As I find myself here writing about Wat Lok Molee temple after my umpteenth visit to the place, I am more than convinced that it is a really calm, peaceful and simple local temple with a lovely calm atmosphere, one of the best places in Chiang Mai for a re-charge of batteries. Wat Lok Molee may not be Chiang Mai‘s most well known temples. but it looks different than most of the others.
The temple grounds only cover a small area, and the temple and buildings are not so richly decorated like other temples, but in a small area Wat Lok Molee manages to convey lots of history, and its architecture is fabulous.
The buildings are mainly of plain wood, which quite a change from the usually brightly decorated buildings of most of the other temples. The use of bricks in the stupa is to be attributed to the Angkorian period, when the wat was built.
Wat Lok Molee origins are somewhat unclear. Its name first appeared in historical documents in 1367, when the sixth Lanna King of the Mengrai Dynasty, King Kuna (1355-1385), sent an invitation to 10 Buddhist monks from Burma, offering them to bring their study, practice and teachings of Theravada Buddhism to his kingdom, taking residence at Wat Lok Molee.
Lanna King Chettharat of the Ayudhaya Period had the large brick stupa (or chedi) built in 1527-1528. The main hall (Viharn) was added by Kong Kret (aka Mueangketklao) in 1545.
Wat Lok Molee was maintained by the Royal Mengrai Dynasty until the demise of their dynasty, and it is said to house the ashes of several of its members (definitely those of its founders). It was then abandoned and fell into a state of dilapidation during World War 2, and it has recently received a facelift that beautifully restored it to its former glory.
The first building to your right as you enter the temple complex from the Chiang Mai walls ring-road, is the large meeting hall (Viharn). Though not particularly old, the Viharn boasts a fairly classic design and it was tastefully designed. The plain wooden interior is made of dark wood and is nothing like the usually highly decorated Thai wats.
This low key building hosts a beautiful Buddha image, and it is decorated not with the usual gaudy murals, but in some interesting mosaics and reliefs, that adorn the hall’s walls and show the different Buddha positions of the week. Wat Lok Molee is elegant and serene at the same time.
Viharn is the Sanskrit and Pali term for Buddhist monastery. Its meaning is “a secluded place in which to walk”, and represented the refuges used by wandering monks during the rainy season. One other uniqueness of Wat Lok Molee is that it is aligned along a north-south axis, while most Buddhist temples are orientated towards the rising sun, towards East. To be noted that the Viharn has seen a a major overhaul in recent times, which contributed to its current beauty.
Wat Lok Molee is notable for its massive and impressive 490-year-old stupa (chedi), totally built in red bricks and without any cement, is still standing after all this time. The stupa is located at the back of the Viharn, and it enshrines a number of sacred objects. Its bare brickwork is in net contrast to the stuccoed stupas of other temples in Chiang Mai .
The eclectic range of subsidiary statues, images and carving present in various corners of the garden are intriguing to say the least. Wat Lok Molee entry path is flanked by amazing elephant sculptures, as well as by trees with fluttering metal leaves hanging on them: a silver leaved tree inset with gold coins and a gold leaved tree inset with silver coins.
There are Chinese-style ceramic lions, a carved-out wood mural where roots from an old tree wind about hypnotically, and finely sculptured Naga snakes.
But the most intriguing of all is the presence of prominent sculptures of a few Hindu Gods: a Ganesha shrine in one corner, a Brahma that manages to combine aspects of Shiva, and the multi-armed (this particular representation has twenty four arms, and hands bearing objects which symbolize the attaining of merit) mother of all deities Maha-Chundi, wearing an ornate crown with an image of the Buddha.
A visit to a Thai temple is not complete if one doesn’t spend time poking around in corners, peeking behind things. It is there you usually find interesting items. At the rear of the main hall, a small building houses a small massage area and an aluminium workshop, where craftsmen painstakingly hammer away at slabs of metal, creating a new door to the main Viharn. Their massive relief pieces are so precise, no wonder some may take up to a whole year to complete.
Besides the main office are parked two gorgeous antique Mercedes cars which are there to be shown, for some reason I am still not aware of.
I often see visitors whizzing into the parking area with a bike or a car, take a quick detour, a peep at the Buddha, shoot a few pictures and leave. Wat Lok Molee deserves more than that, and it is well worth a decent visit, considering it is an old site of significant importance, and that it is not the same as other temples in the area,
On top of that, its surroundings are serene, the main hall is a nice refuge from the sometimes very hot sun, and is is not clogged with tourists. Best pictures are taken in the morning or early afternoon, when the light is the best for photos.
Visitors should not be shy to make conversation with the temple monks. I found them of extremely good manner, they are open to assist you in any way they can, and appreciate the English conversation which help them improve their language skills.
Wat Lok Molee is easy to access as it is located outside the old city walls, just off the moat, in the north side of town, 400 mt from Chang Phuak city gate.