Wat Pa Pao is small Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, located just outside of the old city walls in the North West corner. Built in the late 19th century, the Wat is one of the main cultural and community centers for Shan people. Shan State is the largest state in Myanmar, located in the North East corner of the country, bordering Thailand. Also known as Tai Yai, there is a large population of Shan people living in Chiang Mai, many who have fled from civil war and human rights abuses. The temple shows remnants of Shan architecture, including level tiers above the pagoda instead of classic Thai points and Shan script written on the temple walls. To see another example of a Shan temple, check out our photography corner from Wat Ku Tao.
Wat Pa Pao got its name because it was built surrounded by a forest of “Pao trees”. “Pa” translates to “Forest” in Thai, and so it is the temple of the Pao Forest. The inside of the temple is only open to the public on Buddhist holidays and special ceremonies and festivals, including Poi Sanglong, where young Shan boys become ordained as novice monks in a extravagant event lasting a few days to one week.
The Wat Pa Pao Foundation to Support Education, Art and Culture was set up in collaboration with funding from the Japanese Embassy to create programs and run a school for Shan people and youth, including classes for novice monks. The school has over 180 students, and although the classes are conducted in Thai, the school supports Shan culture, history and language through a variety of other activities and events. The Foundation also works with the Thai Freedom House, a community learning center working with Burmese refugees. Through the “Hill Tribe Assistance Program” the Thai Freedom House places volunteers to teach language and skills classes at the Wat.
Katherine Devine, on-site intern