What do you do when you’re in Chiang Mai with nothing planned for the day? If you are me, you go monk hunting. Chiang Mai is a great place to hunt monks. They’re all over the place. It’s the pee-wee golf version of monk hunting. No skill required. But then Chiang Mai is so laid back that you really shouldn’t have to exert effort in anything you do.
If you want to bag your monk limit easily, head for a wat. The only problem with that advice in Chiang Mai is that there are a few thousand of them. Chiang Mai has more wats than 7/11s. So there’s pretty much a wat on every corner. Anyone with the least interest in wats undoubtedly hit the big ones on their first visit to Chiang Mai. The best way to choose which to check out next is not to. Take a walk of discovery instead, you’ll be amazed at what you find.
I’d run across Wat Pan Tao cruising the Sunday Night Market years ago and fell in love with the place. It’s still one of my favorite wats to visit. There are always monks around; they are usually the younger variety, and they always enjoy chatting. The same night I found Wat Pan Tao I also took a peak at Wat Chedi Luang, probably Chiang Mai’s most famous and most visited wat (not counting Doi Suthep). But at night its wonders out back are hidden and it took two more visits to town before I discovered the wat’s magnificent chedi. Yeah. I know. But I don’t read guide books.
Both wats are located on Phapokklao Road, a block off Ratchadammoen Road where the Sunday Market takes place. Both are cool wats and both are infested with monks. I decided to head off along the same boulevard and see if the rest of its wats would measure up. One did. And perhaps surpassed the other two well know and often visited wats that anchor that street.
Wat Jen Rin doesn’t look like much from the street, just another typical smaller neighborhood wat. It isn’t even showed on all free maps of Chiang Mai. The entrance at the exterior wall to the wiharn is scrunched into a short, steep set of stairs leading into the temple. The larger driveway off to its side opens onto a large dirt expanse. Across the front of the compound wall a set of sun bleached lanterns hangs, a more familiar site around beer bars than Buddhist temples. Beyond the unusual light accents there’s nothing visible to recommend a visit. I’m sure most touri would pass it by. Even less of a recommendation for me, there were no monks to be seen anywhere within the wat’s walls. But there was shade, a temptation in its own on a late sunny afternoon, so I decided to check it out.
Nice thing about playing photographer is that it tends to focus your eye. Which in turn tend to make you poke around a bit more than you would otherwise; searching for unusual perspectives, different viewpoints, details you might otherwise overlook. I’d checked out the wiharn from outside, and while the spire of the stupa behind it soared into a picture perfect blue sky, as pagodas go: kinda small, kinda plain, kinda been there shot that. But on the far side of the compound I ran across my second set of luk nimit, the golf-leafed bowling balls I recently published a post about. Still no monks, but Buddhist balls were almost as good.
A quick flash of saffron caught my eye; rounding the corner I found a novice monks hitting the wat’s soda machine (!?) and went into hunter mode angling for the best shot. Sensing a falang in his vicinity the young monk took off scurrying as the little ones often do. And I gave chase as I often do. He headed down a small dirt lane running toward the back of the wat and as soon as I cleared the buildings: damn!
Tucked away behind the wat is a photographer’s wet dream: A large placid pond of bright algae green surrounded by a collection of slatternly dogtrot wood buildings, scorched by the hot sun with saffron robes adorning make-shift clotheslines gently stirred by an almost nonexistent breeze. A two-story pink wood house anchors one corner of the tableau, a long wood bridge that doesn’t look capable of bearing anyone’s weight stretches across the still water. It’s a tranquil scene, the epitome of serenity. And home to the wat’s monks.
The novice monk I was chasing headed out across the bridge, treading carefully. Several other young monks rested on verandas along the water’s edge. The same paper lanterns that adorned the front of the wat were strung along the bridge, though these had been bleached by the sun into pastel shades. Unfortunately it was my last day in Chiang Mai or I would have returned at dusk; with lanterns a glow it has to be a gorgeous scene.
I spent a good hour hanging out by the water’s edge, shooting more photos as small groups of monks made their way back and forth over the bridge. Shy smiles beaming added to the enjoyment of the little oasis hidden away in the middle of town. Locals, I’m sure, know of the wat and its pond, but it seems to be a well-kept secret as far as tourist go.
I only ran across one other visitor, a young American girl, who I met back in front inside the wiharn. She’d snapped a few shots of the Buddha, large and gold as normal but with a distinctly thin long face, and was ready to head to the next wat until I suggested she wander out back. I saw her later that day and her eye grew large when she recognized me. “That was incredible!” she exclaimed, thanking me for not allowing her to miss the little slice of daily monk life at Wat Jed Rin.
Back out in the courtyard a large gold-leaf adorned Buddha head resembling The Bayon of Angkor Thom in Cambodia (that’d be resembling as in looks not size or height) served as a focal point to an outdoor seating area where several young monks had gathered to watch TV. Nearby a trio of large brass gongs hung in a row, each offering up a deep bass echo. And more monks, by now used to the strange falang and his camera, scurried about.
I was tempted to head back out to the pond, but had several other small wats to visit before catching my plane out of town. None came close to offering a hidden surprise like Wat Jed Rin, though I did manage to capture a few more monk shots, one with a cuddly little puppy that I’ll post when I feel I’ve offended enough readers that I need to play the cute card for a while.
As usual, as soon as I got a chance, I Googled ‘Wat Jed Rin’, looking for basic info, when it was built, etc. It’s as undiscovered by Google as it is by touri. There was only a single entry; an announcement about places within the city holding Songkran festivities. Running a few optional spellings brought up two more sites, but little information was available. Once site noted that the wat was mentioned in the 15th century in the Niras Hariphunchai document, a narrative poem from the Early Ayutthaya Era in which the poet makes references to historical events and places. Alternate spellings of the wat’s name include Wat Nong Jed Rin, Wat Noing Jalin, and Wat Jed Lin Tung. Since two of the maps I had both went with the traditional Wat Jed Rin, so have I.
Discovering little hidden treasures is one of the joys of taking a stroll around Chiang Mai and surveying its wats. But if you want to take off with a destination in mind, go check out Wat Jed Rin. And don’t forget to take along your camera.
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