Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Most Metal Temple in Thailand

The main vihara

Hands reaching out from Buddhist hell. And you thought this was a peaceful religion!

Thou shalt not smoke, drink, or offend Van Halen.
Off a highway thirty minutes south of Chiang Rai, on a street dotted with coffee shops and trinket sellers, lies Wat Rong Khun, one of the most bizarre and beautiful temples ever built. Beautiful, because it's ivory white and pristinely spiky. Bizarre, because you're as likely to see an image of Hellboy as you are the Buddha.

The 12-acre complex is the creation of Chalermchai Kositpipat, who believes the best way to honor the Buddha is to have life-size cardboard cutouts of himself scattered about the property. Including in front of the gold-leafed bathroom, which along with the "Hall of Masterworks" is the only structure done in anything but white.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Buddhas and the Bats


Looking down.

The riverbanks of Wat Tham Pu Tu.

Phil considers the Buddha.
On the weekends during our time at Hans's farm, we would often rent a room for Saturday night and spend the weekend motorcycling around the countryside. One especially memorable Sunday, we took a lazy morning ride north of Chiang Rai to several caves in the hills dotting the riverbank.

The cold air of a cave takes on a religious quality in the hundred-plus degree heat of the tropics. Thais are not the only people to construct their altars in the insides of mountains, but their climate gives them the most reason to.

By the end of our travels, we would have seen a lot of caves, but these were the first. And for that, they'll always be a little special. We were the only visitors to several of these caves, excepting the scruffy guard dog to the steepest one. But at the largest one, in which the photograph above of the reflected monks was taken, a young family stepped in. There's just something about a small child's voice echoing in a cave, to the background of bats. Oh yes, how there were bats: dripping from the ceiling, clicking and chortling quietly to themselves and very rarely swooping to a new sleeping post.

That photograph of the monks is one of my favorites: the jumble of paintings and posters behind them, like a strip of a 70s living room transposed to the bowels of a mountain. And their faces! They looks so happy, so contented. The blessing they gave the young family sounded so sweet, too.

Even thinking about being there, all these months later, I feel my thoughts going slow, becoming wondering, feeling wondrous. I think of these words, by Jane Hirshfield:

An hour is not a house,
a life is not a house,
you do not go through them as if
they were doors to another.

Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
four walls, a ceiling.
An hour can be dropped like a glass.