On the way back into town, we stopped at Wat Suan Dok, which is large and architecturally impressive, but lacking the charm and intimacy of Wat Umong. Wat Suan Dok is just outside the old town, and has both a large wooden temple with many relief carvings and back-to-back two-story golden buddhas inside; and a complex of exterior temple structures, which are white and gold-gilded, and quite a different style than the wooden temple. In fact, all of the temples we visited had multiple styles of buildings at each, all very different from each other. We are guessing the changes come from buildings being constructed during different periods? Some look like they are from different countries altogether!
(Wat Suan Dok)
(monks robes drying at Wat Suan Dok)
We had a quick and tasty lunch at a road-side cafe – literally in the road, under a tin and cardboard roof in the gutter of a side street. I had kale-pork and Ty had pad thai. We walked to the Wat Chedi Luang after lunch – this is the largest and oldest wat in the old city (I think), and right in the middle of the old city within the moat. There is a very old stupa that is quite grand, with a few giant stone elephants guarding the upper perimeter, and large gold buddhas within in each alcove. You can no longer access the structure, and it is in disrepair, but still impressive. Around it are many buildings and smaller temples, all different styles. Several buildings have many bells with wind catchers along the gutters, so there is random gentle pealing and chiming as you walk around. Of course, there is also a festive boys volleyball game next door to listen to as well.
(monk in alley at Wat Chedi Luang)
We saw a reclining buddha, a fat and happy buddha (rare in thailand), and two temples to deceased monks with all-too-real wax replicas inside. I got the creeps and had to leave, although both buildings had the most unusual architecture I had seen. It catches me by surprise, as a monotheist, to encounter these truly huge and numerous buddha statues side by side with veneration of a human – monk, teacher, king, queen. There are temples to all kinds of ordinary people – even the graves at Wat Umong included a space to kneel, pray, and burn incense to the dead – built into the tombstones. It's not that monotheistic cultures don't have lesser gods – we just aren't so quick to acknowledge them. I keep wondering if Buddha is offended to have a monks effigy at his feet, or the comingling of church and state with the king-worship (well, it is really exteme love for the king bordering on worship, not the formal deistic worship) at the entrance to his temple. We also noticed today that large trees have some sort of symbolic poles wrapped in gold or colorful fabric laid at their bases. We don’t know the story of this yet but Wat Chedi Luang had giant gum trees on the grounds which were really stunning, and which had a large number of these poles propped up around their trunks. We’ll have to find out the back story on this but I like that the trees are honored even in the middle of the city.
(The giant chedi that gives Wat Chedi Luang its name, and Ty for reference)
(these temples had wax monk effigies inside - very creepy - and very different architecture although in the same complex at Wat Chedi Luang).
The main temple at Wat Chedi Luang was huge and very ornate – much more modern so made of wood with gold-gilding and colors on the outside. (We later learned that Luang means large so Wat Chedi Luang means Temple of the Large Chedi – or monument – very aptly named). We went inside and sat for the last of the monks’ chanting – these men were wearing more brown than saffron robes, and the chanting was beautiful. Once they were done, the monks bowed many times in many directions to the various buddhas around the temple, then politely removed all of their barricades and return the temple to the tourist attraction it serves as most of the day. My deep thought of the day is that there is little threat of Gnosticism here in Thailand. The divine and the human world are inseperable in a way that we don’t experience in America. The pure and the unpure, the spiritual and the physical, the serene and the banal, existing side by side seamlessly. Thus, trash litters the temple grounds at Wat Umong, monks pray in the midst of tourist crowds and youth volleyball, stray dogs nap on glorious temple structures, and poop along the same walkways which we humans must remove our shoes to walk upon.
(Dogs don't have to show respect like people do)
And yet, neither is reduced by the other. There is still a sense of awe and reverance at the temples, despite large educational posters, electric fans, and donation boxes. The monks do not look down on the city life around them. They merge in and out of foot traffic, tourists, tuk tuk drivers, and merchants casually. No one makes way for them, that I can see, and it has become as normal to turn a corner and pass a half naked bald man wrapped in saffron robes as it is to pass a thai street food cart.
(modern buddha in ancient temple at Wat Chedi Luang)
We stopped on the way home at “Chocolate Fact” (slogan: “Live Life Chocolately”) for some air conditioning and a chocolate cake with raspberry sauce to share. Western dessert is a treat, although last night’s banans in coconut milk was divine! We got stuck in a pretty good rain storm on the way home and our inn-keeper laughed at us as we came in soaking wet. It is starting to feel more like home here. Next up: 2 hours of thai massage for 800 baht (about $30). Our inn keeper booked the massage including pick-up from the guest house in the oldest, saddest van we have seen. We went through some pretty modern and ragged parts of town before stopping halfway down a side alley and entering a very business-like building (none of which made us confident about the massages!). The business was legitimate and our massages took place side by side in a room together, fully clothed in comfortable thai style pants and shirt. Our masseuses chatted with each other and even talked on cell phones while working out our knots. This was clearly therapeutic, not luxurious, massage – but we felt great and the two hours passed much more quickly than we expected. I hope to get at least one more massage before we go home!
Tonite we are off to a cultural dance show and dinner. Likely very touristy, but hopefully educations as well. One of the hard parts of the trip is that all of our interactions are one-sided: everyone is serving us or selling us something. We aren’t really learning anything about the place or the people, so hopefully tonite we will get a little more background – even if it is more about the history than modern context.
The dinner/dance show was very much like a thai luau – totally organized for tourists, most of whom weren't paying any attention (why pay good money for a show and then talk to each other through the whole thing??). But the food was really good (something like sweet potato fries, something like rice krispie treats, amazing 5-spice pork, and this tomato stew dish that tasted straight out of my Nonna's kitchen!). The dancing was beautiful, both Lanna (northern thai) traditions, including the long golden fingernails, and hill tribe (burmese and chinese enclaves that have immigrated to Thailand over the last 100-300 years). The best dances included the children, who were in costume but a bit unscripted and really adorable, even the preteen girls too involved with giggling at the boys to really do the dance right. :)
(Traditional northern food - very little resemblance to the thai food we eat at home.)
(Traditional northern thai dance style - note the famous long fingers)
(A traditional dance of one of the hill tribes)