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It’s no secret that I love all the Buddhist temples or wats. I go to new ones every week, can’t stop taking photos of the same ones over and over, and have even gone on a 7-hour motorbike ride to visit one that’s supposedly special for my birthday. On New Year’s Day I spent the morning with a certain someone going around town to nine different wats. The number 9 is considered lucky in Thailand as it sounds similar to the word for ‘move forward’. Therefore, making merit (giving donations or offerings) at nine temples at the start of the new year is supposed to bring good luck.
I’ve heard many people of the mindset that ‘once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’. I can understand this – many temples do look similar and obviously have the same themes, designs and motifs – but I still would disagree. Two of my favorite temples – Wat Pan Tao and Wat Sri Suphan – in Chiang Mai (which is saying something since there are more than 300 in the city and surrounding area) couldn’t look more different from each other.
Wat Pan Tao (วัดพันเตา)
Located in the center of the old city, Wat Pan Tao is one of the few remaining wooden temples in town. Compared to many of the large, white-washed temples (including the massive Wat Chedi Luang just next door), Wat Pan Tao is small and unassuming but still intriguing – I can’t help but smile every time I pass by.
Its beauty lies in its simplicity – plain teak wood with decorative gold touches.
The temple’s smaller size makes Wat Pan Tao more inviting than others, while the dark wood creates a warm richness of its own. It feels full of belief and tradition without being overwhelming or flashy.
Wat Sri Suphan (วัดศรีสุพรรณ)
While at first glance it may look like the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Sri Suphan is actually just off Chiang Mai’s Saturday Walking Street (Wualai Road) and..silver.
Throughout Thailand different areas or villages have traditionally had a specialty craft or trade. Just outside of Chiang Mai there are villages known specifically for their woodcarvings, silk, handmade umbrellas and more. Locals know if they want knew furniture to go to Baan Tawai…or if you want silver you should head to Wualai Road. Historically, the area around Wualai was home to many silver and jewelery craftsmen. Today the street is still lined with specialty shops where you can get silver jewelery and silverware straight from the source.
Wat Sri Suphan is in the middle of all this and in 2004 started a project to create what it calls, ‘The World’s First Silver Shrine’, or ubosot in Thai.
The ubosot has been rebuilt and restored several times throughout the years, but the current Abbot began the initiative to cover the building in silver. The coverings – inside and out – are all handmade by local, Northern Thai artists mainly out of alloy and zinc, though real silver is used for the holy images. The project has also developed an active a silversmith workshop and learning center on temple grounds to help production and train new craftsmen. Throughout the day you’ll hear the tap, tap, tap of tools hammering out new designs and coverings.
Still think all temples look the same?
Been to Thailand – where was your favorite wat? Tell me in the comments section below and for more Chiang Mai pictures go to the Paper Planes Facebook Page!