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Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan, the temple of Kruba Srivichai
Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan is a Buddhist temple in Mae Suay district, Chiang Rai province. It is a temple dedicated to the monk Kruba Srivichai (1878-1939). This temple is not as well known as Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple, but its popularity has grown over the years. It is about 60 km from downtown Chiang Rai so this temple doesn’t feature in a standard Chiang Rai highlights tour. Most people visit this temple on their way from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai or vice versa.
Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan is unique and unlike any other temple in the north of Thailand. At this moment it mostly attracts local visitors but recently I have seen several foreign visitors. They are still very much a minority though. I have visited this temple regularly over the years and closely followed its expansion. Is Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan worth a visit? Yes, it certainly is. By the way, the name of the temple is often spelled as Wat Saeng Kaeo Photiyan.
The history of the temple
According to the information at the temple, the abbot Kruba Ariyachart Ariyajitto founded the temple in 2006 (Buddhist year 2549). According to this article, the young Ariyachart worshipped Kruba Srivichai, the most famous monk of North Thailand, and followed his practice. He wanted to build a temple that allowed the devotees of Kruba Srivichai to come to and pray.
I visited Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan for the first time in 2016. Since then I have been back several times and witnessed the expansion of this extensive temple complex. From December 29, 2023, until January 12, 2024, the temple organized a big event on the occasion of its 17th anniversary. The name of the temple, Saeng Kaew Photiyan, translates as “A lotus that sprouts and emerges from the water and emits light like a sparkling gem with brilliant light “, according to a source. That sentence might refer to the highly respected monk Kruba Srivichai. I will do more research and try to find out if this is correct.
My visits in 2016 and 2017
I must have passed the turnoff to the temple several times driving on road no.118 from Wiang Pa Pao to Mae Suay, on my way to Chiang Rai. It was only in 2016, then years after the foundation of the temple, that I noticed the sign “Kruba Srivichai” pointing towards the temple which is only a couple of km from the main road. I was struck by the splendor of the temple with many statues and the gilded image of Kruba Srivichai, the “engineer-monk”. Followers of this monk restored many temples in North Thailand and constructed the road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in 1935. The term Kruba refers to a senior monk in the Northern Thai dialect.
The Three Krubas
In front of the statue of Kruba Srivichai, there are images of his followers Kruba Khao Aphichai Pi (1889-1977) and Kruba Chaiyawongsa Phattana (1913-2000). Both were followers of Kruba Srivichai and appeared on two iconic photos, taken on April 30, 1935. Unknown photographers took these photos at the base of the staircase of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep on the day of the opening of the road. Both Krubas came from temples in Lamphun province, not far from Wat Ban Pang, the temple of Kruba Srivichai.
The Fern Garden and the Maitreya Buddha
I visited Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan again in June, 2022. The first thing I noticed was that a huge new image was under construction. Most foreign visitors would probably think this statue is an image of the Buddha but it is not. It is however an image of the Maitreya Buddha, the “future Buddha”. The Maitreya statue would dwarf the Kruba images. In June 2022, there was no indication of the construction of a so-called Sky Way.
Another novelty was a small beautiful fern garden with statues of nagas and dragons as well as waterfalls and orchids. It is nice to walk through.
The Sky Walk
On Valentine’s Day, February 13, 2023, lots of people gathered at Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan to be present at the opening of the Sky Walk. This is a steel and glass construction built around the new giant image of the Maitreya Buddha. The Sky Walk allows people to pay their respects to the image and enjoy the views over the surrounding countryside.
That is what I did in late November. You pay a 40THB entrance fee and have to wrap protective covers around your shoes before you enter. I think this is to protect the glass floors. The views are indeed nice if the skies are clear. The 50-meter-tall Maitreya Buddha must be one of the biggest statues in North Thailand.
Lots of statues and images
You can easily spend an hour at this temple taking in the overwhelming amount of statues and images. On the left of the entrance is an image of Phra Upakhut. Inside the temple, there is also a huge statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha with its elephant head and four arms. in the same area is a huge statue of Shiva, another Hindu deity.
On the same level as the Kruba images are two galleries with images. One has images of other well-known monks and other famous national persons such as King Mangrai, the Mon Queen Chamathewi, King Taksin, and several of the kings of the Chakri dynasty.
Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan – some facts
The temple is open daily from 0700 until 1800. There is a huge parking lot close to the temple with a row of food and coffee stalls. The temple has no entrance fee. If you want to try out the Sky Walk the fee is 40 THB per person.
The temple on the map
Wat Saeng Kaew Photiyan is sometimes spelled as Wat Saeng Kaeo Photiyan, which is the case on Google maps. As said, the temple is only a couple of km from the main road 118 to Chiang Rai. There is no public transportation so you will need your own vehicle to get there or join a private trip that features this temple.