Temple burnout: I think anyone who has traveled in Asia has reluctantly experienced it at some point. Every city has temples, and they’re often ranked among the top attractions in each place. At first, they’re mesmerizing; all gold-leaf-coated Buddhas and exotically-pointed stupas. Then, slowly, you realize that the memories of each temple you’ve already seen are blurring together, and you find yourself quietly admitting that all these temples are getting a little…well…boring.
I wouldn’t be the first person to experience temple burnout in Chiang Mai, where there are over 300 temples in and around the city. Lately, however, I’ve started exploring the city at night. I was mainly doing it to avoid the intolerable day-time heat, but it’s also how I discovered that some of the city’s temples are illuminated after dark. And it’s magical.
When I visit temples during the day, I’m always brushing against the sweaty arms of other tourists; breathing in air that feels thick with humidity; and squinting against all those shiny gold surfaces that seem to magnify the effects of the heat. It’s a quick road to temple burnout from there. But at night, the atmosphere feels calm, quiet, and cool. The temples have this reverent energy, and I feel an understanding of the intangible qualities that make each of these buildings special.
Wat Sri Suphan: The Silver Temple
Most people have heard of the famous White Temple in nearby Chiang Rai (which, sadly, was damaged during a recent earthquake), but few know about Chiang Mai’s Silver Temple, Wat Sri Suphan.
The temple was originally constructed in the 16th century, although it has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times since then.
From what I’ve read, most of the building is composed of alloy and zinc, with the actual silver saved to create the temple’s holy images. At night, the spotlights change colours occasionally, causing the temple to glow red, then blue, then yellow.
The silverware created in this area of Chiang Mai is known for its raised textures, and the more you look at this small yet impressive temple, the more you notice all of its incredibly intricate details. Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed to enter the main ordination hall, but the temple’s exterior is unusual enough that it’s still worth a visit, regardless.
Wat Sri Suphan is also home to an important silver-working school, where age-old silversmith techniques are passed down to young artisans, preserving their traditions.
The temple is located on a side street off Wualai Road, which is where Chiang Mai’s Saturday Night Market takes place. You can easily combine trips to the market and the temple for a pretty awesome evening.
Wat Pan Tao
Wat Pan Tao was originally built in the late 14th century, along with the more famous temple found next door, Chedi Luang.
It’s among only a handful of wooden temples left in the city, and I really loved its understated simplicity. The current structure was supposedly built in the late 19th century using teak wood reused from an old royal palace.
Brent and I visited the temple at night during the rainy season, and when the monks came outside to light incense and pray, there was this feeling of electricity in the air that always intensifies just before the rains begin. We were the only ones watching them, and everything was completely silent aside from the sound of bats wings fluttering overhead
We watched the monks quietly until, almost simultaneously, a few other tourists arrived and the first few drops of rain began to fall – the moment was over.
Have you experienced temple burnout in Asia? How did you cure it?