We are one day from a harder lockdown again. The kids are back at online studies. Everything is the screen – based and basically, all sport-venues are closed. Then I came to think of how we could break the monotony of the house walls and get out while still keeping a distance from people. Last year I took I bike ride to Wat Ban Pong. Now, remembering the stairs of 900 steps or so up to the White Pagoda. This area is open but still under construction. So off we went!
Driving the short ride up towards Samoeng. It turned out to be better than expected, Chiang Mais cloud bank delivered dramatic cloud porn that no other place can compare with. The tropical green hills resplendent after large amounts of rain, and in the landscape dots of purple Pride of India trees and Golden Shower trees. We parked at the base of the hilltop where the actual temple is located, some novice monks were cleaning the temple grounds, and an announcement could be heard. The monks informing the villagers about our present covid situation and that elder people had to be careful not to get the virus. Chiang Mai is a red zone now and all that. Not wearing a mask outside could lead to a fine of 20,000 baht. We quickly walked through the actual temple which is also a meditation retreat. The grounds here are yet unspoiled and untouched from tourism. I have a strong sense that when the stunning white pagoda is completed that this will be at least as popular as the Wat Doi Kham temple in Chiang Mai.
Ban Pong translates as on the ” water’s edge” maybe a bit like a swamp in the local dialect. Since being Royal ordained in 1958, the official name is Wat Aranyawat – the temple in the forest. It is just by the Tha Chang River and with hills surrounding it. A legend mentions a northern lord hunting a golden deer through the area and this was a place of rest. Another story talks about Ban Pong as a village where you stopped to let your horse rest on a journey.
Frescos and the use of indigo in them is proof of wealth in this temple and despite it being a temple in the countryside the temple must have had some significance. Indigo in the old days was expensive and an import from China. There might have been a case that merchants donated and patronised the temple since local villagers wouldn’t have had those amount of money themselves. All the main old parts of the temple have been torn down though, but beautiful new ones are being built in classic Lanna style.
Originally built in 1843, the temple and the pagoda are experiencing a real uplift and a lot of money are currently donated to the temple.
I think we will hear more about this place in the future. For now, it is still a quite well-kept secret here. It is not that long time ago when I used to ride my bike up to Wat Doi Kham. But now it is one of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai. The belief is that you can get lucky in business by donating there or getting a job. But here is still just tranquil anyway, just the sound of the workers chatting and having their sticky rice, and the occasional visitors ringing the bells. The sound of a broom raking. And I must mention, there’s a road up. You don’t have to walk the stairs.
A link to Google Wat Ban Pong on Google Maps here.