Things to do in Chiang Rai, Wat Tham Pa Are Cha Tong, or the Golden Horse Monastery (Thailand)

young monk golden horseIt’s a great story. A Bangkok boxer gives it all up, fame, ego, money and travels to a long abandoned monastery near Mae Chan, once the world’s center of opium production. There he battles an evil drug lord and his militia and wins the trust of the local animist farmers, steering them away from drugs and teaching the young men both the art of self defense and the Buddhist tradition. A villager donates a horse, and then several more are rescued and brought to the monk. The monk’s name is Samerchai, and when you see him and hear him speak you begin to understand what it’s all about, though as a foreigner you may not believe the entire story…

The Golden Triangle is not entirely drug free and Yaba has replaced opium.  Khun Sa, the Burmese warlord who once controlled the valley, the drug trade and the town of Ban Hin Taek with his own private army is long gone. For the most part, the Golden Triangle has become one of Thailand’s best know tourist attractions. There’s even a museum dedicated to the lawless days of opium production.

Mae Chan is a prosperous town and the small village around the temple is a farming community of big and small plots growing rice, morning glory, kale, lettuce and even corn. The temple is about 5 kilometers off the main road (Highway 1) and about a fourty-five minute drive from Chiang Rai City. Take a motorbike if you can, because the road up to the temple is quite steep, and in the rainy season things can get a bit messy. There are tour companies in Chiang Rai that can take you there, but it’s always best to see it with a friend, and enjoy a few stops on the way to look at the great scenery.

Get there early, wander around the temple and chat with the monks. Listen for the sound of the gong and then head toward the main gate and watch the monks riding on horseback as they enter the temple. Buy some food for them or bring some and watch as pilgrims from all over Thailand give alms and pray. Best of all listen to Samerchai as he speaks to the faithful, and though you may not know even the slightest bit of Thai, there’s something about the sound of his voice and his smile which will make you believe in legends, if even for only a little while.

“There are only two ways to approach the Golden Horse monastery, up a sheer cliff face or from a track from the north. At the gateway there stands a fierce guardian, a tall golden stallion that rises and kicks out at strangers until the monks gather him in. It is a fitting guardian for the Golden Horse temple and the fighting monks of Samerchai, high above the river Kam, in the Golden Triangle of Northern Thailand.”

samerchai golden horse

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