Edit Blog Post
Published: November 10th 2009
Nagas staircase at Doi Suthep.
Today we visited the most famous wat in northern Thailand.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep sits up on a mountain (Doi Suthep) in a national park (Doi Suthep-Poi). People come from all over Thailand to worship here for two reasons:
- First is the chedi. As we now know, the chedi houses a piece of a bone from the Buddha. This bone sits in the very top of a very tall gold spire on top of the impressive gold chedi.
- Second, the origin of the Wat is a very interesting story. Back in 1385, the King of northern Thailand (an area then called "Lanna") had this bone and wasn't sure what to do with it. The King decided to put the bone fragment (among other things) on the back of a sacred white elephant. The idea was that the elephant would wander with the relic on its back and wherever the elephant stopped walking the King would build a wat and a chedi to house the relic. The elephant made it halfway up Doi Suthep and died, and that is where the wat and chedi were built.
Not surprisingly, our guide and driver stuggled to find our B&B
Close up of the Nagas - multiple dragons emerging from the mouth of a giant snake.
and arrived 30 minutes late (they did try to call but only got a busy signal). Pang, our guide, speaks absolutely excellent English and we like him immediately. After about 30 minutes of driving up Doi Suthep, we park and walk up 306 steps, lined on either side with bannisters with a ferocious snakes/dragons (Naga) on them. The buildings that make up the Wat at the top of the stairs are just stunning - ornate carvings, gold plate, lots of beautiful murals, etc. Pang gave us a very interesting tour of the Wat and did a great job of explaining the significance of the various buildings and structures. During our tour we were blessed by a monk who sprinkled holy water on us and tied a white string bracelet on Adrian's wrist (women aren't considered as important as men in this Buddhist tradition and so Angelique missed out on the adornment).
Here's a tip, an official list of Do's and Don'ts for visiting a wat in Thailand (taken from this wat's brochure):
- Dress politely, do not wear shorts
- Show respect in the temple and shrine
- Take off your shoes before entering the platform around the
Wonderful ornate details at Doi Suthep.
- Keep your head lower than the Buddha images and monks
- Don't touch the Buddha images
- Don't display affection for another person in public
- Always keep clean
One interesting aspect of the Lanna style Buddhas is that they're mostly fat and happy looking.
Further up Doi Suthep mountain is the King of Thailand's winter palace (Bhubing Palace). We were able to stroll through the grounds but were not allowed to enter any of the buildings. The King and Queen used to spend their winters here but now the King prefers to hang out at the beach (he's 82 and in poor health - who can blame him?).
The highlight of this tour was learning about the Thai monarchy. The current king is the 9th in this latest succession of kings (starting with Rama I, the king who moved the capital to Bangkok, where it is today, back in the late 1700s). This king,Rama IX, has been on the throne for 46 years - the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. He has four kids - three daughters and a son (next in line for the throne). There's a bit of drama surrounding the
Monks circling the chedi at Doi Suthep.
son (in his 50s now) because evidently he is a bit of a playboy and the Thai people don't care for him (our guide looked around a bit before telling us this in low tones). The current King spent some time in Switzerland growing up (the buildings at Bhubing resemble a Swiss chalet is some ways) and also studied public health at Harvard. The King loves cars but got into a car accident in Switzerland and lost an eye (he has a glass eye now).
After the palace, we drove down the hill and through the Chiang Mai University campus. It's a large leafy campus with the ubiquitious conrete bunker-type buildings that we've seen all over the tropics. They're ugly and look very Soviet-era but we're guessing they're just the most practical type of construction for a tropical environment. Still, the campus was bustling and had a great energy to it. Lots of young Thais riding around on their scooters.
The final stop on our tour was Wat U Mong. Wat U Mong is different from the rest of the Wats in that it is a forest wat and feels very secluded, despite being only a mile or
The gold chedi is being repaired so we bought some postcards so we could see what it looks like without scaffolding.
so from the university. Meditation retreats are held here and people come from all over the world to participate. There were lots of monks around and several small temples, including one underground in a series of tunnels (with bats!). Pang, who had been a monk many years ago, mused that it would be tough to be posted at Wat U Mong because the many mosquitoes would make meditation difficult.
Our tour ended around 1pm and we were dropped off in a very cool artsy neighborhood near the university with lots of cafes, shops, etc. We grabbed lunch (we tried lemongrass juice, which is quite good and much sweeter than you'd think) and then explored a bit. Pang had told us that the people in Chiang Mai actually think well of Starbucks because of their fair trade policies. Basically Starbucks and other European coffee shops in town give the farmers in Northern Thailand a profitable alternative to growing opium. Since Starbuck's is helping farmers in Northern Thailand we felt ok about purchasing two frappuccinos on our way back to the old city.
Once back in the old city, Angelique went to the women's prison for a great foot massage.
Orchids grow like weeds in Thailand.
These ladies are taught one of several trades while in prison and earn money during the last year of their imprisonment which they can later take with them when they leave. The massage room was pretty bare bones - a line of comfy chairs for the foot massages (about $4/hour) and a line of mats for the Thai massages. Angelique was really glad she opted for the foot massage once she saw what a Thai massage entails. You change into a set of pajama-type clothes, lie on the mat, and are twisted into all kinds of contorted positions by your torturer, um, masseuse. There was an older couple lying down near Angelique's chair who winced in pain the entire time during their Thai massages. Thai massage is not for the weak. The foot massage was a fun experience (if slightly painful - lots of work on pressure points and a few rounds of slapping the feet/legs, supposedly to improve circulation). The ladies there talked and laughed and gossiped constantly.
The Loi Krathong festival was winding down but there was still a lot going on in the old city - decorations, a few floats on the streets and in the
Giant bamboo in the gardens at the winter palace.
river - but it was much, much quieter than the previous two days. We caught the local bus back to the guesthouse and called Pai from the pay phone; she arrived 25 minutes later to pick us up. Not the easiest/most efficient transport method and a serious drawback to staying at the Secret Garden.
Dinner at the guesthouse was very good. We tried another beer - Tiger (from Singapore) - better than Singha but we still like Asahi the best so far. We're looking forward to trying the famous Beerlao when we reach Laos tomorrow.
Tot: 2.673s; Tpl: 0.051s; cc: 8; qc: 51; dbt: 0.0396s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb