Chiang Rai Providence is about 3 hours from Chiang Mai. Half way there we stopped at a hot spring where Steve soaked his feet and the girls bought silver earrings.
We then continued on to the famous White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, brainchild of noted Thai painter- turned- architect Chalermchai Kositpipat, started in 1997. Seen from a distance, the temple appears to be made of glittering porcelain; a closer look reveals that the appearance is due to a combination of whitewash and clear- mirrored chips. To enter the temple, one must walk over a bridge and pool of reaching arms (symbolising desire), where inside, instead of the traditional Buddha life scenarios, the artist has painted contemporary scenes representing samsara (the realm of rebirth and delusion). Images such as a plane smashing into the Twin Towers and, oddly enough, Keanu Reeves as Neo from The Matrix (not to mention Elvis, Hello Kitty and Superman, among others), dominate the one finished wall of this work in progress.
An earthquake has cracked the inside main wall in many places and broke the top of the temple. It had been closed due to safety issues since the earthquake, so we were extreamly lucky that it was open the day we went. The outside is beautiful and extreamly unique. All of the deep symbolisms of the life we currently live and the demons we must overcome to reach Nirvana are depicted here. There is a huge emphasis on the destruction of the world by President Bush and Osama Bin Laden. The artwork is amazing and I am interested in seeing how the artist may transform some of the images due to all the earthquake damage. It also makes you wonder why this specific temple was so hardly hit by an earthquake. What higher being was offended by these depictions or in a land of highly superstitious people was this really just a coincidence? None of it takes away from the grandeur of the place. Even the bathroom is amazing and beautiful. We also enjoyed the Master Artists museum on sight. Letting us get a closer look at his life’s work, that is truely amazing and a fusion of Thai-American. Something that I can relate to.
We then traveled to another Artists temple grounds, the brainchild of Thai National Artist Thawan Duchanee, and a rather sinister counterpoint to Wat Rong Khun, Baan Dum (Black Temple) unites several quasi- traditional structures, most of which are stained black and ominously decked out with animal pelts and bones. The centrepiece is a black, cavernous temple- like building holding a long wooden dining table and chairs made from deer antlers – a virtual Satan’s dining room. Other buildings include white, breast- shaped bedrooms, dark phallus- decked bathrooms, and a bone- and fur- lined ‘chapel’. The structures have undeniably discernible northern Thai influences, but the dark tones, flagrant flourishes and all those dead animals coalesce in a way that is more fantasy than reality.
We still found all the buildings on the grounds beautiful. In a fenced in private property next door was a lake with black and white swans. I couldn’t help but notice the symbolism and coincidence of the two temples. I wonder who resides in the home next to the Black Temple?
Afterwards we traveled an extreamly long way to up into the jungle to a beautiful summit to visit the King’s Mother’s gardens. It was beautiful and fun for the kids. There was a garden maze and huge beautiful Poinsettias.
We then made an even further journey into the hills along the Loas border to visit the Hill Tribe Tea Plantations. This is a project The King took on to give the tribes people a way to legally earn a living. As prior to this they were opium farmers for Chinese drug cartels. We then visited a Hill Tribe Village where we bought some local honey in an old whiskey bottle from a hill tribe woman. Then I was swarmed with a ton of small children selling me bracelets for 20 baht each. It was fun as I tried to buy one from each of the kids.
We then made the very winding 5 hour drive back to Chiang Mai. I would highly recommend staying a few days up in the hills of Chiang Rai if you have the time as this is a beautiful untouristy region of Thailand.