Wat Ou Sai Kham

The jade Buddhas of Wat Ou Sai Kham

It’s not difficult to walk past a small wat in Chiang Mai without popping in to take a look. Even for an avowed monk hunter like me, well, it’s not like Chiang Mai has a shortage of small wats; they are more numerous than 7/11s in Thailand’s second largest city. I’m not of the ‘seen one wat seen them all’ school of thought. Each wat is unique unto itself. The again, there are lots of similarities. With plenty of temples to choose from, taking a pass on a smaller one is not a difficult decision. And so, after a quick street-side look at Wat Ou Sai Kham, I’d decided to not bother. Until I heard strands of the theme song to Dexter drifting from the grounds. Huh. Serial killer meets Buddha? Now that’s a twist. And certainly one that appealed to my twisted soul.

As a morality play in the Christian world, Dexter – even though he is a serial killer who reigns in his dark passenger by only killing other serial killers – is doomed and headed for hell. He routinely commits one the biggest thou shall nots. I wonder though, how his character is viewed in the Buddhist world? Seemed at least one wat, or at least one monk within, approved. Or at least found the ‘good serial killer’ idea entertaining.

A few steps closer to the wat’s driveway and I probably would have taken a quick look anyway. The wat’s monks have decided a bit of advertising is in order to pull visitors in. Understandable, Wat Ou Sai Kham is just around the corner from Wat Chiang Man, which gets big play in all the guide books. Wat Ou Sai Kham, on the other hand, goes unmentioned. Its claim to fame, however, is that it has a jade Buddha in its wiharn. Since the guidebooks have failed to alert visitors to this fact, the monks have erected a billboard out front trumpeting the news.

Wat Ou Sai Kham

A peak inside the wiharn of Wat Ou Sai Kham.

Jade Buddha? No biggie, you say having already seen the famous Emerald Buddha in Bangkok and being somewhat disappointed in its size. And yup, emeralds do trump jade. But the Emerald Buddha is not made of emeralds but rather jasper, a common stone of little value. There is also a jade Buddha at Doi Suthep, that is glass, not jade, and yet another at Wat Phra Sing – once again not jade. Being a rock hound, I had to go see if in this case we were talking real jade, or just another cheap, common, slightly green stone.

The good news is Wat Ou Sai Kham’s jade Buddha is in fact jade. The not so good news is that it is nephrite jade, not jadeite. There are two types of jade, one is pricey, one is not (unless you are a fool and are willing to pay big bucks just because the stone is genuine jade). The wat has gone with quantity over quality and has not one but three jade Buddhas at its altar, all three made of nephrite. The largest, in the Lanna style, weighs in at over 900 pounds.

Better yet, they’ve opted for the interactive form of worship and through appropriate signage entourage visitors to “Make a wish by placing your hands on the abdomen of Phra Sang-Krachi statue.” The English translation – though the sign was in English – would be: Rub the Buddha’s belly for luck. Next to the sign encouraging visitors to touch is a placard explaining that Phra Sangkrachi was a disciple of The Buddha. Already knew that, but appreciated the info. And appreciated being provided two different spellings for Phra Sangkrachi, right next to each other. The alternative spelling thingy had become a theme for the trip.

Wat Ou Sai Kham

Though small, Wat Ou Sai Kham has a nice selection of Buddhist statues and imagery.

Wat Ou Sai Kham is about 300 years old. Its chedi is unassuming, the wiharn small (but has some nice murals inside), and there is a kinda cool teakwood building in the grounds too, though I’m not sure what its purpose is. Jade Buddha aside, the wat is not worth a visit on its own, but well worth stopping by if you are headed over to Wat Chiang Man. Or missed the latest episode of Dexter.