Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Ruins of Chiang Mai's Chedi Luang Temple

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.

Monk Chat
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."
Dress Code
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.



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27 comments:

  1. Hi Michelle, I love Buddhist temples and this is definitely an interesting one. Haven't been to Chang Mai. Will be in Thailand in September en route to Bhutan and hope to make it to CM. Gotta laugh at that super secure donation box! The kids' point of view is always interesting:)

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  2. great pictures of great church.i like your all pictures that you posted is amazing good thanks for the sharing.

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  3. I really like the pictures of the donation box and the dress code signs, thanks!

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  4. Well it may be boring, but it certainly is beautiful! I'm intrigued by the mention that it is forbidden for females to climb the corners of the moat structure. Are males allowed to climb and, if so, what do you think the reasoning is?

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    1. No one at wall was climbing anything when I was there. The note specifically said women were not supposed to climb the corners (but I wonder if the rest of the moat is ok?) but didn't state the reason.

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    2. Just a Thai passerbyJanuary 26, 2014 at 8:48 PM

      Well, I'm a Thai and a CM resident. Every moat, even the moat around the old city, are inappropriate to climb by any gender. Even today, if you climb a moat and somebody know, they would claim it as an inappropriate act. (Which I agree. Not because of the ancient superstitious mumbo-jumbo, but because they have archaeological value. They are not a play ground.) However, sometime men have to climb them to repair the moat or to defend the city in the old days.

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  5. Very interesting and beautiful! Oh the bribery we parents are forced to undertake. Loved that part :)

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  6. Sometimes the trades with kids are very worthwhile - and there are only so many temples you can see. I was impressed with the restoration work.

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  7. I like the idea of face time with the monks - the monk chats. Wonder if they can touch us women?
    I love Buddhist temples and can't wait to visit a few. Thanks for sharing this one.

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    1. The source I read said that in general, monks are very sensitive to other people's energy. By touching a woman (or a nun touching a man), he might pick up her female energy which would lead to desire. Someone even warned me not to sit next to a monk on the songtow buses.

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  8. I would love to go to a monk chat. What a great idea.

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  9. What a beautiful temple! Thanks for taking us into these extraordinary structures. I've always found Buddhist temples fascinating and is one of the reasons I'd love to visit Thailand. They did a great job on the restoration. Love the idea of a monk chat club. I think my husband and son would probably share the same sentiment as your kids.

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  10. Love that you honestly shared your kid's point of view! Excellent trade off by the way - temple AM kids activities PM. I have been to Chang Mai briefly and really wish I had the opportunity to see this.

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  11. Super interesting - and I love that your kids thought it was boring, such honesty!

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  12. Wow--how interesting to get to see the restoration progress. I love how you included your kids' point of view and how you dealt with the situation--good information...and definitely has me thinking about what I will do in these types of situations as Bergen gets older.

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  13. It's too bad I didn't stay long enough in Chiang Mai to see this. I'm not much into temples (like your kids) but Chedi Luang is not an ordinary one. So they have go karts in Chiang Mai? Are you going to write about that? :)

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    Replies
    1. In case if I never get around to covering the Go-Karts, it was at the Chiang Mai X-Centre. They also have bungy jumping and off-road buggies/motorcycles.

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  14. Zen and the Art of Driving a Go-Kart?

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  15. Sounds like you struck quite the deal with your kids. I've been known to bribe mine once in awhile. Ice cream normally does the trick. :)

    I love the architecture of the temple. Very beautiful.

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    1. I used the ice cream bribe for the previous day's temple touring. Had to up the ante for Day 2 of temples.

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  16. I must make it a point to visit this temple. It was not included in our visit last year.

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  17. Gorgeous photos and the whole time I'm thinking - did her kids really like it?? Then I read the last paragraph!!

    Thanks for linking up!

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  18. Chiang Mai has been grabbing my attention lately, but I hadn't heard of this temple before. Thanks for sharing, very interesting.

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  19. really great building and photos are really perfect :)

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  20. Yes, paintball is much more amazing than 1000's year old structures from civilizations long forgotten that NEED to be re-discovered.

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  21. this was one of my favorite temples to visit in Chang Mai and there was this amazing orchid like tree just outside, I remember - I forgot the name. I love the serpents and elephants.

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