Wat Chiang Mun

Ohhh found another Chiang Mai temple I had forgotten about! The beautiful Wat Chiang Mun with its incredible, multi coloured wall murals.

P1150182  Photo frenzy!!!!!! The temple has gorgeous delicate red and gold paintings.

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The murals were repainted in 1996 and depict the founding of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai

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Chedi Chang Lom is the Elephant Chedi – the oldest construction within the temple complex

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The more modern, colourful murals in the second smaller wiharn in Wat Chiang Mun depict the Lord Buddha’s life and the last ten lives in the Jataka Stories.

These are stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. The future Buddha may appear in them as a king, an outcast, a god, an elephant—but, in whatever form, he shows some virtue that the tale  explains.

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The murals are a technocolour riot of fun. Here’s just a few snapshots of them in all their glory!

Finally here’s a painting of Phra Setangkamanee on the left of the outer wiharn wall and painting of Phra sila on the right of the outer wall.

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Fantasy at Wat Rong Khun

Next up is the treat I had been waiting for . . .  . Wat Rong Khun – better known to tourists as the White Temple.

It’s a modern, unconventional Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai that simmers in the sunlight as if it’s made of snow.

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I first heard about the temple during my first visit to Thailand about four years ago but didn’t have chance to see it.

Designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat in 1997 this is no traditional temple. It’s decorated with murals of modern day superheros, villains and events such as superman, Bin Laden, the burning trade towers and other iconic modern day images.

The perils of booze are advertised in the most terrifying way ever while shrunken heads of Pinhead and other monsters swing in the breeze. Meanwhile Predator attempts to extricate itself from the ground much to the terror of small children.

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It’s a fairy tale, sugar spun white confection of weirdness with a dark under belly.

Much of the temple’s messages refer to escaping earthly desires and greed and moving towards the sublime through Buddhist teachings. To physically demonstrate this you have to cross a sea of beseeching hands in purgatory, over the bridge to nirvana.

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Departing from the usual gold of traditional Thai temples, Chalermchai chose to construct the temple in white, representing the purity of Lord Buddha. The results seem like surreal scenes moulded out of cake icing!

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The twinkling mirrors embedded in the structure reflect the sunlight, reminding visitors of Buddha’s wisdom shining out across the world. (Plus some rather creepy demons coming at you too!)

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Another interesting feature of the temple are the intricate, beautiful prayer trees that are made up of thousands of delicate metallic chimes with wishes and hopes written on them.

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The temple shimmers under the blue skies. An other worldly vision of loveliness.

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While most of the temple is white, the designer chose to make the toilet block gold! It’s all to do with people and their worldly desires and needs! (Not sure what colour the actual loo roll was!)

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Thai Temple architecture

Here’s a final look at the colourful joy that is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. So let’s take yet another look at some of the sparkly gold, red, green and blue decorations.

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In the guise of this blog being semi educational (and not just LOADS of my holiday snaps!!) here’s a bit of a breakneck tour about some of the most commonly occuring elements of Thai temple architecture for you.

Buddhist temples in Thailand are known as wats meaning ‘an enclosure’. A temple has an enclosing wall that divides the secular and the spiritual worlds.

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Multiple roof tiers are an important, instantly recognisable element of the Thai temple – above is a typical example. Two or three tiers are most often used, but some royal temples have four.

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Most decorations are attached to the bargeboard – the long, thin panel on the edge of the roof at the gable ends.The decorative structure is called the lamyong. Above to the right is a spectacular shiny example.

The lamyong is made into a undulating shape evoking the serpentine nāga. Its blade-like end, called bai raka, are apparently suggestive of the feathers of Garuda – a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

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During the 10th century, Thai Theravada Buddhism and Hindu cultures merged, and Hindu elements were introduced into Thai iconography which is why you’ll see a mixture of both.

Popular figures include the four-armed figure of Vishnu; the garuda – half man, half bird; the eight-armed Shiva; elephant-headed Ganesh; the nāga, which appears as a snake, dragon or cobra; and the ghost-banishing giant Yaksha.

An example of a Yaksha is below and is a common, colourful theme in Thai temple architecture. You can see huge, epic versions in the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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Below you can also see a pair of golden Apsara, another frequent decorative motif. These are the female spirits of the clouds and waters who appear in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

They specialise in dancing and can be found decorating temples in countries such as Cambodia and India.

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Doi Suthep 2

Doi Suthep is an astonishing temple complex, perched high on the mountain side. Its site was established, according to legend, by a white elephant, bearing a sacred relic of Buddha, choosing the site.

Whatever the reason it is a cornucopia of architecture, colour and glitz. With delicate detailing covering every inch of the buildings.

It’s a temple lovers dream! Here’s some pics of the gorgeous detailing, including a replica of the original Emerald Buddha that used to be housed in the temple.

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As you wander the temple complex you’ll come across lots of unusual and eye catching details. The central chedi is a blindingly gorgeous sight.

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It’s surrounded by other beautiful details such as red and gold patterned wood

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There are also prayer bells where people write their heartfelt wishes on the delicate dangling decorations.

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The temple complex is a mix of Buddhist and Hindu mythology so you’ll see a variety of different religious iconology.

Below are temple offerings of money, a Hindu multi armed Ganesh style god and a large prayer gong.

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The temple relies on donations in order to keep going and to help the monks who live there all year round. So you’ll find plenty of places to place your spare change.

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These range from delicate silver cups to adorable mini monks!

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These pair have more than a passing resemblance to my erstwhile travelling companion . .

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Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Theravada Buddhist temple perched high on a mountain side .

The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” although this is actually the name of the mountain it is located on. The temple is about nine miles out of Chiang Mai and it’s a sacred site to many Thai people.

To reach the temple you have to take an incredibly steep, winding mountain track with amazing views as it’s about 3,500 feet above sea level .

Then you can either climb up the 306 steps to reach the temple or whizz up in a tram . . . here’s the ornate Naga steps

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The temple is stuffed to the gills with gaudy, glittering ornamentation, from towering demons to a sacred jackfruit tree wrapped in colourful cloth to pay tribute to the spirits.

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According to legend a relic, believed to be part of Buddha’s shoulder bone, was put on the back of a white elephant which was released in the jungle.

The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), trumpeted three times before kneeling. It was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of a temple at the site.

One of the main sights is the blinding, glittering golden Pagoda of the Holy Relic that houses the relic of Buddha. Worshippers circle the pagoda to pay their respects.

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A white elephant statue, the symbol of the elephant who carried the Buddha’s relic to the hilltop, guards the pagoda and welcomes the visitors. You can see it below, along with the sacred jackfruit tree, wrapped in colourful cloth.

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Because there’s so much to see. I’ll continue in another post!

Wat Chedi Luang

Onwards on our breakneck tour of as many Chiang Mai temples as I could cram in!

One of the must see temples is Wat Chedi Laung. An imposing chunk of temple where you can take part in Monk Chat!

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Also, apparently also frequented by “Thai gentlemen well dressed”! We considered ourselves warned!
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Here’s some handy facts (nicked off Wikipedia!) Chedi Laung means Royal Chedi – this was the official temple of the Lanna kings as it was close  to the former royal palace.

The construction of the temple started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there.

After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, later to be continued after the death of the king by his widow. It took until mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of king Tilokaraj. At the time it was the largest building in all of the Lanna kingdom.

In the year 1545 a massive earthquake destroyed much of the chedi. The quake took off about 60 meters from the top of the chedi after which about 60 meters remained. It was partially restored in the 1990s.

The partially ruined wat is most famous as the former home of the Emerald Buddha. Now rehomed in Bangkok, a replica of the Buddha sits in one of the chedi niches.

The ruined brick chedi of Wat Chedi Luang now rises to about 60m in height and its base is 44m (144 ft.) wide.

It has four sides, each with a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.

Young monks make a dash for cover in between torrential rain in the temple complex.

But the best bit (for me anyway) were the colourful animal statues dotted around the complex. There were monkeys,cockerels, rats and more. I assume they were all signifying Chinese birth years.

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This psychedelic critters made my day!

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Couldn’t help myself, had to squeeze as many of the zany, multicoloured oddities in as possible!

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Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh  (full name Wat Phra Singh Woramahaviharn) is located in the western part of the old city centre of Chiang Mai, which is contained within the city walls and moat.

The main entrance, which is guarded by Singhs (lions), is situated at the end of the main street (Rachadamnoen road) of Chiang Mai. The road runs east from the temple, via Tapae Gate, to the Ping River.

Construction on Wat Phra Singh began in 1345 when King Phayu, the fifth king of the Mangrai dynasty, had a chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu.

There are many different buildings within the temple complex. There’s Ho Trai  the temple scripture library, where ancient Buddhist writings are kept and Wihan Lai Kham with it’s impressive murals.

I have to admit I didn’t take very much notice of which building was which during this visit and I am not totally sure what the pictures above are of!! (apologies travel purists – but I did warn you I can be a trifle slapdash on occasion!)

Ornate Nagas slither over the temple while gilded decoration and jewel bright colours cover every inch. Here’s some details of the beautiful artwork and window detailing.

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The white chedi Phrathatluang – each side of the square base of the main chedi of the complex features the front half of an elephant emerging from it

Wat Boopparam / Wat Buppharam

Next temple on the snap happy tour was Wat Boopparam / Wat Buppharam. A zany, colourful affair close to the southern side of Thapae Road.

Not quite sure how Donald Duck fits in with Buddhist teachings, but he is there!

Along with a veritable menagerie of animals including a camel and other mythical guardian animals.

Colourful Naga guard the temple.

We got caught in a torrential downpour and ended up spending over an hour in the small museum and library room of this particular temple!

There is a Sacred Source in the temple grounds that used to be full of holy water – it’s nearly dried up now and surrounded by a wall.

The water served in the past to wash the Buddha relics. It was also used for the baths of the kings of Chiang Mai.

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The upper prayer hall is reached by stairs guarded by mythical beasts. Part dragon and part snake, similar to the Makara of Hindu mythology.The Makara is a terrestrial animal at the front and aquatic animal at the rear sometimes a fish tail or a seal.


The Great “Dhamma-hall” of Wat Buppharam. In front is a large walking Buddha statue.

More of the sacred Nagas – snake-like beings or a snake deity – guard the temple.

They curl around stairs, slither up walls and coil around pillars where ever you look.

Onto happier times

Following on from the horrors of Cambodia’s recent past, we headed to the amazing temples of its ancient past as we moved onto Siem Reap, home to some of the Khmer’s most famous temples including the epic complex that includes Angkor Wat.

Here’s a very blurry picture of me in front of the iconic silhoutte as dawn rises over Angkor Wat. It is the world’s largest religous building.

As the best-preserved temple , it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu, dedicated to the god  Vishnu, then Buddist.

The temple is a representation of  Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.

Shame the scaffolding spoils the scene a little bit!!!

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Close by Angkor Wat is the temple of Angkor Thom and the magnificant stone faces of the Bayon.

From a distance the Bayon temple seems like a muddle of chaotic heaps of stone, higgly piggly but up close you start to make out the incredible work that has taken place.

Hundreds of huge faces are carved onto towers. All gazing into the distance.

Here are some of the 216 huge Bayon faces, all smiling enigmatically in all directions.

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Then it was onto Ta Phrom, a haunting temple complex still consumed by the jungle.

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Other temples such as Angkor Wat have been painstakingly conserved and restored, but this temple has been left, pretty much as it was discovered. Although apparently the authorities are now “cleaning” it up, which is a shame.

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Silk cottons trees and strangler figs creep and crawl along every surface, destroying and holding together the atmospheric temple.

You can see the scale of some of the trees. They have had free reign for years, nature gradually taking back its domain.

Crossing into Cambodia, horror and awe

After the colourful delights of the floating market of Can Tho we headed out, by boat, for the crossing over into Cambodia.

After a long stop at the riverside Visa control point we were on our way to Phnom Penh, it’s French built and Cambodia’s captial city and still retains influences including baguettes!

Phnom Penh is home to the Royal Palace. Here’s some snaps from our visit to the palace.

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A reclining Buddha is a picture of serenity. It was to be the last peaceful image we saw for a while.