The grounds of Wat Suan Dok lie outside the old Chiang Mai city moat to the west on Suthep Rd in the direction of the mountain of that name.
(Click on any photo to see a description and again to magnify the image)
The temple name Wat Suan Dok translates as Flower Garden Temple, a name enticing to the would-be visitor.
However a surprise lies in store, as no lines of roses, or beds of gay annual flowers are on show. So how did the name arise?
The answer lies not on the ground below but in the trees. If one wanders the byways from the forested Wat Umong northwards through Chiang Mai University and beyond looking at the trees in March, one is likely to notice numerous rough barked trees covered in cream flowers.
These trees are known as Don Payom, พะยอม or Shorea roxburghi, of the family Dipterocarpaceae. Years ago I was told that the monks of old had planted Don Payom for their flowers, and hence the name of the temple.
However time has taken its toll on the Don Payom. The market up the hill from the temple, is known as Kad Don Payom , but some 20 years ago Chiang Mai Municipality axed the trees to lay concrete for roadside parking. At Wat Suan Dok itself these native trees had also largely vanished.
.Seven years ago moves were made to restore Payom trees to Wat Suan Dok and now the results of the project which involved transplanting trees many decades old can be assessed.
Most of the planting was at the small roadside park I have named Don Payom Park (see panoramic photo at the beginning of this report) . Twenty seven (27) ancient trees were trucked in to be planted , together with a few much younger advanced trees including both Don Payom and two Don Bunnart, บุนนาด ,or Mesua ferrea,. From the photo it appears only one old tree has put on a small amount of growth, some have died , including a Bunnart since removed and the remainder are moribund and show no growth. One of the younger trees situated in the centre near the road is a notable exception having added about two metres in height in seven years.
The overall assessment of this project appears very bleak. Billed as an exercise in conservation its result has been precisely the opposite. Old trees have been taken from where have been growing and providing shade and habit for wildlife to die in an urban setting. On the one hand the expense of using heavy moving equipment could have paid for hectares of reforestation on public lands degraded by deforestation. On the other hand planting of small trees, an activity children could perform without the need for machines, would have seen the area develop with trees taller and stronger than any on the site today, as for example was done at Railway Park in the same year. Again at Railway Park , advanced trees planted during the time of the Thaksin government, have been dwarfed in a matter of six years by small trees planted by local residents.
In recent years transplanting of large trees to have an instant effect has come into vogue. While one can see commercial interests might wish to plant some advanced trees to detract from an otherwise stark concrete landscape and attract custom, how can public bodies, and this includes the temples of Thailand, justify such practices ?
Moribund no more ?
Have things changed for the better ? Our new King , a vigorous cyclist has now appointed the new head of the country’s Buddhist institution.
Can the new Phra Luang answer the criticism that Thai Buddhism is at one with the crass materialism which dominates Thai society by rejecting the “buying of indulgences” as the Roman Catholic Church was once notorious for, and spurning extravagant gifts , be they intended for more socially useless walls, idols or Palacial edifices, or to take old trees from their rightful location elsewhere ?
Can people’s generosity be redirected to promoting sanitary housing for the poor, buying creative books and materials for schools and similar projects?
And can our new Phra Luang, who comes from the forest monk tradition bring this understanding into temples across the country so many may become urban forest temples rather than car parks for hire?
The people, young and old are here to help, and here is how we do it, just get in touch.