Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Magical Fairytale : Chiang Rai

Today we travelled through a landscape of rice paddies to Chiang Rai, a quiet town in the far northern part of Thailand. Chiang Rai is known as the "Gateway to the Golden Triangle" - the meeting point between Thailand, Burma and Laos.

Right before entering Chiang Rai, we visited Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple - which is one of (if not the most) unconventional modern Buddhist temples in the world. An artist-turned-architecht named Chalermchai Kositpipat began constructing the temple in 1996, and because the construction is entirely funded by him, the government does not have any say in the design of the temple - inside or out. The result is definitely one-of-a-kind, and sometimes a little wacko.

From the outside, the temple looks magical with its completely white fa├žade, signifying the purity of the Buddha. The architecture looks like something out of a fairytale, with intricate details and sculptures depicting different spirits. Water fronts the temple to separate heaven from earth, with a beautiful bridge connecting the two. Some say that the water represents the obstacles that man must surpass in order to reach the nirvana offered in the temple.

 Wat Rong Khun

 Would you believe me if I said this is the bathroom? Because it is. The whole thing. 

When you look a little closer though, the fairytale turns into a nightmare - there are disembodied heads dangling from trees, pleading hands of men suffering in hell emerging out of the earth, and various depictions of the devil.

 Dangling heads outside the temple

Then, as you walk inside the temple, you will be completely awestruck by the giant mural covering the walls; it looks like the masterpiece of a prodigal artist gone insane (think Van Gogh on crack perhaps). An elaborate mural has been created, regrouping the most random and peculiar collection of people and popular characters. And when I say random, I mean random: Michael Jackson, George Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Kung Fu Panda, the Hulk, Batman, and a couple of Angry Birds all find their own spot on the walls (umm...what?!)
Avatar, Transformers and the Matrix -- Wat Rong Khun White Palace, Chiang Rai, Thailand
(not my picture) 

The entire back wall of the monastery is dedicated to a painting of a giant red demon with George Bush in one eye, and Osama Bin Laden in the other. Inside the mouth of the demon is a scene depicting the fall of the Twin Towers.

After visting the temple, we made our way to into the surrounding mountains of Chiang Rai where we learnt about the Hilltribe peoples who live in this land. Over 100 years ago, Hilltribe peoples migrated south from China into what is now northern Thailand. The 6 major tribes still remaining in northern Thailand are the Hmong, Yao, Akha, Lisu, Lahu and the Karen (long-neck peoples). Each tribe is distinct, with its own culture, religion, language, art, and dress.

Me posing with girls who are a part of the Karen long-neck tribe

Thailand has been amazing - from the South all the way to the North - and I'm so sad to be leaving this beautiful country tomorrow. But on a positive note, I'll be crossing the Mekong to get to LAOS! See you soon ;) 

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