A few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook (thank you, It’s Better In Thailand page) that showed a video of the most amazing Wat (aka temple) built high on a mountain ridge. Trent saw it and said, “We have to do that!”
Yahoo! I love my adventurous hubby so much because I was thinking the same thing. We only had three days left in Chiang Mai so we had to move fast. Luckily, I’m married to an A+ project manager and engineer, and when we team up we make things happen! That’s the stage manager and executive in me combined with the project manager and engineer in him. Sometimes we have some control issues around our house but that’s another post. And going to this mountainside Wat was sure to chill us out. Another reason we had to do it!
The name of the temple was Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat (or Chalermprakiat) in Lampang Province, and it was described as being only a 2.5 hour drive from Chiang Mai. That’s closer than some of the other tours to Chiang Rai so we didn’t anticipate having any problem finding a tour. Wrong. Not sure exactly why but there didn’t seem to be any tours offered to this breathtaking place. Apparently, many people who live nearby don’t even know about it, so it really is off the beaten path.
So, we decided to hire a driver to take us there for two thousand baht ($60 USD). That didn’t quite work out either. There was a language barrier and timing issues since we were calling only one day before we wanted to go.
So, our last option was to brave the wild streets of Chiang Mai and the unknown highways of Thailand and go it alone in a rental car, using GPS to guide us. I wasn’t thrilled with this idea at first, but we were too determined to let a little driving paranoia get in our way. So what if we couldn’t read road signs? So what if we had never driven on the left side of the road surrounded by zooming Tuk Tuks and rambling unpredictable motor scooters? So what if our Thai phone plans ran out the day of our adventure, leaving us without access to GPS? (We wouldn’t realize that last one until we were already on the road.) We are brave sabbatical adventurers who revel in the unexpected challenges the travel gods throw at us!
So, we rented a tiny little Nissan and we hit the road, Jack. And, oh boy, am I glad we did!
After a month without our own vehicle, we had forgotten how liberating it is to take to the open road. It’s taking control of your own destiny, but fluidly, in road trip style. And without a map! That adds to the excitement and the feeling that anything can happen!
After two and a half hours of driving, the cliffs suddenly came into view and we knew we were headed in the right direction.
Thanks to Trent’s bird brain (birds have an excellent sense of direction, thus migration) and the kindness of strangers who didn’t speak much if any English but recognized the pictures of where we wanted to go, we finally made it to the parking lot at the base of the mountain with only one missed turn, after only about 4 hours of driving!
Although there were some moments on the drive that could have become tense (like when we missed our turn by 30 kilometers and we could not find an English speaker with whom to communicate), we didn’t let it get to us. We just chilled and went with it. We have started to use the Thai phrase “pet noi” whenever these little things come up. It means “just a little spicy,” and it reminds us not to let the little things become big things. It also has saved our taste buds a time or two.
Me pointing at the Wat from where we parked our car at the bottom of the mountain.
We bought our tickets to take a songthaew (aka taxi truck) up and down the mountain and hopped in with a cluster of monks. Bunch of monks? Bevy of monks? Mess of monks? I’m not sure what the proper term is here…
Side note: Before the ride up, I had the chance to use my first traditional Thai toilet (aka squatting toilet). Thank goodness for the last four weeks of yoga or I may not have made it out of the bathroom without help! I’m still not sure how to flush, but maybe I’ll learn.
The ride up was exhilarating! Another thank goodness for yoga or I may not have been able to hold on as we hurtled up the mountain at a 45 degree angle! My fear of accidentally touching a monk (women aren’t supposed to) would come true as I lost control and fell into a monk’s lap! Oh my! Luckily, my yoga-ready biceps and forearms prevailed and I didn’t tarnish a young monk. Give it time.
When we got off the taxi, we weren’t quite at the top. We now had to hike the final mile to see the stunning view and the Wat. And let me tell you, it was straight up most of the way!
Half way up, the “cluster,” I mean “mess,” of monks was closing in, and that was just too much pressure for me to keep up my pace no matter how much yoga I had been doing lately. We pulled over to let them pass, giving them a polite bow as they did.
With the pressure off, we made our ascent to the top of the mountain where we found a whole cluster (now I can’t stop using that word) of shrines and chedis (Christmas tree shaped ornamental sculptures also called stupas) connected by a series of paths and stairways.
Each one had a bell and a gong that you could ring/strike when you reached it. I loved that part. I found out afterwards that the bells and gongs are actually there for Buddhist followers to ring to show the spirits they have done good deeds by coming to the temple to pray. I don’t think Buddha will mind that we rang them.
Trent meditating in one of the small Wat buildings.
When we reached the largest and highest platform, we hung out for a good hour or so just sitting and relaxing, listening to the sound of the chimes, taking pictures, doing yoga poses, and people watching as other visitors came and went. Trent may have snored in the Wat but I’ll never tell. My tree pose is a more of a crooked bush but I’m working on it!Watch this panoramic view from the highest point
As far away as we felt from everything familiar, we weren’t that far as it turned out. A few of the monks struck up a brief conversation in English with us, and I saw more than one person on their cell phone talking. Not to mention the ten year old girl who was playing Pokémon Go. Those little dudes are everywhere!
It was just what we needed after a month in the city – a full day out on our own, galavanting through the Thai countryside and mountains to explore something glorious.
Let Freedom Ring!
Next stop: Hanoi, Vietnam