Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

One of many golden Buddha statues.

This weekend I decided it was time I ventured a bit beyond my residence and actually did something fun. The temple Doi Suthep is just outside Chiang Mai, up on a hill overlooking the city. It's relatively cheap (free for the locals though!) and really easy to get to from my residence so I could justify it even on my current no-frills budget.

I walked out to the main road and hailed a Songthaew. I told him "Doi Suthep" and he asked "one way or two ways?" and I said "one way" thinking it wouldn't be too hard to get another Songthaew home. But apparently there was something else he was trying to communicate, which of course I couldn't get. So he motions for me to sit in the cab with him, instead of going in the back like normal. I do, and it's really quite novel. From the front seat you can actually *see* where you're going!

He took me to just about a block past my school, pulled over to the side of the road and pointed ahead to another Songthaew. Ah! Songthaews don't just take one person up the hill, you wait at this little stop until there's 6-8 people, then we all go up together. I had to wait a bit, but actually not that long. What Chiang Mai lacks in formal public transportation systems they *more* than make up for it with the tuk-tuk / songthaew industry. I think they're technically regulated by the government, but on an individual level they're really independent & go where-ever you need to go.

Anyway we didn't wait that long until there were enough people to get going. It was 80 baht for a round trip, and the driver indicated that we would have 1 hour at the temple. There was a French couple that wanted to stay for more than an hour, so they had to work something out. I thought about doing something similar, but then decided an hour would be fine - I do have work to do this weekend afterall.

Hazy view of the hill from behind the temple.

The drive up the hill was something else! On the one hand it very strongly reminded me of taking the bus up my hill to work/home in Portland. It was a very windy road with a lot of trees & greenery on either side. Just swap out the palm trees for fir trees and the bamboo with ferns. =) But I felt very much like just around the corner I'd see home. LOL. But it was also completely different from taking the bus in Portland. For one thing it was *much* faster. Seriously, it was a bit terrifying. He was just whipping around this way and that through all the turns. The back of the songthaew is wide open, so in theory, you really could just go flying out. I held on to the 'oh shit' bar that runs the length of the car along the ceiling. But one guy started looking a bit sick, so he actually *climbed out* of the car! He stood on the little step at the back and hung onto the ladder thing. I could *not* believe it. The Thai do not generally seem to be afraid of dying in a car accident. But that's a whole 'nother post.

It was a beautiful, if slightly scary, ride up the hill. Then we got dropped off at the front gate, and the driver gave us a little slip of paper with the number of the songthaew on it (and I believe a cell phone) so we could be sure to get home.

This is the beginning of the 306 steps up to the temple. I declined to take the stairs because my knee has been bugging me and instead paid extra to take the funicular. Oh, and all along the road here there are food carts and people trying to sell you stuff. I just smile and keep walking.

Children playing traditional music (actually just getting set up)

In the outer courtyard there were some seats where you could sit and watch kids perform traditional music & dance. I think one of the missions of this temple is to help educate poor kids, and simultaneously keep traditional arts alive. I sat and watched a little girl do a traditional dance. Here's about 30 seconds of it.

In the inner courtyard there was a huge gold-leaf covered chedi (not sure what exactly that is), a big gold oniony-dome looking thing... but there was scaffolding all around it. People were holding flowers and walking around it praying.

I bought some flowers thinking it would be easy enough to lay them on the alter, but then I watched and started feeling really self conscious. There's kneeling & bowing and waiing and burning of incense. I would have felt more brave if other farangs were participating, but it was a little strange. The Thai people all seemed to be worshiping whereas the farang were mostly looking around. But it's like supposed to be a tourist destination... there are official photographers walking around offering to take your picture next to this photo op or that one. I had asked if it was okay to take pictures, and the Thai folks were talking & taking pictures too... so it was kind of an interesting blend of sacred space & tourist spot. It was actually really peaceful.

I guess it could equate to visiting Notre Dame. I mean, when I was there I took pictures, but I also lit a candle & prayed. Obviously though, in a church I have a better understanding of what the rules are. So after watching for a while, I knelt down and put my flower on the offering table. I made a very self conscious attempt at a wai, but skipped the incense all together. Knowing me, the risk of setting the whole place on fire was just too great! =P

There were a couple of seperate buildings around the sides, and inside people would go in and pray. In this temple, there was a monk saying a blessing. I waited outside until they were done and then got this picture.

Several gold covered Buddha statues.

On the right those things on sticks are paper flowers, somehow people fold money into the stick and leave it as an offering. There were a LOT of places to leave money. Some of the boxes had specific charities listed on them, but most were in Thai. One had what looked like a UNICEF symbol on it. Some of them specified that it was for the overall upkeep of the wat (temple). So I guess even though the Thais get 'free admission' they probably end up contributing a lot more money than the farangs do.

This is the back, of one of the smaller temple buildings. I just can't get enough of the architecture. The colors don't come through that great because it was really overcast, but that gold against the blue was brilliant.

I don't think "Mom" means the same in Thai as in English. ;)

So that was Doi Suthep. There was actually a lot more to see (lots of little alcoves with gods & goddesses I couldn't hope to identify) but I only had an hour before my songthaew went back. I'll go back another day and make sure I have time to see everything. Before leaving though I stopped at a food vendor - someone was grilling sweet corn-on-the cob. YUMMERS! It was super tasty, and only 15 baht. On the ride back to town there was a couple from San Francisco on the songthaew so I chatted with them for a bit. It's weird to talk to people who are here on vacation while I kind of live here. They were telling me about this fancy 'traditional northern banquet' they went to, and I was telling them where they could get 30 baht fried rice with the college kids. =P

Ok - that was my fun for the day... back to work now!


turtlegirl76 said...

I'm' really enjoying reading about your experience in Thailand. You're so brave!

Batty said...

That's such a beautiful temple! So very intricate. I'm glad you're getting the opportunity to look around and have fun, not just study.

Bezzie said...

Fascinating!! Good job just going out and going!