Vines twist around the rusty iron gate. It stands, a proud relic amidst the restaurants and shops crowding the city street.
'Come in, come in!' an old Thai man calls to me from inside.
He wears a blue baseball cap covered in flag pins from around the world and is eager to show off his English skills. He tells me I should come inside to see the temple, that he was a monk here for fifteen years before leaving the monastery to care for his elderly parents. Then he tells me about a flower festival happening this weekend and points out the night markets.
'You are a special friend,' he says, 'and when you walk by to see the markets you must come see me. You'll know me by my hat.'
I smile, thank him and agree, wondering how many 'special friends' he's made during his time standing guard at the temple gate.
This temple is indeed special, not because it is big and grand like many in Chiang Mai. This temple is humble and real. I am the only one inside the gates besides the monks, caretakers, and requisite street dogs. The sounds of a vibrant city dissipate into distant memories as I enter beneath a canopy of thick broad leaves. They sway in the breeze, playing a rhythmic song of light and shadow over the shimmering surface of the stone. Birds call to one another from the tree tops as butterflies flit to and from large magenta blossoms.
I pass the minutes wandering through this sanctuary in perfect equilibrium. No sadness, no ecstasy, just peaceful contentment and a moment to breathe outside of the bustle of the city. As I cross back through the gate I wave goodbye to my friend and leave my storybook oasis to the next passerby. I have an afternoon with friends in the city center ahead of me.