Wat Thaton is a sprawling Buddha temple complex located amid forested hills just a few kilometers from Thailand’s border with Myanmar. The hillside complex sits overlooking the village of Ban Thaton and the Mae Kok River and is built over nine levels, offering some stunning views over the beautiful rural setting. The site houses a school for monks, as well as a drug rehabilitation programme and a hill tribe support unit.
Each station within the temple complex has its own Buddha images and stupas, plus views either north towards Myanmar or east across Thaton. Level one features a statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, while level three features a laughing Chinese Buddha and a white seated Buddha. Level four has a center for teaching vipassana meditation with a huge seated Buddha image and a seven-headed serpent on its roof. Level eight boasts the colorful and richly decorated Chedi Kaew, or Crystal pagoda, which is visible from miles around, and there's a supersized golden standing Buddha with a begging bowl on level nine.
Wat Thaton can be explored as part of a full-day excursion from Chiang Mai that also includes a visit to a hill tribe village and a river cruise along the Mae Kok River.
The journey to Wat Thaton from Chiang Mai takes around three to four hours. The site is spread out over 160 acres, which is extensive if you want to explore it all, so don’t forget to take some comfortable walking shoes.
Did You Know? If arriving from Chiang Rai, you can take the boat upriver to Thaton. It can take around five hours (timings vary based on the season and condition of the boat), but it’s a scenic way to make the trip.