Wat Umong, an underground temple in the jungle

Main altar in the underground wat

Rounding out my top 5 wats to visit while in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is Wat Umong. Let me start off by saying this wat is the most unique experience I’ve had visiting wat’s in Chiang Mai and I really enjoyed it. This wat is underground within a jungle and has a $20 BHT entrance fee.

Entrance fee table.

When you get to the premises , you’ll be dropped off at a gravel/dirt parking area where there are a few buildings scattered around but they were all closed when I was there. I couldn’t tell what they were for either. Looking around you’ll easily find the sign pointing to the trail to Wat Umong. Along the way you’ll find , scattered here and there, insightful phrases on cards nailed to trees. Yah, I read every one I could find. Anyways, on the way to the wat, you’ll pass a meditation center / retreat of sorts but I didn’t go that way as it went a bit too far off the path to the wat. Continuing on you’ll find a few statues here and there and a library, yup, a library in the jungle. Oh, the walk to the wat is on a slight incline with stairs every now and then giving you access to the next plateau. Not too difficult a hike.

Wise trees

There’s three entry points into the underground temple, two in front and one in the back (that leads to the stupa). It’s not underground as in you have to go down some steps or anything it’s more like walking into cave built into the plateau but with tunnels that don’t open up to a spacious area, they just end with a display of religious artifacts . The tunnels are relatively short, straight and lit well enough to see where you’re going so it wasn’t scary at all but if you’re claustrophobic that may be a different story as the inner tunnels are smaller. I didn’t know until I got there and read some of the plaques that this wat was built somewhere between the 15 and 16th centuries. It does look and feel old but the electric lights inside the tunnels dull the “feel” of it, I think. Don’t worry about having to walk around without your shoes inside the temple as the floor is tiled and as clean as any other wat. You won’t spend much time inside the wat as there’s not much to see and if there’s a tour group, it’ll get cramped really fast.

While walking around outside the wat, I found a trail that lead to an outdoor, makeshift altar with a rather unique looking statue of Buddha, I’m guessing. The statue is black in color and looked weathered, frankly it made me uneasy looking at it. I’ve seen similar looking statues but this is the only one that made me uneasy. Although I was curious as to what the statue was made of, I had no inclination to go any closer to “exam” it. Then I came up to a cordoned off area with signs saying do not enter. It’s because you’d be walking on the roof of the underground temple. Walking the other way, I found the housing area of the monks. Yes I just strolled right through their housing, I didn’t feel right doing so, so I got out of there as quickly as I could and then found myself in an area I’d describe as a relic graveyard. It was a flat area of land with broken parts of statues arranged, for the most part, in rows. Pretty weird, right? It didn’t look as though I should wander through it, so I didn’t but as I walked back towards the entrance to the underground wat, there was a patch of the “graveyard” with paths between the relics so I wandered through there a bit.

 

The Chedi is quite large and in a bit of disrepair. It’s not bad, in my opinion, it’s just enough to keep the air of being centuries old. The vines growing and cracks on the chedi give it a jungle vibe and a stone petal or two from the lotus flower base lends to the age of the structure. Plus you can get right up to it and touch it!

Whilst exploring I found more stuff like vendors selling cold desserts and drinks, a path leading to more statues and a big pond. One of my favorite finds was the free literature kiosk with booklets about Buddhism, mediation and the like. The signage says free, donations appreciated. I found an interesting booklet amongst the many different ones made a donation and sat by the pond to read it. Turned out to be not so great an idea. As serene as the pond was, with the diy aerator and the water fowl or two, the flying insects and the not timid pigeons made the moment not fun, at all.

I took a songthaew (ride share, pick up truck taxi) to wat Umong from Tha Phae gate at a cost of $80 TBH and the driver asked if I needed him to wait (for an added cost). I declined his offer because I usually don’t know how long it’ll take me to finish looking around and plus I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to catch a ride back. Boy, was I wrong! Yeah, there aren’t any songthaews cruising around that area. There’s only a few outdoor kiosk restaurants , a coffee shop or two and a few local business and the rest is residential. There may be a tuk tuk or two in the parking lot though. When I arrived, there were 4 with the drivers napping at the wheel or back seat. When I was exiting the compound there was only one tuk tuk and the driver called out and I asked him the price to get back to my hotel and he said $120 TBH which was higher than the songthaew ride there so I declined thinking I could catch a songthaew. When I couldn’t, I went back and the driver jacks the price up…I give a smile and told him he told me $120 TBH 30 minutes ago and he starts his tuk tuk and waves me into the vehicle I restate the price and he says, “ok, ok.” Phew! Lol. In any event, this was before I learned there’s Grab Taxi in Chiang Mai and having used it extensively while I was there, I highly recommend installing the Grab app. It’s “saved” me on more than one occasion.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art



Wat Chiang Mun, you had me at oldest…

Wat Chiang Mun Chiang Mai’s first and oldest temple

Wat Chiang Mun Is said to be not only the oldest temple in Chiang Mai but also the very first one! Construction was ordered by King Mang Rai in 1306 after making Chiang Mai his new capital city in 1296. WOW! They had me at “oldest!” I love looking at historic stuff, soaking up the ambiance, touching (if possible) a bit of history, yeah I’m weird that way. Just so you know, if you can’t find it on the map, it may be spelt Wat Chiang Man on your map. I “found” Wat Chiang Mun while doing my usual urban exploring, it was such a treat for me to read all the plaques and learning about this wat and its’ historical significance. YAY explorer me!

The main religious attractions of Wat Chiang Mun is the Buddha statue holding an alms bowl. This statue is reportedly the oldest statue in Thailand and is currently housed in the larger of the two viharns. I couldn’t tell which one of the four “standing buddha holding the alms bowl” statue it was and I couldn’t get close enough to check.  In the smaller viharn is the Crystal Buddha carved from a clear, quartz crystal and has a base and canopy made of gold. An estimated 6 kg of gold! You can catch a glimpse of the 1800 year old Crystal Buddha and a 2500 year old marble Buddha statue through the metal bars that is the vault’s door. Also in this viharn is the stone monument depicting Buddha taming an elephant that dates back to between the 8th and 10th centuries ( I guess scholars can’t decide when it was made).  I didn’t see this monument though and later learned that it’s not always on display (neither is the Crystal Buddha). They’re usually only on display during celebratory days or on an occasional Sunday. So I guess I really lucked out having found Wat Chiang Mun and being able to see the Crystal Buddha or maybe the info I got was outdated.

Vault housing the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha

View of the Crystal Buddha

One of the four standing Buddha statues holding an alms bowl is Chiang Mai’s oldest statue

The structural attractions are the Elephant Chedi because the chedi looks like it was built on top of the elephants backs as opposed to just having an elephant statue or two sticking out of the chedi’s foundation. It’s noted on a plaque, that enshrined in the chedi is a Buddha Relic, in this case, a strand of Buddha’s hair. This is a first for me! I’ve been to several buddha tooth relic temples but never a hair one and since it’s enshrined in the circular, gold gilded chedi, I couldn’t see it. The other structure of note is the scripture library and the twist on this rare structure (when it comes to structures on wat premises) is that it’s built on brick stilts, in the middle of a pond! I sat at the entrance looking at the library wondering how the monks got in because there was no bridge and I didn’t see any other means of getting across. Must be some sort of high level ninja skills…just kidding, there seems to be a retractable plank under the library that can be pulled out (if you have a really long pole with a hook on the end), you can see it in one of the images below. Moving on now to the ubosot (ordination hall) which is, as customary, off limits to the public.  On the front porch is the monument with the inscription detailing the exact date and time of the founding of Chiang Mai as well as the premises being the location of the King’s residence at that time. It’s the dark gray thing in the photo below just behind the white fence.

Stone elephant foundation for this gold gilded chedi

Ubusot at Wat Chiang Mun

I would rank this wat as fourth on my list of must see wat’s in Chiang Mai. It’s probably about a 15 minute walk from the Tha Phae Gate heading north.  As with most temples in Chiang Mai, there isn’t an entrance fee but unique to Wat Chiang Mun (to the best of my knowledge) are the few but highly noticeable donation boxes which are actually safes. Their hours of operation are 8 am to 5 pm and is definitely worth planning a trip to and since the premises is small, an hour should be enough time to see everything and get some nice photos, I took 2 hours but you know I linger and the timestamp of my last shot was at 6:28, time really flies when you’re having fun and no one to rush you out.

Donation box at Wat Chiang Mun

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art



Wat Phra Singh and it’s golden stupa

Wat Phra Singh at sunset

Wat Phra Sing is ranked third on my list of awesome wats when I toured Chiang Mai. Why is that you may ask? While it’s somewhat true that “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” in the sense that all wat’s have a pagoda/chedi, a viharn, prayer hall and similar buildings, not all are decorated exactly the same, have the same number of structures and statues and not all are the same size in terms of structures and premises. Not to mention the upkeep status of the structures and statues as well. Wat Phra Singh is also just a blocks away from Chedi Luang, which I rank second on my list. You can check out my Chedi Luang post here. Number one on my list is Doi Suthep if you’re interested, the post is here.

For a wat that has been around since the 14th century, it looks really good! Mainly due to the extensive upgrading, renovation and restoration works over the years. Wat Phra Singh is also an active monastery so you can expect to see monks and novices walking around performing upkeep tasks. So you can look forward to some environmental portraits too. From my experience, the monks and novices are ok with having their picture taken. Having said that, I’m never up in anyone’s face taking pictures, I’m usually a good distance away. I usually try to wait for my subject to look my way and when that happens I smile, wave and point to my camera. I’ve never, yet, had anyone say no or display any form of negative body language. Some however won’t look up. In that case I just take a shot or too (if the moment is still there) and move on.

Wat Phra Sing is one of the bigger wats I’ve seen (in terms of building size and premises. It is also one of the most well upkept ones as well. Proof of this is the all gold chedi/stupa in the back, complete with gold elephants. I couldn’t tell if it was gold paint (I doubt it because it was sooo shiny) or gold leaf but that would make it too too expensive to maintain, especially outdoors, no?  If it’s gold leaf it makes this chedi even more impressive as I didn’t see a single scuff or missing patches of gold or any dullness for that matter. The brick paths to the stupa is like a mini maze, kinda fun to walk on, felt like I was in a old video game, lol. Another interesting building that wats seldom have are scripture libraries. You can tell it’s a scripture library by the first story stone foundation and walls (for protection against floods and pests) and the wooden, highly walls and roof for the 2nd story.

Scripture library at Wat Phra Singh

Golden Stupas

I spent only about half an hour here because I got there late, well after closing time (I had just finished Chedi Luang) but could have easily spent 3 hours at Wat Phra Singh.  If only I had done some research prior to going I would have been better prepared. At least I know I can get the last bit of sunset around 8pm, however that time is well past their closing time.  Be prepared to be ushered politely but firmly towards the exit if you try to get a sunset image. Their hours of operation are 8 am to 5 pm. There may have been an entrance fee but I’m not sure. I didn’t see any ticket booth and nobody stopped me either, including the security guard putting up traffic cones, but then again I went in around 7:30 pm so the ticket people were gone for the day? Anyways, here’s a few shots I got. I’ll be sure to get more my next trip out there!

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art



Chedi Luang Chiang Mai’s largest Chedi

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chedi Luang is second on my top 3 wat’s in Chiang Mai. The first being Doi Suthep, you can check out my post “Doi Suthep” for more info. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, be sure to check this place out, their hours of operation are between 6am and 6pm and being near the centre of the walled city it’s walkable if you’re already in the ancient city. It’s free to enter and will take you at least 30 minutes just to walk around and see everything without stopping for photos or for closer looks. I took around two hours and still wasn’t quite satisfied with seeing everything but then again, I like to linger, soak in the atmosphere, feel the energy etc and look for a photo to make.

The modern day property that the Chedi sits on is a merger with two other wats (Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin) so you can enjoy visiting them as well. When you walk onto the premises, the huge ornate prayer hall is quite impressive and houses a 14th century Buddha statue, I found the sheer golden-ness inside truly amazing. As per the norm at all the wats, if you want to go in and check out the interior, you have to take your foot wear off. Don’t worry they have shoe racks you can use though, just don’t forget which rack you put your shoes on, ha ha.

Chedi Luang Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re short on time, I suggest you walk around the prayer hall and check out the stupa first because it’s truly unique. Why is Chedi Luang so special? Construction began in 1391 so it’s old, withstood some natural disasters and is partially rebuilt. At one point in time, it was the largest structure in Chiang Mai and home to the highly revered, original Emerald Buddha. It’s by far the biggest Chedi/Stupa I’ve ever seen and I can only imagine and wonder how grand it was when it was fully intact. I’d recommend a sunrise or sunset visit for some additional color in the sky and you’d probably miss most of the tour crowd too.

After admiring all for sides of the Stupa, there are also a couple of structures housing statues and other religious pieces including the shrine for the “City Pillar” guarded by canons. Yup, I’ve never seen any religious structure guarded by canons before. I had to Google it, and found out that “City Pillars” are very highly revered pieces of architecture in ancient Thai culture. These pillars were erected at entrances of new cities or at major shrines for housing guardian spirits. Another structure that I found pretty cool was the huge golden Buddha lying down statue. Very detailed and I think covered with gold leaf. I didn’t get a chance to go inside the other two wats nor the smaller viharn so I definitely will need to revisit Chedi Luang, it’s so worth it!

Consider following me for updates to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art

 



A couple hours at Pura Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot, an ocean front Balinese Temple complex. What’s so special? Let me try to show you with some images I shot and by recounting my experience there.

As usual, I never seem to have enough time at the sites we plan to see. Maybe the place is just that awesome or I’m just too easily impressed, jury is still out on that. For our trip to Bali we chose a villa in the city of Seminyak and hired a driver to take us around. Since we landed in the morning and check-in was in the afternoon, we went to visit Pura Tanah Lot (Pura means temple in Balinese). After driving for what seemed like 45min or so we arrived at Tanah Lot. We paid the entrance fee at the car park entrance and proceeded in. After letting us alight at the entrance, our driver went to park the car and stayed with our bags.

Before you can get to the temples and altars, you have to walk through a plaza of shops and eateries, then a lane with more shops and eateries on either side. From what I could see the shops carry a variety of local made souvenir type items and some religious type bead jewelry. According our driver, prices here are cheaper than in town and we “must” bargain for better prices. We didn’t get a chance to try any of the food at Tanah Lot nor did we do any shopping because we decided to “see the site” first. A short 5 min walk down the lane and you’ll start to see intricate stone carvings of Balinese mythological beings and temple altars, which signals the start of the temple areas.

The time we went, mid morning/noon-ish, there weren’t too many people around, locals or tourists so it was a pleasant stroll around the premises. Surprisingly, to me, there were a lot of local photographers offering to take pictures of you, they are easily spotted as they tote around large, black, sling bags with the red ‘Canon’ logo on them. I’m not sure what the pricing is though as none of them came over to us (probably because they saw my camera and tripod). Anyways, the structures look old and weathered but not dilapidated nor antique/relic ish. the mythological stone carvings are brightly painted and look stunning as opposed to faded and peeling. The entire complex is basically litter free, a rarity in Asia, in my experience. Quite refreshing.

The “star of the show” at Tanah Lot is the the temple on top of this large rock. At the base of the rock is an altar within a shallow cave in which a few stone figures are displayed. There is also a spring of fresh water inside. Why is this peculiar? well, when it is high tide the rock is surrounded by ocean. When it’s low tide, you can walk right up to the altar. At the time we went, the tide was coming in. We did see people at the altar and a few brave people wading towards it. The water looked to be, at most, about knee high and it didn’t look to be too difficult a trek.  One of my daughters really wanted to go over for a look see while the other was a tad hesitant and the plan was for me to escort them one at a time. We walked up some stone stairs for a higher vantage point to view the temple and find a spot to set down our bags. So off came our socks and shoes. Thankfully, I had my typical travel attire on, t-shirt, hoodie, compression pants and track pants. So I pulled off the track pants and pulled my t-shirt as low as I could. With all my bits covered, I then put the rain cover on my ThinkTankPhoto, Speed Freak, waist bag. I can fit my Canon 7D2 with a 24-105 and my 5D2 with a 17-40, lenses and hoods attached! I mention all this because it is an awesome bag and my gear didn’t get wet at all! Read on for more details.

So off we went. No shoes definitely wasn’t a good idea but who wants to walk around in wet socks and shoes, right?. You can’t see what you’re stepping on and being a rocky sea floor it was uneven and sharp at some points with dips here and there that caused some balance issues. Plus the swash (the rush of water after a wave breaks) didn’t help. There are sure footed locals standing at various points between the shore and the altar giving you a general idea of where it’s most safe to walk but they didn’t really go out of their way to help. When we reached the altar, we were drenched from just below the waist. We didn’t account for how high the water would come up or how strong it would be after the waves broke. It didn’t look that bad from the shore!

At the altar, there were the local guides who show you where the fresh water spring is and you can take a sip from it. They will also ask you for a donation, quite um, enthusiastically. We made a donation and they subsequently squished rice on our foreheads and a put a plumeria flower in our hair, as a blessing. The stone carvings were quite eroded but you can still make out what they are. On either side of the altar is a way up to the temple. Both paths were gated shut when we were there so we couldn’t get all the way to the top. We did walk a bit up the path on the left to take some pictures before heading back. By the time we got to shore, we were drenched from belly/chest down. The local guides were very helpful on the way back we each had someone helping us back, which was awesome because the water had risen and felt more turbulent. Upon reaching the beach directly opposite the altar we noticed a cave and signage indicating that a “sacred snake” dwells in it, we looked in but didn’t see anything. We also didn’t venture in close enough for them to solicit donations either.

So we went back up the stairs to where my wife and younger daughter were waiting and still laughing at how ridiculous we looked getting to and from the altar and at how wet we were. It was at this point that my younger kid chickened out from making the journey to the altar. So I proceeded to take the rain sleeve off my waist pouch and SPLOOOSH a bunch of water splattered all over the place! I think we all gasped simultaneously. I opened up my waist bag and lo and behold, my gear was dry! The interior bottom was just slightly moist whereas the outside was wet. The water was trapped between the rain sleeve and the bag and for that long I would have expected my gear to be wet but nope, all dry! What a relief!

So off we went to explore the other areas, take pics and get dry. The premises is huge! We didn’t even get to the other side where there was another temple that, to me, looked really interesting! We had to leave to make our check in time but here’s a pic:

My wife and I found this place to be calming and serene, our daughters not so much, they did find it a nice place to visit though. I’d be very interested to come back during sunrise/sunset hours, I bet it’ll be even more picturesque.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes!

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

Portfolio
Blog
Fine Art