Wat a Day
Chiang Mai is known as the “City of Temples” with over 300 Wats, many of these within the 600-year-old moat surrounding the ancient city. This is where we spent our time today.
After a slow start, we ticked off another of Gemma’s vegan restaurants, Reform Kafe, for brunch. This was our favourite, with a nice relaxing ambience sitting under the canopy of trees, friendly, smiling service and the Pad Thai was delicious. As we sat there a van pulled up to deliver crates of fresh, vibrant vegetables, ready for the kitchen; all high quality.
We aimed to see Wat Chedi Luang. Tim led the way down quaint narrow streets some with street art. There seems to be a wat on every corner. We came across Wat Thung Yu, which looked new, so I was surprised to discover it was over 500 years old.
Steps flanked by two well-maintained dragon-like creatures led up to the main viharn, with its three-tiered, gilt-edged roof. Inside was rather opulent, with murals around the walls and intricately carved window shutters. A large golden Buddha was surrounded by unusual crystal Buddhas in different colours, resembling the famous Emerald Buddha, with one larger one covered on a striking gold cape.
We continued our journey through backstreets and alleyways, finally coming to the rear entrance of the Wat Chedi Luang complex.
I was a bit concerned about my attire. Was it suitable for the temples? Luckily yes. My shorts reached my knees, but if I had my thinking cap on, I would have worn trousers or a sarong. Also, rather than wear our cumbersome trainers, flip-flops would have been easier to take off when entering Temples.
The construction for Wat Chedi Luang began in 1391 by King SaenMuangMa to hold his father’s ashes. It wasn’t completed until 1475 with King Tilokarat enlarging the building, making this the tallest structure in the region. Sadly, just 70 years later, a severe earthquake caused the top 30m of the Chedi to tumble. Restoration work has taken place, including some of the elephants that protrude from the temple, but not the missing spire, no-one can agree what it looked like.
One of the reasons that this Wat is so famous is because until the earthquake it housed the revered Emerald Buddha, now in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. In 1991, a copy was made and placed back in the reconstructed eastern niche for a triple celebration: Chang Mai’s 700th anniversary, Wat Chedi Luang’s 600th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the King’s accession to the throne (mmm, my maths doesn’t add up, surely it was his 46th year).
In front of the Wat was a large wooden pavilion, built in 1955. We were greeted by a wonderfully huge “Fat Buddha” smiling down at us with his round belly believed to hold wisdom. Next to him was a few other painted Buddhas and at the other end of the pavilion was the 8.70 m long Reclining Buddha, made over 500 years ago.
Around the complex were a few viharns, all beautiful, some covered with mosaics and intricately carved panels and statues. I loved the 10 ton Phra Buddhamani-Srilanna Buddha image, made in the Singsuang style looking stunning against the exquisitely patterned walls. Some viharns had wax figures of past venerable monks which I found a bit spooky. They were so lifelike.
When we entered the complex, the ticket collector suggested that we visited the museum here. It had started to drizzle, so a good time to visit. Inside were a few artefacts from the chedi, including a large wooden elephant carving and hair curls of stucco Buddha images. Upstairs was a display of old scripture boxes where the Buddhist literature inscribed on treated palm leaves are kept.
It was drinks time, and we had spied a café in the complex. As we sauntered towards it, we bumped into the lovely Irish family we met the previous day. It was Eimear’s birthday! Happy Birthday Eimear, such a charming young lady. We chatted for a short while and then went for our much-needed break.
There was still more to see here, next was the Phra Viharn Luan rebuilt several times, the latest in 1929. The entrance was guarded with two gold naras inlaid with coloured glass, and inside, this felt different from the other Viharns; used more as a place of worship rather than a place for tourists. I loved the black and gold columns but thought that the large chandeliers seemed at odds with the style.
The main focus was the alter with a 9m high standing bronze Buddha called Phra Chat Attarat (the Eighteen-cubit Buddha) flanked by his two eminent disciples: Moggallana and Sariputta.
The last place here to visit was the Chiang Mai city pillar, well, I wasn’t allowed to visit. A sign read “Women are prohibited to enter because they menstruate.” (Depends on their age!) “It is believed that it humiliates and ruins the sanctity of the city pillar.”, less said!
The door was wide open so us unclean women were able to look inside. Tim informed me that the room was very colourful with murals on the wall and a standing Buddha in the centre.
We left the complex and our next Wat was Phantoo, said to be “the most beautiful teak viharn in Chiang Mai.” Except it was closed and under a cover. We walked around the small grounds watching young Buddhist monks putting lights up, probably preparing for New Year. It is also home to a Buddhist teaching school. There was a pond in front of a large Bodhi tree decorated with colourful lanterns protecting a small Buddha image sitting on a rock and on our right was a golden clad chedi. I have read that this used to be dark stone, what a transformation!
Our last Wat of the day was Phra Singh. What! More Wats?
This is the largest temple in Chiang Mai city, which was built in 1345. Sadly, again, the main viharn was closed for restoration but there was plenty to see. We wandered down a path lined with stalls, with me trying to entice Tim to buy some elephant trousers. None were the right colour, style, material, or pattern.
To our right was another golden chedi, built the same time as the main temple. This one also had elephants protruding out similar to Wat Chedi Luang.
We entered one of the large viharns, with ten waxed models of past monks. I like to imagine their characters from their facial expression and stance; some look peaceful, some fed up and some bemused. I wonder what they were really like. On the side was gilded sculptures of monks; it amused me that glasses had been added for a more realistic look.
Our final viharn had old murals on the walls from the 1820s and lacquer and gilt panels, pillars and window shutters. But what we were fascinated to watch was a Buddhist Monk, sitting in a corner with people kneeling in front of him. He would tie a band around their wrist, wave a wet brush over their heads and give them a blessing. Sometimes, as they approached him, he would hide his face and spit something in a large jar.
We decided to approach him, paid an optional donation and received our blessing and bracelet. Afterwards, Tim asked permission for a photo. The monk was so gracious, beckoning me to sit next to him for our snapshot. Tim then asked what he was eating, we couldn’t quite hear, but he seemed very friendly and pleased that we chatted with him.
Phew, Wat a day!
Our day continued into the evening with Tim eating the Chiang Mai noodle dish Khao Soi, on to the hardest massage we have ever had from the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners and then onto the popular North Gate Jazz Bar, listening to some great jazz. We chatted to a delightful Brazilian lady, Vera. She was here on holiday with six of her family. She told us that they had flown from Australia, but all had to pay for new flights as one of them thought the original flight was at 10:30 pm, it was, in fact, 10:30 am, so they all missed it! OMG!