Photo: Khao soi in Chiang Mai.

Wat Pansao

3.5 1

The setting for this post is the tiny and rather hidden away Wat Pansao, a temple that we reckon gets almost zero foreign visitors but is actually well worth a visit if you’re wandering or cycling around town. The wat is tucked off the western moat road just below Chiang Mai Ram hospital and Central mall (approximately 300-400m south of the hospital on the same side of the road).

Who's a pretty temple then?

Who's a pretty temple then?

Wat Pansao has all the elements of a ‘worth-visiting temple’: a pleasant garden setting, a classic Lanna-style main worshipping hall, a crumbling old brick chedi and a couple of interesting legends. The chedi is actually hollow, which makes it, at least to our amateur eye, perhaps Burmese influenced, seeing as how most Chiang Mai chedis aren’t and most chedis we saw at, for example, Bagan are.

Brick chedi - note opening in wall

Brick chedi -- note opening in wall.

Now we have it on good authority (well the katoey who runs the coffee shop next to our office tells us) that if you align yourself correctly with the gap in the chedi wall then the spirit inhabiting the interior — this is pure animism and nothing to do with Buddhism — will be able to see you and may be, if you catch it on a good day, inclined to grant a wish that you make while looking at the crack in the bricks.

Ganesh in the garden

Ganesh in the garden.

Also in the temple garden was this interesting sculpture, which we assume is a rather Indian looking Ganesha carving since the Hindu elephant god is a frequent feature of local wats (indeed, there’s supposed to be a Ganesha museum out past Hang Dong we’ve been meaning to check out). It’s another example of Thais never being ones to let theological details stand in the way of a good bit of mythology. (Note for example the Nandi — Shiva’s bull — statue in front of Wat Phra Kaew or the Thai Buddhist church’s debate over whether David Beckham merited demi-god status or not.)

Classic Lanna style roof

Classic Lanna-style roof.

The small temple is surrounded by wooden and bamboo stalls, indicating that during certain significant dates in the Buddhist calender the wat becomes very busy with local worshippers, with the additional following legend being no doubt partly a reason.

If we’ve got this right — it was a rather convoluted tale and we’re not quite sure we got as much a grip on this legend as the previous one — temple monks will sprinkle water droplets over worshippers. If they’ve accumulated enough Buddhist Brownie points, they can, if really lucky, then change into the ashes of the dead Indian prince himself — or, we were informed, one of his close associates such as his secretary. We didn’t realise Buddha had a secretary but some of this may well have got lost in translation.

Now depending upon which part of Buddha’s body the ashes originate from, they may take the form of a certain coloured crystal or gem stone. One lucky worshipper apparently had water droplets fall into his shirt pocket and upon returning home discovered that his pocket was full of diamonds.

Wooden 'chedis' containing various coloured stones/ashes

Wooden 'chedis' containing various coloured stones/ashes.

Samples of said gems (my cynical suggestion that they were bits of coloured glass having been shot down straight away) are found in small wooden cases which, since they are supposed to be ashes, are still technically named chedis by Thais. There’s an explanation under each in Thai as to which shrine you should worship depending upon the desired outcome. i.e. good health, long life, successful family and in the case of Sri Wari’s ashes (no pun intended) — that’s the secretary — good typing skills, sorry wealth. (That’s probably sacrilegious so we’ve blown it!) Confused – so are we!

Firmer ground - a straightforward temple gong

Firmer ground -- a straightforward temple gong.

If you wish to learn about these unusual local legends then do, as we didn’t, take a decent translator with you, otherwise just wander around the small but pretty and interesting site — and don’t forget to make a wish.

What next?

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Wat Pansao

Off the western moat road, just below Chiang Mai Ram hospital and Central mall -- about 400m south of the hospital, on same side of road

Location map for Wat Pansao

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