Glittering like a jewelry box, and a precious item of jewelry in itself, the Silver Temple of Chiang Mai is the only building in Asia wholly covered in silver. Until quite recently, it was not known to the common tourists, but things have changed. Now it is a regular sight for the visitors of Thailand, and the usual tourist development has followed: an entrance fee (so far tolerable), monk chats in the evening, and crash courses in meditation. Aside from its uniqueness and overall beauty, the temple can be treated as a visual collection of Buddhist legends, as the silver engravings on the walls depict jatakas (stories of Lord Buddha’s previous lives) and other myths. Wualai neighborhood, where the temple is located, is a community or silversmiths, and some of them – both monks and laypeople – can be seen working on the premises.
Wat Sri Suphan, as the temple is known in Thai, was established in the 16th century CE, during the reign of Lanna King Phra Muang Kaew, as an ordinary neighborhood temple. Like most places of worship, it has been since renovated countless times, using the worshipers' donations. Then, 3 centuries later, another king of Lanna, Kawila, brought in a group of skilled silversmiths from their village in the northwest. The craftsmen settled in Wualai neighborhood and formed a professional community – such as social structures, whole villages or city blocks populated by masters of one craft, are very typical for Asia. Their gifts to Wat Sri Suphan often included silver, and when the time came to rebuild parts of it, they offered their labor along with money. Unavoidably, most of the resident monks were from the same community, and therefore, knew how to work silver as well. But the final project of plating the entire exterior of the temple with metal had not started until the early 2000s, when the abbot, Phra Kru Phithatsuthikhun, came up with this idea. The parts of the Silver Temple that are exposed to weather have, in fact, been covered in aluminum, zinc, and nickel, while precious silver is mainly used for sacred images.
One important fact to keep in mind: no women are allowed inside the ubosot, which is the main building housing the Buddha statue. It is small, and its interior can be viewed well enough through the gate. If you have feminist issues, choose another place to visit, for your own safety as much as for the cultural common sense. A warning sign outside the ubosot reads literally: “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 deteriorate the place or otherwise the lady herself”. Well, don’t deteriorate.
The Silver Temple is located in southern Chiang Mai, not far from the South Gate. Take a songtiaew or walk. There is now an entrance fee for foreign tourists: 50 THB at the time of research. Monk chats (in English) are conducted every Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday at 17:30. Quick Buddhist meditation lessons are offered. Silversmiths working in the temple also offer metalwork courses priced by negotiation. Craftsmen’s workshops in the neighborhood are a good place to shop for silver jewelry. For a photographer, clear weather is essential to capture the temple glittering in the sun.
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