Sunday, May 24, 2009

When more is not enough

temple during rain, originally uploaded by Paul Grand.

On the coast, below Bangkok, grows a very strange wooden temple structure.
It was conceived and started by an eccentric billionaire known as "Khun Lek" just 20 years ago.
Sited near Pattaya, he named it 'The Sanctuary of Truth'.
He has since died but the project still continues and is expected to be completed within five years.

The shape follows traditional Thai architecture, decorated with wood carvings depicting the four major philosophical and artistic influences that can be seen in Thailand: Hindu, Khmer, Chinese and Thai.
A team of 250 woodcarvers are at work on the sanctuary at any given time.

We'd only heard about this (not so famous) edifice the day before on the net and so time was short..
When we visited it was raining, but as it was our last day we ploughed on through the mud and sand with several cameras in weather that even the guides were unwilling to brave!

We were astonished by the size of the thing, with its huge carved four faced Buddha's heads and many over-sized elephants.
Whilst inside the stygian gloom sadly hid most of its treasures, with warnings posted that the interior was off-limits for photography other than personal snaps.

We both found it over decorated, verging on the Disney-kitsch, and thus came up with a new name for it; 'When more is not enough' !
However, it keeps many woodcarvers and related industries in employment, so it must be a good thing in an area almost devoid of cultural sites other than the sleazy go-go bars and several Thai Kick Boxing bar venues.

Thus, I recommend hiring an air conditioned taxi for a day from Bangkok and spread the cost between a few friends for a visit and avoid the next door resort if possible.

The cheaper bus is a false economy as they will drive you the slowest (cheapest) route and take you to a tourist trap factory outlet..
The trip is about seventy five minutes @ 25 euros per day, (per car) via taxi on the motorway. Up to four hours and 10 euros each (one way)by bus!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Travelers tales

Ayutthaya ruins in old Siam, originally uploaded by Paul Grand.

Last night we dinned with the old friend of Martine at her outdoor restaurant, the same French restaurant patron I'd written about in the previous funny blog last year, about the bicycle accident
As Martine and I have just returned from a months touring vacation of Thailand, she amused us again, this time with her travelers tales from her 'hippy' trip to Thailand 40 years ago.

She was staying on Phuket's Patong Beach when it was only a little fishing village and had a little rented private sleeping hut on stilts on the beach. The nearby James Bond (Man with the Golden Gun) on Phi Phi Island was yet to be filmed, and thus renamed James Bond island. She said it was then 'Paradise'. Of course there are no longer any huts on that beach at Patong, the Tsunami (or 'tiramiso' as she jokingly referred to it) swept them all away along with several thousand unlucky people..

She also visited 'Chang Mia' in the north as we did and took the generic 'Golden Triangle' walking tour of the Jungles along the borders of the joined neighboring countries and found to their mounting horror,
they were lead by a native bush guide who was continually drinking as he walked, leading them in huge circles until they'd had enough 'daja vu' for one day
and all decided to abandon him.
They left him sitting cross legged, Buddha's lotus style, on a flat rock, calling down;
"You might not like me, but I still like all of you" !

In those days as it still is now, this trip can be dangerous, at one point the inebriated guide told them all to lie down in the long grass-fast, whilst a troupe of heavily armed gorilla soldiers marched by..

Whilst traveling with a small group friends, they one day became intrigued by the thought of seeing a huge mythical glass Buddha, 300 kilometers north of where they were staying at the time.
So they all hired an old car and drove several hours along mostly unsurfaced roads to reach this Monastery of the famous glass Buddha.
Upon finally reaching this nirvana they found the temple doors locked!
After banging for what seemed like hours, a minion monk finally arrived from within and opened up temple.
He said "It's not possible to visit today, please come back tomorrow"..
Thus they all groaned and began to beg to see the relic as they had made this arduous several hour pilgrimage especially to see this mythical Chrystal Buddha.
Finally having melted the gatekeepers heart he disappeared within to speak to the head monk. A while later an elderly Monk arrived at the door with a little bungle in old newsprint.
He said they had been lucky and had been granted a little peep at the blessed icon. Whereupon he started unraveling the newspapers, finally bringing out, cupped in the palm of one hand a every small, boring glass Buddha!
Their collective hearts sank, and turned around after politely cooing 'How lovely' it was, set off back to the city and their several hour nightmare car trip in the broiling afternoon sun...

She also did a lot of traveling by train, she said in those days the sleeping bunks were at either side of the train, a passage separated the two sides and personal curtains in front of all the sleepers.
A tea server or 'Char' would walk the corridors all night with boiling hot tea, fresh leaf Green Chinese tea, quite unlike the dried green tea we find in the west.
To obtain this refreshing brew one would simply stick out ones hand holding their metal cup through the curtain for it to be refilled as many times as you wanted. She added that the trains were nice and clean.
However things change, as we read in the Thai press just last week, that the continuing Thai railway bed bug infestation was now under control and all the countries trains were in the process of being stripped and renewed in Bug repelling plastic or leather upholstery.
Thankfully we chose not to cross Thailand by train but gleaned the information while cruising in air conditioned, bug free comfort at a height of several thousand meters!

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