Black, gold, red

When I first went to Luang Prabang in 2003, I didn’t have a camera. There I was, surrounded by black, gold, red, glitter, the November full moon festivities, dragon boats, a million candles, and I couldn’t take a single picture. So I had to go back for years later. And then, I lost my photos, only to be recovered almost by accident, three years later. It was a long wait. Many full moons have come and gone, and I’ve travelled a lot since, but if I look back at the pictures now, the simple, humble wooden temples still shine.

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I believe all of these photos are from the most famous one, Wat Xieng Thong, at the bank of the mighty Khong, where the naga king resides. I hope in a lucky moment it is still possible to have it all to yourself. Except for the resident monks, of course.

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Sandcastles for new year

If you google Thai new year, or songkran, this is not the kind of photo you will find in abundance, but it is still one of my favourite things about April. People originally used to build mini and giant sandcastles in temple yards to make up for the loss of soil washed away during the course of the previous year. Now it’s just a tradition. The flags are decorated with the 12 animals of the zodiac, and traditional northern Thai patterns.

One of the reasons I love Chiang Mai is that it is a modern city with all sorts of amenities and services, but it also keeps traditions alive.  :-)

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Temples in my back yard

Old and famous temples don’t necessarily mean big and spectacular. The structure might be only a few decades old, most of the traditional wooden architecture already long gone…. what makes them ancient is the date the foundation stones were laid and the place was first consecrated. May be a disappointment at first glance, and then you adjust, and the hundreds of little quiet sanctuaries in a bustling, crazy city become familiar landmarks and anchors to certain dates and occasions. The place where you go to listen to evening chanting, where you remember the cold moss under your feet on a full moon, candle-lit night… and many others.

I’m not really a Buddhist, but I always made an effort to learn, read and discuss, and it is definitely the religion closest to my heart. It is just shocking though how much deeper all those childhood memories can go, they form a very different part of my personality and identity.

Wat Chiang Man was my first “home temple” for several years, facing east, as all of them, the rays of sunset hit the statue at the back

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Discarded, broken, old Chinese shrines deposited and slowly fading away at the foot of an ancient sacred tree – the proper way to dispose of them

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Just across from my first home

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Lotus bud, freshly prepared, ready for worship. The purity and perfection of this humble flower that grows in muddy ponds symbolises the way that the teachings of the Buddha can rise above the dirty reality of everyday life, and create something so simple and so beautiful out of a mere puddle.

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Frangipani is a particularly inauspicious plant in Thailand, and mostly only found in temple yards, where the sanctity of the place is able to break the evil spell.

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Chinese new year feast for the ancestors laid out at the outdoor shrine of the temple in Chinatown

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Beautiful paintings inspired by ancient styles and techniques for sale at the Sunday walking street market

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Monk at prayer in the ancient cave temple of Wat U Mong at the edge of the city, foot of the hill. Chedis like this often hide an old Buddha relic, the ashes of a famous monk, or sometimes royalty.

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At the back of Wat Phra Singh (I think). Chiang Mai is a monastic education hub, with tens of thousands of teenage monks working for their high school diplomas and then many continuing on at the Buddhist University.

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A very new reconstruction of old techniques and designs right next to my first kindergarten. The entire structure is built of wood, which is, sadly, very rare any more these days.

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The oldest remaining wooden temple in the old city, flanked by a traditional new year sandcastle topped with dharma wheel Buddhist flags. Huge sandcastles go up every April, originally to compensate for erosion in the temple grounds. (I should find more sandcastle photos for my next entry!)

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Feast for the monks laid out at a temple on a July full moon day, at the beginning of their three-month lent (phansa)

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Flowers, candles and incense sticks (one for the Buddha, one for the teachings, and one for the monastic order – the triple gem). Devotees (and guests are always welcome!) walk around the temple and chedi three times chanting and praying on the three auspicious full moon evenings of the year (March, May and July), marking the most important days of the Buddha’s life as a teacher and spiritual leader.

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And this concludes my temple tour in a nutshell for today.

 

Life’s a beach

Now that my adventure days are temporarily on hold for a while, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about my early years in Thailand, and trying to recall all the boat trips and quiet beaches that have since been overshadowed by the dramatic, overwhelming beaches and islands in Indonesia (which are, of course, in a class of their own).

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Contrary to popular belief, not all the boats I set foot on end up sinking. This one called Duangta is still afloat and roaming the Similan Islands National Park. It is the best snorkelling liveaboard ever, ok, well, largely owing to the fact that there were no lifejackets and emergency “abandon ship” commands in the middle of the night during a storm, but then, even that counts for something… although the reefs were a bit less spectacular.

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… the rest are just random miscellaneous places from all over Thailand :-)

The famed Khao Lak, a few years after the tsunami….

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Ko Chang, way back, ten years ago….

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And the stunningly deserted low-season sands of Ko Muk….

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(In the header: Ko Pha Ngan sans the full moon drunken crowds.)

Hear me miaow

I really need to force myself to continue this blog…. I have way too much time, and maybe I can concentrate for half an hour every day….

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I haven’t slept much in the past couple of days because somehow the cat had sneaked into my bed and left her fur all over the place… and I’m keeping my distance, with a broken heart… but no problem browsing some cat photos.

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Being a domestic cat is not some lowly paid, entry-level job in Indonesia. It is a great deal of responsibility to be in charge of rat and snake removal.

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… though not all of them look extremely busy all the time….

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(I’m wondering what cats dream about?)

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