An hour north of Lampang, Thailand, is the mountaintop temple complex Chalermprakiat, where stupas perch on rocky crags and the view is as stunning as it gets.
Story by Sue Bedford (with files from Lena Desmond)
Photos by Outpost/John Price
“It feels as though we’re driving up the spine of the jungle,” our videographer noted, as the 4 x 4 monkeyed up the dirt ridge, tangled ambrosia falling away on either side like parted hair.
“It’s more like one of those roller-coasters where they slo-o-owly tow the car to the pinnacle only to release the cable and send you loop-de-looping,” I said, gazing at the landscape sprawling between the trees. “Or splat-de-splatting.”
When we finally disembarked from the truck — after a nail-biting, near-vertical gravel road that is 800 metres of dirt path — we were faced with an onerous staircase. Lena, ever the nimble trekker, stretched her calves before prancing at the steps like a gymnast at a pommel horse. Alone save for the mosquitos at my ankles and the heartbeat in my ears, I paced myself for the daunting upwards battle.
But the view from the top was unquestionably worth it. An hour north of Lampang, in the Chaehome district, the mountain temple is new. Built in honour of King Rama IV of the Rattanakosin dynasty’s 200th anniversary, ground was broken for Wat Chalermprakiat in 2004.
Now a collection of white and glittering stupas perch atop the limestone crags, while brass-belled pagodas housing Buddhist shrines overlook the rambling vistas.
One of the pagodas has a platform and shrine for visitors to pray, while both have viewpoints to take in the lolling pastures and rambling ranges that have no end in sight. A contemplative hush envelops the temple as the religious are moved by its sacredness and the secular its location.
As the late-afternoon sunlight drizzled over the landscape like maple syrup, the acrid scent of distant clear-burning wafted on the breeze. After the handful of sweaty-browed German tourists began their descent, Team Outpost found ourselves alone save for two orange-robed monks.
I’d always thought of Thai Buddhist temples as ancient structures, but Chalermprakiat demonstrates that even modern construction can be as awe-inspiring as those of yore. And while we crossed paths with few other tourists, we did exchange a smile with one of those orange-robed monks …wielding a selfie-stick!