Thailand is known for its proliferation of wats, or Buddhist temples, in almost every city. After recovering from our hilltribe trek, Samir and I decided to do some sightseeing and to walk around the Old Town of Chiang Rai.
Many Buddhist wats have two dragons on the outside and have a red and gold theme throughout. And of course, a statue of Buddha inside. They typically also include monk quarters, a chanting/prayer room and a stupa or chedi where the relic of Buddha exists.
The temple above, Wat Pra Kaew, is where the famous “Emerald Buddha” (just a “green crystalline material”, not really made of emerald) was discovered. As the story is written, in the 15th century, the chedi at this temple was struck by lightning, cracked open and revealed a relic of Buddha. The king ordered it to be moved to another part of the temple. As they were moving it (I think) they noticed that there was a dark jade color under parts of Buddha so the king had the statue’s outer part removed, and revealed the Emerald Buddha, now housed in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha made its way across Thailand and Laos before finally settling in Bangkok. The Buddha shown in the pictures is another jade statue made in tribute to the original “Emerald Buddha” but still stunning!
So after going inside two wats and walking by a couple others, we were a bit watted out. The next day, we went to see our last Chiang Rai wat – Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple (white is meant to symbolize Buddha’s purity). This temple was commissioned by a famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and completed in 2008. The entire outside of the temple looks kind of like white plaster and mirrors, but the architecture and detail is gorgeous – if not a little bit creepy in some parts.
There is an intense mural inside the main temple (no photography allowed) that looked like a depiction of hell with dragons and fire and skulls, but then random contemporary icons in it like the red bird from Angry Birds, Batman, a plane crashing into the twin towers… I looked it up online and it represents what I thought – the ordinary temptations or ‘sins’ that one must escape or that would prevent someone from reaching nirvana. There’s also hands in the water that we walked by that look like they’re reaching out to grab you (reminded me of a scene from What Dreams May Come) which is meant to symbolize Buddha’s (or maybe anyone’s?) passage from hell / the mundane world into heaven / nirvana.
The last thing we did was give a donation to the temple and we got to hang this little ornament thing on a tree made of the flat ornaments.
The other side of it says “Our Big Leap” – I feel a new head blog picture coming on! Too bad I didn’t think about it as I was writing it – would have made it prettier!
Overall, I enjoyed the our time in Chiang Rai – it was a laid back town with just a lot of simple things to do – a much better welcome to Thailand than Bangkok was for us!