In the mountains of Northern Thailand is the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. It is overflowing with artists, Buddhist Temples and quaint shops and restaurants. The Old City area still displays remains of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. Since the pace was considerably slower than Bangkok, we were able to relax, explore and take it all in.
We met an artist from Sweden, who has amazing talent in jewelry making. Watching him work and catching a glimpse of the passion he feels for creativity, was inspiring. He displayed a sign which caught my eye and has stuck with me since, “took me a long time to become young.” As I thought about it during the day I decided that perhaps this is best achieved by not taking ourselves too seriously, not being afraid to get lost and loving freely.
The first temple we visited was Wat Chedi Luang, a Buddhist Temple in the heart of the Old City.
On the grounds are several structures, each holding sacred treasures. Some of the structures date back to the 14th century, and continue to stand tall, carrying tears and prayers of faithful followers, each brick faithfully, firmly placed and reaching heavenward.
With sarongs tied around our waists and naked feet, we climbed the steps to Chedi Luang, greeted by proud intricate serpents on either side.
The interior was carpeted in red and a tall gold plated statue of Bodhisattva with right hand raised, met us in the entry. It symbolizes those seeking enlightenment and is to motivate all to be compassionate and to encourage others to do the same.
The impressive interior with tall red ceilings and large round columns, houses the standing Buddha, known as Phra Chao Attarot. This Buddha dates from the 14th century at the time of King Saen Muang Ma.
Many knelt or sat in prayer , never dishonoring Buddha by pointing their feet in his direction.
Between the exterior walls and the pillars, hung hundreds of golden prayer flags from the ceiling. These prayers of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom are believed to blow in the breeze to spread good will and compassion into all space.
We continued exploring the grounds, periodically passing by silent young monks, called Nen or Samanera, who reverently wander, seeking opportunity for meditation.
In yet another building on the premises is a 12 ft tall Jade statue of Naga Kanya, with 5 snake heads rising up behind. The cobras are sheltering the Buddha while meditating, protecting him from the elements like rain and storm. It is believed that four weeks after Buddha began meditating under the Bodhi tree, the sky darkened for seven days and it rained heavily. Mucilanda, the king of serpents, emerged from the earth and protected Buddha with his hood.
A large area closed in on three side, with pillars out front, housed a 25ft long reclining Buddha. It represented the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during his last illness, shortly before he entered the Parinivana. He is seen lying on his right side, facing west, with his head supported by his right hand.
Several other structures contained further statues of Buddha, as well as wax figures of Buddhist monks – each with incredibly detailed carving and painting.
The grounds were clean, quiet and well manicured, allowing all who entered, the opportunity to find the peace they seek in a beautiful environment. Though I am not Buddhist, I am impressed with their dedication and love to their beliefs.
We walked several miles on our first day in Chiang Mai, learning, admiring and enjoying the experience. Once evening came our feet were tired and we were anxious to lay down and think about all we had seen and learned. After some delicious street food in the form of fresh fruit and meat skewers (assuming it was pork), we lay to rest in the air conditioned hostel room, Mycah and Aidan in one queen sized bed and Emma and I in the other, and fell fast asleep after “I love you’s “ and “goodnights.”