The Buddhist Temples of Phrae
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Buddhist Temples of Phrae
I have divided the Buddhist Temples of Phrae in two sections: temples within the old city wall and temples outside. There is so much to enjoy for visitors. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or a religion freak to enjoy these temples. Every one of them has something of particular interest and beauty.
The temples within the old city wall
The Wat Phongsunan (วัดพงษ์สุนันท์) is a remarkable temple. It is the temple of the Vongburi Family, which built the Vongburi House. There used to be an abandoned, ruined temple at this location, called Wat Pong Sanuk. In 1929 Luang Phong Phibun (Chao Phrom) and Chao Sunanta, owners of the Vongburi House decided to reconstruct this temple and, after it was finished, renamed it after themselves: Wat Phong Sunan.
The temple is worth a visit for many reasons: the main Buddha statue, called Phra Chao Saen Suk, is believed to be more than 500 years old. The temple furthermore has a reclining Buddha statue, a huge turtle, and an unusual structure with many small white chedis on top.
Wat Phongsunan has no entrance fee and is open from 0600 until 1800.
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha: Wat Phra Non
Wat Phra Non (วัดพระนอน) is the temple of the reclining or “sleeping” Buddha in Phrae. “Non” means “to sleep”. This image represents the Buddha during his last illness, before entering the parinirvana. Siddharta Gautama, the historical Buddha, is lying on his right side.
According to information at the temple, it dates back to the year 874. A ruler of Lavo (Lopbur) brought his followers via Sukhothai to Phrae and found a reclining Buddha image made of stone. He built a temple and a building to house a larger reclining Buddha image to cover the old one.
Wat Phra Non doesn’t have an entrance fee. Opening times are from 0600 until 1800.
Wat Hua Khuang
The big temple: Wat Luang
Luang means big: Wat Luang (วัดหลวง) means the big temple. This temple dates back to the foundation of the settlement Phrae in 828. A man named Pho Khun Luang Phon and his followers migrated from the kingdom Nan and established a village, which eventually became the city of Phrae. He constructed the Wat Luang after a couple of years. The principal Buddha image of the temple is called Phra Chao Saen Luang.
The Wat Luang has an interesting museum and some other structures of interest.
Wat Luang has no entrance fee. Opening times are from 0600 until 1800.
Wat Sri Chum
Two bronze Buddha images
The Temples outside the old walled city
Wat Phra That Cho Hae
One of the things to do in Phrae is to visit Wat Phra That Cho Hae. It is the most famous and revered temple of Phrae. There are relics of the Buddha enshrined inside its chedi. The shape of the main chedi is very unusual. Striking is the craftmanship that is on display, of which the decorated ceiling is a good example. It is one of the most beautiful temples in North Thailand.
It is believed the temple dates back to the Sukhothai era but an exact date is not known. Followers of the “engineer-monk” Kruba Srivichai restored the temple in the 1920s. Wat Phra That Cho Hae (วัดพระธาตุช่อแฮ) is a must-see temple in Phrae and features in our Lampang, Phrae and Nan tour.
Wat Phra That Cho Hae is located about 10km outside the center of town. There is ample parking space and there are many souvenir and food stalls at the front entrance. It is a very popular temple. Close to the temple are the Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng and Wat Phra That Doi Leng.
Enjoy this lovely video, made by the Fine Arts Department:
The Shan temple: Wat Chom Sawan
Wat Chom Sawan (วัดจอมสวรรค์) is one of our favorite temples in Phrae. This pretty wooden Burmese-style temple was constructed in 1857, according to information at the temple. Other sources mention that Shan (Tai Yai) workers constructed this temple during the reign of Rama V between 1910 and 1912.
Many Shan people worked for the British Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and the Danish East Asiatic Company. These firms were involved in the teak industry. According to information at the temple, Mr.Jong (or Chong) Nanta and Mr.H.A.Slade (misspelled Salade on the explanatory board) were instrumental in the reconstruction of the temple.
Chong Nanta, manager of the East Asiatic Company
Chong Nanta was the British headman in Phrae from 1914 until at least 1933. Later he became the manager of the East Asiatic Company in Phrae. Herbert Slade, the former Deputy Conservator of Forests in Burma, became the first director of the Royal Forest Department. King Chulalongkorn established this department to manage forests and control revenue from the teak forests of northern Thailand in 1896. How Slade became involved in Phrae in the 1930s is at the moment unclear to me. In the temple, a portrait of a young foreign man with a 1920s boater hat adorns the wall. That appears to be a different person, also called Slade.
Wat Chom Sawan is the most popular Shan-style temple in Phrae. It has no entrance fee and is open from 0600 until 1800.
Wat Sawankha Niwet
It is probably an old temple that has undergone quite a few changes in recent years. It has three large statues of monks that were on a raised platform until recently. During my last visit, I noticed they have moved these statues to an open, sheltered area.
The somewhat peculiar attraction of Wat Sawankha Niwet (วัดสวรรคนิเวศ) is a small, artificial cave that is illuminated with bright lights in different colors.
Wat Sawankha Niwet is diagonally opposite the Shan temple Wat Chom Sawan. It has no entrance fee and is open from 0600 until 1800.
The second Shan temple: Wat Sra Bo Kaew
Wat Sra Bo Kaew (วัดสระบ่อแก้ว) is the second Shan or Burmese-style temple in Phrae. It is located outside the old city walls, not far from Wat Chom Sawan. Unfortunately is right next to a telecom station with a huge, ugly tower. It is a beautiful temple, quite different from Wat Chom Sawan. There are more than 30 sitting Buddha statues in different poses. According to an explanatory board in terrible English a Burmese man, called Mong Phoan, constructed the temple in 1876.
It seems Burmese employees of the Danish East Asiatic company were involved in the construction of the temple. The company is wrongly identified as “from England”. Reconstruction of the temple took place in 1905 during the reign of King Rama V. Wat Sra Bo Kaew is a very beautiful temple that you should not overlook when you visit Phrae.
Wat Sra Bo Kaew is not far from the old walled city. No entrance fee. Opening times are from 0600 until 1800.
Wat Sung Men
Visitors would easily bypass Wat Sung Men, at first sight just one of many similar temples in the area. This temple though has the largest collection of palm-leaf manuscripts in the country. They are stored in an interesting learning center. They are written in the old Lanna language, which is similar to the Tai Lue alphabet.
Wat Sung Men(วัดสูงเม่น) is worth a visit for those who have a deeper interest in the history of the Lanna Kingdom and in palm-leaf manuscripts.
Wat Sung Men is about 12 km from Phrae, just off the road 101 to Den Chai. There is no entrance fee. Opening times are from 0600 until 1800.
The temple with the views: Wat Phra That Doi Leng
Wat Phra That Doi Leng (วัดพระธาตุดอยเล็ง) is one of the more spectacular Buddhist temples of Phrae, located on a small mountain. You should visit this temple together with Wat Phra That Cho Hae and Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng. These three temples are close to each other and each has something special. What makes Wat Phra That Doi Leng worth a visit is a magnificent view over Phrae on one side and the view of the forested mountains on the other side.
You reach the temple by a short, steep road, of which the last part is tricky because it is one way. You can also park your car at a lower level and walk the short naga staircase, which is what I did. There is not much information about this temple but old pictures show a ruined chedi. According to information at the temple, the Buddha visited this area. In 1997, the Abbott of the temple had a small chedi restored to mark this visit.
Wat Phra That Doi Leng is only about 4km from Wat Phra That Cho Hae. The road is sometimes steep. I advise to park your vehicle at the level of the Naga staircase and walk up. There is no entrance fee and
Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng
This temple is probably the least visited of the three major temples outside Phrae. It certainly is the least well-maintained but not the least interesting. There are a number of attractions that make Wat Chom Chaeng (วัดพระธาตุจอมแจ้ง )worth visiting. First of all, the temple is located in a beautiful forest which gives it a bit of a remote atmosphere. Then, on the left of the entrance gate there is a giant reclining Buddha image.
The viharn and the chedi are more or less straightforward in design. The design of the chedi is quite unusual though. The temple has two short naga staircases. It has an ubosot which was under construction. If you make your way to the left past building materials and building you will pass a large number of statues, a Buddhist “hell garden”. Naraka is the Buddhist version of hell which is quite different from the hell of Christianity. Nevertheless, you don’t want to end up in either of them.
The highlight of Wat Chom Chaeng
The highlight of Wat Chom Chaeng though is just around the corner. It is a huge, brick chedi in Sukhothai and Wiang Kosai style, dating back to the reign of King Lithai, the ruler of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1347 until 1368. This information appears on a plaque, which is next to the chedi. This mentions the year 1377 (Buddhist year 1920) as the date of construction, which is after the reign of King Lithai though.
This implies that Phrae was part of that kingdom in that period. During my second visit a man was removing vegetation from the chedi, which was nice to see. I highly recommend a visit to this temple.
Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng is only a couple of km from Wat Phra That Cho Hae. The temple has no entrance fee and is open from 0600 until 1800.
The Golden Rock of Phrae: Wat Phra That In Khwaen
Kyaiktyo Pagoda in Mon State, Myanmar, is known as “The Golden Rock”. The rock looks like it is balanced on a ridge, about to fall down at any moment. They built the small pagoda on top of the rock, which is at the top of Mount Kyaikto.
Thailand has at least two “Golden Rocks” as well: Wat Phra That Doi Mon Ching in Chiang Dao, Chiang Mai province, and Wat Phra That In Khwaen (พระธาตุอินทร์แขวน) in Phrae province. The temple has been there for quite a while and has added many statues and levels in recent years.
At a lower level, there is a gilded chedi which goes by the name of Chedi Shwedagon Chamlong (เจดีย์ชเวดากอง จำลอง), which says more about where the inspiration for this temple came from. Wat Phra That In Khwaen is definitely one of the more quaint Buddhist temples of Phrae. From the Golden Rock plateau, you have a nice view over the forested mountains towards Phrae.
Wat Phra That In Khwaen is about 25km outside Phrae town. It is a beautiful drive to get there. The temple has no entrance fee and has opening times from 0600 until 1800.
Wat Nakhuha, temple in the rice fields
If you have made it to the Golden Rock, it is worth driving a couple of km further along the same road to Wat Nakhuha (วัดนาคูหา). Local people have turned this temple into a tourist attraction for local visitors. The main attractions are a large sitting gilded Buddha image and a bamboo walkway through the rice fields. I visited this place in August, which is probably the perfect time to go there. It was stunning. After the rice harvest in November until the rice planting in June is not a good time. The rice fields will be like a wasteland.
The Buddha image is called Phrachao Ton Klang Na. Prachao Ton is the name of the statue. Klang Na means “in the middle of a ricefield”. The community constructed the bamboo walkway for visitors. If you continue you can walk to a coffee plantation and to a miang learning center, where you can learn about “miang”, which is fermented tea leaf.
I visited on a perfect day with blue skies and green rice fields. Due to the pandemic, there was not much left of the tourist infrastructure but that will certainly will come back once this is over. If you are at the right time Wat Nakhuha is one of the most photogenic Buddhist temples of Phrae.
Wat Nakhuha is only a few km from the Golden Rock. There is no entrance fee. The temple is open from 0600 until 1800.
References for the Buddhist Temples of Phrae
Over the past six years, I have visited Phrae many times and I keep going back. I have not been able to find much information in English language books. Phrae is still rather off the beaten track. I consulted Google maps, Wikipedia, and other online sources. At the temples, there is some information on boards, plaques, and signage.
This book contains good information about Phrae:
Sarassawadee Ongsakul, History of Lanna, Chiang Mai, 2005