February 15th, 2008
Probably the most revered Buddha image in Thailand is the "Emerald Buddha" (it's carved out of jade) enshrined at [the other] Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, at the Grand Palace, back in Bangkok. The Buddha was actually discovered here in Chiang Rai in 1434, when a chedi (Thai pagoda) was struck by lightning, revealing an object inside. When uncovered, the people thought it was made of emerald, hence its name.
I feel a kinship with this Buddha, he moves around about as much as I do! Legend tells that it originated in India, then passed through Burma before coming to Thailand, but historians think it's more likely that it was carved during the Lana dynasty. Either way, after its discovery, it traveled around Thailand to a few places and even made a stop in Loas for a while, before eventually settling in Bangkok.
There is a copy of the Emerald Buddha in Chiang Rai now, and it's enshrined in one of my favourite Thai temples, also called Wat Phra Kaew, behind the Buddha hall, in an intimate little shrine of its own. The original one, in the Grand Palace, is high up on an elaborate pedestal, surrounded by a busy crowd of adornments and adorers, but this one is very accessible. Its shrine is still busy but also elegant and beautiful, prevalent Thai traits.
The Buddha hall at Wat Phra Kaew is worth a visit, too. The massive bronze Buddha is impressive, especially after all the little bronze Buddhas I saw in Kathmandu.
Just down the street, passed the big pink temple, is Chiang Rai market. We made one more round through the tables, then headed to the bus station for the long ride back to Bangkok.