So, for those of you who are as uninformed about the world as me, Thailand is Buddhist, and therefore there are A LOT of temples. As well as each house having a cute little mini temple, there is basically a big deal temple on like every street corner; kinda like a corner shop. But, y’know, pretty. And holy. And lacking in alcohol. In my first week in sunny Thailand, I have seen no fewer than 8 temples. I’ve seen sparkly temples, temple ruins, Royal temples… I’ve even seen a monkey temple! (More on that traumatic/amazing experience later).
You might know that you have to cover up to visit a temple, however you probably don’t know why. I kinda assumed it was a religious-y/respectful thing, but apparently it’s more to do with horny monks. As our guide Jeep cheekily explained in the first temple, Buddhist monks take a vow of abstinence and, apparently, wear no pants under their orange robes. And ‘we all know what happens when boys get excited and have no pants on, don’t we?!’, Jeep exclaimed. Yep, women visiting temples have to cover their shoulders and knees for fear of turning on the monks. Because shoulders and knees are so sexy.
By far my favourite of the many temples (monkey heaven excluded) was the Wat Muang monastery, in the province of Ang Thong. As well as being the home to the biggest Buddha in Thailand, this monastery also houses a (mentally scarring) representation of heaven and hell. Whilst ‘heaven’ was a sparkly overkill of sparkliness (yep, even by my standards), it was in ‘hell’ where things really got good. If the producers of the Saw films ever run out of ideas, there’s inspiration aplenty here. Sinners being burnt in a pit of fire, having their guts cut out and, worst of all, a man having his balls speared as he climbed a cactus naked. ‘After a death everyone spends a month in hell before moving onto heaven’, Jeep casually commented. Bloody hell.
As if this wasn’t bad enough to see at the age of 22, there were plenty of mothers casually leading their toddlers about the place, as if it was a fun day out at Thorpe park. No wonder Thai children don’t get pissed at the age of 16 and tell their parents to fuck off. So, after that mentally scarring experience, it was onto the main attraction, the 302 foot Buddha. Now I personally think religion is a load of rubbish, but there was something deeply profound about seeing something of that magnitude so close. And no, it wasn’t just the sight of 50 people’s sweaty feet (shoes are not allowed near the Buddha). As I made my wish by touching the finger of the Buddha, I felt quite moved by it all. And then, instead of wishing for world peace or similar, I wished that I would one day find true love. Well you can take the horse to water…
Over the days following my visit to the big Buddha, I saw a lot more temples. Controversial, unspiritual opinion? Once you’ve seen one, you’ve kinda seen them all. I’m a bad person. I know. But there was one particular temple I rather enjoyed monkeying about, and this was the monkey temple, located in the province of Lopburi.
I’m sure there’s a logical reason why hundreds of monkeys roam freely around the ruins of a temple, but I was too busy being all ‘omg monkeys’ to listen to our guide. Monkeys, apparently, are not shy. Within 20 seconds of arriving, we saw monkeys making baby monkeys, fighting, and getting, um, a bit excited by their guests. At first the monkeys mostly just watched us watching them, however when we moved onto the older ruins, I discovered that monkeys are terrifying. They literally jumped out of nowhere onto your legs/backs/heads to nitpick your hair/steal your sunglasses/generally be annoying pains. Whilst others embraced the monkeys, I feared for my life and screamed my head off every time I was jumped on (despite the screaming = biting warning). The selfie game was strong though.
However, the inner bitchiness of monkeys was revealed when a (seemingly) innocent baby monkey attacked my fellow traveller Laura, resulting in a trip to A and E and 10 jabs over the next month. And so a swift exit from the monkey temple followed…
So, my opinion on temples? Nice but kinda same-y. Cover your shoulders and knees and take a selfie with the big Buddha, then move on. Oh, and don’t scream around monkeys!