Branches on a row of golden shower trees were bowing with the weight of its bright yellow flowers. It starkly contrasted with the fading blue of the late afternoon sky. The low-lying clouds were hinting of joining the cacophony of yellows; warmth, indicating a slowly setting sun on the east. I stood under one of the trees for some minutes, my eyes transfixed at the majestic temple ruin in front of me, Wat Chedi Luang it was called in the vernacular tongue.
|BUDDHA OUTSIDE, BUDDHA INSIDE|
The Temple of the Big Stupa, as we foreign to Thailand calls it, is arguably the most popular temple in the whole of Chiang Mai. And indeed, it was quite the stupa. With a base diameter of 54 meters and an original height of 82 meters, it stood as the highest structure in Chiang Mai for more than 500 years.
|A CURIOUS SIGN ON THE TEMPLE GROUNDS|
It was as impressive as it was probably as hard to build. In fact, it took about a century and a half to completely construct the temple. Originally intended as a burial place for the ashes of King Saen Muang Ma’s father in the 14th century, it took until the mid-15th century, by another king, for it to be finished.
|INTRICATELY CARVED NAGAS|
The Buddhist temple is square in form with four sides directly facing the four compass points. On each side, a massive staircase guarded by Nagas, serpent-like beings, and elephants carved in stone, leads to four central niches; each housing an image of a golden Buddha.
|A GOLDEN RECLINING BUDDHA HOUSED INSIDE A VIHARN IN THE COMPLEX|
Before being struck by a massive earthquake in 1545, which toppled the upper portion of the Wat Chedi Luang, reducing its height to 60 meters, its eastern niche used to house Thailand’s holiest religious relic, the Emerald Buddha. After the catastrophe, it was moved to Luang Prabang in Laos by orders of the king. Currently, the Emerald Buddha is enthroned at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
|ONCE A GOOD-LOOKING MONK WHO TRANSFORMED HIMSELF TO AN UGLY ONE|
The Wat Chedi Luang complex originally houses two other temples, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin, which are now closed to the public. There are, however, other temples and structures within the complex and the immediate vicinity which deserves more than a passing glance.
|THE CITY PILLAR OF CHIANG MAI|
Near the temple entrance, the Lak Mueang or the City Pillar of Chiang Mai stands. Ornately detailed, the temple was moved here in 1800 by King Chao Kawila. Right beside it, a towering yang tree holds guard. Legend has it that as long as it stands, Chiang Mai would not befall any disaster. Every year in May, the city holds a festival in honor of the City Pillar.
|THE RELATIVELY NEW VIHARN AT WAT CHEDI LUANG|
Adjacent to the Wat Chedi Luang, a huge assembly hall or viharn stands. It is a fairly new addition to the complex, built only in 1928. Inside, it houses the Phra Chao Attarot, a 14th-century standing Buddha made from mortar and brass alloy. Unfortunately, the hall was closed during our visit, but fear not, this is open to the public.
|WAT PHAN TAO, A BEAUTIFUL TEAK STRUCTURE|
And right outside the main gate of the complex lies Wat Phan Tao, another assembly hall, but this one made from teak wood set on a stone base. This temple is a separate entitiy from Wat Chedi Luang.
|INTRICATE GATE, REMINDS SOMEHOW OF SIEM REAP’S BANTEAY SREI|
Translated, its name means the Monastery of a Thousand Kilns, referring to its function of casting Buddha images for Wat Chedi Luang back in the day. This is one of the few remaining teak structures in Chiang Mai and its details and carvings are certainly worth one’s time.
|A SLEW OF ALMS BOWLS INSIDE THE TEMPLE|
Inside, the temple was empty except for a few saffron-robed monks engrossed with their prayers. We tiptoed while discretely taking photographs, not wanting to break their reverie. This is after all their prayer hall and not a museum, we were but mere visitors gawking at the total foreignness of it all.
Wat Chedi Luang / Wat Phan Tao
Address: 103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh,
Muang District, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact Number: (+66) 53-276140
Open Hours: 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily,
Remains open at night (Wat Chedi Luang)
Entrance Fee: Free
GPS Coordinates Map: 18.786902, 98.986548