Carlsberg don't make temples...
Trip Start Sep 09, 2011
128Trip End Jun 29, 2012
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I decided that I would buy a book for the journey, as I had seen a couple of used English book stores up the road. You would not believe the cost of the books though! In fairness, it was the same price that you would pay in a supermarket in the UK, but you just get used to paying a lot less for stuff over here... I was suitably outraged, but eventually bought an excellent piece of chick-lit nonsense entitled 'Good Grief' to get me through our intended 2 day boat trip along the Mekong River once we got up to Chiang Khong.
While we were in the bookstore browsing, there was this cat that seemed to belong there... well, we were assured it was a cat... it was the sickest looking creature I've ever seen, dragging it's body along and wheezing like a little furry Darth Vader. The owner of the shop told us that even though the cat is really sick, they are not allowed to put animals down in Thailand, so they just had to wait for it to die. We thought that was really sad. The owner seemed to find it rather irritating. You could tell he was just watching and waiting for a prime opportunity to put a plate of enticing tuna fish on some train-tracks in the path of an oncoming locomotive.
Catching the public bus was interesting as we had assumed we would just be able to leave first thing in the morning, but it was already booked up by the time we arrived. The man selling tickets must have been going for some kind of world record in how slowly he could type information into his ticketing machine too because it seemed to take forever to get our tickets sorted. The journey was ok once we got going though, and the bus had fans which was good. Not that they were entirely needed as they decided to leave the back door open for the entire journey to let some air in. It was quite pleasant, but I did hold my bag extra tightly as I sat in the chair opposite the back door, watching the landscape zoom by.
City Home is a Hostelling International place we booked into in Chiang Rai, which meant that Bec and I were able to use our discount cards. Cha Ching! It was pretty basic, but clean and spacious, so we settled in for the night.
Chiang Rai is really chilled out, and seemed to be a much, MUCH wealthier area than other places that we have visited in Thailand. The Golden Triangle is named after the area that has produced most of the world's opium and heroin since the 1920's. (Apparently Afghanistan took over recently as the world's biggest heroin producers... I don't think they give out a trophy or anything though.) The Golden Triangle is also in very close proximity to Chiang Rai. Read into this what you will in relation to the money that seems to be gushing into the area.
The night market was particularly good, and had musicians playing every night in designated entertainment and eating areas. It was really lovely.
Bec and I did not find the food court the first night and instead went for Pizza. Not exactly a traditional Thai dish, but it was a Green Curry pizza for me, so there was a nod to Asian cuisine. I followed my pizza with a neck, shoulder and back massage (nothing like my last 'full body' experience) which cost me 2 English pounds. It was amazing.
The next day we went out to see Wat Rong Khun, which we had read about in the Lonely Planet Guide. It's 13 km south of Chiang Rai, and when the bus pulled up and just left us on the side of the freeway we were a little bit concerned we might have been tricked, but round the corner we were able to see the huge white, glittering temple.
Known as 'the white temple' (bet they spent a long time on that one), it is a very modern temple with some pretty interesting artistic design work. Its construction began in 1997 by noted Thai painter-turned-architect Chalermchai Kositpipat... who is, and I think it is a fair statement, a nutter.
There is a life size cardboard cut out of him in fact at the front of the temple with two enthusiastic thumbs up, for you to have your photo taken next to. Before you even get to the cutout there was a large scale model of Predator in the gardens, and white 'heads' hanging from the branches of white trees. Nutter.
You walk over a bridge (also white... obviously) which lifts you above a sea of outstretched arms and skulls... this is meant to make you think about mortality, and how you must go through pain and temptation to get to eternal beauty and fulfillment. Apparently.
Inside the main temple is where it gets really weird though. Brilliant, but weird. On the wall behind you as you enter are beautiful paintings of characters like Harry Potter, Darth Vader, Terminator, Superman, Batman and Neo from the Matrix. All are situated under the large shape of a skull, inside the eye sockets of which, if you look closely, are the portraits of George Bush and Saddam Hussein. The temple is still being completed, so the work is constantly being updated, and sadly you are not allowed to take photographs of it.
Ahead of you when you entered the temple was a large scale golden Buddha... and sat in front of it was a monk. Or was it...
I was convinced it was a waxwork, a very convincing waxwork mind, but a fake monk none the less. Becca was convinced he was just meditating really, really hard. She even thought she saw him twitch his foot. We looked at him from every angle possible, whilst still trying to look deep in thought with expressions of piety and contemplation on our faces... Then we decided we should throw a rock at him to decide once and for all.
There were a couple of flaws to this otherwise excellent plan.
a) If he was real we could injure a monk, and I'm pretty sure that would be frowned upon.
b) If he was fake, we could damage an expensive sculpture... and I'm pretty sure that would also be frowned upon.
c) Either way it could be considered very disrespectful to Buddhists who were visiting, even if we explained that we were just trying to see if he was real or not.
d) The temple was so shiny and new there were no stones to throw. The only other option was to throw one of our flip flops or a pen that I had in my bag.
e) The attendant guy looked a little suspicious by this point. I think he doubted our spiritual devotion as we were shooting furtive glances his way and clearly searching for something to throw.
So, we abandoned the plan and instead went to the Art Gallery in the grounds, where fortunately photographs of the temple showed the same monk in exactly the same position, and blueprint plans that included him! Case solved. Fake Monk. I felt like Sherlock Holmes.
The Art gallery, known as the Chalermchai Kositpitpat Hall of Masterwork, was amazing. It doesn't just house his work, but the work of his 'disciples' who are also contributing to the completion of the temple. He has about 60 followers who, like him, are dedicated to the completion of the temple. Some of the paintings and drawings were brilliant, and showed real skill. Made me want to get home and paint!
The other highlight of the visit to Wat Rong Khun was The Golden Toilet. Known as “the most beautiful toilet” it is covered in gold leaf and ornate paintings. Each cubicle is tiled in polished stone, and there are slippers outside the door for you to put your feet into before you enter. But would you believe it? All but two of the toilets (which Bec and I were ushered over to thankfully) were squatties!!
We really enjoyed Chiang Rai, but there was not a lot to do, and so we were quite happy to be moving on after a couple of days up to Chiang Khong.