This is the most highly revered wat in Chiang Rai and also, with it’s interesting museum and attractive grounds, the best one for a visit.
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 and legend has it that in 1434 its stupa was struck by lightning and fell apart to reveal a concealed emerald Buddha.
From that moment on, the statue travelled; visiting Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Kamphaeng Phet, Chiang Mai, Lampang and Vientiane over a period of more than 300 years. Today it rests 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 and it is now housed on site. With its lush gardens and large stands of bamboo, Wat Phra Kaew has peaceful and picturesque grounds and at the base of the enclosure that holds the jade replica is a pond playing host to giant turtles.
Also on the grounds is the small but excellent Hongluang Saengkaew 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 in what is today northern Vietnam. An excellent system, which could be employed by other smaller museums, consists of a rack of plastic information folders plus map placed by the entrance, one of which you pick up and consult as you explore the exhibits.
In the complex there’s a red and gold painted hall dating from 1890 in Chiang Saen style, a second hall also bright red housing the Emerald Buddha and the 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.
By Mark Ord.
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