During my time so far in Chiang Mai I have had to opportunity to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is the most popular temple in Chiang Mai on the mountaintop. The temple, which was built in 1383 under King Keu Naone, holds a mystical birth story. According to legend, a magical relic multiplied itself before it was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, which presented the need for a suitable place to hold the twin relic. Unable to decide on a site, the Lanna king decided to place the relic on the back of a white elephant and wait to see where the animal would place it. Eventually, the elephant walked up the Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. The shrine was built immediately on the “chosen” site.
The ride up was an interesting on in our songthaew filled with car sickness and fascination all in one as we rode up higher and higher overlooking the landscape of Chiang Mai. We passed many food stalls and souvenir shops as we drove by. When we finally reached the temple we got into an elevator which took us to the bottom level of the temple where you could admire the view of Chiang Mai once more and take pictures, I found that more Thai people were taking pictures more than most Americans or farrangs. I passed by beautiful pagodas, bells, colorful lanterns hanging from trees and stalls where you could buy lotus flowers and offerings. I passed by a small cafe in which had young monks.
After observing the bottom level of the temple and its architecture, we then headed to the upper level complex of the temple where we had to take off our shoes first. This experience was new to me because in the United States not many people express their religion openly and in my opinion are not very religious and majority contradicting. There were many pitched roof building surrounding the “main attraction” the golden chedi. I observed many people on their knees praying and bowing placing flowers on the altar and three incense sticks as their offering.
What I found most interesting about the temple besides the architecture were the monks we observed them in their element, listened and watched as their chanted their sacred hymns and all sat together. I had the opportunity to write my name on a golden scroll to signify that I came to the temple. At first glance one might be hesitant to sit down and worship especially if you identify as a Christian in America and don’t want to cross any boundaries but what’s interesting is that the Thai people who worship Buddha do not see it as such it’s simply respect that you are showing.
Overall myexperience at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was one to remember there were many things to see, and it was interesting to compare and contrast the expression of religion and in the United States of America and here in Southeast Asia. Although at times it was hard to understand the different customs and practices and what not to do in the temple and what to do. It was different that we were able to take pictures inside of the temple because in the U.S. taking pictures inside of church is looked down upon unless it is outside. The different rooftops with beautiful Buddha’s even the reclining Buddha was breath taking, when we first entered the building we saw a scroll of what looked like Buddha’s life. Overall I enjoyed this Wat.