| || Today Chiang Mai is the capital of Thailand’s mountainous northern region, and the country’s second city. But from the end of the thirteenth century to the seventeenth it was the religious center of the great kingdom of Lân-na, which stretched as far as China. The temple of Wat Phra, built in the old Lân-na style at about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) on the mountain of Doi Suthep, acted as a sentry for the city. The stupa houses relics of the Buddha. Its covering of gilded copper, and the golden one of the four parasols around it, are constantly maintained by the faithful, who earn spiritual credits for doing so. The jaofao, defensive barbs that decorate the roof, protect the temple from evil spirits that wander in the sky. Buddhism is practiced by 95 percent of Thais, and has cemented the country’s unity. Temples were once hospices, orphanages, and education centers, and they have remained public buildings. As most Thai men live as monks for some months before beginning their working lives (and continue to support the monasteries thereafter), temples remain central to people’s lives.
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