Chiang Mai is known for its hundreds of different wats. Wats are Buddhist temples and are incredibly impressive both outside and in. We had a great time motoring around on our little scooter in Chiang Mai and popping into various wats that struck our fancy. Each wat is a little different, but what they all have in common is a lot of love for Buddha. Sometimes Buddha is covered in gold, sometimes he is reclining. Sometimes Buddha is short and fat with a big belly, sometimes he is tall, skinny and regal. Sometimes he has his eyes closed and sometimes he has them open. But regardless of what Buddha is doing, he is the man. Or the god. Whatever.
And where there is a wat, there will be dozens of monks in their distinctive orange robes. Some men have dedicated their lives to Buddhism and Buddha’s teachings, however, some monks are only in robe on a temporary basis. Though perhaps outdated in the cities, in many parts of Thailand every male is expected to become a monk for part of his life. Often this commitment is little more than three months, however, it is of great honor to the family when a son “takes robe and bowl”. Other families opt to send their young sons off to be monks because they’ll be exposed to greater educational opportunities than their small village could provide. Regardless of the reason, Thailand has a lot of monks – young and old – and you get used to seeing them everywhere!
One of the most memorable wats we visited in Chiang Mai had a sign that advertised the opportunity to attend a monk chat. Though we didn’t attend one, I kinda wish we did. It is a pretty unique experience to have access to a Buddhist monk and ask him any question you can think of about religion, life and even afterlife. Apparently it is also an opportunity for monks to practice their English. A win-win for both parties!