Wat Huay Pla Kang Chiang Rai
Wat Huay Pla Kang sits on a mountain top surrounded by an array of green hills in the heart of Chiang Rai. It is an impressive site to behold from far away that only grows more interesting as you come closer.
Like other unusual temples in the region, Wat Huay Pla Kang was designed by a true visionary, which explains its unusual stylistic and structural choices. It began as a small monk office designed by a monk named Phra Ajarn Phob Chok, and grew over 4 years into the temple that you see today.
It is believed that anyone who prays at the temple will receive good health or money as a blessing. This is easy to believe — the ambitious temple is a fusion of international influences with palpable attention to craft, detail, and Buddhist devotion. Because there are hardly ever big crowds or groups of other tourists to sully the authentic vibe, a visit does indeed feel like a blessing.
Wat Huay Pla Kang is known for its unique architecture, built in Chinese-Lanna style with white walls. Nearly all other temples in the region are built in traditional Thai or Thai-Lanna style, while Wat Huay Pla Kang blends Lanna and Chinese elements so thoroughly that the temple is really nothing like either. The elements of Chinese architecture shine through in the color scheme, boasting bright hues of red, yellow, gold or green.
The pagoda is a towering 9 stories tall, with a pyramid shape instead of the round or square structure found in Thai or Chinese pagodas. The top tier is bell-shaped like a traditional Thai Chedi. Instead of the naga serpents one might expect, a pair of Chinese dragons guard the stairs to the inside of the structure.
Carved sandalwood statues decorate each floor of the inside of the pagoda, including Buddhas and Chinese divinities. The center hall is dominated by a massive statue of Guan Yin, reaching all the way to the second story.
Guan Yin Statue
One of the main attractions of this extraordinary temple is actually the enormous statue just outside. Often mistakenly called the Big Buddha, this impressive figure is actually Guan Yin, the Buddhist ‘Goddess of Mercy’. Guan Yin is an important deity in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. She is the “Bodhisattva of Compassion” — a being who achieved enlightenment but remained here in the physical world to help the rest of humanity do the same. She waits here at Wat Huay Pla Kang, “observing the sounds of the human world”, as she is known to do.
For just a few baht, an elevator offers access to the inside of the Guan Yin image, rising all the way to the top of the 25 story statue. Peek out the windows on the top floor for panoramic views of rice paddies, forest, and mountains. Between the windows, the top floor is decorated with detailed white dragons and other mythological beings from Buddhist cosmology.
Buddhism Across Cultures
Wat Huay Pla Kang is lesser known and little visited, especially compared to other famous landmarks like the White Temple, the Blue Temple, or the Black House. Yet this temple is hugely important to the local community and the province as a whole, and to visit it is to be privileged with a window into a unique side of Buddhism and cross-cultural devotion.
Combine a visit to Wat Huay Pla Kang with a visit to somewhere like the White Temple for a wider experience of the extraordinary range of unusual temples Chiang Rai has to offer.