In the Triangle: More Temples of the Golden North (The Triangle – Part 3)

The temples of Thailand are extraordinarily diverse; nowhere is this more true than in the north. From the black and white expressions of modern Thai artists (Two Artists: Contrasting Visions), to Golden Buddhas with their backs to casinos and drug trade (Golden Ratios and the Sublime); I’ve said before that Thai temples are not all the same (e.g.: Temples and Gods)!

As if to really emphasise this point, on the same day as we gave alms to the horseback-monks in the morning (Mounted Monks), we visited a temple paying tribute to scorpions in the afternoon.

Giant sculpture of a scorpion, Mae Sai.

Part of Wat Phra That Doi Wao, this giant scorpion faces Tachileik in Myanmar.

I don’t know why this scorpion sits here, or what it represents. The plaque on the front lists the moneys donated to the building, but gives no indication as to the purpose. Our guide (whose English wasn’t great) shrugged, and said something about “maybe” there were a lot of scorpions here before. One on-line wag suggests it might be a tribute to the movie: “The Scorpion King” while others think it’s a way for Thais to thumb their noses at Myanmar, reminding the Burmese of border conflicts that the Thais have won in the past.

Whatever the purpose, the scorpion sits between two buildings, both of which afford great views over Mae Sai, across the Mekong, and of Tachileik and the rest Myanmar.

Young wombs sitting on temple steps, removing her running shoes.

Before you climb to the top of Wat Phra That Doi Wao, you need to remove your shoes.

View over Mae Sai and Tachilek to the hills of Myanmar.

View from Wao Mountain over Mae Sai and Tachilek to the hills of Myanmar; the Mekong runs a diagonal - mostly hidden by the buildings.

Portrait: Burmese man and woman in in wedding attire, against a view of Myanmar.

This Burmese couple has come to the Scorpion Temple for the purpose of having their wedding pictures taken.

The colourful paint on the surrounding buildings give the whole area a carnival-like atmosphere, and I found it hard to take the complex seriously as a temple. Clearly, however, this was not a problem for the visiting monks or other faithful who came to get blessings from the abbott.

Thai Theravada Buddhist monk sprinkling holy water on a Thai woman.

Our guide stops for blessings from the abbot.

Three Thai Theravada Buddhist on their knees in prayer.

Monks come to discuss issues or problems with the abbot.

Seated white Buddha and smaller golden Buddha in an outside shrine.

Shrine on the Wat Phra That Doi Wao complex.

Two men rendering cement, Wat Phra That Doi Wao

Temples are always expanding and in need of work. "He's doing a good job," this worker tells me.

Our next temple that day was another complete contrast: a traditional temple in a quiet suburb of Chiang Saen, up a street so steep and narrow our van failed and we had to get out and walk. According to legend, Wat Phra That Pu Khao was built in 759 AD. According to architectural historians, however, it was more likely constructed in the 13 hundreds. Either way, it is old and understated.

Seated brass Buddha in an outdoor alcove.

Seated bronze Buddha, Wat Phra That Pu Khao

Woman bowing before a golden Buddha.

Paying respects to the Buddha

Stone Devī holding up an offering.

Stone Devī : Wat Phra That Pu Khao

Wat Phra That Pha Ngao, at the southern end of Chiang Saen, climbs up another hill, providing more views over the Mekong; this time over Laos. Another temple reputedly started as early as 462 AD, the complex extends over 22.88 hectares.

We started at the top of the hill: at the much newer bell-shaped chedi.

Large white chedi with small golden Buddha in an arched niche.

Phra Bharommathat Buddhanamit Chedi sits at the top of the whole Wat Phra That Pha Ngao complex.

View over river flats of the Mae Kham and Mekong between Chiang Saen and Laos.

The view from the Phra Bharommathat Buddhanamit Chedi over the Mae Kham and Mekong.

The Ubosot (Ordination Hall) at Wat Phra That Pha Ngao is an elaborate golden teak chapel.

Person in a conical straw hat tending to an expanse of green lawn in a temple grounds.

The Chapel is set in beautiful grounds which must take a lot of people-hours to maintain.

Elaborately carved and gilded roof and gable of a Thai temple against a blue and white sky.

The Golden Teak Chapel, Wat Phra That Pha Ngao.

Portrait: elderly Thai woman in white

Theravada Buddhist Nun, Wat Phra That Pha Ngao

Wide steps leading up to a thai-style wihan or hall.

When building the new hall or wihan, they found ancient temple ruins...

Sitting ans handing golden Buddhas in front of a dimly lit bust of a giant Buddha built from brick.

... of an old brick Buddha, which they incorporated into the new building.

Golden Buddhas in a dark hall; "fortune elephant" with gold bars on his back on a red carpet in front.

"- Knees down beside the fortune elephant. - Clear your mind totally and make a wish."

Ancient boulder with a pagoda on top.

The ancient Pha Ngao Pagoda.


The last Chiang Saen temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, started in 1291 in the time of the Lanna kings.

Sitting Buddha covered in gold leaf.

Golden Buddha, Wat Chedi Luang.

Text: Keep smilingCertainly, common threads through the various temples, but each with its own distinctive style.

As the Thais say: “Same, Same… but Different!”

Photos: 30 October 2011

  • dietmut - May 18, 2012 - 2:32 pm

    very interesting this scorpion temple Ursula. Nice all the peoples around. Greetings DietmutReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - May 21, 2012 - 5:51 am

    wonderful as always…happy travelsReplyCancel

    • Ursula - May 21, 2012 - 4:16 pm

      Always happy for you to join me, Signe. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Jen Kunkle-Clark - March 29, 2013 - 3:54 pm

    Very lovely pictures! Happy travels!ReplyCancel

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