…Why Go At Night? Why Go At All?
Stay tuned for answers to these questions and more. But first, what is it really called?
I think the official name is Wat Chedi Ai Khai, which I’ve used in the title. But it’s also known as Ta Khai Wat Chedi, or, according to the many signs directing you to the place, just Wat Chedi or Wat JD (JD sounds like Chedi) or even Wat Chedi Ikai (because Ikai sounds like Ai Khai.) Most people though, know it as The Chicken Wat.
I’d like to tell you it’s where Colonel Sanders was born, but the story is much more interesting than that. It allegedly dates back more than a thousand years. I say “allegedly” because a lot of these stories, passed down by word of mouth over countless generations, need to be taken with a grain of salt. But the story goes something like this…
A famous monk named Luang Phu Thuad was travelling southwards from Si Ayutthaya. That’s more than 1000kms away. He had with him a young disciple, nine or ten years old, named Ai Khai. When they arrived at the area of the present wat, they found (and I’m quoting the Tourism Thailand website) “many treasures.” The young lad was instructed to stay there to look after said treasures.
There’s no mention of what happened to the place, the boy or the treasures, until the building – by now derelict – was rediscovered in 1957. After that, anyone who tried to sleep inside the ubosot, the main prayer hall (as one does) was unable to – unless they had asked for permission from the ghost of Ai Khai. Supposedly anyone trying to sleep would see an image of the boy bashing their heads and pulling their legs. I know, right now, what the last part feels like.
Meanwhile, in 1983 Pho Than Thoem, who was the abbot of Wat Chedi at the time, decided that people should give money to Ai Khai, to help redevelop the wat. Now, he must have been a smart guy because he’s been insanely successful. People come in the thousands every day, from all over Thailand and Malaysia, but even further afield. They pray to a “thousand year old” small statue of Ai Khai, who is dressed in modern clothes and dark glasses – yes, thousand year old dark glasses – and they give him money.
They also buy tiny strips of gold leaf which they seem to stick on everything, after praying to whatever it is that’s getting the golden treatment.
They pin paper money on sticks and poke them into fake trees. After praying.
Why would they do that? Because they believe the young lad, or his ghost, will solve their financial problems. Starting a new business? Pray to Ai Khai. Want to win the lottery? You know what to do. Of course, given the hundreds of thousands who visit every year there have to be success stories. It’s what we call, hmm, I forget the word, oh yes – coincidence.
Now, this all gets totally out of hand for one week of the year when the wat is open in the evening. A friend said “We have to go tonight, it’s the last night.” She made it sound like the Last Night of the Proms, and in some ways it was. If you’ve ever been jostled in the standing area of the Royal Albert Hall, you’ll know what I mean.
Anyhoo, for this one week of evenings, there’s even more opportunities to give away your money, things to stick gold leaf on, things to pray to, fireworks to watch, and of course – this being Thailand – food to eat. Oh what fun. Well, it was an experience, probably not to be repeated. I didn’t even get the t-shirt.
So, at night, it all looks nice with thousands of sparkling lights, but I had to wonder what it looked like in the daylight. A couple of days ago I went again to find out…
Hmm, okay, it’s not that special as wats go. Not for your bucket list. But at least Bert didn’t get lonely…
All of which doesn’t explain the chickens. There are thousand of them. Tens of thousands, millions even. Before you even reach the wat there are at least 200 vendors each trying to sell a few thousand chicken statues of all sizes. Chickens also bring you financial luck. But you probably knew that.
So, you buy a statue or three, say a few appropriate prayers, leave your statues at the wat, and bingo, you’re now a millionaire. If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t.
You’d think they’d sell statues of Ai Khai, but I didn’t see any. Wait. Now there’s a business idea. Excuse me, I’m off to the Patent Office.