Tuesday, January 28, 2014

After a Hot, Sweaty Day, Who Needs a Fake Temple? I Do, Of Course!


Wat Chedi Luang, Photos by D.R.R.

 After spending all day conquering temples, I hardly wanted to go back and find the one I’d missed in the morning, but after some pineapple and watermelon, I revived and shook some sense into myself. I might not have another chance. Yes, I was hot from a full day’s “work,” but Wat Chedi Luang was the famous one. How could I live with myself if I skipped it? I couldn’t.

So back I went into the Old Town of Chiang Mai, but this time I was aggressive. I gave up on relying on the map. I got close to the area where the temple was supposed to be and started asking questions. After three tries, I found Wat Chedi Luang right where it was supposed to be according to the map. (We’d actually made it to the temple grounds in the morning, but we hadn’t explored the whole compound after being scared off by the “Do Not Enter” sign. Since we hadn’t managed to go around to the correct side, we’d missed the entrance to the courtyard and hadn’t even glimpsed the huge temple.)

Luckily, for the moment I still felt well rewarded. The brick temple was cool even though it was in ruins. It was decorated with white elephants that stuck out of the walls and that were remarkably intact. There were also huge nagas or snakeheads. Steep stairs led up to the top.

When I saw some kids on the stairs, I immediately vowed to join them. Certainly I could rustle up a few more ounces of energy.  But not so fast--they were little monk boys charged with cleaning the temple. They were de-weeding it. Small green plants were sneaking up between the bricks, and they had to be pulled out one by one. The boys had been working on the whole temple. They’d accessed the top levels by means of a rope ladder. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to try that myself!

 I shot nearly a whole roll of film as I circled the temple. I tried to catch every angle. But when I got back to the guesthouse, I found out something quite disconcerting. The lovely elephant statues I’d seen were actually reconstructions. That’s why they were so intact. I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I’d been seeing the real thing, but the original statues had all crumbled. I had to stop and question the practice of reconstruction. Worse still, I subsequently found that the reconstructions had been done in the style of Central Thailand, but most historians think the temple was originally done in the Lanna style. It turns out that this tourist business is pretty complicated!

What's been one of your own travel disappointments?

In THAI TWIST, Rachel loses her cool when she finds out that Wat Chedi Luang is a reconstruction, but Gina is too busy finding Somchai to pay attention to a silly old temple!

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