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