Mae Hong Son boasts many beautiful temples that do not only speak of its rich, checkered past but also complement its breathtaking natural sceneryby Percy Roxas
One does not go to Mae Hong Son for its temples. But once there, few can resist visiting these wats (as Thais call temples) if only because they seem different from those found in other areas of Thailand. Many wats in Mae Hong Son show a distinctive Burmese influence, indeed. These wats, relics of a time long gone, are worth visiting if only to understand better how the present-day Mae Hong Son came to be. Here are some of the most important wats to visit:
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu
Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu, located some 1,500m up on Doi Kong Mu hill, overlooks a valley that in the morning rewards visitors with an exhilarating atmosphere: mists, fog, and a dreamy view of the Mae Hong Son town below. The impressive temple has two chedis and a large viharn, by themselves outstanding sights. The first governor of the province built this temple. A trip to this temple is usually combined with trips to two others – Wat Phra Non and Wat Muo Taw – that are both nearby. The three temples are best to visit in the morning.
Wat Chong Kham/Wat Chong Klang
These two temples are found on the southern Chong Klang Lake. Wat Chong Kham is an old temple built in 1827 by the Thai Yai of Burma, and houses’ pillars covered in gold and a large Buddha image produced by Burmese craftsmen. Wat Chong Klang contains a copy of the Phra Buddha Singh and a number of interesting items such as wooden figures and stained glass. The figures are Burmese dolls bought from Burma 100 years ago. The dolls represent various stages of the Buddha’s life. These two temples are accessible on foot from the Mae Hong Son market. And the temple’s image reflected onto the lake when the sun is up is simply a sight to behold.
Wat Hua Wiang
Located next to the Mae Hong Son market, Wat Hua Wiang is a temple with a large compound featuring an impressive Burmese-style bronze Buddha that is said to be a replica of a Buddha image in Mandalay. Built in 1863, the temple’s buildings are now a bit dilapidated but this only adds to its appeal.
Wat To Phae
This is a large, ornate Burmese-style (Shan) temple that features a gold colored, sphere-shaped viharn, a Burmese-style Buddha image, and a famed Shan tapestry.
Wat Kung Mai Sak
What makes this temple unique is the long bamboo bridge across the rice paddies that you have to walk through before reaching the temple. The bridge—2m wide and 500m long– was actually built to help monks from Phu Sa Ma temple on their morning alms round to Ban Kung Mai Sak. Since it was built, the temple has become a big attraction.
There are other temples all over the province, most reflecting the strong influence of the Thai Yais who for years were the predominant ethnic tribe in the area. While each temple has unique features on its own, all carry elements that give Mae Hong Son its distinct architectural and cultural identity.