Finding Wat Phra Thart Pha Kaew

It was May 15th, my birthday and I was in Phitsanulok. A historic city in lower Northern Thailand with a population of around 84,300 and known for having one of the most sacred statues of the Buddha in all of the country, which is in the Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat temple, also know locally as Wat Yai . The city itself is very modest and not really visited by many travelers, so naturally it had a very local and authentic Thai feel to it. I was staying at a place called Karma Home Hostel which was owned by a friendly guy from England named Mark and his Thai wife Mint, along with their young daughter. They also ran a small school for children together. The night before I had met a young guy from Texas that was also staying there named John. Mark had told us about a temple with a large statue of the Buddha and we had decided to check it out. We weren’t exactly sure where it was but it was nestled in the mountains somewhere in a town nearby called Khao Kho, in the Phetchabun province.

We were looking for Wat Phra Thart Pha Kaew. We leave the hostel around 10 am. and take a tuk-tuk to the local bus station, where we jumped on a bus that took us down a highway. We drove by some nice towns and saw a great deal of the landscape. After enjoying the scenery for almost 2 hours, the driver slows down and drops us off on the side of the road with no bus stop. As soon we got off it began to rain very hard, so we went into a 7-11 that was in front of us. Inside we waited for the rain to lighten up but we also bought some disposable ponchos just in case. From where we were, we could see the mountains in the background. The rain stops and we begin our 2 km walk up some hills and through some villages towards the temple. The morning was damp and cool and it looked very nice with all of the vegetation all around. After walking for 40 minutes or so we find the entrance to the temple and walk up a flight of stairs that was completely covered in colorful glass mosaic tile. There we saw statues of a Hindu-looking elephant in a battle pose, another statue of an Indian monk in a white robe and a gilded statue of Ganesh. The stairs were beautiful and fairly symmetrical in design, and it was a good preview of what was yet to come.

The stairs led up to a pagoda which housed a beautiful golden Buddha in the center, yet what really caught my attention was the overall decor of the room. We take off our shoes and step inside. All around the room there were more statues of the golden Buddha but the center piece and the walls were unlike anything I had ever seen. The main Buddha in the room was flanked by two smaller statues and was sitting on a cloud shaped platform. Around the platform were flower offerings, two oversized electric candles and other ornaments. The wall directly behind it was a trippy mural of the galaxy painted in white, pink and purple. The entire area was definitely not your typical Buddhist temple but it was this psychedelic quality that made it special.

I pay my respects to the Buddha and exit the room to the left quietly. Across the way was a large building with an even larger white statue of the sitting Buddha followed by decreasingly smaller replicas of the statue in front of it. Kinda like a Matryoshka doll effect. The day was cool and overcast with the rain drizzling from time to time and in the horizon were the green misty mountains standing in complete silence. I stood there and gazed on what I had found. I was not expecting anything like this. The entire sight seemed otherworldly to me. I turn around and notice that the temple that I had just stepped out of was completely covered in more colorful glass mosaic tile, which even included some complete glass bowls, plates and teacups. The ground between the two temples was also covered in mosaic tile and had puddles of cool water from the rain which felt refreshing between my toes. I walked past some Buddhist monks and other visitors to the temple of the large Buddha statue. Outside there was a old man with sunglasses seated in a plastic chair speaking Thai into a microphone. I had no idea what he was saying but he would talk casually and slowly, ending each sentence with a little chuckle, which of course added to the bizarre factor of the entire place. Inside on the walls of the room were beautiful pictures of the story and teachings of the Buddha, many of which I took my time reading, trying to learn and attain some . . .

Enlightenment.

Afterwards we took a bunch of pictures of the temples and surrounding area, because honestly the whole place was so surreal and we just couldn’t get enough of it. John and I then walk back to the main temple passing some peacocks (Yes. Peacocks.) and climbed its spiraled staircase to the top which offered magnificent sights of the grounds and the mountains. The entire section again was all mosaic and so colorful that I felt like I was in some kind of candyland-funhouse. Very odd for a Buddhist temple. After spending a good while taking in the majesty of the landscape and snapping some more photos we walk back down, go up the road and walk into a log cabin style bistro called The Piney. It had a wonderful patio area and actually reminded me a bit of Colorado, with its thick wooden chairs and tables and spectacular views of the mountains. There I have some delicious Thai tea and we shared some green curry and vegetable dumplings for lunch.

We must of spent three hours there because the place was so tantalizing and trippy that it was hard to peel away from. We finally began to make our walk back to the main road and end up hitchhiking twice to a bus stop. There we waited for about 30 minutes till a bus pulled up and it turned out to be the same one that had originally dropped us off. Back at the Phitsanulok station we grab a tuk-tuk and criss-cross through the crazy streets during rush hour back to the Karma Home Hostel. John and I arrive late in the evening and we chill on the rooftop with the other travelers we had met the day before. There everyone wished me a Happy Birthday and we played music and had beers late into the night.

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