With its street artists and myriad classic and contemporary galleries, Chiang Mai can be an art lover’s paradise. You can lose hours or even days gallery-hopping and exploring the meaning in different works of art, whether paintings, carvings or sculptures. There is no end to the talents of the Thai people, who call on deep cultural beliefs for much of the inspiration behind the pieces on display. But, not all art is displayed in mainstream galleries, and some of the most memorable works are found in hidden gems like Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya.
Tucked away off Suthep Alley, Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya is an easy 30-minute walk from the Aleenta Retreat. While the art is the primary focus here, the gallery has temple-like qualities that also warrant exploring and will appeal to cultural enthusiasts. This hidden gem is unpretentious yet full of promise, and once you navigate the lanes to the entrance, its subtle pull will be undeniable.
The Art Gallery
You won’t find art in just one section of Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya. The gallery consumes the whole property, and pieces are scattered in all corners and adorning many walls with displays of various styles and topics covering predominantly Buddhist, Hindu and Thai aspects.
Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya is a working gallery. There are more than 50 artworks to view here, and on any given day, you will come across several artists working on their latest pieces to add to the cultural blend. The owner is often in attendance and is always willing to share his knowledge and insights with interested visitors.
The wooden front gate sets the cultural tone of Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya with its ornate carvings and colourful gilding that describe some Hindu mythology through imagery. The entrance has three panels, with the centre panel being the focus. Not only is this the most decorated of the trio, but you can also read the owner’s mission statement for Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya, which is carved in six languages around the frame of the panel.
A stand-out feature at Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya is a large wooden carving of Ganesh, the Hindu god known as the Remover of Obstacles. He is depicted as an elephant head on a human body and is one of the most worshipped gods in the Hindu religion. The carving at Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya is one of the largest in Thailand and stands at 6 metres high, over 2.5 metres in width and weighs in at a whopping 5 tons!
One of the structures housing the temple-like museum/gallery is constructed almost wholly out of teak. This is a work of art worth viewing, as it is in the Lanna style typical of the Chiang Mai region. The interior is a beautiful blend of completed murals, paintings and statues, and other artwork still in progress. It’s awe-inspiring to see the care with which these art pieces are created and the meaning that goes into each brush stroke.
And When You’re Finished…
Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya sits on the outskirts of the renowned Doi Suthep National Park, giving you city vibes on one side and the great wide outdoors on the other. Depending on your preference, there are several things that you are well-positioned to see after a visit to this unique gallery.
The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders will spark the curiosity of those with a penchant towards the unique. This exciting museum houses examples of over 10,000 species of insects from all corners of the world. It is a private collection belonging to Dr Rampa Rattanarithikul and her husband Manop, who are experts in mosquito research and Malaria. Although the focus of most of the exhibits at the museum is insects, you can also view fossilised plants; animal remains from ancient times and collectable stones.
If you crave a more outdoor experience, you may wish to take a hike…literally! The start of the Monk’s Trail, or Wat Pha Lat hike, lies a mere 5-minute drive away and is a popular choice for anyone wishing to experience the natural beauty of the landscape around Chiang Mai. The trail follows the age-old route that monks took between Wat Pha Lat and the city, and while the hike itself is a couple of hours out and back, you will undoubtedly want to stop to view the beautiful forest temple of Wat Pha Lat before heading back down the trail.
The trail doesn’t require any specific hiking skills – remember, monks did this in robes and sandals or barefoot – but can be tricky in parts as it follows an upward trajectory over stones, tree roots and other natural hazards. It’s somewhat demarcated by strips of orange fabric from monks’ robes tied around trees, but many have disappeared over the years. The trail is still easy to follow thanks to the many feet that have worn a natural path through the forest.
Although the trail doesn’t take very long, it’s worth allowing yourself some time at the end for a wander around Wat Pha Lat. The beauty of this temple stands apart from those that are more city-based. Over the years, its proximity to nature has integrated it into its natural surroundings by intertwining branches and roots with manmade structures. Wat Pha Lat maintains an air of authenticity even without the elaborate decoration you’ll see at other temples, yet it is no less impressive in its splendour.
In conclusion, whether you are drawn to the mix of art in vibrant, natural surroundings or the shrine-like rustic temple, Roi Dvarapala Ban Devalaya will not disappoint, nor will any of the other attractions you choose to visit while in the area.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
- Baan Kang Wat Artists Village
- Seven Chiang Mai Temples Worth A Visit
- Bhubing Palace
- Wang Bua Ban Pha Ngoep and Surrounds