After The Party – Finding Thailand’s Temples
Thailand is, to many, a hedonistic playground of excess. The beach areas of Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Phangnan attract millions of young party-goers each year. The lure of ‘full-moon parties’ and potent ‘bucket’ cocktails pulls in many to the good-time machine. To most of these pleasure seekers, Thailand represents a place to let rip and hit it hard. A lot of the resort towns have grown from simple fishing villages into non-stop party towns.
While this provides income to the local economy, it also diminishes the ancient cultural values that lie beneath the party veneer. Even though it can be hard to find the beautiful hidden Thai culture in some resort areas, such as the somewhat sleazy Patthaya, it seems rather sad, that one would travel all that way, only to do what you can do at home with a little more impunity and better weather.
Waking from a haze of alcohol and various other substances, perhaps some of the late night crowd can realize that there are far more rewarding ways to see Thailand and experience the truly exotic. That, in itself, is a natural high; one that you will not forget the next day. It is normal, especially for young adults, to socialize and enjoy themselves in bars and clubs, but perhaps a better balance can be found. One where the beautiful temples of Thailand make an appearance on the tour agenda.
Most people land in the capital, Bangkok. This is a city with two sides. It has an ugly sex trade that the government turns a blind eye to. There is also a strong foreign party scene centred around Khao San Road. On the other side of that coin is an incredible depth of culture.
Bangkok is the capital of the current Chakri Dynasty. It has some amazing sites such as the eye-catching Wat Arun, the impressive Wat Po with its enormous reclining Buddha image and the huge Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, home to the famed Emerald Buddha.
Just north of the capital is its forebear, Ayutthaya. Once the most glorious city of the planet, the old capital of Siam, was sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century. The city itself has little in the way of a party scene and sees a more culture hungry crowd. Its proximity to Bangkok allows it to be seen in a day or two as an excursion from the big city.
The jewels in Ayutthaya’s crown of more than 400 temples, are Wat Mahathat, with its Buddha head in a tree, Wat Phra Ram’s towering prang, Wat Chai Watthanaram’s mandala-like layout and Wat Yai Chai Mongkol’s huge chedi. The town is certainly worth taking a break from partying for.
Another city of interest is the northern capital, Chiang Mai. The ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom strikes a good balance between fun times and cultural immersion. While having a lively party scene in a concentrated area of the city north of the moat, Chiang Mai is also the stepping stone to the jungles of the north and the smaller party town of Pai. It still holds allure for the party crowd but also has a profound and distinct local cultural scene. The important pilgrimage site of Wat Doi Suthep gazes out over the city from its hilltop home and the beautiful ruin of Wat Chedi Luang occupies the heart of the ancient city.
Thailand has so much to offer a visitor outside of the drink fuelled beach parties. The food is delicious, cheap and abundant, the ancient art of Muay Thai can entertain sports fans and the curious alike, but it is the temples that can truly capture the imagination. Coming back from Thailand, many have holes in their memories; scattered images of partying, both good and bad. Why follow the crowd down that rabbit hole? Wouldn’t it be better to fill the mind with pictures of mysterious temples and ancient rituals? Why not give yourself something to remember, rather than something to forget and experience the more Thai side of Thailand.
About the Author
Tom Billinge runs The Temple Trail, an ultimate website resource for learning about famous and lesser known temples and religious sites in Southeast Asia and beyond.
Post featured image: Phra Nakhon Khiri historical park and museum in Petchaburi, Thailand; by Uwe Schwarzbach (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)