If you’re a fan of traipsing around temples day in and day out, then Thailand is definitely the travel destination for you. I, however, am not. I can appreciate that many of the Thai temples are very beautiful, but for the most part, I’d sooner be having a glass of Chang beer and watching the world go by. But then of course, if you don’t do the whole temple thing in Thailand, you can feel like you are missing out on something. So today, I dutifully did my trek around some of Chiang Mai temples, and I completely fell in love with Wat Chedi Luang.
Wat Chedi Luang is a right old one. Building work first started on the temple in the 14th century, but work on the temple was not completed until the middle of the 15th century – quite the building project. At 82 metres in height and 54 metres in width at its base, Wat Chedi Luang was at this point the largest building in all of Lanna. And the building was of such importance that it held the Emerald Buddha for eighty years, which is now sitting pretty within the Grand Palace in Bangkok. In 1545, an earthquake badly damaged the temple and as you walk around the main pagoda you will be able to see the crumbling façade from the top, and the stone elephants on the side that have fallen by the wayside. In the 1990s reconstruction work began to restore the temple, but it is now only around 60 metres in height, not quite the grand height it once was. It is still a very impressive sight and I found the sheer scale of it quite breath taking.
What makes this temple really stand out from the crowd, is that they positively encourage visitors to chat with the monks. The ‘Monk Chat’ area is just to the right of the temple as you walk through the entrance gates, and as soon as you show your face you will enthusiastically be guided to a table where you can chat with monks that are practicing in Chiang Mai. This serves the dual purpose of visitors being able to find out more about the monastic life in Thailand, and it allows the monks to practice their English speaking skills, which they are very keen to do.
I was sat with a group of three young monks, all in their twenties. My first impression of them was that they weren’t nearly as pious as I thought they would be, and in fact, talking with the monks was much like talking to anyone else in their twenties. All of them had been monks for a few years, so they had managed to overcome the hurdles and challenges of monastic life and were now enjoying their lives as monks. They had got used to the early 4.30am wake-up calls, the eating before noon only, and the lack of contact with women. To my surprise, they told me that they would sometimes spend their free time watching television and listening to music, which I had assumed was a luxury that monks wouldn’t be allowed to indulge in.
Monks chatting with visitors to the temple.
The one thing I really wanted to ask them, was that considering that they only eat before noon and their exercise consists of a jog around the temple grounds, how do they have such impressive arms? Their arms were bulging out of their orange robes, f’real. Perhaps I’ll pluck up the courage to ask them next time.
If you could ask a Thai Buddhist monk one question, what would it be?