Situated approximately 10 miles above the bustling city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, the temple of Wat Phra That on the mountain of Doi Suthep offers the serenity of nature combined with intricate architecture and thousands of gleaming golden buddha statues. It is believed to have been built in 1383 and expanded over time. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations in Chiang Mai.
My girlfriend Melissa Johnson, who is on a very similar life path, recently met up with me in Thailand. Her and I decide to take a day to explore one of the ancient temples to capture it’s beauty and practice meditation. After some research, we decide on Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was the allure of the golden Chedi and the distance from the city lights that sold us.
We navigate the unique transportation system, realizing tuk tuk’s can’t make it up the mountain, and find a private open-air minibus that takes us up the curvy road to the temple. Once we arrive, we approach the grand multi-headed dragon archway and the famous staircase, with 309 steps to the top.
Visitors are asked to remove their shoes, cover themselves appropriately and, get this, keep their heads lower than the buddhas and the monks. We crouch around like the hobbit, sometimes crawling on our hands and knees to get a glimpse of the different rooms and ceremonies… we couldn’t help but laugh. Each shrine is filled with more buddhas than the last. We just sat in awe at the diversity and sheer volume of buddha statues, unlike anything we’d ever seen.
Locals and visitors from around the world visit the temple with elaborate gift baskets as offerings to the monks. Unexpected items, such as toothpaste, vitamins and colored pencils fill the baskets as well as the expected fresh fruit, sweets and cash.
After capturing the various corners of the temple and activities on film, we look for a place to meditate. We find ourselves in a room with the Abbot who offers us a blessing in Thai while sprinkling holy water over our heads. Afterwards a white string is tied around our wrists with a prayer for good health, peaceful mind and happy life.
We make our way to another holy shrine just in time to witness the nightly ceremony. Several long, slow strikes of the gong send deep vibrations throughout the temple and the prayer session begins. We find a comfortable spot in the back of the room, listening to the harmonious chants, while we absorb the palpable energy from thousands of years of worship. We close our eyes and take the journey within.
It felt like 20 minutes but there was no way to know for sure. We both opened our eyes at the same time, a break between verses. Upon closer observation, we notice the height of the book they were reciting from and realize the meditation would be about 3 hours. We acknowledge and appreciate the patience they have cultivated for these rituals, clearly we have a lot more work to do in this area. With our bus driver waiting and nightfall upon us, we bid farewell to the monks and the temple.
Of all the meditative experiences I’ve had, this was definitely one of the most memorable. The positive spiritual energy could be felt on every level. To be surrounded by a group of people that are willing to give up everything, including their sense of identity, aka Ego, to experience something more profound is incredible. If you ever create the opportunity, I would highly recommend visiting the temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, it was an incredible experience.
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Photography and video production by Angelina Sereno.
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