Golden Temples and Forest Monasteries

::: 300 Steps to Wat Doi Suthep ::::::

The inner square of Wat Doi Suthep
The inner square of Wat Doi Suthep

The day after our cooking class we rented a motorbike and headed to the outskirts of Chiang Mai to visit a couple of temples that would have cost us 5x more to visit by tuk tuk. Our first stop was the Wat Doi Suthep: a monastery atop a mountain centered around a golden dagoba. The drive to get there was long, uphill, windy and tons of fun.

After parking, we still had another 300+ dragon-scaled steps to climb before get to the main temple area. We paid the foreigner entrance fee (there’s always a fee for us) and entered a square complex featuring numerous beautifully decorated and steeped buildings that screamed Asia. Gold tiles adorning the outside walls, dragons on the roofs, the whole nine yards. Many buildings had Buddha statues inside and I couldn’t help but laugh at the group of monks taking photos of each other in front of them. Monks are not supposed to embrace technology, let alone each one having a camera or phone.

With my incents, candles and flowers during our puja at Wat Doi Suthep
With my incents, candles and flowers during our puja at Wat Doi Suthep

Inside the square was a glistening golden dagoba surrounded by dozens more Buddha statues. There were numerous prayer areas throughout and monks situated around to take donations and offerings. At one point Carrie and I did a puja (the Indian term for walking around a holy sight three times). We bowed our heads in prayer and held flowers, candles and incense. After our third lap we lit the candles and incense and put them, along with the flowers, in designated holders around the dagoba.

Having finished up at Doi Suthep, we once again hopped on our motorbike for a slow ride down the curvy mountain. At one point I was passed by a bike with two school girls driving and another time a cop honked at us just to say hi and call to attention the fact that we were two white people riding a bike. The drive continued in the city as the downpour started, pelting my face at 60kph, as I followed a bike filled with four locals who I was following to Wat Umong.

::: Wat Umong :: Chiang Mai’s Forest Monastery :::::::

Wat Umong, also known as the forest monastery, is a beautifully shaded plot of land that monks visit during the day to pray, learn and meditate. It is most famous for a series of underground tunnels built hundreds of years ago to keep a wandering monk occupied and in one place. Above it is a large dagoba and a statue of an emaciated Buddha, complete with skinny rib cage and veins sticking out. I have seen hundreds of Buddhas on this trip, but none like this.

One of the more controversial looks for Lord Buddah, showing all of his ribs in starvation, at Wat Umong: the Forest Monastery in Chiang Mai
One of the more controversial looks for Lord Buddah, showing all of his ribs in starvation, at Wat Umong: the Forest Monastery in Chiang Mai
A pedestal filled with Buddha relics in various stages of decompisition Wat Umong, the Forest Monestary
A pedestal filled with Buddha relics in various stages of decompisition Wat Umong, the Forest Monestary

The tunnels had healthy Buddha statues at every bend, complete with locals praying and very faded artwork adorning the ceiling. Outside there is a large circle where thousands of little Buddha and Hindu God statues lay in various stages of decomposition. Some were new and intact, some headless and some just a little stump. I couldn’t help but think that my mom would be in heaven there!

Just before leaving we stopped at the meditation question room and spoke to a monk who told us that we could actually go there the next day for a free meditation retreat. I was a bit hesitant and worried, as I am incapable of staying awake under the best of conditions, but it was one of the top things Carrie wanted to do so we signed up.

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