The Wat nearest our apartment is the beautiful Wat Suan Dok on Suthep Road. Also home to a Buddhist university, it is common to see monks in the streets (and even the local 7-Elevens) – and this is true with most of Chiang Mai since there are dozens of Wats in the city.
Wat Suan Dok was built in the 14th century and houses a relic of the Buddha that duplicated itself as it was being placed in the chedi (stupa). The second replica is now housed at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Later this week we hope to take a red truck up there as well.
Since it receives far fewer visitors than the Wats in the City Center, the grounds of Wat Suan Dok were peaceful and the main temple even more so.
As is the custom, we removed our shoes before entering the main building. Far from feeling odd, it is a nice reminder that you are in a different type of space. The building is much cooler than the bright day outside, and the tiles are nice and cool underfoot. We made sure to dress conservatively, much like we would at a church service, since many Wats require that knees and shoulders be covered. Also, when entering and exiting, it is polite to step over the threshold rather than on it. This also goes for most other buildings – entryways often have raised thresholds as a reminder, or the floor will be slightly offset in height from the outside ( this includes the front door of our apartment building as well as between most of the different rooms within our apartment.)
We came in a side door; the standing Buddha is at the back of the building. The seated Buddhas face east toward the main entrance and have a long hall in front of them that adds to the sense of space. On either side are seats for monks and donation boxes for contributions to restoration/groundskeeping funds and to assist the monks and students at the Wat.
Most of the interior’s intricate detail is red and gilded gold, though the supporting pillars are blue mosaic and gold. Small mirrors are embedded and add to the overall ornateness. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and are lit with CFL bulbs at night.
Outside behind the hall, the chedi is over 150 feet tall. It was gilded in the last decade and is easily spotted from several points around the neighborhood. Dogs are allowed to wander freely around the temple grounds and are more or less indifferent to visitors during the day (though I suspect some of them are part of the pack that occasionally makes quite a racket around our neighborhood at night). Small bells on the roof of the buildings ring faintly with the slightest movement of air.
An area near the chedi houses the remains of royalty. These relics were gathered to this spot in 1906 at the wish of the Princess. Many small, bright white mausoleums fill the northwest side of the courtyard.
After seeing the Wat, we wandered west to a market near the corner of Suthep Road and the ring road and we picked up fruit and fried chicken from the vendors. Everything is fresh, including eggs (which, like Europe, are not washed, meaning they can be kept without refrigeration), veggies, spices, meat (cut to your specifications), and all sorts of freshly fried, boiled, and grilled treats. Stands with each type of product are generally grouped together, making it easy to compare prices and products. Motorbikes dart in and out of the narrow lanes, stopping only where they are blocked by tables of goods. It feels chaotic to us, but it seems like all the locals know just where to go for what they need.