Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew

Attractive grounds and a good little museum

More on Chiang Rai

Wat Phra Kaew is the most highly revered wat in Chiang Rai and, with its decent little museum and attractive grounds, probably also the most interesting to the casual visitor.

Travelfish says:

Originally known as Wat Pa Yeah, (Temple of the Bamboo Grove), no-one is actually sure of its founding date but it has been around for a while since legend has it that in 1434 its stupa was struck by lightning and fell apart to reveal a concealed, emerald Buddha image. (Phra Kaew means green, or emerald, Buddha in the Thai language).

Just lovely. : Mark Ord.
Just lovely. Photo: Mark Ord

The story of the jade figure is a convoluted one. It is said to have been originally sculpted in India in 234 BCE and found its way via Sri Lanka to Angkor from where it was taken as loot by the Siamese to eventually finish in Kamphaeng Phet. In the 14th century the king of Chiang Rai somehow got his hands on it and moved it back to his hometown and installed it in what is today Wat Phra Kaew though not before, for reasons best known to himself, having it covered in stucco. It appears it was then more or less forgotten about until the aforementioned lightning strike in 1434.

The Buddha then went on a second odyssey—this time around northern Thailand—before finishing its days in its current location in Bangkok in the temple of the same name. A replica was made from Canadian jade in celebration of the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday which is the one you’ll see displayed at this site today. With its tiny but lush gardens and large stands of bamboo, Wat Phra Kaew comes with peaceful and picturesque grounds while at the base of the enclosure that holds the jade replica there’s even a pond playing host to giant turtles.

As attractive outside as within. : Mark Ord.
As attractive outside as within. Photo: Mark Ord

Also on the grounds is the excellent little Hong Luang Saeng Kaew Museum, housed in a two-storey, purpose-built and very attractive Lanna-style, wooden hall. The museum possesses a collection of religious and historical artefacts including their prize possession a 2,500-year-old, perfectly preserved bronze drum from the Dong Son culture which was situated in what is today northern Vietnam. A simple but effective (and free) system, which could be employed by other smaller museums, consists of a rack of plastic information folders plus map placed by the entrance, which you can pick up and consult as you explore the exhibits.

In the complex there’s a red and gold painted wiharn or worshipping hall dating from 1890 in Chiang Saen style, a second hall also bright red, housing the replica Emerald Buddha and an ancient stupa dating to pre-15th century. A shady spot with plenty of mature trees and flowering shrubs and a great place for a wander.

Contact details for Wat Phra Kaew

Address: Tri Rat Road across from Overbrooke Hospital.
T: (053) 711 385;  
Coordinates (for GPS): 99º49'41.04" E, 19º54'42.07" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Free

Reviewed by

Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.

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