Pronounced jedee not jedi, so if you’re after a Star Wars-related post you’re going to be disappointed! Walking or riding around Chiang Mai you can’t help but notice these isolated, old brick stupas — or chedis as they call them in these parts — liberally scattered around town. They’re found in the old city, around the edge of the moat and throughout Chiang Mai’s suburbs. Some are quite prominent, (some are even on roundabouts), a few are more or less maintained and we even found one with a name plaque, but most are seemingly ignored and forgotten about.
Tucked in the back of a car park; crumbling away on a piece of wasteland; squeezed between a couple of tin shacks; hidden away behind a condo block: many of these historic buildings don’t even have names. The above Wat Pan Sat is one of the rare sites to possess a plaque, though it states, “… no information relating to the background of this temple has been found …” Even the name’s a recent addition because no-one knows the real one, and it’s identified as 14th century based merely on the archaeological style. Some of these brick towers are maybe only a few hundred years old but many are 14th or 15th century — what in Europe would be termed late medieval — so, if you want to see abandoned, ruined temples clad in vines and roots, you don’t need to go all the way to Cambodia.
The brick towers — some still covered with stucco — come in either the rounded Sri Lanka style or the square, indented Khmer influenced form. Some indicate the former presence of a now lost temple complex, such as Pan Sat above, whereas others have been detached from their original wat by urban growth. For instance the chedi below, now located on wasteland — a virtual refuse dump — on the slopes of Doi Suthep used to be part of the nearby Wat Umong and became isolated from the main temple as it lost land to encroaching urbanization.
Quite possibly 14th century with an interesting design and some stucco decoration remaining, you now have to wade through piles of rubbish and fight off stray dogs to visit it.
The pretty ruined example below we found down a narrow alley jammed between Central Department store and Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. Once we’d dealt with soi dogs and the comments from the shacks’ residents who thought we were lost, we were informed it was called Wat Umo and was originally a part of an old wat that occupied this area. (Wouldn’t be going to far to suggest I was one of the first foreigners to visit it.)
While it might be a pile of rubble to some, we kind of liked the evocative old brick ruin and the difficulty in finding it certainly added to the fun.
Interesting to note the spirit shrine placed at the chedi. You’ll see many more unusual and odd trinkets displayed in front of similar chedis, though the intention is not the same as with a regular temple offering. Whatever the locals claim, these are not offerings to Buddha as such but more along the lines of the “spirit” offerings you can find beneath certain trees, rocks or by streams; a san phra phum in Thai or neak ta in Cambodia. These are no longer parts of consecrated temples — they are the abode of spirits and ghosts that need to be appeased and this is an example of the animist beliefs that still persist in Thailand and many Southeast Asian countries.
Miscellaneous offerings to the apparently numerous spirits of Chedi Nom Long include candles, model gods, goddesses, dancers and elephants, flower garlands and food and drink items.
Check them out, before they disappear completely — and if you find any other good ones, let us know!
By Mark Ord.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.