Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai is not the grandest temple in the Province, Wat Huay Pla Kang and Wat Rong Seur Ten for example are more visually impressive. Wat Phra Kaew is, however, the most historically important temple in Chiang Rai and one of the top religious centres in Thailand. The temple’s abbot has overall responsibility for the Buddhist church in Northern Thailand.
Wat Phra Kaew is open to visitors daily from 07:00 to 18:00 and admission is free.
About Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew was founded at some point prior to the end of the 14th Century. The exact date is unknown. The known history of the temple starts in 1434 following a storm during which the temple’s main chedi was struck by lightning. According legend when the lightning struck the chedi it cracked revealing a statue hidden inside which is now a major national symbol for Thailand: the Phra Phuttha Maha Mani Rattana Patimakon, or Emerald Buddha in English.
The Emerald Buddha currently resides in a temple attached to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The exact origins of the statue, made of jade rather than emerald, are not known for sure but there are lots of theories about its history and how it came to be hidden in a chedi in a small temple in Chiang Rai. Most theories suggest that the statue was made in India around 2,000 years ago. The statue was then moved to Sri Lanka and again to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. From there the statue is believed to have been taken by invading Thai forces and brought back to Thailand were it was held first in Ayutthaya then Kamphaeng Phet before coming to Chiang Rai for unknown reasons. Given that the statue was hidden in a chedi and covered in stucco to hide it the likelihood is that it was stolen.
The Emerald Buddha no longer resides at Wat Phra Kaew; it was taken away only 2 years after being discovered by the King of the Lanna where it then inadvertently went first to the Lamphun, before being taken to Chiang Mai, then to Laos before ending up in Bangkok at the end of the 18th Century. There is, however, a very good replica of the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew, which is made from jade and was installed in 1990.
Because Wat Phra Kaew is such an important temple it now holds lots of other very old statues and other antiquities which have been donated to the temple, so many in fact they have been a museum within the temple grounds. The most significant of these is the 700 hundred year old brass Phra Jao Lan Thong statue of the Lord Buddha. This statue resides with the temple’s beautiful wooden Lanna style ordination hall which was built in 1890.
The grounds of Wat Phra Kaew are also beautifully landscaped with other statues, lots of plants including a tree planted by King Gustaf XVI of Sweden in 2003, and a large turtle pond near to the shrine hall holding the replica of the Emerald Buddha.
The museum at Wat Phra Kaew is open from 09:00 to 17:00 every day. The museum is housed within a magnificent two storey building made from dark wood.
The museum is very beautiful but it is not very well organised and there is little signage inside the museum, or apparent order to the display of artefacts, that give much indication as to what it is you are looking at. The museum hold an eclectic range of objects of different styles and ages. Much of what is on display appears to date from the era of the Lanna Kingdom (1292 to 1775) although some of the statues are clearly Khmer in origin and they may be older.
The museum at Wat Phra Kaew also hold a number of artefacts from the 19th Century owned by the former Governor of Chiang Rai including his uniform, swords and what appears to be the china dining set from his official residence.
Location of Wat Phra Kaew
- Wat Phra Kaew is located 1.6 km walking distance from the Chiang Rai Bus Terminal 1.