This post originally appeared on the 22 October 2011 on Tuk-tuks, chicken bouquets and bicycle bells @ kerrytolsontravels.com
After hours of driving through Bangkoks spaghetti junction highways, passing endless sandbags and outer streets starting to flood, we finally made it to the Airport only to find that the flight was delayed for hours due to a “broken” runway. First we were told accident on runway… this didn’t quell the pre-flight nerves at all, but was soon changed to ‘broken’ . Thankfully the plane wasn’t broken and after a smooth flight we arrived at our destination, Chiang Rai just prior to midnight and found ourselves in the throws of a full moon party of sorts. A party with hundreds of monks. A monk rave! There was plenty of light strobing, groovy music and munchies on offer but forget downing poppers to alter the mind, this party was about us popping goodies into monks begging bowls in an attempt to alter our Karma.
The main street of Chiang Rai was filled with joyous people carrying tables, trays and bags of edible goodies. We too filled up a bag of yummy delights and joined the crowds lining the street just below the clock tower waiting for the monks. (The clock tower of Chiang Rai is stunning, a work of art given to the city by a very generous Thai Artist and Sculptor – Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat.) .
At the stroke of midnight, music filled the air and the glittering gold tower put on a light show, changing from gold to royal blue, purple, green, red and a beautiful blend of coral shades. As this happen the night sky filled with hundreds of small birds and a gasp went up from the crowd. Everyone started clapping and oohing and arhing as the birds, swallows I think, flew around the clock tower, around the buildings and then settled onto the power lines above us. It was as if they too were waiting for the arrival of the monks. Throughout all this, candles carried in floating lanterns drifted up into the sky – it was a beautiful sight. One of the floating lanterns became caught in the power lines sending up sparks, disturbing the birds. As electrical sparks showered down…and not very far from us… the birds again flew around the tower then resettled along the lines. A procession started, beautiful girls in traditional costumes followed by a large bell being pulled and pushed on a cart by men in stunning outfits.
As soon as they passed, the crowds moved in and along came the Monks. It became like a mosh pit, everyone trying to get close to the monks to put food into their begging bowls, when the bowls filled (and it didn’t take long at all) they were emptied into a sack, and when the sacks filled they were passed back to a ute. Needless to say, there were loads of sacks and quite a few utes. We had to be very careful not to touch the monks whilst putting the offerings into the bowl, which proved to be hard as the monks continued walking whilst this was being done.
Not to mention the crowd was pulsatesating; pushing and surging forward to get closer to the Monks. And you just didn’t put the offering into the bowl , there was a small ritual that had to be carried out. Nothing too complicated, but still trying to remember it and not touch the monk, whilst being shoved was quite disconcerting , yet it was a very enjoyable experience. We were taken ‘under wing’ by four Chiang Rai uni students who delighted in telling us about this celebration. It happens only once a year on the Wednesday full moon and is the End of Buddhist Lent. I found this fascinating as I never knew Buddhists had Lent and I felt even more blessed for being able to participate in this holy festival. The celebration went into the early hours and we noticed just after the senior monks passed the hundreds of birds sitting along the electrical lines, rose into the air and flew away – have no idea where they went.
The 1989 LP states that Chiang Rai is of “no real interest – just a stepping stone” on the way to the Golden Triangle and I think it’s thanks to this play down twenty years ago that the town has blossomed into a beautiful tranquil oasis in the north. Today, Chiang Rai is a spotlessly clean, modern town with all the old world charms and bustle. Peddle rickshaws trundle through the leafy streets, overhead brightly coloured lanterns swing in the breeze and the central market is the place to be wether it’s four o’clock in the morning when the hill tribe women come into town in their traditional dress to sell their wares or in late afternoon when workers line the hawkers stalls for delicacies such as big curly noodle sausages, deep fried chicken (this stall was lined 20deep) and stuffed BBQ salted fish. For us, Chiang Rai was a mine of interesting sites and discoveries.
First on the list was the surreal white temple – Wat Rong Khun – designed by Ajarn (clock tower artist) and still in the process of being built - so far 12years and counting, a quote from the artist himself (who is quite young) is that he anticipates this temple’s completion will “maybe in 60 - 90 years after my death” . On the morning we arrived, the sky was a brilliant blue and the temple a mirror ball– sunglasses were a necessary health requirement as thousands upon thousands upon tens of thousands of small mirrors attached to the temple and its periphery buildings glinted and glittered and shone blindingly in the sunshine.
This was a temple of intense artistic freedom, a building up there with the likes of those designed by Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain and along the fantastical surrealism lines of Dali . A temple of devotion, complete with monastery, monks and deep reverence, I found myself at first glance wondering if the artist is having a ‘lend’ of the devotees. At the entrance sits a space alien in body armour buried up to his waist, further along a shrine; but forget the standard god or Buddha, instead in reverence place is a skull and full bottle of whisky. As we delve deeper into the temple we held spellbound by the paintings depicted on the walls – Keanu Reeves in Matrix form, the blue men of Avatar, Star Wars, Spider man and the Transformers spread across the inner walls in larger than life forms. At the very front of the temple’s sanctum is statues of the Buddha (and a very realistic wax figure of a monk) but the other three walls are a psychedelic kaleidoscope of sci-fi and movie scenes. For the sci-fi aficionados, this would be their nirvana!
The more we wander, the more bizarre the Wat becomes, George Bush rides rockets with Osama and the heads of world leaders hang from trees, there’s a ‘lake’ of doomed souls in hell, the hands stretching to the sky, their anguished faces screaming – all in grey – and there on one hand, a lone fingernail in brilliant red, the only scrap of colour
And then we discover the toilet block – gold, shimmering and magnificent, in fact it is stated to be “the most beautiful toilet block in the world”. Ajarn is an incredibly generous artist who not only gave his city a beautiful clock but in using his own funds to build this incredible temple, is giving to his county, Thailand, a most precious gift that will become an architectural wonder of the world.
Now if you'll just excuse me, I'll just go and take a seat on its throne.
.... Part 2 of Grooving the Golden Triangle coming up soon.
Thailand Blog posts
This blog originally appeared on my blog: Tuk-tuks, chicken bouquets and bicycle bells at kerrytolsontravels.com in 2011.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.