If Chiang Mai, Thailand lacks for anything, it is not Buddhist temples. They’re sort of like the Seven-Elevens here – everywhere. There are over three hundred temples in the Chiang Mai region!
My personal favorite (which, you should note, the internet list did not include) is an isolated temple called Wat Palad that is hidden away in the lush, mountainous forest surrounding the city. It is, without any competition, the most beautiful place I have ever experienced in Thailand. Think about the wildest, most exotic secret temple in Indiana Jones, multiply it’s beauty tenfold, and you can probably understand what Wat Palad is like. I recently went on a hike with my friends Katherine and Maria, ATMA SEVA interns here in Chiang Mai, and we ended up in this mystical, serene place. It was also extremely quiet and empty – a plus, as it is genuinely non-touristy, and thus is probably closer to its original state and more well-preserved than most of Chiang Mai’s temples. Unlike in Chiang Mai’s most famous temple, Wat Doi Suthep, no hawkers selling food and trinkets could be found in Wat Palad. In fact, no other people could be found there either, other than one young Thai couple who were exploring the place with us, and a few monks.
This place was just…indescribable. I could have sat in one of its several meditation areas for hours, simply soaking in its beauty. The temple is situated on the side of a mountain, like many of the temples surrounding Chiang Mai, and it had incredible bird’s-eye views of the city, as well as of the surrounding forest. A large mountain brook runs through the monastery’s main complex, broken up into a few gorgeous waterfalls and meditation pools. For me, the most breathtaking thing about Wat Palad was its art and traditional Thai architecture. Stunned into silence, I had the opportunity to feast my geeky eyes on prime pieces of old, traditional, elaborate Thai Buddhist sculpture, as well as on a myriad of ornately carved shrines and pagodas. I stared for at least three minutes at one larger-than-life golden statue of the Buddha, nestled within the dim, candle-lit recesses of a shrine, awash with the flickering red light reflected from the walls. I felt as though I had stumbled upon an undiscovered piece of Thailand, as if I were the first westerner to set eyes on some secret gem of the East. That feeling of discovery and adventure was a gift, and I know it will stay with me for the rest of my life. For that, I want to thank my amazing friend and ATMA SEVA intern Katherine Devine, who lived in this city for an entire year, and took the time to show me this unbelievable place (and many others). She recently left Chiang Mai, ending her stay here for now, but I’m really grateful I got to spend time with her while she was still living here. Thanks Katherine!
We left the temple using an overgrown and little-used path down the mountainside, which wound through acres of pristine forest, all protected by Doi Suthep national park (which the monastery is tucked right inside of). In accordance with Thai tradition, many of the trees were wrapped in sashes, cut by the monks from the orange fabric of their robes. Thai people wrap sashes around trees as a sign of love and respect for the tree and the spirit(s) that reside within the tree. It is done to ensure that no one will harm or chop down the tree. Walking through parts of Chiang Mai, it is common to see large, old trees wrapped in years of multicolored sashes, tied onto thick trunks by generations of Thai people. I think it’s a beautiful tradition.
All-in-all, journeying to Wat Palad was an unforgettable experience. Out of the many temples and monasteries I have seen in Thailand, this one was the most beautiful, and the most devoid of tourists. Strolling among Wat Palad’s labyrinth of dusky shrines and arresting statues, the sound of running water trickling through my ears, I realized how much I will miss Thailand. This country is a land of rawness and chaos, existing side-by-side with instances of breathtaking beauty and quiet tranquility. Strangely, these two drastically different aspects of Thailand don’t seem to contradict each other. Instead, they fit together perfectly, making Thailand what it is today – a place that I, and many others before me, have gained a great deal from. Although in two short weeks I will leave Thailand in search of life’s next adventure, I know that a little bit of Thailand will stay with me for the rest of my life.
written by: Brady Gilliam