Thai Monk Chat

Thai Monk Chat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I read in the guidebooks that you could visit the temples and engage in something called monk chat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Monk chat was described simply as chatting with a monk. We searched a few of the garish temples for monks, but they were always busy. Sometimes I would find a Thai monk receiving handouts from the faithful Buddhists who brought the unemployable holy men buckets filled with essentials. The buckets looked just like the care packages campers received from their parents. When the monks were available to chat, they usually couldn’t speak English.


“What is your role at the temple?” I asked one of the shaved, saffron-robed monks.


“Pray and get things.”


Instead of monk chat we explored the red and gold temples and stood before the giant golden Buddhas, which stood up front beside its many smaller avatars. Some temples even had monks frozen in meditation.


Thai Monk Wax Sculpture


“He’s amazing,” some European woman said to me. “I’ve been here for twenty minutes and he hasn’t even blinked.” She stuck her face in his face and kept pointing at him. “Amazing.”


I asked the non-English speaking monks about him. They laughed and pointed at the enlightened man. “Wax.” They knew that word.


At other temples, worshippers purchased prayer packages–incense sticks, orange sheets of paper with a gilded rectangle in the center, yellow candles, and vegetable oil. For luck, they waved the incense, burnt the paper, lit the candles, and spilled the oil into lanterns. (On the way out from the temple grounds you could also purchase lottery tickets.) Others bought bags of fish or buckets of turtles and released them back into the filthy Ping River. I searched for a monk because I wanted to know why the pious did this. Nobody could answer me.


So we wat-jumped to find one Thai monk keen on chatting. (Wat is the Thai name for temple.)


At one of the most famous temples in the city, a posse of orange-robed monks-in-training walked over to Marissa and me.


Failed Thai Monk Chat


“We want to know if we can speak with you and practice our English,” one asked.


“Sure.” I thought that I had finally found my monk chat in Chiang Mai. It turned out, however, that the kid either needed a bit more practice with his English or really needed to learn more about Buddhism and being a monk.


“Why can’t you do sports?” I asked after he told me he couldn’t play sports. “What will you do once you’re a monk?”


He didn’t know the answer to any of my questions.


“How many monks does it take to…”


They asked us to sign a piece of paper, proof that they had practiced their English.


Thai Monk Chat in Chiang Mai


I looked at the guidebook and it said that a monk chat was happening down the block. So we headed for the next wat, where we found a monk speaking to five cross-legged Westerners.


“Are you here for the meditation?” he asked me.


“No,” I said. “Just monk chat.”


He responded, but I had missed what he said. I figured he had confirmed monk chat. But his chatting was really a lecture. He kept explaining how desire will destroy our lives. Since I only desired to chat and he only desired to proselytize, we left.


“There are a few monks,” Marissa said when we stood back on the main road. Three of the four Thai monks wore the orange robe, one wore a yellower version of the same cloth.


“Why do you think one is wearing a yellow robe?” Marissa asked.


“Maybe his mom screwed up the laundry.” Without monk chat I was forced to invent my own rationale.


Posted on by Noah Lederman in Lost In Translation, Or Bust

2 Responses to Thai Monk Chat

  1. Zara @ Backpack ME

    I just got to Chiang Mai and ended up here after googling “monk chat”. Good read! It’s funny how your DESIRE to chat with a Monk made the whole monk chat thing pointless after they said desire is destroying people!.. 😛
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…Cambodian Cooking Class in Siem ReapMy Profile

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks Zara. I hope your monk chat goes a bit better. Let us know.

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