Main altar in the underground wat
Rounding out my top 5 wats to visit while in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is Wat Umong. Let me start off by saying this wat is the most unique experience I've had visiting wat's in Chiang Mai and I really enjoyed it. This wat is underground within a jungle and has a $20 BHT entrance fee.
Entrance fee table.
When you get to the premises , you'll be dropped off at a gravel/dirt parking area where there are a few buildings scattered around but they were all closed when I was there. I couldn't tell what they were for either. Looking around you'll easily find the sign pointing to the trail to Wat Umong. Along the way you'll find , scattered here and there, insightful phrases on cards nailed to trees. Yah, I read every one I could find. Anyways, on the way to the wat, you'll pass a meditation center / retreat of sorts but I didn't go that way as it went a bit too far off the path to the wat. Continuing on you'll find a few statues here and there and a library, yup, a library in the jungle. Oh, the walk to the wat is on a slight incline with stairs every now and then giving you access to the next plateau. Not too difficult a hike.
There's three entry points into the underground temple, two in front and one in the back (that leads to the stupa). It's not underground as in you have to go down some steps or anything it's more like walking into cave built into the plateau but with tunnels that don't open up to a spacious area, they just end with a display of religious artifacts . The tunnels are relatively short, straight and lit well enough to see where you're going so it wasn't scary at all but if you're claustrophobic that may be a different story as the inner tunnels are smaller. I didn't know until I got there and read some of the plaques that this wat was built somewhere between the 15 and 16th centuries. It does look and feel old but the electric lights inside the tunnels dull the "feel" of it, I think. Don't worry about having to walk around without your shoes inside the temple as the floor is tiled and as clean as any other wat. You won't spend much time inside the wat as there's not much to see and if there's a tour group, it'll get cramped really fast.
While walking around outside the wat, I found a trail that lead to an outdoor, makeshift altar with a rather unique looking statue of Buddha, I'm guessing. The statue is black in color and looked weathered, frankly it made me uneasy looking at it. I've seen similar looking statues but this is the only one that made me uneasy. Although I was curious as to what the statue was made of, I had no inclination to go any closer to "exam" it. Then I came up to a cordoned off area with signs saying do not enter. It's because you'd be walking on the roof of the underground temple. Walking the other way, I found the housing area of the monks. Yes I just strolled right through their housing, I didn't feel right doing so, so I got out of there as quickly as I could and then found myself in an area I'd describe as a relic graveyard. It was a flat area of land with broken parts of statues arranged, for the most part, in rows. Pretty weird, right? It didn't look as though I should wander through it, so I didn't but as I walked back towards the entrance to the underground wat, there was a patch of the "graveyard" with paths between the relics so I wandered through there a bit.
The Chedi is quite large and in a bit of disrepair. It's not bad, in my opinion, it's just enough to keep the air of being centuries old. The vines growing and cracks on the chedi give it a jungle vibe and a stone petal or two from the lotus flower base lends to the age of the structure. Plus you can get right up to it and touch it!
Whilst exploring I found more stuff like vendors selling cold desserts and drinks, a path leading to more statues and a big pond. One of my favorite finds was the free literature kiosk with booklets about Buddhism, mediation and the like. The signage says free, donations appreciated. I found an interesting booklet amongst the many different ones made a donation and sat by the pond to read it. Turned out to be not so great an idea. As serene as the pond was, with the diy aerator and the water fowl or two, the flying insects and the not timid pigeons made the moment not fun, at all.
I took a songthaew (ride share, pick up truck taxi) to wat Umong from Tha Phae gate at a cost of $80 TBH and the driver asked if I needed him to wait (for an added cost). I declined his offer because I usually don't know how long it'll take me to finish looking around and plus I thought it wouldn't be too hard to catch a ride back. Boy, was I wrong! Yeah, there aren't any songthaews cruising around that area. There's only a few outdoor kiosk restaurants , a coffee shop or two and a few local business and the rest is residential. There may be a tuk tuk or two in the parking lot though. When I arrived, there were 4 with the drivers napping at the wheel or back seat. When I was exiting the compound there was only one tuk tuk and the driver called out and I asked him the price to get back to my hotel and he said $120 TBH which was higher than the songthaew ride there so I declined thinking I could catch a songthaew. When I couldn't, I went back and the driver jacks the price up...I give a smile and told him he told me $120 TBH 30 minutes ago and he starts his tuk tuk and waves me into the vehicle I restate the price and he says, "ok, ok." Phew! Lol. In any event, this was before I learned there's Grab Taxi in Chiang Mai and having used it extensively while I was there, I highly recommend installing the Grab app. It's "saved" me on more than one occasion.
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