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Temple of Tunnels: Wat U-Mong in Chiang Mai

Our host Jina at Dozy Guesthouse ran over the Chiang Mai map circling things, looking for something we hadn’t seen before. Took her a moment, but she found it. (She was determined!) A temple with tunnels? Nope, never heard of it! And the next morning, off we went.

By motorbike it’s about 20 minutes from the Old City, heading west and not far from the airport in fact. (This map shows directions to Wat Umong from Dozy Guesthouse inside the moat.)

The top of the temple area is a chedi in a grassy area at the crest of a hill. Off to one side the hill stretches out and is encased in a sort of brick rampart-looking construction. At the bottom of this in front are three tunnel entrances which connect several meters inside the hill to another crosswise tunnel.

This is a temple, so we took off our shoes at the tunnel opening. The floors are tiled, the walls smoothed with concrete and paint. A few branches of the tunnels are dead ends with Buddha shrines in them. The tunnel out the other side of the hill was up a few steps. You can cross over and come up behind the chedi at the top.

We followed the tunnel to the other side and found just a dirt path, and we had left our shoes at the other end. So I turned to head back and that’s when I realized we were not alone. There was a hefty bat with big rabbit-like ears hanging by one “hand” staring back at me.

This fellow was right at eye level and I must have just missed bumping him as I came up the steps. I was ducking as the ceiling was low above the steps, so it was a good thing. I told Peung I’d go get our shoes and bring them back and we’d continue from there.

I eyed the bat and reminded myself that they are quite capable in the air and wouldn’t purposely run into an enormous giant. I’ve heard the really tiny ones actually are so terrified their little hearts can explode (literally) when threatened by those scary humans.

I crouched forward along the edge of the steps low like I was cheating at limbo and tried to slip past. It seemed I had done so but right past my head went the flapping leathery wings. I ducked hard, already after the fact. I followed it down to the next tunnel juncture and it had gone left into a Buddha alcove. I just had to go straight. But I stopped to look (really?) and it was in there flapping around, sorting out that this was a dead end, and, naturally, heading right back out to me at the crossroads.

There are conflicting opinions on whether or not I screamed or merely cleared my throat as I was about to comment on how nice the weather’s been. There was a moment of I’ve-got-spiders-all-over-me shivering. But I contend it was chilly in the tunnels.

Wat Umong doesn’t have bats in its belfry, but may have a couple elsewhere. Come to think of it, there’s no belfry. Though there is a bell.

More photos:

The entrance where your shoes must come off. Watch your step for bat droppings.

Reception for cell phones is best up by the chedi apparently. Or maybe the head monk can’t see you there.

A monk instructs a group of school children on a trip to Wat Umong.

And if the monks aren’t around for guidance, there is a series of pictures for educational purposes. This one warns you: dogs who drink and smoke are likely destined for hell. Or a road trip. To Pattaya, naturally. (Some may say that’s hell)

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

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