Our first day in Chiang Mai we had a tour of a mountain top temple about 45 minutes outside of the city. Chiang Mai itself is not a very large city, especially in comparison to the cities we saw in China. The population of the city is about 160,000 people. The population of the province stands at 1.5 million. Shanghai had 23 million people. Big difference and a very pleasant one!
The temple was built in 1383. The king at the time chose a white elephant and decided that wherever the elephant stopped, he would build a temple to house the holy relic of Buddha that he had in his possession. At the time, Chiang Mai (city, not province) already had dozens of temples and so the king thought that maybe the elephant could choose the perfect location. The elephant walked 15 km up into the mountains before he turned around three times, trumpeted, and lay down. The temple was built on the spot and when the elephant died, its remains were buried at the temple. The wat is so shiny and golden that it hurts your eyes to look at it. We could see it from the city on a clear day as it shines in the sunlight. Our guide told us all about the rituals of the temple and of the monks.
Dan and I were blessed with holy water by one of the monks and given a sacred cotton bracelet to wear. Monks cannot touch women so he flung the bracelet at me and had Dan tie it. When it was Dan’s turn to receive the bracelet, the monk smiled and said, “Come closer…closer!” The prayer of the monk was said in Thai and then he rambled off some phrases in English. It sounded like “Good luck, good morning, good health, good success, happy and healthy, good afternoon, lucky…lucky…good bye”. (No, mom, I did not convert. My faith is intact. Blessings and prayers from a monk seemed harmless. Breathe.)
Dan and I noticed that the temples and Chiang Mai in general were overrun with dogs. They were running up the 309 steps to the temple at feeding time, walking around the wat, sleeping in the sun and on the mountain road to the temple. They were everywhere. When a dog is “in the way”, people simply go around the dog. And by go around, I mean on the roads, too. Cars and trucks either go around or stop and wait until it is safe to go around the dogs. Thais are very kind to the dogs and from what we could see, to all animals.