Thai people still observe the lunar calendar, with its Western counterpart grafted on top of it, and they’ve also adapted the Chinese Zodiac symbols to their own purposes. With the Year of the Dragon freshly upon us, it’s a great time to ponder the Thai Zodiac.
What most tourists don’t realize is that every zodiac symbol has an official temple in Northern Thailand. People all over the kingdom aspire to make a pilgrimage once in their life to the temple that represents their birth year. That’s a long-haul journey for Thai people from Central or Southern Thailand, but that doesn’t stop most. Blessings of long life and prosperity are at stake.
Take a look at the following list of zodiac temples in Thailand, and consider paying a visit to your own alma mater on your next visit to the Land of Smiles:
Phra That Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai
Year of the Dragon
This year’s headliner stands within walking distance of all the hotels in Chiang Mai old city. If you’re spending a night in Chiang Mai, then you’ll probably end up paying a visit. Dragons: feel free to gloat and look down on the common tourists.
Wat Jet Yod, Chiang Mai
Year of the Snake
This one comes with caveats. The Year of the Snake pilgrimage is really supposed to be at the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, but that’s a long and expensive trip. With that in mind, most people under this zodiac sign visit Chiang Mai city’s Wat Jet Yod, because the resident bodhi tree, like the one in India, is believed to be a direct descendent of the one the Buddha sat under when he reached Enlightenment.
Wat Phra Borom That, Tak
Year of the Horse
This is another substitute temple. The official Year of the Horse temple is the Schwedagon Pagoda in Rangon, Myanmar. If a journey to Myanmar is out of the question, Tak’s scaled-down doppelganger of the Burmese icon is an official substitute. The onsite pagoda was built to honor an ancient king who defeated a local chieftain in hand-to-hand combat – wait for it – on elephant back.
Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai
Year of the Ram
If you move to Chiang Mai, expect to learn how to answer the question: “Have you been to Doi Suthep Temple yet?” Seriously, if you’re in Chiang Mai, you have to see the most famous temple in Northern Thailand. Thai people practically insist on it. If you were born in the Year of the Ram, all the better.
Phra That Phanom, Nakon Phanom
Year of the Monkey
Monkeys are clever, charismatic and good-looking. This temple was built by a Laotian king. Its unusual spire-shaped chedi was built with 16 kg of pure gold and is said to contain a fragment of the Buddha’s breastbone.
Phra That Hariphunchai, Lamphun
Year of the Rooster
Named for the ancient Hariphunchai Kingdom that once ruled here, this temple is unusually grandiose for the sleepy town of Lamphun. It’s about an hour’s drive from most Chiang Mai hotels.
Wat Ketkaram, Chiang Mai
Year of the Dog
This temple complex is set back from the Ping River, a couple of minutes’ walk from Chiang Mai’s swankiest riverside entertainment district. See the temple in the afternoon, then cross the street and grab a table for an evening at Riverside or Good View restaurants.
Phra That Doi Tung
Year of the Pig
In Northern Thailand, some people substitute the Elephant for the Pig. It’s a grandiose substitution, but it befits this temple. Tucked into the mountains of Chiang Rai province near accommodation in Chiang Saen town, this temple is magnificent. Construction began in the 10th century, and devotees show en masse. Come early if you plan on parking a hire car.
Phra That Doi Chom Thong, Chiang Mai
Year of the Rat
Tourists who have booked accommodation in Chiang Rai often organize daytrips to Thailand’s tallest peak, Doi Inthanon, and the little town of Chom Thong is on the way. For temple buffs en route to the mountain, the fifteenth-century chedi is worth an hour's diversion in and of itself. But for anyone born in the year of the rat – well, you’d really have to be over temples to give this a pass. We’re talking long life and prosperity, here.
Phra That Lampang Luang, Lampang
Year of the Ox
Even if you're a one-temple kind of person, you'll probably agree that there’s not a wooden temple in Thailand to compete with this one in Lampang. The deal is sweetened with an emerald Buddha image and a walk-in camera obscura.
Phra That Cho Hae, Phrae
Year of the Tiger
Phrae’s headlining temple was built in the twelfth century when Sukhothai was capital. Beyond attracting Tigers on pilgrimage, this temple also has a following of couples trying to conceive. If this were a Year of the Rabbit temple, you could expect a witty remark here.
Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan
Year of the Rabbit
Nan Province’s holiest site owns a hilltop, faces west and looks spectacular at sunset. Nan has managed to stay off the radar for most tourists, and though the local expat community likes it that way, it's too pretty to leave off the itinerary – especially for those curious rabbits.