Wat Baan Den
When I was a teenager in the 1960s, a friend inquired if I’d like to take a trip. “To where?” I innocently asked. My friend smiled and held out in the palm of his hand two sugar cubes, the same you’d add to your coffee. That day would be the first of many LSD trips in my young life. And while the world would temporarily melt into something fantastical, I never mistook my hallucinations for reality.
The anti-drug crusaders back then would crow about the dangers of acid. (And indeed LSD is a very dangerous drug that can bring about lifelong questioning of the status quo.) They assured us that just taking acid once would subject you to random LSD “flashbacks”. Anywhere. Any time. Any place. For the rest of your life….
Almost 50 years later, I had yet to experience any flashback. And then I visited Wat Baan Den.
Wat Baan Den is about an hour’s drive north from Chiang Mai and is nestled in a rural area of rice fields and longan trees. It is isolated enough to have escaped the madding crowds of tourism. But not for much longer as tour buses have started appearing in its park lot.
Wat Baan Den is a magnificent Wat complex. Maybe the most magnificent in Thailand.
The original Wat is centuries old. Only a couple decades ago, it was just another forgotten, dilapidated Wat that very few people, other than the locals, ever visited. Then a young monk named Kru Ba Truang assumed the abbotship. His God-given talent was fundraising and he raised vast quantities of $baht to not only renovate the original Wat, but to add a fantasy land of pagodas, chedis, wats and Buddhist statuary to the temple grounds.
The temple complex includes an array of chedis, 12 to be exact, that represent the Zodiac. Local Buddhists believe that upon your death, your soul migrates to the chedi of your Zodiac sign and lives forever after in Nirvana bliss.
The most jaw-dropping aspect of Wat Baan Den is its use of teak. The main temple is supported by 8 massive, solid teak columns. Each is a single teak tree 40 feet high and about 3 feet in diameter at its base! The weight of each column is beyond my comprehension as is the cost. (Pick up a small solid teak chair and you’ll understand.) Solid teak is used extensively throughout the temple complex. There are 6-foot tall solid teak Buddhas. Without 24 hour vigilance, Wat Baan Den would be stripped bare by temple looters that plague Thailand.
If you have even a limited interest in Thai wats, I highly suggest you make Wat Baan Den the one temple complex you visit in Thailand. Not only will you see some of the most unique Buddhist art in Siam, but you’ll enjoy a half-day in rural Thailand and see a different side to Thai life than in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
How to Get There
The easiest way is to hire a taxi from Chiang Mai (about an hour’s drive) and enjoy the ride. Make sure you book a roundtrip as you’ll find it difficult to find a taxi to take you back to Chiang Mai. If you want to rent out a scooter, that’s great. Take Highway #107 north out of Chiang Mai for about 40 kilometers. Turn right onto Highway #3038 for just a kilometer or two. Watch for signs on the left hand side of the road for the turn off for Wat Baan Den. (Once you get to Highway #3038, you’re almost there and you can ask any local for directions.)
Wat Baan Den is open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. everyday. No admission fee. I recommend going either early or late to avoid any tour buses that may show up. Do not drink alcohol while visiting; but LSD is optional.