Home > Chiang Rai, Laos, Mekong, Thai Temples, Thailand, Travel > Wats this all about then?

Wats this all about then?

As another bike ride approached Carl decided to cease his fruit and nut diet three days in, and tucked into a breakfast of egg on toast and a number of Tetleys. A price was agreed for another pair of faulty bikes and off we went in the wrong direction. It was a beautiful ride through green fields and past small wooden Thai coffee shops but according to my intuition we had been riding for a lot longer than planned. Carl then decided to take the lead and matching a junction with our map that I had failed to read accurately we realised we were nowhere near Wat Rong Khun the temple we were trying to reach. We’d seen numerous temples on our travels but were assured that this one was something special. A modern crystal white sanctuary created by an eccentric Thai artist was tempting, but it was the Buddhist motifs that included Darth Vader that couldn‘t be missed.

A couple of hours later than planned we approached one of the most extravagant buildings in the history of religious architecture. From a distance the classical Thai temple figure appeared silver and white, like it belonged in a far away, romantic, snow clad land rather than in the sticky heat of northern Thailand. White paint and mirrored tiles provide this celestial effect but neither pictures nor descriptions will do it justice. A closer look at the temple reveals that demons replace classical dragons. Beyond the serene lake shrivelled claws of the damned reach out from the realms of suffering and craving. Dishevelled heads, human and otherwise, hang in trees and a bottle of whisky and packet of cigarettes take centre stage in the bounds of a red hellish sculpture. We pondered over the moral messages indented…

Inside the temple a peaceful Buddha image is worshipped, while the other walls appear to condemn popular Western culture and the modern world in general. Demons and characters such as Superman and Neo from The Matrix adorn the red walls and in the eyes of the biggest demon appears the image of Osama Bin Laden and another figure whom we failed to recognise. We wondered what the local Thai Buddhists and monks made of the temple. It was obviously a statement about the world we live in appearing glossy at first but housing so much suffering and evil.

Wanting to know more we watched part of a video which showed the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat walking around the temple ‘explaining’ sections. However, in true Thai style he would walk up to a sculpture, point and commence the classic Thai laugh ‘ahahahahaha’ and move on. He was a rather bizarre character and you wondered how he’d stayed serious long enough to actually build this masterpiece, (work is still ongoing).

We took the shorter root back and stopped at a Veggie Bus recommended café for some vegetarian northern Thai style noodles; cooked in a yellow curry sauce and topped with crispy noodles that are specific to northern Thailand. Yum!! Our visas were soon to expire and after another night market, a few more bowls of these scrumptious noodles we were running out of things to do in Chiang Rai. Another Chiang awaited us; Chiang Kong the quaint border town in the north where we would make our crossing to Laos by boat.

 

The smaller they became the more captivating the Chaings seemed to become. Chiang Kong was no exception; a small riverside community amidst a small selection of wooden guest houses, restaurants and coffee outlets and a sleepy riverside vibe. We spent the evening on the river watching the sun set over Laos on the opposite side.

 

The next morning we boarded a long tail boat and submitted our papers. After a short delay due to Carl misspelling his own name on the immigration form, ‘Sabaidee’ welcome to Laos. Despite being just a hop, skip and a long tail boat ride from Thailand a definite shift in culture was evident. Slightly stale baguettes, happy cow spreadable cheese triangles and the infamous ‘Beer Lao’ greeted us from every shop front and the locals conversed with tourists in a mix of French and English. This side of the river was rather unpolished compared to the Thai side; it was immediately apparent that we had entered a poorer, less ‘developed’ (in the economic sense of the word) land. We wondered what the French thought about the spreadable cheese…

 

Upon exchanging our remaining Thai bhat into the local Laos currency we were rewarded with the sum of over 2 million kip. I chose to ignore Carl’s insistence that we should purchase only small notes in order to spread them across our next hotel room and roll around naked in rapture; but it was still a big wad. The first time I was asked to pay 1,000 kip to use the toilet I was outraged, reminded by an innocent bystander that the actual value of such was only a few pence my resistance subsided. Onwards to Luang Nam Tha for only 20,000 kip!

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