Chiang Saen: Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao

Chiang Saen: Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao

Table of Contents

Three monks at a viewpoint
Monks at the viewpoint

Beautiful temple with great views

There is surprisingly little information about this fascinating temple. Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao (วัดพระธาตุผาเงา) is a Buddhist temple, less than 10 km from Chiang Saen. The temple offers spectacular views over the Mekong River and Laos. It is a community center as well.

There are two museums, an educational center, and many stunning buildings. This is a must-visit place if you are in the neighborhood. You can easily spend a couple of hours at this extensive complex. During all my visits there were many other, mainly local, visitors, making this one of the most lively temples in North Thailand.

 I have visited the temple several times in the past couple of years and it has become somewhat of a favorite of mine. Most people know the temple as Wat Pha Ngao so I will use this shortened version of the name.

View over river
View towards Wat Song Pee Nong

The History of Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao

This temple was originally located right on the banks of the Mekong River. Its name was Wat Sobkhame The river flooded or changed course causing damage to the temple so monks decided to move it more inland. While looking for a new location they encountered a cave called Tham Pha Ngao, ancient ruins, and Buddha statues. They found a half statue of the Buddha and, after a dream of one of them, a beautiful Buddha statue behind a small wall of bricks. According to an archaeologist, this statue is between 700 and 1300 years old. This took place in February/March 1976. Both these statues are at the temple.

Pieces of a statue Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
Half Buddha statue at Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
Buddhist temple
The viharn of Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao

A boulder with a chedi on top

The main attraction of the temple is the bell-shaped chedi on top of a big boulder, located behind the viharn. In the boulder is the small Buddha image that people found in the forest. You can walk around the boulder.

Inside the newly constructed viharn is the half statue of the Buddha that the monks and people encountered in 1976. It is called Luang Por Pha Ngao.

Stairs to rock Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
The boulder with the small chedi on top

The Tripitaka Hall

This beautiful building is set in a pond. It is a museum of wooden filing cabinets to keep the tripitaka, the Buddhist scriptures. There are beautiful filing cabinets from different countries such as Thailand, Laos, India, Cambodia and more. On the walls of the building are images of many well known temples in the North of Thailand.

Temple building Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
Ho Phra Triptaka Chalerm Phrakiat

Phra Borommathat Phuttha Nimit Chedi

The Phra Borommathat Phuttha Nimit Chedi is another great attraction of this temple. You have to drive into the temple and go straight. At the end, you turn right and follow the road up to this modern chedi. This chedi dates back to the 1980s. It is pleasing to the eye but the main attraction of it is the panorama on the Mekong River, Laos, and Chiang Saen.

The interior of this chedi is beautiful and quite interesting. There are murals and Buddha statues. Inside are also four small rooms that are dedicated to famous monks and exhibit Lanna antiquities. There is a statue of the patron saint of Lanna, Kruba Srivichai.

Ornate temple building
Ho Phra Boromachai Maharacha Phuttha Rangsan

A footprint of the Buddha

At the time they moved the temple from its location on the river to the current location, a man called Nuch Khamwang found a Buddha footprint. When he took villagers to have a look the footprint had disappeared. The Abbot of the temple decided to have a footprint made, which is now on display. In 2017 they celebrated the opening of the small building that houses the footprint. Across the country there are many footprints of the Buddha, for instance at Wat Phutthabat Tak Pha.

oversized footprint with flowers
The Buddha footprint

The Naga staircase

A Naga staircase leads to an area where Wat Phrathat Chom Cham, an ubosot and a belfry are located. Beware: this is only half way to the top of the hill where the white chedi is located. If you want to walk further up to the top, you have to follow the main road, which is not very attractive. The Naga staircase is very nice though. I always prefer to walk the staircase instead of driving but in this case you can better drive up.

Staircase in the forest
Naga staircase of Wat Phra That Pha Ngao

Phra That Chom Cham and the Ubosot

These are located about halfway up the hill. The Naga staircase leads to them but stops there. Almost paralel to the staircase is a trail that leads through the forest. Phra That Chom Cham is the ruin of a brick chedi. There is no information available about this ruined temple. Next to it is a beautiful, opulent ubosot, which was open during my last visit. It houses a Buddha statue.

Temple ruin and temple
Wat Chom Chan and the ubosot

Phra Borommathat Phuttha Nimit Chedi

The Phra Borommathat Phuttha Nimit Chedi is another great attraction of this temple. You have to drive into the temple and go straight. At the end you turn right and follow the road up to this modern chedi. This chedi dates back to the 1980s. It is pleasing to the eye but the main attraction of it is the panorama on the Mekong River, Laos and Chiang Saen.

The interior of this chedi is beautiful and quite interesting. There are murals and Buddha statues. Inside are also four small rooms that are dedicated to famous monks and exhibit Lanna antiquities. There is a statue of the patron saint of Lanna, Kruba Srivichai.

White temple tower
Phra Borommathat Puttha Nimit Chedi

Tai Lue Textile Museum

Just after you have entered the temple complex you will see on your right hand side a small textile museum. There is a weaving collective as well. The museum exhibits beautiful Tai Lue textiles. This museum was closed on two of my visits.

Early morning view on a river Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao view on Laos
Textile exhibits Wat Pha Ngao
The textile museum of Wat Phra That Pha Ngao

The Museum of Local Culture

This is a surprisingly interesting museum. I has maps, old photos, artifacts, untensils and information in Thai language about Chiang Saen and surroundings on three floors.

Most interesting I found the basement where traditional utensils are exhibited. There is for instance a wooden rice pounder, a rice mill, fishing utensils, old pipes and a corn grinder. 

Visiting Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao

The temple complex is large. There are many interesting buildings, museums and other sights of interest. You can easily spend an hour or longer at this temple. It is the best to charter transportation in Chiang Saen. The temple gets many visitors. There is ample parking space and there are a number of small cafés and stalls. 

Sources for this article

I could find very little information online about this temple. Most of the information I gathered at the temple, which I visited three times in the past two years. I also got some info from:

Michael Freeman, Lanna, Thailand’s Northern Kingdom, Bangkok, 2001

Man on staircase Wat Pha Ngao
Walking up the Naga staircase
Wooden utensil in a museum Wat Phrathat Pha Ngao
An ancient rice pounder

Some facts about Wat Phra That Pha Ngao

The temple is located just 10 km from Chiang Saen. There is no entrance fee but donations are highly appreciated. Please dress respectfully and be quiet.

Wat Prathat Pha Ngao features in the following tours

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