The Bizarre Temples of Phayao

Wat Sri Khom Kham, Phayao

We stayed in Phayao for one night on our Northern Thailand road trip and aside from staring at the scenic lake and watching a strange aerobics class dance around a giant statue of a snake, there wasn’t too much to do there.

Not that I actually wanted to do anything after having been sat on the back of the bike for ten hours that day.

Except drink beer.

We did that really well. 

However, the next morning Stuart insisted that we visited two temples before moving onto Phu Lang Ka. He promised us an unpredictable morning of terror and hilarity. My perfect combination.

The heaven and hell garden of Wat Sri Khom Kham was the perfect way to start the day.

Designed to showcase what heaven and hell might look like, the images of hell were particularly amusing/terrifying. It features graphic depictions of what may happen if you lie or have an abortion, among many other sins I couldn’t work out… I’m also not sure why there is a dinosaur at the entrance.

Wat Sri Khom Kham
Wat Sri Khom Kham in Nan, Thailand
Wat Sri Khom Kham, Phayao
Wat Sri Khom Kham
Wat Sri Khom Kham, Phayao

The second temple we visited was the less scary and more beautiful Wat Analayo.

Wat Analayo

Up until this point, our road trip had required close to zero physical exertion. The only real strain had been carrying my backpack for the hours spent sat on the bike and I had found a way around this very early on in the trip. By squishing myself further forward on the bike and lengthening the straps of my backpack, I was able to rest it quite easily on the back of the seat and take all the weight off me.

When I saw the enormous amount of steps leading up to the Wat Analayo complex, I realised that this was all about to change.

Stuart hadn’t told us that the temple was at the top of a large hill.

He obviously didn’t know about my condition. He hadn’t heard about my physical problem. If he had known then he surely wouldn’t have suggested coming here. 

Having to make a snap decision, I decided to keep quiet. Maybe they wouldn’t notice. Perhaps my condition has improved without me knowing.

It was going to be fine.  

You see, the problem is…

I am severely unfit. 

After twenty steps my secret was revealed. As I watched Stuart and Dave bound up the steps with all the agility and grace of a butterfly, I stumbled in a vaguely upwards direction looking like a frog in a sock.

This was embarrassing.

Still, I persevered. Ignoring the sniggers and whispers in front of me, I gritted my teeth and slowly dragged my aching body to the top of the hill.

Wat Analayo details

Struggling to catch my breath, it took a few moments before I noticed the bizarre structures surrounding me. From creepy babies crawling over water fountains to enormous lumps of rock looming up towards the sky, this temple was definitely unique.

My fatigue faded momentarily as I walked from statue to statue, taking great delight in the randomness that increased with every step. The temple complex has been added to over time and this has resulted in a haphazard array of ancient and modern architecture that I adored.

Wat Analayo fountain
Wat Analayo
Wat Analayo buddha
Wat Analayo White Buddha
Wat Analayo temple
Wat Analayo views

The climb to the top of the temple and the subsequent hour’s exploration had left me drained and dehydrated. As we approached the end of our adventure, I knew the descent was going to test me more than any other challenge I’d undertaken.

Summoning the last of my remaining energy, I slowly and carefully made my way back down the steps. As I took my final step down to the ground, I collapsed to my knees in a mixture of relief and exhaustion. I was convinced I was having a heart attack and as I lay on the ground, clutching at my chest and panting in the fetal position, Dave screeched up next to me on the bike.

As I slowly raised my eyes to meet his, I fought to hold back the tears and silently cursed myself when I failed to stifle the sob in my throat. Emotions showed weakness and now was not the time to be weak.

It was time to go to Phu Lang Ka. 

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. Katja
    April 8, 2012

    Oh my god! I suffer from *exactly* the same condition as you do. What are the chances? I’ve found that the best way to deal with it is to sit on the beach and eat gelato (or, in the winter, in a cafe drinking coffee), while watching other people doing that exercise thing. It’s safer that way, I think.

    • April 11, 2012

      Hahahaha! Great advice, Katja. And if none of those options are available then can I suggest taking an afternoon nap? :)

  2. April 8, 2012

    Sounds like quite a random day! I’m still perplexed about the dinosaur in Hell…

  3. Audrey | That Backpacker
    April 9, 2012

    The babies crawling out of that fountain look super creepy! What a random place!

    • April 11, 2012

      Random is a very accurate description, Audrey! :)

  4. John
    April 10, 2012

    Bizarre yet beautiful…

  5. Arianwen
    April 11, 2012

    Totally bizarre. I love it! And nice work tackling those steps. I feel your pain. Doesn’t matter how fit I am on flat ground, I can never handle an incline!

  6. Brimshack
    April 16, 2012

    Gorgeous temples. It’s not every day that one can visit Heaven and hell.

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