Of course, we did not only go to Chiang Mai to see the lantern festival, but also to explore the city and its temples. There are so many of them, we only saw around 20, but we could have gone on for days seeing more! There are around 200 temples (wats) in the city and they are all very different from each other.
The first temple we visited was Wat Sam Pao, also locally known as Wat Sum Pow. It is a Buddhist temple and quite small, tucked away on Rachadamnone Road Soi 5. The structure and architecture represents a typical Thai temple – it also includes the Naga statue at the entrance, which is eaten by a Makara. The Makara is a mixture of known animals including having claws, a crocodile’s body, the nose of an elephant, scales and a large jaw. The Naga is a type of aquatic serpentine. Both are aquatic servants of Varuna, a powerful god, who controlled the water. It is believed that the Naga and Makara live in paradises beneath the rivers, lakes and seas. They control the sources of rain and are the guardians of life-giving energy in its waters.
On the balustrades to temples they represent both the rising of water to the heavens and the down pouring of rain from the sky. Another Interpretation is that they may also be seen as linking the earth below to the heaven above. It links the world of illusion to the formless world of nirvana. Thus the Naga and Makara symbolize the ties that bind man to the world of illusion, and the path that frees man from that illusion.
We continued walking along the Rachadamnone Road and crossed the street to visit the Wat Phan Ohn.
Another beautiful temple with a gold chedi, which is another name for a stupa, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the ashes of deceased. It is used by Buddhists as a place of meditation.
I could not find much about the Wat Phan Ohn temple in our guide book, I guess it is not one of the popular ones – but we really enjoyed walking through the grounds, which were quiet. There were not many people around when we explored this temple.
A few steps across the street and the next temple was waiting for us. This was Wat Muen Larn, but I just call it the temple with the red doors. You can’t tell from this picture…
… but now it’s clear. The red doors with the gold symbols really stood out for me.