|The ancient Wat Chedi Luang with its partially collapsed chedi.|
For centuries, Wat Chedi Luang towered over ancient Chiang Mai. Construction began in the late 14th century, and by 1481, the Lanna-style chedi (pagoda) reached up 82 meters (246 feet) to the sky. Imagine what a humbling sight that must have been back then. Varying accounts have popped up to explain how the top of the chedi partially collapsed. Some say that it was an earthquake in 1545 while others claim it was caught in cannon fire when King Taksin recaptured Chiang Mai from the Burmese in 1775. Either way, I found it to be one of the more interesting temples in the old city.
|No building within Chiang Mai's walled city are permitted to be taller than Wat Chedi Luang (60 meters/180 feet tall).|
The Emerald Buddha used to reside within this temple until the Laotian king took it to Luang Prabang, Laos around 1545. That buddha is now in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew, but a black jade Buddha carved in 1995 sits in its place in the eastern niche. Other Buddha's are located all around the Wat, and a wire and pulley system is in place for pouring spiritual cleansing water over the ones at the top of the stairs.
|Incense sticks in front of the Wat's many Buddhas.|
A couple decades ago, the Japanese government and UNESCO contributed money for a restoration of the temple. However, no one knows what the original chedi looks like, so that was left untouched. The work that was completed has been controversial because some have declared it to be done in the central Thai style instead of the more authentic, northern Lanna style. In any case, it's quite easy for even a novice like myself to spot the restored versus untouched sections.
|Left: Original brick and stucco elephant|
Right: Cement restorations
|Statues of Naga, a mythical serpent beast that sheltered Buddha while he was meditating.|
This temple is also one of the most significant within Chiang Mai as it holds the city pillar, and is thus considered to be the home of the city's guardian spirits. The building is only open during the annual Inthakin festival in May, and only men may enter. At that time, blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity are invoked for Chiang Mai and its people.
|The city pillar inside this building protects the city, especially from Burmese invaders.|
The viharn (sermon hall) near the street entrance was built in 1928 and holds a large, standing 14th century Buddha with a disciple on both sides who are known for their mysticism and meditation. Everyone is welcome in this building, but please exhibit proper manners such as never pointing your feet at Buddha. Don't sit straight-legged! Sit "mermaid-style" with your legs curled around to the back.
|Inside the Sermon Hall|
If you want to donate to the temple, numerous containers are located around the temple grounds.
|A different pot for each monk.|
|This is the most secure donation box I have ever seen.|
A monk chat club is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the northern side of the grounds. Drop in to chat with them about Buddhism, a monk's life, Thai culture or other relevant topics. They get to practice English, and you get face time with a Buddhist monk. (Ladies, be sure not to touch them as it is taboo.) As their sign says, "Don't just stand looking from afar and walk away."
Please remember to show respect when visiting temples by dressing demurely and removing your shoes at the entrance to buildings. Ladies, despite how hot you may feel touring Chiang Mai, spaghetti straps and short shorts are big no-nos. You can fashion a skirt coverup out of a sarong and bring a wrap for your shoulders. They didn't seem to mind knee-length shorts on me. It is also forbidden for females to climb the corners of the moat structure around the chedi.
|Keep these Do's and Don'ts in mind.|
Kid point of view:
My kids would like me to let you know that they think this place is boring. My oldest son has done a Buddhism unit in Social Studies, and both boys have done field trips to the Thai Buddhist temple in Penang. They have a background understanding of temples but were still completely uninterested. So, I resorted to the age-old bribery trick. I traded a cultural morning of my choices for an afternoon of paintball and go-karts.