Wat Ban Pong | The White Pagoda on the Mountain

We are one day from a harder lockdown again. The kids are back at online studies. Everything is screen-based, and basically, all sport-venues are closed. Then I realised how we could break the monotony of the house walls and get out while still keeping a distance from people. Last year I took a bike ride to Wat Ban Pong. Now, remembering the stairs of 900 steps or so up to the White Pagoda. This area is open but still under construction. So off we went!

We were driving the short ride up towards Samoeng. It turned out to be better than expected; Chiang Mais cloud bank delivered dramatic cloud porn that no other place can compare with. The tropical green hills resplendent after large amounts of rain, and in the landscape dots of purple Pride of India trees and Golden Shower trees. We parked at the base of the hilltop where the actual temple is located, we noticed some novice monks diligently cleaning the temple grounds, and an announcement echoed through the area. The monks informed the villagers about our present covid situation and that elder person had to be careful not to get the virus. Chiang Mai is a red zone now and all that.

Not wearing a mask outside could render a fine of 20,000 baht. We quickly walked through the actual temple, which is also a meditation retreat. The grounds are unspoiled and untouched from tourism. I have a strong sense that when the stunning white pagoda is completed, this will be at least as famous as the Wat Doi Kham temple in Chiang Mai.

The History of the Ban Pong temple

Ban Pong translates as ” water’s edge”, maybe a bit like a swamp in the local dialect. Royally ordained in 1958, the official name is Wat Aranyawat – the temple in the forest. It is just by the Tha Chang River and with hills surrounding it. A legend mentions a northern lord hunting a golden deer through the area, and this was a place of rest. Another story talks about Ban Pong as a village where you stopped to let your horse rest on a journey.

Frescos and the use of indigo in them is proof of wealth in this temple, and despite it being a temple in the countryside, the temple must have had some significance. Indigo in the old days was expensive and an import from China. There might have been a case that merchants donated and patronised the temple since local villagers wouldn’t have had those amount of money themselves. All the main old parts of the temple were brought down, but beautiful new ones are being built in the classic Lanna style.

Initially built in 1843, Wat Ban Pong and the pagoda are experiencing a natural uplift, and a lot of money is currently donated to the temple.

Wat Ban Pong
Traditional but newly built hall. Seems to be a small Viharn.
Buddha outside Wat Ban Pong
Seen outside the temple
Some hmm lectures and moral teachings on the way up. This was a rather unique one.
The staircase to Wat Pan Pong
I didn’t count, but there are a lot of steps. Someone said 900—tiny steps and so far no Naga staircase. There is a meditation centre on the way. And the last part nearest the pagoda, there is construction going on—a lot of rubble.
The stair up
Golden colored Buddha welcoming you.
Wat Pan Pong on the hill
The contrasts of white and gold are really wondrous, especially with the background setting of dramatic clouds and lush hills.
Wat Pan Pong, White Chedi
The view when you arrive and look up to the pagoda. The sound of temple bells ringing and the small talk of workers enjoying their sticky rice.
Wat Ban Pong, white Pagoda
Last sun rays of the day. The view from the road. The pagoda is lit up in the evening.

I think we will hear more about this place in the future. For now, it is still a pretty well-kept secret here. It was not that long ago when I rode my bike up to Wat Doi Kham. But now, it is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai. The belief is that you can get lucky in business by donating there or getting a job. But here is still just tranquil anyway, just the sound of the workers chatting and having their sticky rice, and the occasional visitors are ringing the bells—the sound of a broom raking. And I must mention, there’s a road up. You don’t have to walk the stairs.

A link to Google Wat Ban Pong on Google Maps here.

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