Krabi Day Trip: Bang Rieng Temple and Than Bok Koranee Park

Bang a drum for Bang Rieng … I remembered reading an account of someone’s trip to a beautiful temple called Bang Rieng on a mountaintop somewhere in southern Thailand while I was in Bali. Casually picking up one of the many tourist brochures available outside the restaurants here, my eyeball happened to fall upon a picture of the “Royal Temple” – lo and behold – Bang Rieng! Once more Ty and I were off in the rented wheels into the heart of temple-country, the mountains of Krabi and Khao Lak.

Bang Rieng is located about an hour and a half’s driving north of Ao Nang along the road to Phuket. It sits atop Khao Lan or One Million Mountain, overlooking the Thaput countryside. The traffic wasn’t too bad as we set out and we made good time until the turnoff inland, whereupon we had to slow down a bit for the winding secondary road and to spot the entrance to Bang Rieng. After asking for directions a couple of times, we found the very steep winding road up the mountain to the hilltop temple. Aside from one bus, our car was the only one in the parking lot. Luckily for us, this temple is little-visited, possibly because it’s a bit of a drive from the coast, but is the trip ever worthwhile; the temple and grounds are spectacular, as is the view from the top. The hills and tended fields spread out in a vast panorama below the temple precincts, looking very much like central Italy (if you ignore the palm trees).

Guarding the entrance staircase to the main temple are two gigantic five-headed dragons with enormously long tails snaking up the railings to the top.

The main temple itself, with its bell-shaped pagoda, is guarded by an eagle-eyed yellow-robed monk who surveys the oncoming pilgrims for dress violations. Spotting the tank-tops incompletely hidden by the sarongs draped over our shoulders, he insisted that we wear white shirts over these offending garments, for which a small donation was required – we were happy to oblige.

Inside the octagonal main building, a row of golden buddhas ring the walls, while golden guardian figures seem to hold up the central pagoda.

Red, gold, white and blue are the dominant colours of the decoration here, with warriors upon warriors, and buddhas within buddhas, interspersed with the odd lion and elephant or two, covering almost all surfaces.

Inside the pagoda are beautiful shrines, with tiny golden Buddhas and Bodhisatvas adorning altars placed at three of the four cardinal directions.

The bell-shaped pagoda, called Chedi Phutthathambanlue, houses relics of the Buddha.

The surroundings grounds are beautifully manicured and adorned with many colours of bougainvillea flowers.

From the viewing pavillion outside, we could see the gigantic statues of the female bodhisattva Kuan Yi, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, and a seated Buddha, also part of this temple complex, on the hills beyond.

The seated Buddha is protected by the shroud of the seven-headed dragon Naga.

Looking from the viewing pavillion we could see a long stone staircase stretching down to the Goddess; naturally, we had to follow where it led.

Tiled pavillions on either side of a central reflecting pond create a serene area from which we could admire the landscape and the Goddess.

On the base of the Goddess sculpture is another smaller Goddess figure, a miniature of the giant above. And on the base of this figure is yet a smaller figure, this one with a gigantic braid of hair, or snake’s tail, emerging from the back of its head. I’m not sure who this figure is – we saw several versions of it here – if anyone reading this knows, please tell me!

From the Goddess statue, we could see the main temple and pagoda on the hill from which we’d come.

Around behind the Goddess, we found the driveway up to the gigantic seated Buddha, the roadway guarded by a series of golden lions.

Around the base of the seated  Buddhas are many white elephants and – yes, smaller buddhas within buddhas.

Here is another version of the goddess with gigantic braid, this one found on the back side of the seated Buddha’s base.

With my telephoto lens, I took some close-up pictures of the sculptures: the giant Buddha,

the heads upon heads of the warrior guardians,

Ty and the lion figures,

the face of the Goddess of Compassion (with enormous earlobes like Buddha’s),

the dragons at the base of the Goddess,

the pagoda, with tiny buddhas upon buddhas,

and the temple roof decorations.

After a few hours of filling our eyes with splendour, we headed back towards Ao Nang, with a stop at the Than Bok Koranee National Marine Park.

Than Bok Koranee is an area of limestone mountains, steams, caves, and tropical rain forest formerly the territory of wild elephants until – surprise – people moved in and cleared the land for agriculture. In this area there are many caves, quite a few with prehistoric hand drawings and paintings, in this case of human and animal activities. There is no evidence that humans ever lived in the caves; rather they used them for religious ceremonies.

We strolled through the park and watched local kids swimming for a bit, had a beer at the outdoor restaurant, and were back at the ranch and in the pool before expiring from the late afternoon heat.

While I was not able to find much information about Wat Bang Rieng online, a few more details about the temple can be found here.

See more pictures here.

Update Dec 10: I showed one of the women at the hotel the photo I’d taken of the golden goddess with long braid and she told me her name; it is Phra Mae Thoranee (or Torani), the Buddhist Earth Goddess. Here’s her story (from Wikipedia):

Images of Phra Mae Thorani are common in shrines and Buddhist temples of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. According to Buddhist myths Phra Mae Thorani is personified as a young woman wringing the cool waters of detachment out of her hair, to drown Mara, the demon sent to tempt the Buddha as he meditated under the bodhi tree.

In temple murals Phra Mae Thorani is often depicted with the Buddha in the posture of Calling the earth to witness. The waters flowing forth from her long hair wash away the armies of Mara and symbolize the water of the bodhisattva‘s perfection of generosity (dana parami).

The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.