When visiting Southeast Asia, you will find a dazzling assortment of different religious buildings. None are more iconic than the stupas built to hold relics. In Thailand they are called chedis, in Myanmar, zedis… and in Laos, that. They are remarkable structures worthy of further investigation.
Stupas trace their history back to pre-Buddhist burial mounds, but they came into their own and developed after the passing of the Buddha, whose remains were buried in ten mounds. Later, more permanent structures started to be built to house relics such as the 3rd century BCE Great Stupa at Sanchi in India.
The original meaning was retained and the Sanskrit word stūpa literally means heap.
The Burmese, Thai and Lao all have styles that come as a result of the transmission of Theravāda Buddhism from Sri Lanka. One of the most common style of chedi in Thailand is the Lanka-style bell chedi. Interestingly, this bell shape is not much seen in Sri Lanka, where the original round Sanchi-style stupa remains the most usual. Looking at the great sites of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, we can observe some interesting styles that give us good reference points for stupas we see on our travels through Southeast Asia.
In Myanmar, there is a clear progression of styles. The earliest stupas were built by the Pyu people and this Pyu-style can be found at the 7th century Bawbawgyi Pagoda at the ancient city of Sri Ksetra near modern day Pyay.
This bulbous, but elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Burmese stupa.
Thai temples, known as wats, are very distinctive. The word watmeans school, but is used only to refer to temple complexes. The Phutthawatis what we think of when we see the word temple. It is where all of the main religious buildings are contained. The Sanghawatis the living area for the monks.
The ubosotis the most important building in the temple. It is the ordination hall and it is where the primary Buddha image of the temple is normally housed. The Ubosot does not have physical contact with the other buildings and is clearly marked off by eight Bai Sema (marker stones named after their similarity to Bodhi leaves). The ubosot is where the ceremonies and rituals for the monks take place and is, therefore, the holiest part of the temple. You will notice that the entrance to the ubosot will almost always face the east.
The wiharn is a shrine hall. It normally houses a Buddha image. Larger temples can have more than one wiharn. The wiharn is where ceremonies for both monks and lay people are conducted.
The chedi is amonument that contains a relic or the cremated remains of a monk or member of the royal family. They vary enormously and in Thailand you will see a huge range of differing styles. Chedis are normally constructed over a relic chamber. They are traditionally made of laterite or brick andcovered in stucco. Normally they are covered in gold. Every temple typically has at least one main chedi.
The Tiger Cave Temple (or Wat Tham Suea, also spelled Wat Tham Sua) is a magnificent Buddhist temple complex located 8 kilometers northeast of Krabi, in Thailand. Perhaps it is most famous for the huge Buddha statue that can be seen from the bottom of the mountain.
The temple’s history goes back to 1975 when a monk decided to meditate in the cave. According to the legends a tiger lived in the cave leaving paw prints on its walls. Since then a huge and diverse complex has built on the site.
Wat Phra That Hariphunchai is located in the heat of Lamphun city, about 28 kms southeast of Chiang Mai. The temple has long been regarded as an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists especially for those who were born in the Year of the Rooster. The main chedi houses a hair, crown of a skull, chest and finger bones of Buddha.
Located by the Mekong River not far from the Indochine market in the municipality, Wat Okat Si Bua Ban or locally known as Wat Okat, is one the most important temples in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The sacred temple has been honored since ancient times and is regarded today as the iconic temple of Nakhon Phanom.
The temple houses two ancient Buddha statues ‘Phra Tio’ and ‘Phra Thiam’, which are situated together. Phra Tio, 60 cm. high, was carved from ‘Tio’ wood and later covered with gold plate.
Opposite the Wang River in the municipality of Lampang province, Thailand, is Wat Pongsanuk (also spelled Pong Sanuk or Pong Sanook), a 500-year-old temple site with buildings in a mix of Lanna, Burmese and Chinese architectural and decorative styles.
Similar to Wat Phratat Lampang Luang, Wat Pong Sanuk is surrounded with a white wall built on a man-made mound of earth.
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is one of the most exquisite temples of Thailand. It is located in Ko Kah district, approximately 20 kilometres Southwest of Lampang in the Northern part of Thailand.
Literally, Wat Phra That Lampang Luang means Temple of Lampang’s Great Buddha Relic. According to legend, the Buddha once visited the site some 2,500 years ago and donated a hair, which is now kept in the temple’s large chedi together with the right forehead and neck bones.
It is also the temple of those who were born in the Ox year because the construction of the temple is held to have begun and finished in years of the Ox.
The sacred chedi of Phra That Phanom (also spelled Pratat Phanom) is famous as the oldest in the Northeastern part of Thailand. It is located in the compound of Wat Phratat Phanom Waramahawihan, 52 kilometers south of Nakhon Phanom Province.
This small city was once the center of the glorious Sri Kotrabun Kingdom (5th-10th Century) encompassing territories on both sides of the Mekong river. According to the Pratat Phanom legend, the name Sri Kotrabun (ศรีโคตม์บูร) means “The land of the Lord Buddha Kotama” to honor the pilgrimage visit of Lord Buddha Kotama in this area. It was also known by villager as Sri Kotrabong city (ศรีโคตรตะบอง) because the ruler of the Kingdom had a powerful staff as his weapon.
Wat Pho (pronounced Wat-Poor) is one of the most famous temples in Bangkok. Located in the Phar Nakhon district, Wat Pho is walking distance to Kaho San Road and the Chayo Phraya River.
The wat is world famous for the huge image of the reclining Buddha inside the temple. The statue is 15 meters high and 43 meters long, with the foot of the Buddha scribed with pearls. The underside of the foot is split up into 108 unique sections, displaying lucky symbols.
Next to the statue lie 108 bronze bowls that reflect each of the symbols on the Buddha’s foot. It is believed that you will bring luck upon yourselves if you place money into these bowls. The money collected is used to help maintain the temple. Continue reading Visiting Wat Pho, Bangkok→
Wat Yansangwararam (pronounced Wat Yana-sang-wara-ram) is located approximately 20km south of the seaside town of Pattaya. Enclosed in a huge 145 acre complex, Wat Yansangwararam is surrounded by clean gardens, massive lakes, and several different architectural styles of buildings, making it the perfect place to spend a day seeing the quieter side of Thailand.
The temple was built in 1976 to celebrate the Supreme Patriarch Somdej Phra Yanasangworn, who at the time was the current leader of the Thai Monastic Order.
Wat Mahathat (pronounced Wat Ma-har-rarrt), also known as the Monastery of the Great Relic, is a temple ruin located in central Ayutthaya, Thailand.
The temple is believed to have been built around the 14th century and was once residence to the Supreme Patriarch leader of the Thai Buddhist monks. Today it sits in the Ayutthaya Historical Park along with several of temples, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
History of Wat Mahathat
Wat Mahathat first fell into ruin in the early 16th century when the main prang was said to have collapsed.
When talking about Sukhothai, people usually refer to the Sukhothai Historical Park, also known as Old Sukhothai City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 300km south of Chiang Mai in the central plains region and one of Thailand’s most visited ancient sites.
According to legend, Sukhothai was founded in the 13th century, when two brothers, known as Pho Khun Bangklanhao and Pho Khun Phameung, took over the kingdom from the Khmer, a then major frontier post of the Angkor Empire. Over the following years, Sukhothai was drastically expanded until Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), parts of southern Burma and South Thailand and established even political ties with China during its Yuan Dynasty. The name Sukhothai means ‘Dawn of Happiness’.
The Sukhothai-era however only lasted a brief 140 years, until armies of the Ayutthaya kingdom took tributary over Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya is a very popular destination for tourists and Thais alike, located just one hour’s drive (80km) from Bangkok, hence making it a perfect day trip from the capital.
After taking over from Sukhothai as the pre-eminent kingdom, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam, for about 400 years, from about 1350. After nearly 200 years of tension and several failed attempts by the Burmese army to invade the kingdom, the Ayutthaya dynasty eventually came to an end in 1767, defeated in an invasion led by King Hsinbyushin of Burma.
It is said that the gold of Burma’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is originally from Ayutthaya. King Hsinbyushin was also responsible for raising Shwedagon to its current height. Continue reading Visiting Ayutthaya→
Wat That Thong is a Thai Buddhist temple located in the heart of Bangkok that is not on most travellers itinerary, instead opting to see the more famous temples in Bangkok such as Wat Arun or Wat Pho (temple of the reclining Buddha).
Wat That Thong was built in 1937, and sits where two previous Buddhist temples were once standing. The biggest attraction of Wat That Thong is the beautifully crafted statue of the golden Buddha, sitting in the lotus position.
One of the busiest cities in Asia, Bangkok has some beautiful places to see. Some of the most incredible sights in Bangkok are the temples and gardens. Here are some of those highlights…
One of the major temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a prominent Buddhist site. This gigantic Buddha measures 46 metres in length and is close to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Buddha’s feet are 5 metres in length and covered in mother of pearl depictions from Buddhist taksanas or characteristics. This is a must see sight for visitors to the capital.