Today we took school on the road (finally!) We all like field trip days better than online curriculum days. After brunch out we headed to the historic and cultural center of Chiang Mai – the Old City. Built in the late 13th century, it is a 2¼ km square area in the center of current Chiang Mai. It is still mostly surrounded by walls and a moat built centuries ago to defend it from nearby enemies. We entered on the eastern side’s Tha Phae Gate which is well preserved.
This was our first foray into the Old City (but not our last) and our lesson plan for today was some famous Buddhist temples (Wats) built in the 13th/14th Century.
We started at Wat Phantao which is an intricately carved teak temple which is unusual- it was built during the peak of the teak trade and the wood was an offering to Buddha. Inside it had a very large sitting Buddha statue – our first of the day. Typically this Buddha is covered in bright gold leaf but is undergoing renovation. Today it was shiny black lacquer which was still very impressive.
Next we went to Wat Chedi Luang Stupa which was once the largest building in Northern Thailand at 82 meters tall. An earthquake partially collapsed it in 1545 and it was reconstructed in the 1990’s. The size and architecture are impressive and there is remaining detail on some of the structure that is amazing, particularly the nagas (multi-headed dragons or serpents) protecting the Buddha at the entrances.
There were smaller temples on the same site which all had beautiful architecture, mosaics and statues.
It was a little hot and sunny so we made a quick pit stop for cold water and mango sticky rice. Then we headed to our last stop of the day Wat Chiang Man. This is the oldest temple complex in Chiang Mai and the oldest structure in it is the Elephant Chedi. The square base supports a second level which has the front half of 15 life-sized brick-and-stucco elephants emerging from it.
The larger prayer house uses a traditional Thai architecture structure (mondop) for the alter surrounded by Buddha statues. We had instructed the kids to be respectful of Buddhist traditions and the sacred places we would see – they were inspired to take it further than we expected.
There were two more very famous Buddha statues in the smaller prayer house – the crystal Buddha and a stone standing Buddha taming an elephant. We went in the structure but didn’t get to go close enough to the alter to the statues. Instead we got to observe a monk lead a prayer service for a group of tourists. An unexpected but welcome opportunity to see the temple in use.
After that we called it a wrap for the day. We grabbed our favorite red truck Songthaew and headed back to the house. On the way – Brian checked in on how the day went.