The Silver Temple, also known asWat Sri Suphan for all you Thailand temple buffs, is one of those places that your guidebooks might list as a “if you have some free time to kill” experience to have while visiting Chiang Mai. And this is where I want to come in and say don’t believe that for a second. Don’t! You hear me? Most often, the most incredible sights and experiences happen somewhere in those side notes and off the record. Watching the sunset over the cliffs on your drive home from a day long excursion, stumbling into the best little restaurant in the city, the happenstance and the in between kind of stuff… that kind of stuff is the best. And trust me, the Silver Temple is not to be overlooked or placed on a “maybe” list.
Listen guys, Chiang Mai is basically temple central. There are tons of them. TONS. We’re talking more than 300 in the city’s main area itself. Most of them are gold and red and all kinds of splendorous and as grandiose as you could ever imagine. The Chiang Mai Silver Temple though, is a shining star of the north. This 500 year old temple is a stroke of genius if you ask me, in comparison to the many other golden beamed “Wats” of the city. Its silver topped roof glimmers in the sweltering midday heat, and its desolate and peaceful surrounding area offers a respite for all tranquil seeking travelers. The Silver Temple is a gem through and through. And yes, I do mean that as a pun!
Wat Sri Suphan is covered entirely with the most intricate and detailed silver panels depicting key moments of Buddha’s life, elaborate landscapes of magnificent clouds and roaming elephants- all made by hand. The revival of the silversmith tradition is evident, seeing as all around the area are Thai workers notching little hammers into pure silver panels. It’s a sight to be seen. The amount of work and the eye for detail is insane, people, insane! Seeing them work so diligently brings a whole different level of deeper appreciation for the work that went into renovating the Silver Temple.
Now, for all my ladies out there, I hate to break it to you (especially after going on and on about the shiny, glimmering aspects of this place… because we all know how most of us feel about gems and jewels)… but only men are allowed to go inside the temple. I know, I know. Before I go into the temple’s explanation, I want to take a second to really open up a conversation about this. As a feminist, the idea of being denied access to something a male counterpart could so easily experience would typically get my blood boiling. Equality is something I think almost all people expect in our modern American culture. But here I felt, more than anything, a desire to honor the request of me here in Thailand. Demonstrating an adherence to the traditional Thai Buddhist rules was something I felt good doing. Besides, with signs explaining “beneath the base of Ubusotha in the monastic boundary, many precious things, incantations, amulets, and other holy objects were buried over 500 years ago. Entering inside this area may deteriorated the place or otherwise the lady herself”… I’d rather not risk it.
Not every building within the temple’s complex is purely silver. Many of the other structures are washed with gold, crimson, azure and white colorings. Luke’s favorite was the overgrown, weed dusted golden peak right by the elementary school (who was having recess when we dropped by). While we were snapping ourselves some pictures, a few adorable girls approached me and asked questions between giggles “What’s your name?” “What are you doing here?” and added comments like “So beautiful” after they touched my skin. I’m kind of still squealing in delight about that one. The most adorable thing to have happened to me since we’ve landed in Thailand, I tell you!
IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO GO
– Location: South of the Old City, just off Wualai Road (where the Saturday Night Market takes place).
– Make sure to visit on a sunny day to truly take in the rooftop’s shine. I’d suggest an earlier morning or a mid afternoon visit!
– The temple itself is for men only. However, there’s a lot to be seen from its outside. So ladies, I still would recommend going!
– Stop by some silver souvenir shops that line the neighborhood, where you can see the metal sheets being hand carved by local Chiang Mai workers. Most of the silversmiths are working on the paneling for the temple. It’s well worth a stop by if you visit. Witnessing their handiwork takes the whole experience to a new level!
– The temple offers metalworking lessons occasionally, so be sure to look into that when you stop by. Working alongside a local volunteer sounds like a dream, right?
– Visit on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday between 5:30-7:00 pm for a chance to have a “chat” with English speaking Monks. You can even take part in an introduction to meditation lesson with them! There’s no charge, but donations are accepted in the little, red donation boxes around the complex.
The Chiang Mai Silver Temple is a literally a hidden gem of the north. Seeing its beauty, taking in the area’s tranquility, honoring the Thai Buddhist traditions and witnessing the diligence and detail oriented work of the artisans who upkeep this sacred space is truly something I’d recommend all Chiang Mai visitors to experience.