The main entrance to the temple is via a grand staircase that leads through an elaborate gatehouse built atop the walls of an ancient fortress.
But we don’t enter that way. Instead we circle around to a small side entrance.
Here we first come to a couple of shrines that display the diverse elements that come together in Thailand’s form of Buddhism.
Chris leads us past these figures to a green space. The highlight here is a giant sprawling bodhi tree. The spreading branches of this ancient fig are propped up by hundreds of stakes supplied by those seeking merit.
There are a number of weathered, but still beautiful old Lanna-style buildings at this end of the complex, including a 400 year old library.
There are also an abundance of spirit houses and a number of buildings I can’t identify.
The Ho Phra Phuttabat is also located in this area. This rather plain building houses both a sculpture of the Buddha’s footprint and an optical illusion – however, since women aren’t allowed inside, I have no idea what is really in there.
The wat includes a number of wihans (or viharns). One of these contains the Phra Kaeo Don Tao, a companion to Bangkok’s famous Emerald Buddha. The tiny jasper (not emerald) figure is dressed in gold and gazes out from behind sturdy bars.
We have time on our own to explore the wat and I’m not completely sure which of the wihans we enter – although each is unique, they all seem equally filled with gilt images of the Buddha and throngs of worshipers.
Outside, the wat is dominated by a huge chedi glided in copper and bronze. Newly gilded sections shine brightly, but much of the chedi has turned into an intriguing patchwork blue and green from centuries of exposure to sun and rain.
The area around the chedi is filled with gilded objects and worshipers offering prayers. It is a chaotic, slightly surreal jumble, made even more unreal by the occasional flare-ups that send flames leaping wildly for a moment before being brought back under control.
As exotic as it seems to me, it is clearly just a normal place of worship for most people visiting here today.
The open-sided Wihan Luang is so crowded we don’t venture far inside. However, the stunning Wihan Phra Phut is slightly more serene, although still filled with worshipers and offerings.
Back outside, we admire the elegant Lanna wihan near the entrance gate. This ancient wood structure still retains beautifully carved details.
It would be nice to spend more time here – there is so much more to see, but the day is getting late and it is time to pass through the gate and descend the naga stairway in order to continue our journey in Thailand.