There are said to be over 300 wats in the Thai city of Chiang Mai and during our three-night stay, we visited three of them.
Wat Umong, located on the west side of Chiang Mai at the bottom of the Doi Pui mountain, is the city’s only forest temple. Here the monks wear aubergine coloured robes rather than the traditional saffron. The chedi was surrounded by greenery and was very simple although it had gold material wrapped around it. We then went into the labyrinth of meditation tunnels where alcoves which had traditionally held candles, now contained various Buddha images. We had to be careful of our heads as the arched ceiling was quite low. The roof had been traditionally decorated with red, green and gold, but little remained. However, back outside there was a model of how it would have looked 500 years ago and it was clear to see it would have been impressive. There was also a tall Asoke Pillar. This was a replica of the pillars set up by King Asoke the Great of India in 327 BC. He was a great upholder of the Buddhist faith and the pillar is a reminder of the far-reaching influence of his faith and symbolic of the true faith of Buddhism. We wandered down to the large pool where people were feeding the catfish as this is supposed to give you merit but many of them also fed the huge amount of pigeons despite signs asking you not to. On our way out we saw stone monkeys in the traditional hear, see and speak no evil positions. A fourth had has hand on his head which are guide said meant he had a headache!
Wat Phra Singa Woramahawiharn
This is a royal temple and the second most venerated wat in Chiang Mai. Of all the wats we’d visited during our tour of Thailand, this was the first to charge foreigners to enter, although at 50p it was cheap. It was a large open wat with tung hanging down, a row of very realistic waxwork monks, and lots of visiting real monks. Three plastic monk figures, around three-foot tall, were wired for something and so I put a 10 Bhat coin into the slot to see what happened to find it briefly and disappointingly flashed twice.
Wat Chedi Luang
Once again, we had to pay to enter, and having bought the ticket (£1 this time), it was clipped about 10 yards further on, by a young girl who looked me up and down to ensure I wasn’t wearing any of the banned items of clothing. Later on, I saw a Thai girl with stilettos and a huge slit up her thigh and wondered how she’d managed to pass muster. This was the most ornate of the temples. In the open courtyard area, there was a large tree and Roy was allowed to enter the men-only Inthakin Pillar Vihara temple. Because women menstruate, they are thought to ‘humiliate and ruin the sanctity of the place’. Women and inappropriately dressed men who disobey this, will ‘cause social instability’. The main area was open with tall pillars and covered in black and gold ornate motifs and many Buddha images on the stage area. At the back of the Wat was a derelict four-sided, red brick chedi which had the bodies of stone elephants protruding from the walls. There were a couple of other smaller temples, (one which contained a reclining Buddha) and as this was also the Mahamakut Buddhist University – Lanna Campus, you could sit and have a chat with a monk.
Having visited so many other temples and wats across northern Thailand these three were, we felt, a good cross-section.