Visiting Wat Pho, a top ranked royal temple.

I finally made it to Wat Pho! Although I took a huge detour (which was worth it), I did make it before they closed. If you want read about my “forced” detour to the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew complex it’s in THIS POST, and how I ended up there is detailed in THIS POST. Anyways, back to the subject at hand . . .

Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest wat complexes in Bangkok (it’s actually comprised of 2 walled compounds dissected by a road). One of the buildings houses one of the largest Reclining Buddha statues in Thailand. Wat Pho is also recognized by UNESCO, has chedi’s which contain Buddha relics and some that contain the ashes of the royal family. On top of all that, Wat Pho is recognized as the first public university in Thailand where the Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was the first school of Thai medicine approved by the Education Ministry. If that’s not enough, Wat Pho still sells amulets within the temple grounds. I’m a huge fan of UNESCO recognized places and temples with Buddha Relics. If you’re so inclined to believe, it’s said that an amulet’s “power” comes from the temple and monk who made the amulet and the amount of prayer bestowed on the amulet. The higher the “power” of the monk and temple, the better the amulet will be. I’m not a scholar of these beliefs so if I can’t explain it well, my apologies. So to ensure I got an “authentic” amulet I chose Wat Pho’s “gift shop” as opposed to the shops on the streets or even right outside the temples. You’d be hard pressed to find a “better” temple in Bangkok than Wat Pho.

I’m so glad I was able to visit. When I first arrived at the entrance, the first thing I noticed was the line of tuk tuk’s parked on the street, then I noticed the street art vendors who had their goods out even in the drizzling rain. Goods which consisted of amulets, Buddha busts, statues, painting, posters, keychains etc. I thought that was a bit out of place since I’ve seen a lot of billboards trying to prevent the sale and export of such items. Anyways, I ignored the tuk tuk drivers’ touts and went straight into the Wat Pho Complex, found the easy to see ticket booth and paid my $200 Baht entrance fee, which came with a coupon for a free bottle of water. I didn’t immediately see where to redeem the water and stopped looking because I got distracted by the “gift shop” which was right at the ticket gantry a few steps away from the ticket booth. Just thought I’d mention this as there’s more than one entrance/exit. Right outside the gift shop, I think I saw the booth to redeem the water coupon but I got distracted by the entrance to the Reclining Buddha statue which is the main tourist attraction of Wat Pho.

 

The Reclining Buddha statue is by far the biggest reclining statue I’ve seen to date, measuring 150 feet (45m) long. Recline, in this sense context, is Buddha lying on his side with his head propped on one arm. The statue is surrounded by a wooden picket fence that’s far enough away to prevent even the tallest basketball player to reach out and touch the statue (yeah, I have no idea how far away the fence is from the statue) except the feet because the building isn’t long enough. Along the front side, there are little sections for prayer and some sections for viewing/picture taking between the pillars. Along the back are some other artifacts as well as some prayer bowls (a whole row of 108 of them) that you can toss coins into while praying/chanting. You can donate $20 Baht for a plate of coins to drop into the prayer bowls. I don’t know how many coins I was given but I had more than enough coins to put 2 in each bowl. I was fortunate that it wasn’t that crowded when I was there but there was enough people around which made getting pictures a bit of a challenge (plus the pillars were in the way a lot). I can’t imagine how packed it would be if a tour group or two came through, well I can and it’s not pleasant, haha.

I didn’t expect the complex to be as big as it was. I thought it was just he usual chedi, main hall, ubusot type of complex. Yes, I was wrong, there’s a lot more to see. I exit one area only to find myself at the start of another interesting area. I wouldn’t say I got lost but it just seemed like I maze where everywhere I went was something cool to look at or a place where I felt an image to be made, I just had to stop and find it. Unfortunately for me, time was what I didn’t have that day. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get to see 1/2 of the complex, by that I mean literally see it and not “seeing” it creatively. Although I wasn’t rushed by anyone, the closing of gates and such pushed a sense of urgency to find an exit, plus I had no exit strategy to get to my dinner appointment, which I ended up being almost 2 hours late for (transportation issues posted HERE if you wanna read about it, lol). I’m really wanting to go back in the evening just before closing, on a nice day to catch the sunset light on the chedi’s, I bet that would be an amazing picture.

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Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple aka Wat Rong SueaTen is a gem worth uncovering

Wat Rong Suea Ten AKA the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Suea Ten is a relatively new temple and lesser known of the artistic temples. The main hall was completed in 2016 and built to replace the previous ruined and abandoned wat which dated back about 100 years. Honestly, I had no idea a wat like this existed and I am so glad (and lucky) that I was able to visit it. The only reason I found it was because the front desk clerk at the hotel I was staying at in Chiang Mai recommended a “White Temple” in Chiang Rai after I told him I was a photographer and loved the Thai styled temples. A quick search online revealed a lot of day tours featuring a “White Temple” then some filler places like a Blue Temple, a Black House or tribal villages. There were others but I stopped reading because I was short on time and couldn’t visit that many places anyways. If you’re interested in the White Temple, I made a post regarding my time there, RIGHT HERE. Having been to both temples, I have to say, Wat Rong Suea Ten is, pound for pound, just as spectacular as the more famous White Temple and it won’t stay unknown much longer.

As you can probably tell (from the name), the wow factor of this wat is that the ubusot and chedi are blue (with a lot of gold trim). All the statues and décor are predominately blue with the more traditional art style of the Thai Buddhist culture/religion (as opposed to the artistic interpretations found at the White Temple). There are 2 giant Buddha statues that are glossy white (as opposed to matte white). The one inside the ubosot is sitting whilst the other (located directly behind but on the outside of the ubusot) is standing. The inside of the ubusot is predominately blue with a lot of gold colored ornamentation (statues and artwork on the walls). This gives the white Buddha statue a pretty cool looking shade of blue. The various spot lights make it even more interesting to look at. Not everything is blue inside though. The furniture is predominately reddish brown with gold trimmings, as are the doors. There’s even a semi translucent, gold adorned, red Buddha statue.

The temple’s artwork is credited to Mr. Phuttha Kabkaew (a former student of Mr. Chaloemchai Kositpipat (of the White Temple fame). Personally, I really like the art style, rich in color and detail. I have to say, I feel more at ease with the subject matter being used to adorn the interior of the blue temple than I was with the artistic renders of the subject matter that dominates the White Temple’s interior. Anyways, both temples, in my opinion relay the artist’s message very clearly and beautifully. I found myself artistically and spiritually satiated with the balance between art and religion at the Blue Temple, it’s truly eye candy for the soul. Here’s some images of the ubusot and the chedi:

Some miscellaneous notes:

I spent roughly 1.5 hours here and wasn’t completely finished. I didn’t get to check out the shops because I had to leave in order to catch my bus (the last one for the day) back to Chiang Mai. I’m known to really take my time looking and photographing things so I think for me 2.5 hours would be enough time but if you’re not a photo nut like me 1.5 hours would be just right unless they add more things to see, there certainly is room for more on the lot.

I made my way via Grab taxi to the “Blue Temple” at a cost of $220 TBH and the ride took roughly 20 minutes from the White Temple. If you need assistance with finding your way to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, have a look at how I did it in THIS POST. The Grab taxi ride from the Blue Temple to the bus terminal cost me $100 TBH and roughly 20 minutes. Both trips had relatively light traffic conditions. If you choose to drive to the Blue Temple, there is parking both inside the compound and outside. Within the compound you’ll also find some gift shops with both religious items as well as the more touristy stuff, a local/traditional style clothing shop and snack shops. The wat is nestled amongst, from what I can tell a residential area so you won’t be able to see it from the main road. The hours of operation is stated as 7 am to 8pm and is free to enter. Here’s some statues which I found pretty cool looking.

One of my favorite shots:

The Blue Temple of Chiang Rai, Thailand in a crystal ball

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Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple definitely a must visit!

Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you are ever in Chiang Rai or even Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple (in Chiang Rai) is a must visit if you’re into art and or wats/Buddhism in general.  If you’re interested in getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, I’ve made a post about my experience with that HERE. After being inspired by Chiang Mai’s silver temple (post is here), I did a quick online search and found the White Temple and two other spots that looked interesting so I quickly made arrangements to go as I only had a few days left in Chiang Mai.

Not having any time to spare (I planned to visit 3 places in Chiang Rai), I used the Grab app and booked a ride to the white temple (at a cost of $200 TBH) immediately after stepping off the bus because I didn’t have time to mess around with the tuk tuk drivers or songthaew drivers. They are all at the back of the terminal, I didn’t see any at the front, it’ll probably be cheaper (highly dependent on your negotiating skills) to go via tuk tuk and songthaew. By the time I got to the front of the building, maybe 30 meters away, I got a message on the Grab app from the driver asking where I was and I replied with “in front of the building” to which I got a reply “me too”. So I looked around and didn’t see any car idling or coming down the street. Then someone came up to me and said, “Taxi?” to which I said “No, thanks” but he showed me the Grap app so I went with him. He was parked on the other side of the street. This was a first for me. Anyways, away we go! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)

If you’re expecting your usual wat, you are in for a huge surprise, as I was. Just to prep you a bit, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia  “It is a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple.  It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.” I didn’t find monks praying/chanting inside the “white temple” nor “monk chat” sessions (at the time of this post) but I did find monks taking selfies outside and around the premises.  The décor is definitely not the norm for wats, here’s some examples of what you can find:

When I saw those statues/figures, I was like “what the @$#! Is this?! Is this even a legit wat?” but I did find it kind of cool in the way that those Hell themed parks are (like the one in Singapore that I posted about HERE). Definitely not what I was expecting to see but I liked it.

I guess a bit of historic reference is needed. Wat Rong Khun was a wat at one point in time but for whatever reason had no funds for repairs so Mr. Chalemchai Kositpipat,an artist, had taken it upon himself to completely fund and rebuild the temple to what you see today and he’s not done yet. The original plans for the entire compound is to have 9 buildings that include the “white temple” (which is the ubosot), a meditation and learning center, housing for monks, an art gallery, a hall of relics and others to be completed by 2070. I’d guess there will be a prayer hall and such for monks and the followers of Buddhism to practice their faith, it is a wat after all, right?

I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was and it just kept getting better and better the closer I got to it. Nor did I know exactly how big the compound was.  All the statues and buildings were well maintained and intricately detailed as was the rather large pond and water ways around the temple. Even the “under construction” buildings and areas that were off limits to the public looked neat and tidy unlike any construction site I’ve ever seen.

So the white structure that is being referred to as the White Temple is actually the ubosot but inside the ubosot you won’t find the usual things you would find in an ordination hall. Instead you’ll find murals of more modern day things like depictions of the World Trade Center attacks, Michael Jackson, Superman, fiery murals with demon faces and others. It was quite shocking to me as I didn’t expect to see that and frankly my mind is having problems coming to terms with it (I guess I was expecting all the usual religious statues and relics but done up in the same style as the exterior). Don’t get me wrong though, the artwork is stunning and that’s an understatement.  I can also understand the message that the artist is relaying but my mind is just so conflicted(?) …I don’t know, I don’t have the words. I would have loved to have taken photos to reflect upon and further contemplate what I saw and to show you but sadly no photos allowed inside and there are ushers reminding you as you walk in.  You won’t find any of the usual donation boxes or incense pots or the offerings of food and drinks at the altars inside, to be honest, I can’t even remember seeing an altar in there.

When you’re done with the ubosot and pond area, there are other areas to check out such as the washroom. Wait, what?! Yup, you should check it out. This building is at least 2 levels, done up in gold with intricate statues all around. Just looking at it you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the toilets. Lucky, I didn’t need to use the facilities because standing in front of the building, I couldn’t tell where the “Mens room” was because both paths leading  into the building had signs in Thai with the English word “women” on it. However, there are images of both male and female on both sides of the building! Being really short on time, I didn’t go any closer but judging from the people buzzing about maybe I should have.

Toilets at Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Beside the toilet building is the gift shop with the usual gift shop items as well smaller prints and art cards of the artist’s work. On the other side there is a mural/display depicting a scene with the Monkey King/God, Sun Wukong, complete with bells you can ring. A bit further down the path is an area where you can offer incense and fruits and prayers in front of a Buddha statue in a jungle themed alcove.

There is a rather large, open air pavilion type structure which has a large floor area for praying as well as chairs. I”m guessing this where the monks would chant/pray. Within this pavilion are the more traditional Buddhist  statues and artwork. Right outside is a booth selling thin metallic leaves you can write your name and message on then hang them on the tree like structures, which when full, the leaves get moved to create the roof of the covered walkway, pretty clever right?

Behind all of this is an area with another  temple, I think, all done up in gold. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was around this time that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the other two if I spent any more time at the White Temple so I rushed past this area, reluctantly.

As I was rushing by things, I saw the Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery/museum and I had to go in.  I’m really, really impressed with his style of art. The gallery doesn’t look big from the outside but it’s pretty big and has a decent sized gift shop area. Yup, I bought some art cards I just couldn’t resist. Lucky, I had time and space constraints or I would have bought more and bigger pieces too. Now, at this point, I had to make a choice. It was clear now that I couldn’t see all three of the places I had planned and if I didn’t leave now I wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the second spot so completely finish this awesome place or hit the next spot? There is an entrance fee of $50 TBH for foreigners but free for Thai people and even with the bus fare I found Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, well worth the trip and so I left with the promise of . . . I’ll Be Back.

Oh almost forgot, there are eateries, snacks and gift shops in a plaza like area right beside the wat so you can plan to have a meal or two there. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I just grabbed a couple of Gatorades and croissant like things from a shop and off I went to the next stop. Again the Grab driver was already there, in the parking lot of the plaza, lucky me.

NOTE: Even on an overcast day such as it was the day I was there, the buildings are really, really bright and glittery. I lowered the brightness of the images (a fair bit) in this post to better define the details, so bring a pair of sunglasses just in case it gets too bright.

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Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Honorable mention on my top 5 list of must visit wats in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan.  Once you reach the premises, which is located slightly off a main road (you won’t be able to see it from the main road), you’ll immediately see the uniqueness of Wat Sri Suphan. The Ubusot, both interior and exterior is all silver. Maybe not pure/real silver but I’m pretty sure it’s not paint because it gets really bright when the sun hits it. I think it’s silver gilding but don’t quote me on that.

I rode the Songthaew from just outside the Tha Phae Gate at a cost of $80 TBH and paid an entrance fee of $50 TBH. The entrance fee comes with a sticker you have to put on your shirt and a small bottle of water. After paying the entrance fee I proceeded to walk towards the front of the silver temple (I didn’t know it was the ubusot at the time). Then I walked around it and ended up outside the “barricade.” Yup, the premises is that small! I didn’t even get inside or the other side of the outside. So I went back to the entrance and was stopped by a ticket guy, I pointed to my sticker, of course, my sticker wasn’t there. Luckily the lady I had paid my entrance fee to, recognized me (there weren’t many people there, like less than  10) and I was able to go back in.  So the entrance fee is just to check out the silver ubusot and the other silver statues and the odd gold one here and there.  Both the interior and exterior are very intricately detailed, much more so than the other wats I’ve seen in Chiang Mai, thus far. I can’t imagine having to polish all that. The interior of the ubosot is pretty incredible, all silver except the one big, gold Buddha statue. Even the floor is silver, metallish but not slippery. As customary, no shoes allowed and women aren’t allowed in either. There aren’t many donation boxes around, less that the other wats (that I’ve noticed) but they do have a lot of things you can buy and leave as offerings.

Once you’re done with the silver temple, you can check out the prayer hall and stupa, which is outside the paid section so it’s free. In the vicinity are stalls selling food, drinks and souvenirs too. All in all the premises is quite small so it won’t take up much time and so worth the visit, in my opinion. I spent about an hour there but as usual around closing time so I didn’t get to go into the prayer hall and many of the food stalls were closed. Oh, if you do get a chance to go and it’s really sunny, bring your sunglasses because it can get very bright. If you go around sunset, you can get some pretty cool / weird color reflections on the silver temple and on the silver statues too.

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Wat Umong, an underground temple in the jungle

Main altar in the underground wat

Rounding out my top 5 wats to visit while in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is Wat Umong. Let me start off by saying this wat is the most unique experience I’ve had visiting wat’s in Chiang Mai and I really enjoyed it. This wat is underground within a jungle and has a $20 BHT entrance fee.

Entrance fee table.

When you get to the premises , you’ll be dropped off at a gravel/dirt parking area where there are a few buildings scattered around but they were all closed when I was there. I couldn’t tell what they were for either. Looking around you’ll easily find the sign pointing to the trail to Wat Umong. Along the way you’ll find , scattered here and there, insightful phrases on cards nailed to trees. Yah, I read every one I could find. Anyways, on the way to the wat, you’ll pass a meditation center / retreat of sorts but I didn’t go that way as it went a bit too far off the path to the wat. Continuing on you’ll find a few statues here and there and a library, yup, a library in the jungle. Oh, the walk to the wat is on a slight incline with stairs every now and then giving you access to the next plateau. Not too difficult a hike.

Wise trees

There’s three entry points into the underground temple, two in front and one in the back (that leads to the stupa). It’s not underground as in you have to go down some steps or anything it’s more like walking into cave built into the plateau but with tunnels that don’t open up to a spacious area, they just end with a display of religious artifacts . The tunnels are relatively short, straight and lit well enough to see where you’re going so it wasn’t scary at all but if you’re claustrophobic that may be a different story as the inner tunnels are smaller. I didn’t know until I got there and read some of the plaques that this wat was built somewhere between the 15 and 16th centuries. It does look and feel old but the electric lights inside the tunnels dull the “feel” of it, I think. Don’t worry about having to walk around without your shoes inside the temple as the floor is tiled and as clean as any other wat. You won’t spend much time inside the wat as there’s not much to see and if there’s a tour group, it’ll get cramped really fast.

While walking around outside the wat, I found a trail that lead to an outdoor, makeshift altar with a rather unique looking statue of Buddha, I’m guessing. The statue is black in color and looked weathered, frankly it made me uneasy looking at it. I’ve seen similar looking statues but this is the only one that made me uneasy. Although I was curious as to what the statue was made of, I had no inclination to go any closer to “exam” it. Then I came up to a cordoned off area with signs saying do not enter. It’s because you’d be walking on the roof of the underground temple. Walking the other way, I found the housing area of the monks. Yes I just strolled right through their housing, I didn’t feel right doing so, so I got out of there as quickly as I could and then found myself in an area I’d describe as a relic graveyard. It was a flat area of land with broken parts of statues arranged, for the most part, in rows. Pretty weird, right? It didn’t look as though I should wander through it, so I didn’t but as I walked back towards the entrance to the underground wat, there was a patch of the “graveyard” with paths between the relics so I wandered through there a bit.

 

The Chedi is quite large and in a bit of disrepair. It’s not bad, in my opinion, it’s just enough to keep the air of being centuries old. The vines growing and cracks on the chedi give it a jungle vibe and a stone petal or two from the lotus flower base lends to the age of the structure. Plus you can get right up to it and touch it!

Whilst exploring I found more stuff like vendors selling cold desserts and drinks, a path leading to more statues and a big pond. One of my favorite finds was the free literature kiosk with booklets about Buddhism, mediation and the like. The signage says free, donations appreciated. I found an interesting booklet amongst the many different ones made a donation and sat by the pond to read it. Turned out to be not so great an idea. As serene as the pond was, with the diy aerator and the water fowl or two, the flying insects and the not timid pigeons made the moment not fun, at all.

I took a songthaew (ride share, pick up truck taxi) to wat Umong from Tha Phae gate at a cost of $80 TBH and the driver asked if I needed him to wait (for an added cost). I declined his offer because I usually don’t know how long it’ll take me to finish looking around and plus I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to catch a ride back. Boy, was I wrong! Yeah, there aren’t any songthaews cruising around that area. There’s only a few outdoor kiosk restaurants , a coffee shop or two and a few local business and the rest is residential. There may be a tuk tuk or two in the parking lot though. When I arrived, there were 4 with the drivers napping at the wheel or back seat. When I was exiting the compound there was only one tuk tuk and the driver called out and I asked him the price to get back to my hotel and he said $120 TBH which was higher than the songthaew ride there so I declined thinking I could catch a songthaew. When I couldn’t, I went back and the driver jacks the price up…I give a smile and told him he told me $120 TBH 30 minutes ago and he starts his tuk tuk and waves me into the vehicle I restate the price and he says, “ok, ok.” Phew! Lol. In any event, this was before I learned there’s Grab Taxi in Chiang Mai and having used it extensively while I was there, I highly recommend installing the Grab app. It’s “saved” me on more than one occasion.

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