Arguably the most impressive site in Si Satchanalai, Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat is layered with Mon, Khmer and Thai religious artistry, and is today an active royal-grade Theravada Buddhist temple set at the end of an oxbow in the Yom River -- don’t let the slightly out-of-the-way location keep you from coming.
Also known as Wat Phra Borommathat Chaliang or Wat Phra Phrang, the temple is usually referred to simply as Wat Phra Si. The considerable presence of Khmer-style art hints that it could have been established as early as the 11th century, and it may have been a Dvaravati religious site even earlier. With the Yom flowing past to the east before looping back west, the land would have been seen as a suitable location for a sacred shrine or temple.
Delicate apsaras and other carvings join four striking faces representing the Mahayana Buddhist bodhisattva Avolokitesvara on a small tower above the front gate. A much larger Khmer-style corncob-shaped prang stands just beyond the gate and is in fantastic condition.
A large Sukhothai-style Buddha image in the subduing Mara posture sits on the base of a wihaan that fronts the prang -- it was added around the 14th century when Sukhothai kings transformed a number of ancient Khmer-style sites into Thai Theravada temples. Elegant Sukhothai-style walking Buddha images are placed on either side of the wihaan’s laterite walls.
The oddball of the complex is a Mon-style chedi with a massive base made of laterite bricks and a broken upper section -- it appears to be the great grandpa of Wat Phra Si’s many attributes. It sits alone surrounded by a lawn between the temple’s largest section around the prang and a second area out back with a few more Buddha images.
Do wander all the way back to see towering Sukhothai-style standing Buddha images in the Phra Atharot style, similar to those found at Wat Mahathat and Wat Saphan Hin down in Sukhothai. Encased by the thick walls of a mondop, these are also in excellent shape. Another ancient wihaan with two more seated Buddha images grace the rear of the complex next to what appears to be a Bodhi tree entangled in a tamarind tree.
Before getting close to the ruins you’ll have to pass through the temple’s modern section, including a roughly century-old ordination hall enshrining a rather jolly-looking Buddha image. After exploring the complex you could browse the amulets and souvenirs at a few little shops before strolling out on a narrow suspension bridge for a view of the Yom.
How to get there
Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat is located three kilometres east of Si Satchanalai Historical Park at the far eastern end of the riverside lane, in ancient Chaliang. It’s a separate attraction overseen by the active temple community. Admission is 20 baht.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 17th June, 2016.