Thai Iced Tea

This recipe for Thai tea is perfect for hot days and sweet tooths.

Thai iced tea: where dessert and drink come together into one delicious treat

In Thailand, iced tea isn’t served unsweetened with a lemon wedge. Known as cha yen, it’s more of a caffeinated dessert: a mixture of black tea, sweetened condensed milk and ice. I’m a fan. I mean how can you not have Thai iced tea when in Thailand? I enjoy it so much, I hunted down the recipe so I could have it even when I’m not in Thailand!

The exact origins of Thai tea remain a mystery, but some historians believe it to be a lingering influence from Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram,  a former prime minister of Thailand with a penchant for Western culture. The tea became a staple of Thai street food culture, sometimes spiced with star anise and orange blossom water, but more often than not, served without any additional flavorings.

As the climate in Thailand tends to be hot and humid, tea is often drunk cold with ice. Sweetened condensed milk was most likely introduced during the Colonial era and grew in popularity since it keeps without refrigeration.

Many Thai restaurants in the U.S. use an instant mix that contains the artificial food coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6 in the mix, also known as sunset yellow. It’s derived from crude oil, which gives it that bright orange hue, and incidentally, it’s the same dye that gives Kraft Mac & Cheese its trademark color. No thank you.

This version has a distinctively floral and spicy flavor, sweetened by a blend of condensed and evaporated milk. The sum of the parts isn’t overly sweet but quite rich, ideal in small doses. It’s one of those recipes that’s surprisingly easy to make, and once you get the basics down, you can adjust the flavors and concentration the way you like. The tea base and spiced syrup can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

Cheers, or chai yo, as they say in Thailand! –Duke

 

Special Equipment

  • Saucepan
  • Measuring spoons
  • Small bowl
  • Glasses
     

Yield: 8 servings

Active Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: Chill for 8 hours to overnight

Break out the condensed milk, star anise, cardamom seeds, cloves and ceylon tea for this recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 10 bags black tea (preferably ceylon)
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 1 teaspoon decorticated cardamom seeds
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup half & half
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Ice

Steep and chill the tea for 8 hours. Good things come to those who wait

Two kinds of milk mix together to give this tea its creamy, sweet taste

Preparation

Bring sugar and 1 cup of water and to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove the pan from heat and add star anise, cardamom seeds and cloves. Let sit for 20 minutes until flavors are infused.

Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Put in fridge.

Add 10 black tea bags and 7 cups cold water to a large pitcher.

Chill for 8 hours to overnight.

Discard tea bags.

Pour chilled syrup into pitcher.

In a small bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and half & half. Add ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract. Add to the tea in pitcher.

Serve over ice.

9 Tuk Tuk Tips

What is a tuk-tuk taxi? And what do you need to know about this mode of Thai transportation so you don’t get taken for a ride?

The only good part of getting scammed is that we got some funny pics of Wally driving a tuk-tuk — much to Duke’s dismay

The only good part of getting scammed is that we got some funny pics of Wally driving a tuk-tuk — much to Duke’s dismay

Most of the time during your stay in Chiang Mai, you’ll be traveling around in the cute contraptions with the adorable name: tuk-tuks. These three-wheeled vehicles are like teeny-tiny open-air motorbike chariots. The ones in Chiang Mai really only fit two passengers comfortably, though three could probably squeeze in.

If you’re in the Old City, or anywhere nearby, you should be able to flag one down and go anywhere you want for an affordable price. Here are nine tips to follow when hiring a tuk-tuk:

He stopped outside the gate and kicked us to the curb. So much for good karma.

1. Negotiate your price before getting in the tuk-tuk.

You’re exhausted from walking all day. It can be tempting to hop into the tuk-tuk and then talk prices. Resist.

In Chiang Mai, you should be able to go short distances for 100 baht. Let the driver quote a price first. If it's less than 100, score! If it's not, and you’re traveling within or just outside the Old City, try insisting upon 100‎฿.

Walk away if they won't come down in price. They'll cave — most of the time. (We didn’t have much luck playing hardball during a crowded event, like the Saturday Walking Market, for instance.) But if they don't accept your price, you should be able to find another tuk-tuk right away.

 

2. Know exactly where you’re going.

You don’t have to know the route — just the address of your destination. Most addresses in Chiang Mai will be four or five lines long and seem to include streets, districts, subdistricts and even the nearest gate in the ancient walled city.

Have your destination address ready to go on your phone to show the driver.

 

3. BYOM: Bring your own map.

Some drivers have their own maps, but play it safe and bring your own. It's easier to point on a map than to show English addresses. So just whip out your copy of Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai (it seems as if everyone’s got one). Before you head somewhere, try to find where you are currently and where you’d like to go.

A couple of fellow travelers told us about a great resource: the app Maps.me, where you can download a comprehensive map of the city that you can access offline.

Drivers like to orient themselves by gates. Look at the closest one to your destination and point to it on the map.

 

4. They treat two lanes like three.

This can be a bit nerve-racking if you focus on it too much. Granted, tuk-tuks are pretty small and two of them can almost fit abreast in a lane of traffic. But they weave in and out of traffic — some of it oncoming — so the best thing to do is just put your trust in your driver and try to enjoy the ride. And hang on tight.

 

5. They lay off the horn.

It's the polar opposite of India, where drivers never stop honking. Perhaps it's their quiet Buddhist nature. But I sure ain’t complaining.

 

6. Watch for the fake-out tuk-tuks.

When you really just want to find some nice open-air transport back to your hotel, standing on the side of the road in the blazing heat, you’ll inevitably get your hopes dashed by vehicles that look a lot like tuk-tuks but aren’t. They have a motorbike with a sidecar sort of thing, usually used to carry food.

 

7. When desperate, flag down a red taxi (song thaew).

If you go to a more remote locale (like the mostly abandoned JJ home décor market Duke wanted to try out), you might not find a tuk-tuk. In these instances, you’ll have to flag down a song thaew (literally “two rows), so named for the seating in the back of these modified trucks. They’re covered and can get quite hot inside.

You'll have to share these with other riders most of the time, and they make various stops as they go along. It’s best to know what your destination looks like, since it’s not as easy to converse with the driver as it is in a tuk-tuk.

The good thing is that these are quite cheap. It says all rides are 30฿ on the side of the vehicle — but we always paid a bit more and didn’t argue.  

 

8. If you want to go farther afield, hire a driver for the day or half-day.

We had a fantastic experience with Tommy (you can email him at t.tommy2556@gmail.com). His price was competitive — in fact, I think the drivers must all decide on a price, and everyone sticks to it. Tommy speaks fluent English and has a penchant for love songs from the ’70s. We enjoyed his company so much, we hired him three of the days we spent in Chiang Mai.

 

9. Avoid this tuk-tuk scam.

Yes, Duke and I still manage to get swindled now and then.

On our first day in Chiang Mai, we saw a tuk-tuk driver at the first temple we visited, then again later in the day. He offered to take us on a tour of the Old City as well as a handicraft market for 150‎฿. He told us his name is Chi, the first three letters of our hometown Chicago, so I felt it must be kismet. You pronounce his name “Shy,” though he's anything but.

Our “tour” turned out to be a total crock. Chi took us to tourist trap shops outside the Old City, where everything is overpriced and the desperate salespeople cling to you. We cruised through them, though, in solidarity to Chi, after he explained that he gets a stamp from each place (and one imagines some sort of commission).

After five of those shops, Chi said he'll take us to the Old City. Instead, he stopped outside Tha Phae Gate and essentially kicked us to the curb, waving across the street and dismissing us. So much for good karma.

If you see Chi (heck, he might even have a picture of me and Duke to help lure you in), don’t fall for his scam. –Wally

Wat Rong Suea Ten, the Blue Temple

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

This newer temple can be paired with a day trip to the White Temple and Black House Museum, as well as the over-the-top Wat Sang Kaew

In October of 2005, a small village in Chiang Rai turned their attention to building a distinctive blue and gold temple inspired by tradition. Full of surprises and named for the tigers that once roamed there, Wat Rong Suea Ten is a six-acre property located in Rim Kok, a subdistrict of Chiang Rai. More commonly referred to as the Blue Temple, its monastery and pagoda were built upon the ruins of an ancient temple, abandoned 80 to 100 years prior.

This lesser-known temple is still not widely promoted, so there are less tourists compared to the White Temple and Black House Museum.
Being a Slytherin, Wally has a special fondness for naga

Being a Slytherin, Wally has a special fondness for naga

Dancing Tigers?

This lesser-known temple is still not widely promoted, so there are less tourists compared to both Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and the Baan Dam (Black House) Museum. The monastery was designed by a protégé of Chalermchai Kositpipat and derives its name from the inhabitants of Rong Suea Ten village. The region was once a natural habitat that teemed with wildlife, including tigers who “danced” (leapt) over the nearby Mae Kok River. The name translates as House of the Dancing Tiger: rong is the Thai word for house, suea for tiger and ten for dancing. In what may prove either to be a disappointment to some or reassurance to others, there are no real, live tigers at Wat Rong Suea Ten.

The stupa at Wat Rong Suea Ten

The stupa at Wat Rong Suea Ten

It Takes a Village

In 1996, local villagers agreed to rebuild a temple here. The purpose was to establish a devotional center for meditation, prayer and worship, as they did not have a sacred space for merit-making (earning good karma points) in their town. Construction of the viharn monastery began in October 2005 and was completed in January 2016. Other parts of the temple are still under construction today.

The interior is reminiscent of the White Temple’s artwork — and indeed, we learned that it was created by a student of Kositpipat

The interior is reminiscent of the White Temple’s artwork — and indeed, we learned that it was created by a student of Kositpipat

In Living Color

A pair of fierce and wildly colorful naga flank the balustrade, acting as guards to the monastic hall’s entrance. Both the exterior and interior walls are covered in a vivid indigo hue embellished with gold.

The celestial themes and twilight blue create a mystical feel to the temple’s interior

The celestial themes and twilight blue create a mystical feel to the temple’s interior

Unlike at the White Temple, visitors are allowed to take photographs of the viharn’s interior. Inside, at the end of the great hall, a colossal white Buddha statue in the Bhumisparsha Mudra position sits framed by towering filigreed columns. His legs are crossed and his right hand points to the ground, the gesture of touching the earth, representing the moment Buddha attained enlightenment.  

You can take pictures inside the Blue Temple — unlike in the White Temple

You can take pictures inside the Blue Temple — unlike in the White Temple

The influence of the artist Kositpipat can be seen through the trippy, kaleidoscopic imagery depicting the Lord Buddha’s spiritual journey that covers the walls and ceiling. There’s even a giant demon mouth that serves as the exit. Additional details include sculptures from Thai folklore and streaks of metallic gold, all contributing to the temple’s magnificence.

Turn back to look at the entrance, and you’ll see a representation of Hell, with the doors you came through actually a demon’s mouth

Turn back to look at the entrance, and you’ll see a representation of Hell, with the doors you came through actually a demon’s mouth

To symbolize dharma, the Buddha’s code of morals, the temple is predominantly painted blue, which is associated with wisdom, the infinite, purity and healing. Blue is also the least “material” of all hues and speaks to the limitless heights of ascension. The Virgin Mary and Christ are often shown wearing blue, as is the Hindu deity Vishnu and his blue-skinned incarnation, Krishna.

This angel-like being guards the Blue Temple

This angel-like being guards the Blue Temple

Entrance to the temple is free, and as at all Thai Buddhist temples, visitors must remove their shoes before entering, as well as ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.

Make a donation and light a floating lotus candle

Make a donation and light a floating lotus candle

You can make various donations to the temple. Wally went right over to the lotus-shaped candles, choosing a bright pink one, of course. He lit it and placed it in one of the bowls of water out front, making a wish as it bobbed along with its brethren. –Duke

The Monsters of "Supernatural," Season 2, Episodes 7-9

What is a banshee? How can you make a deal with the Devil like Robert Johnson? Hellhounds (black dogs), Roanoke, goofer dust and death omens all get covered in this roundup.

An illustration from The English Dance of Death, drawn by William Combe. I’d say a skeleton lounging in front of your fireplace is a pretty strong death omen

S2E7: “The Usual Suspects”

Monster: Death omen

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: This particular figure is pale, with dark red eyes and a slit throat. In his typically eloquent fashion, Dean describes the death omen as “Casper the Bloodthirsty Ghost.”

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, or The Banshee by Henry Meynell Rheam, 1901

In Irish folklore, a banshee is a female spirit, and when people hear her horrific wail (one tradition holds that it can actually break glass), they know someone will soon die.

What it does: Like the banshee, death omens foretell that someone will perish in the near future.

I love black cats…but some cultures believe them to be harbingers of death — especially if one meows at midnight

Death Omens

In this episode, the printer keeps repeating the name Dana Schulps. That’s creepy, but here’s a shortened list of some famous death omens, according to Superstition Dictionary:

  • A black cat meowing at midnight
  • Bees swarming a rotten tree (there will be a death in the family owning or living on the property within a year)
  • A bird entering the bedroom of a sick person and landing on the bedpost
  • A pigeon flying against the window
  • A sparrow attacking another swallow and throwing it from its nest near a home (a son will be born and a daughter will die)
  • An owl hooting in a tree right above your head (a relative or friend of yours will die within a year)
  • A dog persistently howling under your window
  • A mouse running over your foot
  • A white rabbit crossing your path
  • A cow giving birth to twin calves
  • A cedar tree you have planted dying in your yard
  • A peach tree blooming early
  • A clock striking 13
  • A portrait falling off the wall
  • A rainbow over a house (sounds more gay than scary, to be honest)
  • Seeing your shadow without a head on New Year’s Eve

How to defeat it: At first the boys think this is a vengeful spirit. In true Winchester Brothers fashion, Sam says, “We have to salt and burn her bones. It’s the only way to put her spirit to rest.” To which guest star Linda Blair, famous for her head-turning performance in The Exorcist, replies, “Of course it is.”

Thing is, why would a vengeful spirit lead Blair to her remains? Turns out it’s not a vengeful spirit after all. As a death omen, she wants to warn people, and she’s finally at rest once the murderer is killed.

You certainly don’t want to be a victim of a hellhound attack

S2E8: “Crossroad Blues”

Monster: Black dog or hellhound

Where it’s from: England and Scotland

The Black Dog of Newgate has haunted the prison for 400 years, appearing before executions

Description: They’re larger than your average pooch and are covered in shaggy black fur, though some reports say they can have white, spotted or brown fur as well. Glowing red eyes, long fangs and saliva reeking of sulfur complete the look.

Sam describes them as “demonic pitbulls.”

“I bet they could hump the crap out of your leg,” Dean adds

What it does: Hellhounds collect souls that are due in payment for deals made with the Devil. One man wanted to be an overnight musical success. This calls to mind Robert Johnson, who is said to have made just such a deal. He supposedly came across Satan at a crossroads and offered to sell his soul in return for becoming an amazing bluesman. He went on to write and perform some popular songs, including “Cross Roads Blues,” “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail.” But he died mysteriously, choking on his own blood, at age 27 (like Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and others) in 1938.

The blues musician Robert Johnson is one of the most famous people (Faust aside) to sell his soul to the Devil

With another person they’re investigating, Dean wants to know why the man made a pact with a demon: “What’d you ask for anyway, Evan? Never need Viagra? Bowl a perfect game?”

“My wife,’ Evan says.

“Gettin’ the girl,” Dean nods. “Well, that’s worth a trip to Hell for."

You can supposedly get your heart’s desire if you make a pact with the Devil — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea

How to Sell Your Soul to the Devil

If you’d like to make a deal with the Devil (and we really can’t recommend doing so), here’s how to do so.

Plant yarrow flowers in the corners of a crossroads to summon the Big Guy.

Get a tin box and fill with the bones of a black cat, graveyard dirt and a picture of yourself.

“That’s Deep South hoodoo stuff,” Dean says.

How to defeat it: Sam and Dean think one of the people they visit has grabbed the wrong shaker (those boys are completely obsessed with salt). But the man made no mistake. He’s keeping away demons with another hoodoo trick: goofer dust.

Be warned that the goofer dust will affect anyone who steps onto it. Victims will develop a chronic illness that may result in death.


Goofer Dust Recipe

This recipe comes from Raven Conspiracy:

  • Sulfur
  • Salt
  • Skin or head of a venomous snake, dried and ground
  • Black pepper
  • Graveyard dirt

Optional ingredients:

  • Red pepper
  • Ground bones
  • Ground insects
  • Sage
  • Mullein
  • Anvil dust

 

Here’s another version, this one from SpellsOfMagic.com:

  • Graveyard dirt
  • Black salt
  • Ground sulfur
  • Snake skin
  • Magnetic sand

Optional ingredients:

  • Dried pigeon feces
  • Ground insects
  • Powdered bones
  • Black pepper

Sounds like there’s some leeway with the recipe. Mix what ingredients you can find together. But be sure not to touch the powder after you’ve made it.

Sprinkle it in a place where you know your target will definitely walk onto it. Be warned that the goofer dust will affect anyone who steps onto it. Victims will develop a chronic illness that may result in death.

 

If you regret having made a satanic pact, use a Devil’s Trap to ensnare the demon or devil and strike a deal by threatening to exorcise it.

 

S2E9: “Croatoan”

Monster: Demonic virus

Where it’s from: the United States

Description: There’s a telltale sulfuric residue in the virus.

What it does: Those infected turn murderous. They’re also fond of spreading the love: The virus is passed by by blood to blood contact. The infected like to cut themselves and then slice open their victim so they can drip blood into the wound.

The boys find a reference to the Lost Colony of Roanoke (it was also a theme in American Horror Story: Roanoke). The colony was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 in what is now North Carolina. Five years later, all 115 or so settlers had vanished mysteriously — the only clue being the word “Croatoan” carved into a fencepost. The Croatoan were an Indian tribe, though Daddy Winchester had a theory that it’s the name of a demon also known as Deva, or Resheph, associated with pestilence.

That’s Resheph off to the right, the personification of plague. He’s hanging out with his friends Min (the fertility god with the big boner) and Qetesh (the goddess of fertility and sexual ecstacy)

How to defeat it: You’ve got to kill those infected. Guns work. And Molotov cocktails would do the trick, too, one imagines, as the Winchester boys were planning.

It also helps to be immune, like Sam. –Wally

I bet they could hump the crap out of your leg.
— Dean Winchester

The Craziest, Coolest Northern Thailand Temple Most People Have Never Heard Of

At Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland. Add this to a day trip that includes the White Temple, Blue Temple and Black Museum.

The storybook viharn at Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The storybook viharn at Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Our driver, Tommy, knew us so well. After a colorful succession of touring through the White Temple, the Blue Temple and the Black House Museum, we had some extra time on our day trip to Chiang Rai, and he suggested we make one more stop: Wat Sang Kaew.

We felt like Alice tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole, encountering unexpected marvel after marvel the farther in we explored.  
It had recently rained when we visited, providing a misty yet vibrant feel to the temple complex

It had recently rained when we visited, providing a misty yet vibrant feel to the temple complex

The name translates to Glass Light, Tommy told us — though a local tour company insists it means “A lotus that has sprouted and emerged from the water and emits light like a sparkling gem with brilliant light.” That’s a lot to pack into a couple of words.

The front area of Wat Sang Kaew is gorgeously landscaped

The front area of Wat Sang Kaew is gorgeously landscaped

It should actually be called Wonderland, cuz we felt like Alice tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole, encountering unexpected marvel after marvel the farther in we explored.  

Who’s going to love a visit to Wat Sang Kaew? You are!

Who’s going to love a visit to Wat Sang Kaew? You are!

This wat, or temple, complex is about 30 miles south of Chiang Rai city — and we both think it should be included on any itinerary to this neck of the mountains. It’s a relatively new complex; construction began in 2010, and parts of it were still being built when we visited in the spring of 2017.

All the single ladies line the side of the viharn

All the single ladies line the side of the viharn

The entire complex is bat shit crazy, giving you existential sensory overload — but in the best way possible. Your first clue are the giant statues that line the parking lot, including Upakut, the son of Buddha and a mermaid,  and one of Pra Maha Kajjana, who according to legend was a handsome monk who transformed himself to a homely, obese man so that others would stop focusing on his physical appearance.  

Pra Maha Kajjana (on the right) was so tired of people fawning over his hotness that he turned himself into a fatty

Pra Maha Kajjana (on the right) was so tired of people fawning over his hotness that he turned himself into a fatty

As you walk up the stairs, you’ll pass through a super-sized white and gold arch, or, as we liked to imagine it, the metaphorical lookingglass.

Inside the viharn is a cool metallic mural that depicts the Buddhist version of Purgatory (which sure looks a lot like our Hell)

Inside the viharn is a cool metallic mural that depicts the Buddhist version of Purgatory (which sure looks a lot like our Hell)

Deep red and gold buildings stand amongst a who’s who of deities whose hands are clasped in the wai, a gesture demonstrating respect and reverence.

We loved the temple’s appropriation of contemporary culture, including two asuras, or demons, bearing a litter holding a large bronze bell with shackles around their feet. One is sporting a pair of Converse high-top sneakers, the other a pair of flip flops with a smartphone tucked into the back of his sarong. The dais they stand upon is surrounded by 20 brass bells. The aesthetics of the temple have been shaped by its primary benefactor, Kruba Ariyachat, who Tommy told us is only in his 30s.

The good guys on the left; bad guys on the right. We loved the modern touches like the red Converses, hand gesture and cell phone in the back pocket

The good guys on the left; bad guys on the right. We loved the modern touches like the red Converses, hand gesture and cell phone in the back pocket

We figured this would be all there is to see. But really we had just begun our adventure in Wonderland.

The beautiful interior of the viharn, or worship hall

The beautiful interior of the viharn, or worship hall

We continued upward, beyond the front complex, surprised that there was more — and it’s bonkers. An open-air sala pavilion contains an assortment of shrines, Buddhas of various sizes and a creature known as See Hoo Ha Dtaa, who consumes red hot coals and defecates gold. (He’d make a great pet!)

This strange creature eats coals — and, as you can see here, poops out gold!

This strange creature eats coals — and, as you can see here, poops out gold!

We passed giant deities and mythical creatures from Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

And then! Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more bizarre, we emerged onto a turquoise blue piazza and entered what Duke and I referred to as the Hindu theme park. Towering brightly colored statues of our favorite gods loomed over us. There’s Duke’s guy, good old Ganesh, with his elephant head and fan base of rats. On the other side is my dude, four-faced Brahma, astride a green goose. In the center, a fountain is ringed by animal-headed men representing the signs of the Chinese-influenced zodiac. Piped-in music further adds to the surreal ambiance.

Ganesh and other giant Hindu deities can be found out back, in a sort of theme park

Ganesh and other giant Hindu deities can be found out back, in a sort of theme park

We wandered around barefoot, and as it had recently rained, I only slipped and almost cracked my head open once.

At the very tippy top, there’s a pot of gold, so to speak, at the end of the rainbow. You’ll find three gold statues of famous monks. The ginormous one in the center is the popular Engineer Monk, Kruba Srivichai, who lived from 1878 to 1938. He’s responsible for many local construction projects, perhaps most notably the road that leads from Chiang Mai up to Wat Doi Suthep.

Three large golden monks sit atop the back of the complex. The guy in the middle is the Engineer Monk, who’s famous around these parts

Three large golden monks sit atop the back of the complex. The guy in the middle is the Engineer Monk, who’s famous around these parts

At the base of the golden monks, you can survey the entirety of the wat grounds — but most striking is the skyline. Bright green vegetation gives way to mountains that are an ombré of blues. It’s breathtaking.

A pale blue and white Buddha in the open-aired sala

A pale blue and white Buddha in the open-aired sala

The more I think about it, and the more I look at the gorgeous (and goofy) photos, the more I realize that this was probably my favorite wat of the entire trip.

To book Tommy as a driver (which we highly recommend), email him at t.tommy2556@gmail.com. –Wally

Monkeys line the sala roof

Monkeys line the sala roof


Wat Sang Kaew Bodhiyan Chiangrai
Mae Suai
Chiang Rai, Thailand


Catmosphere Cat Cafe

Good mews! Chiang Mai has a pet cafe where you can get your cat crazies on.

If you love cats, stop in Catmosphere for a caffeine and feline fix

It’s one of the great debates of the ages: They say you’re either a cat person or you’re a dog person. Growing up, my family had both, and I don't claim to be biased towards one or the other. Oh, who am I kidding? I get dewy, giant-pupiled anime eyes when I see a basket full of kittens, and when it comes to having a pet at home, I prefer the company of a cat.

Zoey graced us with her presence, sleeping on our table for most of our visit

Wally and I have two cats with decidedly different personalities: an antisocial but beautiful calico named Caribou and a sweet gray and white one who is perpetually hungry by the name of Bowzer. If we didn't live in the city, we would probably (definitely) have more.

Our café is a tribute to all those brave cats who have dedicated their lives to space exploration.
— Ben, owner of Catmosphere

As we knew we’d be missing our beloved animal companions, Catmosphere Cat Café pawed its way onto our list of things to see and do while in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I mean, where else can you can sit and enjoy a coffee, and at the same time play with or stroke some cats?!

The latte art was enough to make us regret our decision to go with iced

The Catmosphere we visited is located on Huay Kaew Road, but it’s situated in a plaza of shops that sit a short distance from the road. We might have walked right past it had I not spotted the sign. When we got closer, we admired the fun marquee lights above the entrance.

Before entering, we were asked to wash our hands and remove our sandals. There’s a rack to stash your footwear, and they provide colorful quilted slippers to wear inside. 

This rapscallion is named Eve. She darts about the café, causing a ruckus, looking adorable all the while

The “Catstronauts,” as the space-themed café refers to its residents, are living their nine lives in style. There is pinstriped seating on the floor, low wood tables and coordinating toss cushions, for patrons and felines alike. Playful sci-fi elements, such as a retro-inspired mural with cats in space, featuring a black cat whizzing around in a rocketship wearing a bubble-style space helmet, while another kitty sticks an orange flag into a lunar surface. (As an interesting aside, on October 18, 1963, the French, eager to stake their claim in the space race, sent a black and white female cat named Félicette 130 feet into the air on a non-orbital rocket flight. She was recovered safely after the capsule parachuted to Earth.)

Wally named this one the Duchess — but later found out his name was Luke

The Cat’s Pajamas

Choosing a time to visit the café can be a gamble, as cats are unpredictable, and in those few hours each day when they aren’t sleeping, can be bundles of spastic energy. According to the Catmosphere website, it’s best to visit either early in the morning when they first open, or in the evening. After all, cats are nocturnal creatures.

On our evening visit, some slept, some were curious, and some chose to observe from afar. One of the most playful resident cats, Eve, skittered across the room in pursuit of something we couldn’t see.

Wally nicknamed a docile Scottish fold sitting on a cushion across from us “the Duchess,” who after a particularly thorough grooming session fell fast asleep, half sitting up. We found out later from one of the owners that she is actually a he named Luke.

A modern cat tower featuring different levels of rectangular white boxes faces the café window and is the perfect place for the kitties to hide, climb, take a catnap, or perch and observe the world beyond.

Elsa rules over her domain, a wall of cubby holes 

For those felines looking for a quick escape route, a tri-level wall mounted variation of the tower functions as the perfect getaway. A white cat named Elsa decided to commandeer this as her lookout point, and when another cat joined her, she chased the interloper away.

 

Coffee and Kitties

How’s the coffee, you ask? Catmosphere serves a full range of coffee drinks and desserts. Wally ordered an iced latte, which was 95 baht, or about $2.75, and I ordered a Thai iced tea (80 baht or $2.35) — I’m a cheap date and will always go for a mix of black tea, spices, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk.

As long as you order something from their menu, entry is to the café is free. If you’re simply craving a feline fix, a fee of 100 baht (or $3 at the exchange rate at the time) per hour will be charged. All proceeds benefit the care of the resident Catstronauts.

 

Catiquette

I read the laminated list of rules sitting atop our table. One suggested keeping an eye on your food and drink. A young woman who had ordered a delicious-looking slice of cheesecake left her table to photograph a few of the cats. It was then that I noticed one of the cats balanced on the table’s edge, licking the blueberry glaze off said slice of cheesecake, until one of the young female employees noticed and shooed them away.

The café sells an assortment of souvenir items including tote bags and T-shirts. We purchased a tote with an illustrated portrait six of the resident cats.

The experience was truly unique and we met a menagerie of cats, including Apollo, Athena, Blue, Cooper, Eve, Letty, Luke and Yoda.

Nhoon and Ben, the owners of Catmosphere in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Q&A With the Owner of Catmosphere

We reached out to Ben, one of the owners of Catmosphere in Chiang Mai, to ask him some questions about the coffeeshop. Curiosity killed the cat, they say, but it hasn’t harmed Wally or me yet.

When did this location open?
In June 2014.

How did the concept come about?
Well, for one not many people know that cats have actually been to space! The credit always goes to dogs and monkeys, which is clearly unfair. Our café is a tribute to all those brave cats who have dedicated their lives to space exploration.

Seriously though, we think that it is a fun concept. We are basing it on mid-20th century space exploration and science fiction themes. There’s a lot of creative potential in that, and it allows us to do fun, tongue-in-cheek stuff. It’s cheesy, but in a good way.

Are the cats adopted from shelters or are they purchased?
It’s a mix of both. In the beginning, we purchased cats, but since we opened we have chosen to adopt cats instead, because homeless kittens are available all the time in Chiang Mai.

Are apartments and condominiums pet friendly in Chiang Mai?
Pets are forbidden in most condos. I used to rent a condo before, and we always had to smuggle the cats in and out in boxes, hoping they wouldn’t meow at the reception.

The Catstronauts of Catmosphere. How many can you spot on your visit?

Any funny stories you could share about the cats’ personalities?
Each cat has their own personal quirks! Just a few examples:

  • Yoda waits for the first batch of customers in the morning to go on each person’s lap and give them a cat massage. But he never gives one to Nhoon or me.
  • Eve loves sneaking out to the street specifically to annoy us. She is incredibly good at it — she’ll wait far away at the side of the door and pretend to be busy, then once the door opens, escape efficiently and silently, in a straight line between the customer's legs. Sometimes, nobody notices that she’s gone until she’s at the door half an hour later.
  • Letty shows her love by gently biting people on the nose.
  • Every time a new plaything or other item arrives, Apollo takes first ownership of it, usually by lying on it or rubbing his cheek on it. After a day or so, it is then made available to the other cats.
  • Athena likes to randomly jump on customers’ tables from above and spill the coffee.

I could go on indefinitely.


You’ll just have to experience this quirky cat café for yourself. –Duke


Catmosphere
Huay Kaew Road
Thesaban Nakhon Chiang Mai
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50300 Thailand


Wat Buppharam, the Donald Duck Temple

One of our favorite Chiang Mai temples, this complex feels a bit like a Disney theme park.

The gorgeous Dhamma Hall exterior is a highlight of Wat Bupphram in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Can you spot Donald Duck eating a bowl of noodles out front?

Chances are that wherever you happen to be in Chiang Mai, you’ll find a temple nearby. It’s like Chicago and bars. The city is a melding of cultures, where the architectural influences of Thailand’s neighbors can be seen in its many religious buildings.

Dharma wheels decorate the exterior wall of the temple complex

An example of this integration can be seen in the Buddhist temple of Wat Buppharam, situated a short distance from the Old City. Once you cross the Narawat Bridge, there’s a quick succession of temples, and if you were to simply cast a fleeting glance at this simple whitewashed outer wall topped with dharmachakra wheels that face the busy street, you'd be missing out on a very special place. You’d also be missing out on a depiction of a Disney character wearing a familiar sailor shirt, cap, and a bowtie.

The temple has appropriated the Disney cartoon character Donald Duck, standing and eating a bowl of noodles in the garden.

Duke and Wally on the steps of the Dhamma Hall at Wat Bupphrama, resplendent in deep red with elaborate gold details

An Earth-Shaking History

Once you enter through the gate on southern side of Tha Phae Road, you’ll soon discover a temple that has developed a character all its own. A reminder of King Muangkaeo’s legacy, Wat Buppharam was constructed shortly after his ordination in 1495 on the site formerly occupied by the palace of his great grandfather King Tilokarat. Royal courts sponsored artists and erected temples as an act of religious merit making (a way to gain points toward enlightenment).

In 1497, Muangkaeo dedicated the monastery to the Lord Buddha, and according to historic documents, an intense earthquake occurred at the time of donation, but the temple withstood, undamaged. Seeing this as an auspicious sign — according to legend, an earthquake occurred prior to the Buddha’s death — the king had a silver Buddha image cast and placed within the temple chapel.

Duke says this Buddha is telling you, “Talk to the hand”

Talk to the Hand

The first building you’ll likely encounter is the large two-story Ho Phra Monthiantham, or Dhamma Hall, a communal center for Buddhist teaching and meditation. In front of the hall is a Buddha statue standing beneath a golden parasol with his right hand, palm out, raised to shoulder height. My first thought was of the dismissive ’90s phrase “talk to the hand,” which isn't completely off the mark. The posture is known as the pang ham yati, or pacifying the relatives position.

More surprising however is the appropriation of the Disney cartoon character Donald Duck, standing and eating a bowl full of noodles in the library hall garden. Like Ta Phrom in Angkor, Cambodia taking on the moniker of the Tomb Raider Temple after the Lara Croft film shot there, Wat Buppharam is referred to by some locals as the Donald Duck Temple. Wally and I found that many of the temple grounds in Chiang Mai have an element of whimsy to them, most notably in the form of statuary.

 

These sluglike creatures are called moms. You know how moms are: They’re never satisfied

Viharn 1

We decided to visit the small viharn, or prayer hall, located to the east of the Ho Monthiantham, first. It’s an elaborate affair of dark teak wood, stucco and ornate inlaid glass tiles with a low-slung, double-tiered roof. At its entrance you are welcomed by the curious mythological creatures hilariously called moms, one in silver and one in gold. A message beneath the gold one reads, “Please take off your shoes.” These aquatic creatures are from the Himavanta, a legendary forest that surrounds the base of Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hindu mythology. Looking like a blunt-faced, late-stage-development tadpole-ferret hybrid, they serve as a reminder against clinging to impermanence and materiality. Moms are unable to satisfy their cravings — they endlessly gorge themselves, and because of this, they lack the necessary self-awareness to achieve enlightenment. 

The viharn was originally erected in 1819 by Prince Thamalangka, who restored and renovated many of Chiang Mai’s temples after the Burmese had abandoned the city during the long skirmish between the two kingdoms.  

Duke in the archway that leads to the chedi courtyard

The principal Buddha image was cast around 500 years ago and is seated in the Bhumisparsha mudra, or earth witness position, a gesture that represents the moment of enlightenment. Just before the Buddha reached nirvana, the demon king Mara tried to frighten him with armies of demons and monsters, including his daughters who tried to tempt Buddha to get out of meditation beneath the bodhi tree. When the Buddha’s hand touched the earth, it bellowed, “I bear you witness!” which in turn caused Mara and his minions to disappear.

Cats aren’t that common in Chiang Mai, but we found one resting in the second viharn, or prayer hall

Viharn 2

This prayer hall, found behind the other, has a large triangular pediment featuring a detailed carved wooden relief with a floral motif. The sacred structure is believed to be over 200 years old and contains a brass Buddha image cast around 500 years ago. It contains murals depicting scenes from one of the Jataka tales about the previous lives of the Buddha. This story, called the Vessantara Jataka tells of Prince Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, demonstrating charity, one of the virtues of a bodhisattva.

A detail from the elaborately carved viharn doors

The richly carved front door panels of the Himavanta forest were replaced in 1983. We didn’t spot any moms, but a pair of hamsas, Buddhist geese, a symbol of purity and enlightenment, can be seen in the ornamental gable niche above the entrance.

A half-lion, half-dragon creature from Burmese mythology known as a chinthe helps protect the pagoda

Chedi

As Wally and I exited the second viharn and made our way to the chedi behind it, we passed a sign calling out a makeshift museum. Below the sign, a family of chickens happily strutted around, occasionally pecking at the dirt beneath.  

This Buddha in a red niche is one of four at the base of the tower that is said to hold a sacred relic

The original chedi, or reliquary tower, was believed to have contained a sacred remnant of the Buddha. Its present form is a bulbous Burmese bell shape decorated with a combination of gold leaf and glass mosaic. The chedi was restored in 1958 and has a tiered square base supporting three rings of diminishing volume. Each side features a bright red alcove containing a golden Buddha, while the spire at the top is crowned by a hti, a finial ornament symbolic of a sacred umbrella.  

A hen sits on her eggs in a pot by the chedi

We sat on a bench in the shade of one of the temple trees for a moment to take in the monument and while doing so, we heard a rustling in a nearby potted plant. Looking over, we saw a speckled black hen sitting atop the eggs she had laid in there.

Wally has a special affinity for these snakelike creatures called nagas

Dhamma Hall

Wally and I then proceeded to the largest and most recent structure within the complex. The two-story Ho Phra Monthiantham was erected by Abbot Phra Udom Kitti Mongkun and replaced the original wooden building that occupied the site in time for the 50th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. Its entrance is guarded and flanked by makaras, creatures from Hindu mythology that possess the body of a dolphin combined with a crocodile.

The mondop style structure was influenced by the mandapa temples of Northern India and is characterized by a cruciform-shaped building, multi-tiered roof with upturned flame-like naga finials and a wraparound porch on the upper floor, topped with a spire.  

Buddhist temples are filled with various statues in all sorts of mismatched styles

We took the staircase to the second floor, which contains the largest solid teak Buddha image in Chiang Mai. Painted in white and pale yellow, it was carved after a vision by King Sanphet II in the late 16th century, when he defeated the Burmese forces near Ban Muang Ngai, Thailand. This vision is depicted in the carved wood panels on the east wall. It’s believed to be 400 years old, and like the small viharn Buddha, is seated in the Bhumisparsha mudra, with additional smaller cast metal Buddha images in this position as well.

This playful mural by the artist Pornchai Jaima shows people worshipping a sacred tree

Expressive contemporary hand-painted murals by Thai artist Pornchai Jaima cover the walls of the lower level and possess a vivid, dreamlike depiction of traditional village life rendered in richly saturated hues.

Wally at Wat Bupphram, one of his favorite temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Buppharam features a combination of traditional elements and a dash of humor, which ended up making it onto Wally’s shortlist of favorites. Part of that had to do with Donald Duck I’m sure.


Wat Buppharam
Tha Phae Road
Tambon Chang Moi
Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai
Chang Wat
Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand

The Appeal of Buddhism

What to expect and how to behave in a Thai temple — and why we prefer them to Christian churches.

Thai temples, like Wat Ket Karam in Chiang Mai, have worship halls (viharns), towers containing relics (chedis) and a mix of other buildings

The first time you step into a Thai Buddhist temple as a Westerner, you might get overwhelmed. Temples in Thailand are called wats — but they’re not a single building, as you might imagine.

They’re actually entire complexes with multiple buildings, each a mélange of various styles. Faded carved teak, lichen-covered stone, glittering gold and green and red, gaudy ceramics, serene Buddhas, Chinese zodiac iconography, Hindu deities and bizarre hybrid creatures from mythology — they’re all jumbled about. 

Women aren’t allowed to touch monks, and there are parts of certain wats where females are forbidden to enter.

And while I do love to visit a Zen garden or a sleek, austere sacred space, I’m truly a maximalist by nature. There’s something cozy and comforting about the mishmash found in wats. They’re fun to explore — you never know what lies around the next corner. You might even be startled by a wax figure of a famous monk that’s creepily lifelike.

No, this isn’t a real monk — it’s a wax replica at Wat Phra Sing that could fit right in at Madame Tussauds. Wax monks are all the rage in Northern Thailand, and they’re sure to startle the unwary traveler

We recommend adopting this open-minded attitude if you’re visiting Chiang Mai. It’s a city filled with quirky and often beautiful wats, and wandering through them should be a part of every tourist’s agenda.

Duke and I probably enjoy wats more than your average travelers — we visited at least 12 in our week in Northern Thailand. More than churches, they’re all unique in their own way.

 

Follow the Rules

If you’re worried about how to behave in a wat, don’t be. I remember the first time I went to Thailand I was scared I’d do something wrong. I closely watched native worshippers, hoping to mimic their actions.

The good news is that, aside from some universal rules, there is no wrong way to pay your respects to the Buddha.

 

Follow these three simple rules when you’re in a wat:

 

1. Take off your shoes.

It’s good to have shoes or sandals you can easily slip on and off — you’ll be doing it multiple times in a wat complex.

 

2. Cover your shoulders and knees.

Some temples are more strict than others, though most in Chiang Mai are quite lax. If they’re strict about dress code, it often only pertains to women and they’ll have wraps you can borrow. (There’s a strain of sexism that runs through the country, where every man goes off to become a monk for a period of time, and many women enter the sex industry. Women aren’t allowed to touch monks, and there are parts of certain wats where females are forbidden to enter. With the exception of the amazing Wat Sri Suphan, the Silver Temple, most of the time these spots aren’t too remarkable, so you’re not really missing out on too much, ladies.)

 

3. Don’t point your feet at the Buddha.

The easiest way to avoid this is to never sit with your feet in front of you. Instead, play it safe and kneel, or sit cross-legged.

Otherwise you’re free to wander around at will and worship as you see fit.

Sorry, ladies. Only men can feast their eyes on the interior of Wat Sri Suphan, the amazing Silver Temple in Chiang Mai

What Should Tourists Do in a Wat?

The main temple, known as a viharn, has an open hall that faces at least one — but usually many — often giant, depiction of the Buddha. They’re places for quiet prayers and contemplation. I could certainly benefit from more meditation. Or, heck, let’s face it: any mediation. These are the most like churches. You probably want to speak in quiet, reverent tones so as not to disturb worshippers.

As I mentioned, there’s no wrong way to pray in a wat. I like to kneel down, maybe extending my arms out in a bow. Then I do a wai, the Thai sign of respect, with your palms pressed together in front of your face. I bow three times and then sit there, still waiing, and have a little chat with the Buddha, like you might with God or Allah. If there’s something you’d like, ask for it. Give thanks for something. Or just sit still and try to clear your mind.

By the way, I don’t do this in every viharn I go in — only those that have a special feel that calls to me. Otherwise, I just walk around and take pictures.

Another appeal of Thai Buddhism is that outside of these solemn structures, wats are a thriving part of the community. Some have massage schools and offer rub-downs for an affordable price. Some have open-air food courts; with others, handicraft markets spill onto their grounds. The line between sacred and social blurs.  

As religion in the U.S. fades, with atheism on the rise, it’s interesting to experience a culture where it seems almost everyone is religious. Perhaps it’s because Buddhist worship seems pretty chill. You go to the temple whenever, you spend as much or as little time as you want, maybe you make a small donation to light a candle or ring a bell. There might be times when monks chant, but it’s not like a church service that’s so regimented.  

Honestly, wouldn’t you rather pray to this peaceful man than to one who’s being tortured to death?

Honestly, wouldn’t you rather pray to this peaceful man than to one who’s being tortured to death?

If we lived in a place where Buddhist temples were as common as churches, I would pop into them every so often, spend 10 to 30 minutes praying, meditating or walking around the chedi.

I suppose it’s not that different than the people who go into a church to pray.

I guess I just prefer looking at a serenely smiling man to one nailed to a cross in agony.  

Can you tell? I’ve fallen for Buddhism. –Wally

Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette: Your Oasis in Chiang Mai

East meets West at this chic boutique hotel.

The open-air lobby of the Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The casual chic 19-room Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette is perched on the east bank of the tranquil Mae Ping River in the Wat Ket district of Chiang Mai. The premises are a 15-minute walk from the Old Quarter, where ancient Buddhist wats (temples) and winding sois (side streets) await. It’s close to the action and yet seemingly a world away from the tourist hordes.

What makes the hotel even more spectacular is its saltwater infinity pool. We made it a priority to immerse ourselves in its refreshing water once a day.

One of our many favorite spots at this charming boutique hotel was the saltwater infinity pool

Inside, the minimalist, airy central courtyard opens dramatically, serving as the main architectural element that connects the main floor with the restaurant and guest rooms. Composed of concrete walls, the clean-lined contemporary structure was designed by the Bangkok-based husband and wife team Sitt and Preechaya Therakomen of Studio Agaligo. Along one wall, crisp white quatrefoil porticoes offer a glimpse of the outside world, contrasted against a dark gray wall. A rectangular pool containing goldfish is flanked by a pair of Tang Dynasty-style horse statues.

Taking cues from the enclave’s Chinese merchant past, Thai interior designer Rachan Chokenana has woven elements of chinoiserie throughout the hotel’s public spaces.  

What makes the hotel even more spectacular is its saltwater infinity pool. We made it a priority to immerse ourselves in its refreshing water once a day.

 

We stayed in one of the Willow Suites, with our own patio in a quiet courtyard

Get a Room

We stayed in one of the Willow Suites, located on the ground floor. The room was intimate, but the 14-foot-high ceilings made it feel spacious — plus we had our very own private terrace with a nook to relax with a good book. The room’s interior is thoughtfully laid out and included a mini refrigerator that’s stocked with bottled water daily, a real plus when you are heading out first thing in the morning and don’t want to stop for provisions.

Our bed at the Ping Silhouette

Luxurious textures and materials like quartz, marble and brass make up the bathroom. A sculptural vessel sink and a dark green tiled shower, complete with a rain shower head, gave us serious bathroom envy.

We dined on the patio every morning in the Café des Artists

Café des Artists

 The hotel has an onsite restaurant that occupies the ground floor off the courtyard. Named Café des Artists, the interior references the merchant shophouses that once occupied the alleyways of the Wat Ket neighborhood. A black steel and glass wall serves as a partition with glass louvers that open to the outdoors.

Breakfast kicks off with these delicious beignets

This fresh basket is just one of three courses included with breakfast

You can get a rice dish for breakfast — or eggs, if you prefer

Accents of green and blue used in the restaurant echo the narrative of the hotel’s public and private spaces. Vibrant touches, including bursts of freshly cut brightly colored orchids displayed in blue and white ginger jars, are balanced by the staff’s monochromatic cement gray three-quarter sleeve jersey cotton shirts paired with modern-cut linen wrap pants.

Turn left to the coffeeshop; turn right for the restaurant

We sat on the covered outdoor patio every morning and gazed out onto the terrace, which is filled with graceful willow trees whose branches flutter gently in the breeze, or are perhaps swayed from the weight of a lone squirrel racing from one branch to another. In the early morning, the sound of myna birds is replaced by an orchestra of cicadas.

It didn’t take long for the friendly and attentive staff to learn our coffee preferences

For breakfast, Wally and I enjoyed the delightfully decadent fritters served with a delicious dipping glaze in a small bamboo steamer basket. These were followed by an assortment of fresh fruit, sliced into wedges, including dragon fruit, watermelon, honeydew and papaya. Toast is served in a small paper bag with a silver butter spreader. Wally particularly liked the creative variation on eggs Benedict, which are perfectly paired with a curry twist.

A bright blue floor and chair offer a delightful surprise at the top of the stairs

Above you, pink paper lanterns offer a bit of modern whimsy

By blending local elements with modern amenities, the Hotel Ping Silhouette provides a comfortable and memorable stay. Honey and Bird, who manage reception and concierge duties at the hotel, are outstanding and found us an excellent driver to take us to take on a day trip outside the city.

Duke peeks from an opening in the three-story lobby

The waitstaff, including Ball, Keng and Tan, remembered our room number and our afternoon coffee preference: an iced unsweetened latte for Wally and a Thai iced coffee for me.

Duke rests by the Ping Silhouette’s front door

Wally plays in a detail off the lobby

If you’re visiting Chiang Mai, we highly recommend Ping Silhouette, where the grounds are gorgeous, the style astounding and the service impeccable. –Duke


Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette
181 Chareonraj Road
Wat Gate
Muang, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand

Wat Lok Molee

Add this to a tour of Chiang Mai temples — and make a wish on the silver or gold trees.

It never makes the list of must-see temples in Chiang Mai, but we both fell under the spell of Wat Lok Molee

Chiang Mai is overflowing with temples and 7-Eleven convenience stores, although on occasion it might be easier to find the latter. I say this as Wally and I took a tuk-tuk to a lesser-known temple, Wat Kuan Kama, dedicated to a royal soldier’s beloved horse — only to arrive at the wrong one a couple of blocks away. The driver had dropped us off on Sriphoom Road on the eastern side of the Old City, near the Chang Puak Gate, when Wally pointed out the multi-tiered roof of a temple across the moat.

Guarding the temple are what look like evil demons — but they’re actually nice nature spirits known as yakshas

A kiosk sells heart-shaped wish leaves to hang on the trees. Wally and I couldn’t resist purchasing one.

The day was young, so we agreed to see what it was, crossing the two-lane thoroughfare and moat via a small footbridge. A pair of yaksha statues, benevolent nature spirits, stand vigilant at the temple gate. Wally and I glanced at each other and grinned as we both knew we had happened upon a special place.

 

Holy Molee

The temple was none other than Wat Lok Molee, sometimes spelled Moli. One of the city’s older temples, its founding date is unknown, but it was mentioned in a charter in 1367 CE, when King Kue Na, the sixth ruler of the Mengrai Dynasty, invited a group of 10 monks from Burma who were pupils of Phra Maha Thera, a revered monk, to reside at the temple and spread the intellectual disciplines of Theravada Buddhism.

Two stone elephants line the pathway to the viharn, the main temple building

The viharn, or ordination hall, although old in appearance, was rebuilt in 2003. Its dynamic low-slung triple-gable roof telescopes outwards and is typical of traditional Lanna architecture. What’s atypical is its north-south axis alignment, as most Buddhist temples are orientated on an east-west axis, symbolic of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The bargeboards of the roof are decorated with shapes that evoke the heads of snakelike nagas. Perched at the roof apex are cho fa, decorative finials resembling the beak of a bird, possibly the mythical eagle warrior Garuda. These two elements represent the eternal struggle between these powerful entities. Naga is known as the sworn enemy of Garuda, who feeds mainly on — you guessed it — snakes.

The Buddhas in Wat Lok Molee’s viharn

The temple was likely linked to the royal family as the cremated remains of members of the Mangrai Dynasty (1292-1558) are interred within the chedi. In 1527 King Muangketklao, the 11th king of the dynasty, also known as King Ket, commissioned the chedi and viharn.

Buy a leaf from the stall out front and write a wish on it. Then hang it on the trees that stand on either side of the main temple

Make a Wish

The courtyard in front of the viharn contains two sacred wishing trees: one in silver and one in gold. There’s a small kiosk selling amulets, refreshments and symbolic heart-shaped wish leaves to hang on the trees. Wally and I couldn’t resist purchasing one. Wally wrote, “Please bless Wally & Duke” and hung it on the tree. I should also mention that the refreshment stand had a random collection of big-eyed Blythe dolls. I’m convinced the one sitting on the end was totally giving me the side eye.

Silver and gold wishing trees were Wally’s favorite part of Lok Molee

Silver and gold wishing trees were Wally’s favorite part of Lok Molee

We entered the majestic wooden hall, walked down the center aisle and approached the large principal Buddha image. The figure is seated in the Dhyana mudra position, formed when the two hands are palm-up, overlapping, with their thumbs touching, the gesture promotes the energy of meditation.

The temple’s ornate ceilng

Looking up, the coffered ceiling is decorated with glittering glass mosaic lotus flowers and gold leaf images depicting the story of the Buddha’s life.

We exited the ordination hall to investigate the intriguing variety of devotional statues scattered throughout the temple complex. A wooden pavilion near the outer gate contains a statue of Queen Chiraprapha, whose brief reign lasted from 1545-1546.

Some of the shrines on the grounds of Lok Molee

One of the ornamented stucco pavilions is dedicated to the 18-armed Guanyin Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. An ornate crown with an image of the Buddha, whom she serves, rests atop her head. This figure reflects Mahayana Buddhism, showing elements of Chinese influence in Thailand.

Also amongst this menagerie is a raised brick platform with no less than five representations of the Hindu deity Ganesh.

A statue of the four-faced Hindu deity Brahma and a sacred tree

Ubosot

The ubosot, or chapel, has a rustic lodge feel, with wood floors and built-in cabinetry. The Buddha image is seated in the Dharmacakra Pravartana mudra position, which represents the wheel of dharma being set into motion. A smaller figure of my guy Upakut is seated beneath.

More wishing leaves are hung by the ancient brick chedi

Chedi

We passed through the open-sided shelter known as the sala baat with monks’ alms bowls for people to leave offerings, before arriving at the massive 16th-century chedi pagoda. Golden life-size statues, a who’s who of venerated monks, sit upon decorative stands.

The monks’ alms bowls and statues of their famous predecessors in an open-air pavillion

I was delighted to see a statue of Upakut in front of the chedi and began to make a game of finding him at the various temples Wally and I visited. I imagined he was part of symbolic plot development of a new Dan Brown novel set in Thailand.

Duke’s patron deity Upakut makes an appearance beneath the chedi at Wat Lok Molee

The exposed brickwork is a stark contrast to the gilded or stuccoed chedis of other Chiang Mai temples. The structure has three tiers and a large square base capped by a tubular ring-like detail called a torus. The sides of the reliquary chamber are double-redented, an architectural detail that looks like an accordion-folded piece of paper. It contains four niches facing the cardinal directions. The chedi’s main chamber houses the cremated remains of King Muang Ketklao, who was assassinated in 1545, and Queen Wisutthithewi, who reigned from 1564-1578. On top of this chamber are more torus, followed by a lotus bud crowned with a tall golden spire.

Perhaps it was the presence of Upakut, the wishing trees, or the fact that it was an unexpected discovery. Either way, this temple ended up being one of our favorites in Chiang Mai. –Duke

 

Wat Lok Molee
Si Phum
Mueang Chiang Mai District
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand