this art vary greatly, mostly in the quality of the heads. These are among the best I’ve seen.

Banana/coconut leaf Phaya Naga
Banana/coconut leaf Phaya Naga

Of course there are also temple buildings adorned with Phaya Naga.

Temple with Phaya Naga
Temple with Phaya Naga

The bridge to the island was once very small. The new one is a fairly recent improvement. The entrance is flanked by a pair of 7-headed Phaya Naga.

Wat Kham Chanot is usually busy, so there is a police presence. At the entrance to the bridge an officer told me to remove my hat, suggesting that the entire island is considered a temple. An earlier clue that I had missed was that we had removed our shoes.

Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot
Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot

The bodies of the Phaya Naga extend along the entire length of the bridge, all the way to the island.

Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot
Bridge to old Wat Kham Chanot

Golden frogs can be seen in the marsh on either side of the bridge.

Golden frogs
Golden frogs

Located right at the end of the bridge, the shrine on the right, below, had a constant line of people passing through. We didn’t wait in that line.

Temples on the island at old Wat Kham Chanot
Temples on the island at old Wat Kham Chanot

Phaya Naga can take human form, like the one seated on the altar below. Note the many offerings.

Phaya Naga in human form
Phaya Naga in human form

Phaya Naga sometimes appear with the upper body of a man or woman and the lower body of a snake – or in the case of the figures below, upper bodies of both humans and numerous (or multi-headed) serpent-form Phaya Naga.

Phaya Naga at Wat Kham Chanot
Phaya Naga at Wat Kham Chanot

The font below is said to flow from a spring. People anointed themselves with the water.

Font of the Phaya Naga
Font of the Phaya Naga

The many small shrines are built among some really cool old trees.

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

Paya Naga are also said to live in the Mekong River and estuaries. People of Laos and Thailand attribute the naga fireball phenomenon to Phaya Naga, along with standing waves, damage to vehicles and objects, and serpentine tracks that are frequently found. Scientists compare these and sightings of Phaya Naga with those of bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

“Naga fireballs, also known as bung fai paya nak or Mekong lights, are a phenomenon said to be often seen on the Mekong River. Glowing balls are alleged to naturally rise from the water high into the air. The balls are said to be reddish and to range in size from smaller sparkles up to the size of basketballs. They quickly rise up to a couple of hundred metres before disappearing. The number of fireballs reported varies between tens and thousands per night.” – Wikipedia

Wat Kham Chanot
Wat Kham Chanot

Recently a festival was held on the Mekong River. On TV I saw fireworks being launched from underwater to simulate naga fireballs. This is something I’ll try to learn more about.

Off of the island we visited a variety of small shrines, like the one below to some respected and deceased monk.

Shrine to a venerable monk at new Wat Kham Chanot
Shrine to a venerable monk at new Wat Kham Chanot

There were a number of large gongs available, and visitors could try various approaches to getting interesting sounds from them.

There are many ghost stories and hauntings associated with Wat Kham Chanot. Phaha Naga are said to sometimes go to the houses of people near the temple when they need something. Although people ask them for favors, they are very afraid of them.

After leaving the busy Wat Kham Chanot we stopped by an unfinished temple populated only by workers.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

I find this temple exceptionally beautiful, and I like the open air design. There is something vaguely Nordic about it.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

These Phaya Naga are some of the coolest I’ve seen, and I couldn’t resist using them as the featured picture for this post, in spite of the fact that they are not found at Wat Kham Chanot.

Phaya Naga
Phaya Naga

The inside too is simple and beautiful.

Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple
Unfinished temple

This temple has a paddock for deer. Wat Kham Chanot is said to have a small zoo of turtles, but I didn’t see that.

Deer
Deer

Please enjoy the full gallery of 20 pictures below.

The Buddhist country temple in Thailand

The Buddhist country temple is often more modest than those found in Thai cities, but in them very interesting features, and a wide range of styles, can be found.

Most visitors start in Bangkok, where I expect the most extravagant temples in Thailand are located. I’ll start you off where I started, with a couple of country temples in the Ban Dung district.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

We arrived at both temples via red dirt roads. The first has an area of worship that is, from the outside, just a building.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The inside is very modest as well.

Ban Dung district country temple
Ban Dung district country temple

The newest and most outstanding feature of this temple complex is this unfinished school for new monks.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

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.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

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.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

Thai … folklore holds the Phaya Naga to be semi-divine, demi-creatures, which possess supernatural powers as has been described in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.” – Wikipedia

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.

Unfinished school for new monks
Unfinished school for new monks

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.

Buddha on lotus flower
Buddha on lotus flower

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.

Spirit house
Spirit house

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.

Spirit house
Spirit house

Pictured below is not a spirit house, I’m told, but a monument to a respected monk of the temple who passed away.

Monument to a departed monk
Monument to a departed monk

The second temple has much more typical Thai temple architecture, including a gate covered in Phaya Naga.

Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Temple gate with Phaya Naga, from inside the complex
Phaya Naga on temple gate
Phaya Naga on temple gate

The temple looks to be another pre-fab concrete building, although this one is finished.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

It has some nice Phaya Naga flanking the steps.

Temple Phaya Naga
Temple Phaya Naga

On the gable is a figure that I haven’t seen on any other Buddhist temple: Garuda, dancing with a pair of Phaya Naga.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

“The Garuda is a large legendary bird, bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda is the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu.”  The phoenix is considered to be a contemporary representation of Garuda. –  Wikipedia

Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga
Garuda dancing with Phaya Naga

Next to the temple above is another temple in a very different style.

Buddhist country temple
Buddhist country temple

In the foreground above we see Phra Mae Thorani, the Buddhist Earth Mother.

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

Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance - from Wikimedia Commons
Buddha summoning Phra Mae Thorani to come to his assistance – from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Buddha and a country temple
Buddha and a country temple

Next to the other gate to the temple complex is a whole village of spirit houses.

The temple's village of spirit houses
The temple’s village of spirit houses
I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at these two temples.
Please enjoy the full gallery of 22 pictures below.