I visit one of the most ancient temples in Thailand, and have a two hour discussion with a Thai monk.
Wat Chedi Luang (sometimes spelt “Jedi Luang”) is gorgeously unique. Built in 1441, this ancient site is visited by hundreds every day. It was once home to the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s holliest Idol.
I visited the temple twice during my time in Chiang Mai. Once just to sightsee, and the second time to experience Monk Chat.
Exploring Wat Chedi Luang
Upon arriving at the temple, the first building greeted us with shimmering opulence.
We reverently entered the building after a group of chanting monks filed out of a backdoor. The floor was padded with a gym-matt like material and at eye level were hundreds upon hundreds of colorful flags with Chinese Zodiac animals on them.
At one point, a pair of young Chinese tourists stepped past a sign that said, “DO NOT PASS THIS POINT.” In their defense, it was only written in Thai and English. I tried to avoid pointing my feet at any Buddha images so as not to disrespect the religion, but it felt as if there was a Buddha no matter where I turned. My second time visiting this temple, we actually had an incident when one of my friends posed next to a donation box shaped like a comedic caricature of a monk. A Thai woman gave her a threatening “how dare you!” glare. In our defence, the box was very cartoonish.
After this initial temple was the main attraction, the Chedi of Chedi Luang. During our tour of Bangkok, we learned that the terms, “Chedi” or “stupa” refer to towers that hold either a Buddha figure or human remains. I’m not sure which is which, but the terms are used interchangeably.
Although a massive Earthquake toppled the point of the 280ft tower in 1545, the now 197ft temple is dauntingly impressive. Sunlight scattered brightly through dappled white clouds as I approached the deteriorating Chedi, and I gawked up at the architectural marvel in awe. Monks in orange robes strolled around the courtyard, and Chinese tourists squatted with their cameras.
None of my pictures do the temple’s enormity justice.
Since I’ve been visiting so many historic sites with a tourist attitude for my own amusement, it’s hard to comprehend how old and meaningful this location has been to Buddhist Thais for hundreds of years. Even so, I was in absolute awe the entire time.
We explored the network of buildings at Wat Chedi Luang, walking all the way around the ruins and peeking in at young monks chanting rhythmically. Stray dogs dotted the cobblestone ground.
My second time visiting the temple was similar to the first, with one dramatic addition: Monk Chat.
A Monk Chat is a free program available at hundreds of Buddhist temples in Thailand. It allows tourists to speak with a Buddhist monk for as long as they wish. It’s a perfect way for local Thai Buddhists to spread teachings to foreigners, to reduce overall naivety, and for Buddhists to practice their English.
I was very excited to partake in a Monk Chat, as I was quickly compiling a handful of questions. This was also an optional assignment, so I made sure to write down everything the monk said.
I went to Monk Chat with four friends. We approached the tables cautiously, telling each other that we might just pop in for five or so minutes, depending on whether or not we were enjoying ourselves. We ended up speaking with Siddharth for two full hours. The experience was incredible and surreal. We spoke about gender, afterlife, meditation, philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life.
Harmony bells tinkled brightly in warm breezes, and at one point we could hear a lilting monk chant being sung from one of the nearby buildings. There was one moment in which I really felt as if I was living true to Buddhist ways, in the moment, with the entire world around us ceasing to exist. There was nothing but us, the surrounding temple, and the monk speaking before us. Read the full transcript of my interactions here.