The thing about temples is they’re all different, but they’re all the same. From where we’re standing, so obviously on the outside of a true local understanding, it is their sameness that is most apparent. The theory is that the most temples you see, the more you’re able to distinguish the slight differences between them. After our time in Chiang Mai, I’m not sure I agree.
According to people who know better than us (and I’m inclined to believe them), there are 300 or so temples in Chiang Mai. If you’re inclined to disagree, take a walk down one of the busy streets. There are literally temples neighbouring temples neighbouring temples. It is one wholly holy place (sorry I couldn’t resist).
During the days when we have nothing to do (hint that’s every day), we wander around the many temples and look for these subtle differences. I admit, I feel out of place. Around us Thai devotees know just what to do, while I remain perhaps rudely captivated by the surrounding activity. Monks and novices, swathed in metres of orange and yellow cloth, chant and go about their business in perfect harmony. Less respectful tourists yell and snap wildly, looking for the perfect facebook profile shot. We get into a habit of drifting between one temple and the next, walking slowly around them to take in the sights and, as always, looking for the differences.
At the end of a solid week of temples, I find myself less than enlightened. I have certainly seen some temples that stand out, most of which I haves I can’t remember, and won’t bother trying to spell. For my own curiosity, I look up one of our favourites, the ancient Wat Chedi Luang, that dates back to the 14th century. We stumble across this one just as the sun is setting, when the silence and the light were in our favour. It reminds me very much of Ayutthaya, which we visited the last time we were in Thailand.
My other favourite is a nighttime find, where we went against the flow of traffic and found a garden of lights, lanterns and magical reflections. Obviously I didn’t have my camera with me, but I convinced (read: dragged) Dean back to find it again another night. It was just as perfect the second time around.
I guess in the end, the thing about temples is they’re always a little magical, even if you aren’t sure why.
This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.