Lying on a low hill a few kilometres east of town, Wat Prathat Cho Hae is not only the province’s most prestigious temple but one of the most revered wats in North Thailand. As with Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep, a local saying claims that if you haven’t visited Wat Prathat Cho Hae, you haven’t visited Phrae. As the title Prathat indicates, the main chedi is said to contain relics of Lord Buddha himself. The gilded stupa, built in classic Chiang Saen octagonal style, is thought by the faithful to house both hair and parts of Buddha’s left elbow, gifted to the temple by King Lithai of Sukhothai. The exact founding year is unknown but it’s considered to date from the late 13th or early 14th century Sukhothai period, with Lithai’s donation having been made and the chedi itself built in 1337.
The first thing you’ll see is the busy pilgrims’ carpark — this temple can get very hectic at weekends and public holidays — complete with numerous souvenir stalls, coffee shops and no fewer than four ATMs. From here, a naga-lined staircase replete with red carpet leads up to an ornate gateway and entrance to the main temple level. Here you’ll find the famous chedi and wiharn, or main worshipping hall, containing a famous image of Buddha in the subduing evil position.
The image is supposedly particularly beneficial to pregnant, or would be pregnant, women but if you’re not expecting you can still admire the wiharn’s interesting mural displays. For general offerings and recuperation of Buddhist Brownie points you can use the bowls outside where, Wat Pho style, you purchase a pile of small coins and deposit one in each of 108 bowls aligned for the purpose. The number 108 is a significant number in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology and we believe represents the number of astrological signs multiplied by the number of principal gods in the Hindu pantheon. (Talking of which, Cho Hae is said to be of special relevance for those born in a year of the tiger.)
For those with transport and perhaps feeling a bit lazy, a road does wind its way round the hill to a carpark on the second level where you can then replace any karma lost from riding up by taking the bowl option. To the rear of the hill a road leads back to the highway which continues across the paddy towards a higher range of hills in the distance. You’ll see a second hilltop pagoda poking out from the forest; this is Prathat Doi Lang, which is well worth visiting if you’re in the area and if you have your own wheels, since this one has no public transport access.
Although nowhere near as prestigious, and omitted from the local tourist literature, views from here are stupendous and you won’t find any crowds, making for a stunning and serene spot. There’s another naga-lined, red-carpeted staircase leading to the top, though this is higher and steeper so the sealed road option is definitely more tempting.
There are no tourist information signs for this temple so we can’t tell you much about it other than the Prathat name would indicate Buddha relics being housed here again. Overall, while the temple itself is underwhelming the location is spectacular. Forested hills lie on three sides while viewing points on the west side of the wat afford vistas right across the Yom Valley, past Phrae and to the hills way off on the Phayao border. Prathat Doi Lang is three or four kilometres past Cho Hae on a steep and winding but well surfaced road.
How to get there
The temple is 9 kilometres from Phrae city, straight down Cho Hae Rd (Route 1021), to the east of town. Songthaews regularly make the trip to and from Cho Hae, leaving from behind the main market on Charoen Muang Road, and should cost around 40 baht each way. These run throughout daylight hours until late afternoon but should you find yourself chartering one count on around 400 baht.
Doi Lang has no public transport but is another three kilometres or so past Cho Hae on the same rural highway.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 24th February, 2016.