Stunning Beauty of Northern Thailand

Posted: 21 October 2010 in Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So this last weekend, I had the luxury of getting some time off. The plan had been to go up to the Golden Triangle and spend a few days up there. But the more I checked it out, less and less I felt good about it. Not that it felt wrong, it just didn’t feel like the right time. Normally when I plan a trip somewhere I get overly excited and can hardly contain myself. Not this time. So I opted to stay in Chiang Rai and just chill. And chill I did. On friday I did next to nothing and was also able to work on revising my book. On saturday I decided I was going to take this opportunity to walk around Chiang Rai and finally see this city I had promised myself to for four months.

As it was my weekend up, I didn’t get up particularly early (and have recently found out that I actually don’t even have a specific time I need to get up so I’ve been killing myself getting up early for no reason). I got up sometime in the 8 o’clock hour and by 11 I had decided where I was going to go and generally the route I was going to take. Since I didn’t have a map, I had to trust my memory and the street names I had written down.

The first place I went to was easy to find because I usually pass it at least once a week, Wat Doi Phra Bat. It is located next to the old air strip and very close to where I am living. It is a smaller temple and of no real historical significance, but it is very beautiful. Sidd and I had been here a few weeks back but we never came back to get pictures, so I did.

Now i should note that every temple has generally the same layout. There is a chedi and a prayer hall with other buildings where the monks live. The building in the above picture is a prayer hall. The front oftentimes will have the figures of dragons leading up the staircase to the entryway. When the temple is based on a hill, there will be a long staircase where these dragons can also be found.

The next site I went to was fantastic Clock Tower. It was designed by the same man who designed Wat Rong Khun. It is very beautiful and ornate. We saw it last night when it was lit up and it was incredible. At night at 7, 8 and 9 o’clock, there will usually be a light show and music. I am really looking forward to going and seeing this event. Also at New Year’s there is generally sort of show. Will be a great experience.

The next place I went is called Wat Ming Meuang. It is some what different than the rest of the ones I saw in that the grounds are smaller. The temple was beautiful though. I was amazed at the bright red entryway. You rarely ever see anything that striking. There was also a like pond in front of the prayer hall. This temple is said to house the spirit of Chiang Rai. Come to find, this 700+ year old temple at one time housed the ashes of King Mengrai’s mother. It also has burmese influences in the architecture.

I felt a bit unsure about taking pictures inside the temples and did usually when no one else was around. And if someone was I was sneaky about taking them. I didn’t want to offend anyone. But then I see all sorts of pictures of the insides of the buildings so it makes me wonder why I even worried. People take pictures inside cathedrals all the time. I sort of regret not doing it, but most the insides look the same so the few pictures I did take in some sense can be envisioned in the rest of them.

 

 

So, from Wat Ming Meuang I continued heading north until I hit Uttarakit road where I turned off and found myself at the market and the temple I had seen a few weeks back, Wat Klang Wiang. This temple is situated right next to a bustling market where you can find such a variety of food. I was truly astounded to see live birds in small cages, mounds of live fish and eels in buckets, like crabs, snail, all sorts of carved meats, vegetables and even various wares. It reminded me of the market in Tel Aviv just focused more on food rather than the wears.

 

So since I began writing this I have come to the realisation that the next place I visited is actually not the place I thought that it was. I was in the assumption that I had gone to Wat Klang Wiang but in reality I have no idea where i went. It was still a nice place. It is situated right next to the market where Jirasak, Kunu or Nabee go each week to get food for the centre.

As can be seen, the temple is quite beautiful. Right outside the temple is an odd statue of buddha. Of course it isn’t quite as scary as the buddha statue at Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong. What I really loved about the temple was the three-headed dragon adorning the staircase. I didn’t see that at any of the other temples.

A funny thing that happened at the temple was that when I was behind the temple checking out the chedi, I happened to see two people behind the chedi making out. I quickly turned back because how awkward would that have been? Maybe not though.

 

So after a quick view of the mystery temple, I headed back to Trairat Rd and headed north again. Soon I had found myself in front of the entrance to Wat Phra Kaeo. This temple has found fame for being where the Emerald Buddha was discovered. During the 15th century, a bolt of lightning struck the chedi and the statue was found hidden within. From there it moved from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, to Laos (where it was for a couple hundred years) then back to Thailand where it has been (in Bangkok) since the 18th century.

 

 

It is truly a remarkable sight to see it. Much like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time, your expectations are fairly high and then when you see it you are either underwhelmed or content. For the Mona Lisa I personally was underwhelmed, like with Stone Henge (both were quite small). The difference here is that you kind of expect it to be small. Of course this one is a replica, but the workmanship is quite astounding. It is only a fraction of something (millimetre or centimetre) smaller than the original. I really cannot wait to see the real one.

 

From there you have to turn down a side street to make it to Wat Ngam Muang. From here on out I had left the city and was now in an area completely foreign to me. I was beginning to head uphill and from here the city was beginning to take on a different look. It felt more relaxed and in truth real. Being outside of the city and in the outskirts and hills, life seemed to slow down and felt enveloped in a tranquil silence. There was no congestion and nearly no sounds traffic or in reality anything. Of course I had my music on so I was hearing that, but the silence was something you could just feel, as if it was a living entity that had wrapped its muffling being upon everything. This of course was felt more after I had left Wat Ngam Muang.

 

 

Now Wat Ngam Muang is of important significance because the stupa next to the temple (see the picture) is where the ashes of King Mengrai have been housed. From what I have learned, the temple was built in the 15th century and then in the 17th century went into decline and later abandonment until 1952 when it was restored and began to be a tourist attraction. It is definitely worth seeing. The architecture of the stupa are different from anything else I have seen. Kind of reminds me of the khmer architecture found in southern Thailand and Cambodia.

 

From here I began to be able to take some truly amazing pictures of the view. On the road behind the temple to the left I was able to see just over the hilltops. I found out later that I was actually right next to one of the member of my church’s house.

This of course is not even the best scenic picture I was able to take. That won’t be seen until later. At this point I ended up kind getting slightly lost. Rather than turn back and follow the road I was more sure about, I continued following this road. Now if I hadn’t, I never would have met the little boy who when he saw me, smiled and shook my hand. It was cute.

After  a round-trip journey, I found I could have turned left rather than right and I would have turned out just fine. Oh well. I continued on until I found a sign leading me up a hill to the oldest temple Wat Phra That Doi Chom Thong. I had hoped to get a good view but the hilltop was surrounded by trees. It wasn’t until I was rounding the corner towards that temple that I saw past the group of young monks and was simply flabbergasted at the amazing view.

It took me many practice shots to get this image. I find that if you zoom in close you can capture the truly majestic beauty of the pale blue whispers of distant mountains. I have never quite felt more in awe than I did right then. I have seen some truly amazing sites in my life, the tapering away of a dense blanket of fog at the base of the swiss alps, Muslim children playing just outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and even colourful tropical fish swimming back and forth in the crystal blue, clear waters off the coast of the Cayman Islands, but as I stared out into the distance and the never-ending sea of mountains that seemed to simply melt into one with the cloudy sky, I felt such a peace. It was truly breathtaking.

While the temple itself was lovely, shortly after having my breath taken away from the beauty of nature, I had it taken away once again at the sight of the staircase leading down form the temple.

I felt so nervous taking pictures of the two statues next to it and am even feeling nervous right now thinking about it. It was so steep. I’m not afraid of heights or anything (going of the edge is not easy for me though), but the thought of how easy it would be to take a misstep on one of those steps made me very nervous. I even had to hold onto the handrail until I was almost at the bottom. At least I went down them.

From there I headed back into town towards Wat Phra Sing(h). On the way I passed a motor rally thing that was happening that day. It looked to be the finish line though. I wish I had known about it. Would have been awesome to see. I’ll have to check out when the next one might be.

So Wat Phra Sing was lovely. A big difference I noticed about this temple was the lack of dragons on the stairwell. It also appears more modern than any of the others I have seen. This is interesting considering that this temple is just over 600 years old. What this temple is renowned for is the use a specific buddha image referred to as Pra Singh or Pra Buddhasihing. It is quite remarkable supposedly. I walked around the entire complex and found various depictions of buddha but nothing out of the ordinary. From what I have just been learning, all of those buddhas were examples of this specific design. At least that is what I’m understanding. I also wasn’t able to enter the temple as they were having a service. Not that this will be the last time I’ll be able to see it.

The two final landmarks of my trip, while nowhere as stunning as what I’d seen the rest of the day, were remarkable in their own rights. The first was fantastic because of it’s randomness. Here is a picture of the Chiang Rai Train Library:

Talk about random. There isn’t even a train station in or anywhere close to Chiang Rai (the train stops in Chiang Mai as there is no need for it to come here since it isn’t as big a tourist area). But yet it has a train for a library. Regardless it is pretty cool. I wanted to go inside but as I don’t have a Thai library card and I don’t speak Thai it would have been fruitless.

The last stop on my journey was to see the memorial to King Mengrai. I have seen it a variety of times, but this is the first time that I have stopped to observe it and take a picture.

In truth I don’t know much about it, but it was quite nice to see. I mean it is obviously a memorial to him as the founder of the city, but other than that nothing.

So that is the long description of the journey of my day off. It was quite fun. Chiang Rai is such a beautiful city. While the city itself is not so remarkable, it does have a great history and some gorgeous temples and views. One should definitely take a day out to come see it. That is when they are in the northern part of Thailand 😉

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