Forest Temples in Chiang Rai: Designated Driver, Expecting to Fly…

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Wat ‘Jaw Jalern’ stylin’

One of the benefits of being the temporary driver for a tiny forest temple is that the head priest is anxious to utilize my services to go visit all of his friends, and in turn I get to tour (not-so) nearby forest temples, where I could potentially go for further training, if I wanted…

“You won’t ever have to pay another cent for lodging in Thailand,” he jokes. And it’s true, if I didn’t mind being out in the middle of nowhere. But if they were closer to civilization, and potential alms-givers, then not only could I sleep free, but eat free, too, as a consequence of making the morning rounds. That’s my favorite part, really…

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Wat Doi Mongkol cute

But such considerations are not what ‘practicing Dharma’ is all about, of course. Mostly it’s about meditation, and secondly the alms-giving and prayer-chanting. And then there’s the simple fact that people expect you to sacrifice a little something so that they don’t have to, being at least a little bit holier-than-thou much appreciated in these parts.

But the temples themselves are as different as the abbots who head them up, similar mostly in their remoteness, and their immersion into the surrounding wooded environments. The ones we went to were mostly in Wiang Chai district of Chiang Rai Province. Wat (temple) ‘Jaw Jalern’ near Don Sila village is a solitary endeavor, way up a nice little hill, as many forest temples are, and far off the beaten path, as is Wat Doi Mongkol close to nearby Mai Mongkol village…

Wat Kanti Udom Tham in Nong Luang village is located on a huge wetlands area, and is home to numerous monks, all of whom make a long morning walk to collect alms. It also has the best coffee in northern Thailand. But Wat Maha Mongkol near Pang Lao is the mother of the area’s forest temples, with a contingent of northeastern Isaan monks, including one 90+ year-oldster, all anxious to know WTF I am. So we discussed that for the better part of an hour, they all having a good time and grinning like Cheshires…

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Wat Kanti Udom Tham cafe

But what I want to know is: why are our residential kuti shacks so much crappier than all the rest? There are some nice ones out there, while I’m camped in little more than a tent! Oh, right, because our head priest is a master carpenter, so that explains it. Carpenters always live in the crappiest houses, just like mechanics all drive the crappiest cars, D-I-Yourselfers to the death, even if that means some discomforts in the process…

In fact there’s only one thing wrong with forest temples that I can see: no women! Not that I care about women for any vestigial prurience that might still haunt my aged frame with visions of sugar plums, still in my head, from a previous life of sexual givings and mis-givings, and romantic takings and mistakings, but simply for the fact that I like the physical presence of females in my surroundings, and in fact many, if not most, of my best friends are female…

My erogenous zones may be few and far between these days, but estrogenous zones are still appreciated. I don’t watch football, either. And I like chick flicks—and Joni Mitchell, and ‘Eat Pray Love’. One day when I am head priest of a forest temple, things will be different, some day, maybe…

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Wat Maha Mongkol sangha

Actually there is one more thing I don’t like about many forest temples: monks smoking cigarettes. Now there are none at my temple, and reportedly this is a problem mostly of Isaan (Lao-Thai) monks, but still it’s disgusting. More importantly: how am I supposed to consider these guys holier-than-I when they’re sucking butts in the parking lot in broad daylight? Coffee is something totally different, of course…

So temperatures are down to only 32c/90f for daily highs and down to 22c/71f at night for lows, so everyone is asking me if I’m cold—yeah, right, freezing to death, haha. Seriously, though, it will soon be the nice season, and I just might ordain as a monk, for the season. Stay tuned…

p.s. The only other issue with forest temples is the ‘tude toward technology. Some do and some don’t–WiFi, that is, and gadgets. I do. Maybe it’s time for an Electronic Forest Temple Movement, yeah…

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