Located on a small hill about 10 kilometers South East of Phrae town is the Wat Phra That Cho Hae, a highly revered Royal temple enshrining relics of the Buddha. The temple was founded in the Sukhothai era, although the exact date is unknown. In 1924 the temple was restored by famous monks Khru Ba Srivichai.
The Wat Phra That Cho Hae or “temple of the relic wrapped in satin cloth” is named after the fine silk cloth that was used to wrap the sacred hair relic of the Buddha in. To this day the temple’s chedi is wrapped in the same cloth during the annual Wat Phra That Cho Hae festival.
Several staircases with Naga serpents on the balustrades lead up to the temple on a hill overlooking the valley. Large elaborate entrance gates at the top of the stairs give access to the grounds. Spread out over the large grounds are several structures including a gilded chedi and several viharns.
The temple’s most noticeable structure is the 33 meter tall chedi named Phra That Cho Hae. It was built around 1337 by order of Phaya Lithai, King of Sukhothai to enshrine Buddha relics. During the reign of later Kings, the chedi was renovated and enlarged several times.
The chedi enshrines a hair relic and a part of an elbow bone of the Buddha, believed to have been given by the Indian King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. On the four corners of the surrounding steel fence are elaborate structures with a niche enshrining images of the Buddha. The octagonal Chiang Saen style chedi sits on a square base. Made of brick and covered with gilded copper plates it consists of seven tiers of diminishing size, topped with a multi tiered ceremonial umbrella. The platform holding the chedi is surrounded by a cloister with Buddha images and shrines.
Next to the chedi is the main viharn, a large white building with a cruciform floor plan and a multi tiered roof with golden chofahs. Several entrances with Naga stairways lead to the interior of the elaborate structure.
The viharn houses the Wat Phra That Cho Hae’s principal Buddha image, a large golden seated image in the Bhumisparsha mudra, the “Calling the Earth to witness” posture. The image resembles that famous Phra Buddha Chinnarat in the Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat in Phitsanulok. The wall behind the image is adorned with beautiful colorful murals.
Other structures on the grounds
Another viharn enshrines an image of the Buddha in meditation sitting on the coiled up body of a Naga snake sheltered by its hood. This posture depicts the Buddha meditating before reaching enlightenment when a violent storm broke out and a Naga snake appeared that sheltered the Buddha from rain with its hood.
A white shrine outside of the enclosure holding the chedi houses another highly revered image named Phra Chao Than Chai. An area on the grounds is dedicated to Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, where several statues of her are placed.
The annual Phra That Cho Hae festival is held during February or March depending on the lunar calender. To make merit Buddhist devotees walk around the chedi in a clockwise direction holding lighted candles and present food offerings to monks. Around the temple is a fair with music, dance, food and various festivities.
How to get to the Wat Phra That Cho Hae
The temple is located on Cho Hae road just off road 1022 on a hill South East of Phrae town. The easiest way to get there is by taxi booked through hotel. Alternatively, take a songthaew from Talat Preeda market on Chor Hae road for around 30 Thai Baht. Getting to the temple from the parking lot requires a climb of about 120 steps, depending on which stairway you choose.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The temple opens daily during daylight hours. Admission is free. The Wat Phra That Cho Hae is well visited by Thai people, especially on weekend and Buddhist holidays, when the grounds can get very crowded.