It’s time to continue some travels through Asia. When last I left you, we were in Ayuthaya. Well, we’re still there with the latest batch of photos to be added to the gallery.
This time I have uploaded photos of Wat Phra Ram, another of the fine temple ruins in the centre of the city. Go have a look!
Wat Phra Mahathat is another of the fine temples in Ayutthaya. The centrepiece of this site is the sandstone Buddha head embedded in the trunk of a tree. A bodhi tree has consumed most of the statue and all that remains is a face staring out from the roots.
Please visit the gallery of photos of Wat Phra Mahathat here.
More images from Ayutthaya! Yes, they keep coming (and will keep coming for a little while yet)!
This time join me a little tour through Wat Chai Wattanaram, one of the more impressive temples in Ayutthaya. Its sprawling, riverside ruins are dominated by a central prang and its satellite towers. Climbing the steep steps gives a good view out over the temple’s walls, the surrounding flat area and the river. It’s just another reason to make Ayutthaya more than a day trip from Bangkok.
More photos here.
Continuing on with more photos from Ayutthaya, today, I present you with a small selection of photos of the reclining Buddha of Wat Lokaya Sutha. Not much remains of the temple, but the Buddha is still an impressive sight. Each toe on the statue is larger than your head (tickling him does nothing in case you were wondering – he has achieved enlightenment after all).
See more photos here.
In a constant struggle to organize, process, keyword and upload the thousands of pictures I have from Asia that still haven’t seen the light of day, I have made a small bit of progress by uploading a gallery of photos of Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the largest temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Now that I’ve made some headway on this particular location, my hope is that I can continue to upload more photos of the city’s many beautiful temples.
Ayutthaya is a wondrous place. The city cozies up to the temples as closely as UNESCO will allow because, well, who wouldn’t want a 500-year-old khmer ruin as the view from their window? Even though the city threatens to crowd out the history, there is a lot of peace to be found with the walls of the ancient ruins, on the back roads between giant Buddhas, and on the rivers that surround the city centre.
It’s an easy trip from Bangkok, but don’t be fooled into making it a day trip. There’s simply too much to see here before you have to get on a train to head back South. Give Ayutthaya at least a full day – it deserves it.
I’ve just added more photos to the ever-expanding collection of Thailand images. This time, it’s Bangkok’s Golden Mount.
The brilliant chedi on top of the Golden Mount would make the trip up the 300 stairs worth it, but cool breezes and lovely views of the surrounding city provide further incentive for the climb. The artificial hill rises above all other structures in the immediate area and lets you gaze down on the orange rooftops of Wat Saket immediately below.
Today brings another group of photos from another Bangkok temple, Wat Benchamabophit.
Normally, an explosively bright sun would have irritated my photographic sensibilities, but this day stood as another of the rare exceptions in my month of overcast Bangkok skies. Not to mention that the temple fared quite well in the bright sun with the white marble gleaming in the light. Its best side was uniformly exposed to the afternoon sun and harsh shadows weren’t much of a problem.
The temple itself was, of course, lovely. It’s not as grand as some of the other Bangkok buildings, but it had a European influence to its architecture that made it unique. And with far fewer tourists cramming its walls, the atmosphere of the temple was much different from its larger cousins.
Another collection of images has been posted, this time it is photos of one of the symbols of the city of Bangkok: Wat Arun also known as the temple of the Dawn.
As with most of my photos of Bangkok, I was lucky to get any clear skies at all since my time there was plagued by what seemed to be a never ending supply of overcast weather. While visiting the temple, I was fortunate to have the blue peep through the cracking clouds.
The central prang/spire is said to be approximately 82 metres high and is an impressive construction, but what may have been more interesting to my eyes was the courtyard and galleries surrounding the main ordination hall. Long rows of golden Buddha images line the shady halls and small stone Chinese figures hid in the corners ready to jump into action. I would have stayed and wandered longer in that enclosed area, but I was ushered out rather hastily by a groundskeeper who seemed to have some urgent business in there. Not sure what it could have been, but I hope it was important!
On one of the few days during my time in Bangkok, nothing beat going to Sanam Luang, the park next to the Grand Palace to watch everyone letting their kites soar in the windy skies. Since I already discussed my day there in this post, I won’t go into too much detail here and simply invite you to check out a few photos from my time there.
For a place I called home for a month, I don’t actually have that many photos of Khao San Road. Perhaps it was because I was so close to the spectacle of backpacker central that I neglected to take more shots. After all, how often do you take photos just around the corner from your house? Then again, how many of you have your house next to such a vibrant and bizarre area?
Of course I have a few photos to share with you from Khao San Road and I invite you to take a look. After going through my selected images, I know I should have taken more – it really was a sight to behold.
From the vendors who fed me ridiculous amounts of spring rolls, falafels and other veggie delights to the tuk-tuk drivers who were so convinced they were going to be able to persuade me into their rides to the dreadlocked hippies living out their bohemian dreams in the backpacker mecca, the whole place was teeming with characters. I watched cultural performances of Khon dancing, impromptu games of football, and even a Bollywood video shoot.
The stores and vendors will sell you just about anything you may need and plenty of things you don’t: purses made out of recycled cans, body parts that looked like they had melted when you threw it against a flat surface, radio-controlled flying saucers, and hair extensions galore.
The characters of the road were also always entertaining. As an example, there was a woman with iron lungs who, during every hour of daylight would shout a sing-song “Hello! Orange juice, ten Baht!” every time a potential customer passed. And people never stopped passing. I have no clue how her vocal chords didn’t just fly up out of her mouth. I never really talked with her, but I’m sure she, like everyone else there, had a good story to tell.
Like anywhere else in the world, you take the bad with the good. Khao San Road isn’t always smiles (yes, even in the supposed “Land of Smiles” you won’t find a grin around every corner), but I won’t dwell on the downsides of Khao San Road. Instead, I’ll savour the memory of a cold fruit shake in hand in the tropical heat while wandering up and down the road, wondering what weird sight I will see next.
And as always, a couple preview photos:
The work of adding photos from Asia to the gallery continues and I invite you to check out my images of Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha located inside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
I spent a good portion of my time in Bangkok waiting for some decent weather that would allow me to shoot the temple in the best conditions, but whenever those opportunities arose, it seemed I was across the city an unable to head back in time to make the most of the blue skies. I wanted to be able to show off the gleaming golden architecture with the blue skies serving as a backdrop.
On the day I decided to finally go to the temple, I had to wait three or four hours to be able to see any patches of blue sky and they only lasted about 20 minutes. During that time, I ran around the (by now) thoroughly explored temple, trying to get the shots I wanted. I succeeded in a few places, but it would have been nice not to have to hustle around the temple with all my camera gear in the midday sun.
But if there’s a good place to spend a few hours in Bangkok, Wat Phra Kaew is probably it. The architecture is varied, ornate and frequently stunning. The crowds filtering through the temple make for fun people watching. The murals on the walls surrounding the temple are imaginative. And the interior of the main hall is a fine spot to sit, relax and contemplate the mysteries of the universe with the Emerald Buddha presiding over your ruminations.
For all the photos, click here and here’s a quick sample:
For most of my time in Bangkok, I’ve been lamenting the less-than-perfect weather and lighting conditions. Two days ago, however, the clouds dissipated and blue skies dominated the air above. Shocked at this fortuitous development, I grabbed a camera, stuffed it into my smaller bag and took it hunting.
I headed towards the vast open park of Sanam Luang that happened to be surrounded by tents where Buddhist monks and worshippers were performing rituals and, well, watching TV. The festive atmosphere extended into the park where more worshippers could be found circling what looked like a temporary shrine. But of more interest to me on was the large number of people flying kites in the windy air.
Adults and kids craned their heads to the skies where dozens of kites danced in the blue skies. Vendors had kites staked down so the ground was covered in colourful streamers. Families sat on mats on the grass and happily watched the ballet above them. It was a great scene.
I didn’t hesitate to bring out my camera. But when I raised it to my eye, composed my first shot, then hit the shutter, I heard a click. That’s all fine and good, but really I should have heard two clicks. The first is the mirror flipping up, the second should have been the mirror flipping back down.
Ever since shooting the water fights of Songkran, the Thai New Year festival, this camera hasn’t been itself. This issue with the mirror sticking up has happened before. Once it has flipped up, I can press the shutter again and it will flip back down (with no image recorded of course). And after a couple times, functionality went back to normal. I could take pictures without a problem. It was like it just needed to warm up.
But no amount of warming up could get my camera going under the kites. It was over thirty degrees out after all. I clicked and clicked, but it just wouldn’t do what it was told. Disheartened I returned to my room, dropped off my defective gear and went to the Internet cafe to search for camera repair shops here in Bangkok.
The next day, the plan was to go out to the shop and see about putting things right inside my camera. The one thing I was worried about was that the shop might be closed – they didn’t list hours on their site and it was, after all, a Sunday. But, I thought I might get lucky. Wrong. Not only was it a Sunday, but I found out later that it was also a national holiday here – there was no chance it was going to be open.
I eventually found my way back to my room where, undaunted by an irritating previous 24 hours, I willed the skies to stay blue. I summoned all the kite fliers back to the park. And with my other camera (yes folks, take a backup!) I headed back to the park where I had a lovely time shooting everyone who once again had their heads happily craned to the skies.
You know those impromptu dance routines that seem to break out at the drop of a hat in every Bollywood movie ever made? Whenever I see these silly spectacles, in the back of my mind, I’m always hoping that their elaborate choreography and coordinated steps and notes are all improvised, but that a certain Hindu magic keeps the whole thing together. The many arms of Vishnu guide the players like marionettes and no strings ever get tangled.
Unfortunately, that not-totally-believed illusion of mine was shattered last night amidst the Khao San Road Friday night party. Out for a wander, the usual bizarre bohemian hubbub of the road had additional participants. With a crowd of onlookers surrounding them, a somewhat bedraggled man and better-kept woman were learning dance steps from three choreographers. The Indian man wore a black patterned shirt that was presentable enough, but then his jeans were ratty and full suggesting that they may have only been shooting him from the waist up.
But given the footwork they had to learn, I’m guessing a full-body shot or two would make the cut – why learn to wriggle your foot a little bit if no one will see it? The woman wore more traditional Indian garb and was causing a lot of folks to stop and stare. When the cameras weren’t rolling, she looked hot and bored, but when the director counted down, she beamed and took on a zealous, flirty smile shot straight into the camera.
I haver no idea why they were shooting on Khao San Road at the busiest time of the week or if I was watching Indian film history in the making – maybe this was going to wind up being India’s Citizen Kane… the musical version. Really, I know next to nothing about what was going on here and I suspect I never will. That doesn’t dampen how silly it all was.
Watching take after take of a three-second dance move, (many of the predictably ridiculous), just ruined that image of India being a land where you better be prepared to participate in an extravagant dance pageant at any moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a bed in Mumbai while hauling two big backpacks around – when the feeling hits, you’re going to have to drop everything and strut your stuff.
No, watching two practiced actors attempt relatively simple moves only confirmed that dozens of Indians never really do suddenly communicate with each other in improvised dance and song. If they tried to, carnage would ensue. The papers would speak of the piles of broken bodies. The government would run public service announcements warning against the dangers of spontaneous cabaret shows. The people would live in fear that the song in their hearts would reach their feet and all those around them would be doomed.
The last two days have been a holiday of sorts. Caroline, an old travelling friend from my time in Peru was in the area and her time in Bangkok overlapped with mine for a couple days. With three years between encounters, we had plenty of catching up to do and with the recent news about Arthur’s passing, it was good to have a friendly ear around.
As an added bonus, we spent none of our time on or near the bohemian madness of Khao San Road. In fact, the other side of Bangkok, over in Siam Square and along Sukhumvit there is a whole separate country. It’s a place where foreign people don’t outnumber the locals and when they are present, they aren’t wearing those horrible braids or dreadlocks in their hair. It’s a place where shopping doesn’t mean walking along the road and having suspicious-looking men slyly ask, “Hey buddy, you want nice suit?” at every pace. Nope, over there, they have malls.
Caroline and I spent a good amount of time at Bangkok’s malls indulging in all-too-many food court offerings and chatting up a storm. When our gums got tired of flapping, the movie theatre was only an elevator ride away so we caught both Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Superman Returns. For the latter, Caroline decided to splurge and we went for the VIP tickets where you get a nice reclining chair, pillow and blanket to make your movie experience that much more cozy.
But now with Caroline gone, I’m again friendless in Bangkok (poor me!) and I have to get back to working on photos. And one of these days I may even take some new ones. Maybe the sky will take some pity on me soon and serve up some good light.
I still haven’t seen Bangkok. I’ve been here a few days now and I haven’t wandered too far from my guesthouse. And I’m okay with that.
I have as much time here as I want, so I’m biding my time, waiting for the weather to cooperate. It has rained every day that I have been here, though certainly not all day. It’s been those tropical storms that charge into the city hoping to catch unsuspecting vendors off guard so that wares might be blown away or soaked.
When it’s not raining, it’s threatening to with spitting drops randomly reminding you that the sky is boss and you better pay attention to it. Combine that with the overcast clouds that still manage to let enough sun through to harshly light the scenes on the ground and my camera just doesn’t want to come out to play.
So, I’ve worked and I’ve wandered. The processing of my backlog of photos is progressing nicely as I sit in a room free from distractions. No Internet, no TV, no people. Just me plugging away at images I shot long ago. Until I go out to shoot new ones, I have plenty to keep me busy.
My damp shirt combined with the air-conditioner in this internet cafe are conspiring to make me forget that it’s 30-plus degrees outside. The rain tried to soak me, but only splashed me a little. So, I’m now killing time while the clouds pass.
My overnight bus from Ichinoseki to Tokyo was a relatively restless affair. I lack the ability of most Japanese citizens to fall asleep like a narcoleptic. They can pass out anywhere, anytime. Me, I need a bed, silence, total darkness, no movement and no one around me and even then it’s a dodgy affair. I’m like the princess and the pea, but you’re not allowed to call me princess.
The flights were fine and China Airlies did a fine job on today’s meals including some spanakopita, so that was a nice surprise. Remember to always order the vegetarian meal on flights folks – it always gets served first and the food seems to be a bit better than the usual airline fare.
And now here in Bangkok, just off the ever-popular Khao San Road, I’m feeling a little bit lonely. I’ve just made the transition to solo traveller again and I’m not quite used to it after being surrounded by so many good friends in Japan. Plus, the last time I was here, I had Sarah’s lovely company and we could laugh at the hippie backpacker stereotypes together.
But, since I haven’t seen the city at all really, this will be my chance to check out what will surely be a few impressive sights. They ought to put some travel energy back into my solo traveller feet.
This post marks my departure from Japan and a return to travel for me. That means that I won’t have the opportunity to waste endless hours scouring the Internet for all things photographically interesting. Instead, I will now shift back into travel writing mode (and I hope that’s at least somewhat interesting).
My upcoming plans are vague and mutable, but here’s the gist: I will be leaving Japan on July 1st and heading back to Thailand. My return ticket takes me to Bangkok where I will spend a little time photographing the city. When I first swept through the metropolis, I took a stroll up and down Khao San Road, and that was about it before heading off to other parts of Thailand (and many people have said I made a wise choice).
But, I will have at least a week or two to spend in Bangkok and/or nearby destinations inside Thailand. That may turn into a month depending on how much I’m enjoying myself.
When my Thailand fun is finished, the plan is to head down to Australia. The cheapest entry point is Darwin – one of the most Northern cites in the country. I’ve been told that there’s not much good reason to stay in Darwin, so I expect to quickly buy a ticket out of Dullsville (if that’s what it turns out to be).
But that’s where the planning ends. I mean, I don’t even have a guidebook for Australia yet. I just know that soon after arriving in the country, I will likely be putting that working holiday visa of mine to use with whatever job I can find. Prices down under are going to come as a shock to my stretched budget, so I expect to be temping/fruit picking/working construction/dreaming of a photography job/whatever work I can find sooner than later.
I aim to keep posting fun stories and adventures on a regular basis, so I hope you’ll come back and keep up with me.
When re-launching the site, I couldn’t very well go ahead and put up a new site without adding some new images. That just wouldn’t do. So, in an effort to give some fresh content, may I present you with my my photos of the Poi Sang Long Festival in Chiang Mai.
This fantastic event celebrates the ordination of the new novice monks that belong to the Thai Yai and Shan peoples of the area. For three days these boys are dressed up as princes and carried around by their family and friends – their feet aren’t supposed to touch the ground the whole time.
Their brilliant dress, makeup and headwear made for a spectacular scene that was only overshadowed by the joy of the festivities.
I’m about to say au revoir to Thailand (I don’t know how to say it in Thai, so I’ll with French, not because of any French tradition in Thailand, but because I’ll be seeing this country again in a couple months).
When I return from Japan, I plan to stay at least a little while in Bangkok because I saw nothing of the city while I was there. People seem to either love the place or loathe it, but I really don’t know it enough to tell you either way. I also figure that having spent this amount of time in Thailand, I should have at least a few photos of its capital city. As it stands, I didn’t take a single shot while I was here.
Yesterday, I spent the entire day relaxing after my bus journey from Chiang Mai. I wound up in a hostel that had a TV in the room for the first time in a long time and the bulk of my day was spent with a steady stream of movies.
You can’t blame me for relaxing a bit because my trip to Bangkok was a little bit stressful. I had been expecting to take a bus from Chiang Mai on the 17th in the morning. I would wake early and 12 hours later, I would arrive in Bangkok in the evening. The day before, I looked at my ticket and something told me to double check the time.
I hopped over to the guesthouse where I originally bought the ticket and made my query. The woman who sold me the ticket replied with shock. ‘Oh no! We don’t have buses in the morning!’ To which I responded, ‘Huh?’ It said 5:30 am right on the receipt. But apparently, while writing, accuracy of any kind was not on her agenda. She should have been writing 6:30 pm.
So, the bus for which I was now booked was departing at 6:30 pm and would arrive in Bangkok at 6:30 am. My flight is at 8:25 so I would be cutting it far too close. Frazzled, I enquired about my options and with a previously unknown efficiency, the woman called up the bus company and managed to get me a seat on the next bus that evening. (Thank you to whoever it was that cancelled! Much appreciated!)
I hurriedly packed and got myself some dinner before I was whisked off to the bus leaving an audible ‘Whew!’ in my wake.
Now, I’m freezing in this terminal’s overzealous air conditioning and trying to prepare for the even worse cold I’m told awaits me in Japan. Spring is arriving late this year. On the plus side, that means the cherry blossoms should not quite have bloomed yet in Iwate. And since the sakura are just about the most beautiful thing in the world (or so the Japanese would have you believe), I’m in luck. Last year, through irritating scheduling coincidences, I missed their full force. This year, I should be fortunate enough to stroll through their flowery midst.
Though by no means is this what I’m most anticipating in Japan. Seeing my friends there again is going to be great. I’m giddy at the excitement of gathering up as many people as possible and heading to karaoke (though my voice is a little shot after the mirthful yelling of Songkran). I may already have a karaoke date scheduled this Friday, so I better rest up the old pipes. I’m just thrilled I’ll get the chance to see these good friends again in the place where our friendships grew.
And for those following along, get ready for a deluge of photos. While travelling, I haven’t had the chance to upload much new material, but for the next couple months, the bulk of my time will be spent preparing images for my site and my agencies. First up will be photos from Songkran because I met so many people there who want to see my photos. But after that, I’m flexible. If you have any requests from any of the places I’ve been, drop me a line and I’ll throw it towards the top of the queue.
UPDATE: Photos of the Songkran Water Fights are now available in the gallery.
Technically, it’s only the second day of the Songkran festival and already I’m worn out. This morning, I’m debating whether to partake in the water-tossing festivities or to attempt to photograph them again. The former is more fun; the later may serve me better in the long run. Either way, either today or tomorrow, I’ll be donning some form of aqua weapon and taking to the streets.
It takes a lot of mental energy for me to photograph the water fights. You have to have eyes on the back of your head because wielding a camera is no guarantee that you won’t turn into a target. I’ve wrapped mine in a special water-resistant bag, but that’s only water resistant, not waterproof. A good shot from a bucket and I suspect the protection I’ve provided would be worth little.
But I managed to get a few fun shots yesterday. The early morning saw a procession of monks at the Tha Pae Gate where hundreds of worshippers filled the alms bowls well past overflowing. Next was the Miss Songkran beauty contest where ladies donning umbrellas slowly strolled the stage in their high-rise heels and synthetic smiles.
Afterwards, I wandered a while and took photos of the water fights. I tended to stick to the more sedate areas of combat where I could better protect my gear. As I walked from site to site, I was forced plead with assailants to make only the lower half of my body their target. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes not, but so far, my camera still works.
A lot of people seem to respect that a camera is a bit of an expensive item and that getting it wet would be a bad idea. It’s actually a greater percentage of Thais who are willing to avoid shooting my camera than it is the foreign tourists. With them, I can plead in English to watch out for my camera. More than once people have replied, ‘You’re going to get wet anyway!’ while they proceed to do their worst. Well, idiot, it’s only because of people like you that your statement is true. The majority of people are willing to give me a little slack from the water torture if I play along a little and present them with, say, my ass to get wet instead of my camera.
While shooting, the police attempted to close off a couple of ridiculously congested roads so that the parade of Buddha images could make their way toward Phra Sing temple. I briefly gained access to the city wall’s ramparts thanks to a friendly tourist policeman and was able to witness the chaos from the safety of an elevated viewpoint. Many of the city’s temple’s Buddhas are removed from their usual positions and mounted on a car to have the revelers douse them with herb-scented purifying water as they passed. Traditional dancers, drummers and ethnic groups mixed with ladyboys in the procession and everyone got a generous helping moisture.
I quickly ambled over to Phra Sing where I got to see the laborious process of re-mounting the heavy Buddha image back in its place using a complicated set of lifts and manpower. As soon as it was back in its watchful position in front of the Wat, worshippers flocked to it to drench the image.
The long procession continued and the entrance to Phra Sing made a good vantage point. The water tossing was under control there to an extent and the crowds were actually navigable so I could easily get the best vantage points.
I soon found myself a bit exhausted from the whole day and headed back to my guesthouse knowing I had a couple more days of similar excitement.
But all this makes me sound like I’m obsessed about the safety of my camera and refuse to have any fun. Not true. Yesterday was a great time and I made more than a few friends willing to protect me in exchange for some photos later (since they were too scared to bring their cameras with them). I just hope I’m able to sort out who’s who later when I process and send out images.
More fun than the enjoyment of shooting in the water fights was participating in them. Two days ago, before the festival even officially began, there was already madness in the streets. Arming myself with a water pistol (whose life was a short few hours of functionality – the people selling these cheap plastic trinkets must be making a fortune) I headed to the moat and proceeded to get soaked and to soak.
I went straight for the busiest section of road I could find and noted to myself that this is exactly how I imagine anarchy would look. Lining each side of the road were assailants. Behind one group was the moat with its never ending supply of muddy water (I’m trying not to imagine how much of it I have and will swallow over these few days) and on the other side, bars and pubs sent hoses out into buckets to arm the partiers. In the middle were the cars, tuk-tuks, trucks, motorcycles and bikes all playing the role of moving target.
The trucks usually carried a band of assassins with barrels of water feeding their weapons and thus they weren’t defenseless. The scooters and motorbikes may have been the most appealing targets for many – they had no way of retaliating. Some were almost knocked off their bikes by forceful bucket blasts.
Screaming girls received faces full of water from aggressive bucket wielding men. If they had the means, they would respond by delivering a face full of ice water (one of the more potent weapons in the combat). People were tossed into the moat. Ladyboys donned bikinis and competed admirably in the perpetual wet t-shirt contest surrounding them. When the traffic slowed, roadside warriors would turn against each other to continue the fun. Mischievous gunmen ambushed drivers foolish enough to leave even a crack of their window open. Buckets of water flew into the open-backed sawngthaew buses (pickup trucks converted to buses).
And all the while, joyous screaming and laughter.
There were those few not interested in the celebration. A few locals hope in futility to stay dry, but when an errand draws them out of their house, they, in vain, try to ward of the water with a dirty look or two. There was the ridiculous foreigner riding a scooter down the busiest stretch of the busiest road who flipped me the bird after I shot his already-soaked body. No use playing the victim in these circumstances, friend.
No, it’s best to don a smile whether you’re riding a motorbike, donning a camera, or just trying to cross the street. There’s no use pretending you won’t get wet. No, they’ll find you. So you might as well enjoy the brief respite from the 40-degree heat. Because the only loser in a water fight, is the one who stays dry.
And now for the news of the day.
First up is an article I just had published with travelphotographers.net. If you’re interested on what it’s like to do some travel photography in Northern Taiwan, check it out. There’s a small batch of my photos as well for anyone who’s hoping to see some new ones.
Secondly, I’m heading back to Japan! Yay! While in Bangkok, Sarah and I hunted down a relatively cheap flight up to Tokyo, so I’ll be heading back to Iwate. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that every time I talk to a Japanese person and tell them I lived in Iwate, they laugh, but it’s a fact. They’re probably right to do so, but the place still has a hold on my heart.
I’ll be going for a couple months and any time I’m not visiting friends, I will be working tirelessly on processing photos. I’m actually quite eager for the change of pace – it will feel nice to wake up somewhere and not have to wonder where I will be sleeping that night. And I have thousands of photos that need processing, so the down time will be well spent.
Meanwhile, here in Chiang Mai, I’ve been keeping incredibly busy with the Poi Sang Long festival during which new novice monks are colourfully dressed and praraded around town. For three whole days, their feet are not allowed to touch the ground (I still haven’t figured out what they do to go to the toilet, but I don’t really want to find out that bad).
I’ve been spending a bunch of time at Wat Pa Pao, the epicenter of the festivities. I was also lucky enough to hitch a ride with the caravan of novices getting a tour of the city’s temples. Hanging precariously off the back of a pickup truck, a band played music and led the boys from temple to temple where they disembarked the trucks and danced up a storm on the backs of their families. If I get a chance, I’ll write a bit more about it later.
Combine these parties with the rest of the city’s novices being ordained and I won’t be surprised if I get a blister on my shutter finger.
I’m sleepy. And that’s okay by me. I’m allowed to be sleepy and a bit lazy for one more day before Sarah heads off to Cambodia. After that, I’ll probably be going back to my usual frenetic pace (though, I’ve grown a bit used to these chilled-out days and it might be hard to go back). Sipping fruit shakes and reading in a café in Chiang Mai isn’t such a bad life, but neither is a life spent tracking down good photos all day (well, for me anyway).
We have just returned from Wat Prahai Doi Suthep where we actually did do a bit of sightseeing today. It took us a while to get there because this lazy Sunday also happens to be election day in Thailand and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of people moving about in the city, tourists (for whatever reason) and locals alike. We had hopped in a bus, but the driver wouldn’t leave until he had seven or eight fares. We waited a while and were joined by an Argentinean couple, but no one else seemed interested in heading up the mountain. Eventually, we had to bargain with the driver to take us up for a higher fee than we should have been paying. Another penny lost, but it wasn’t so bad.
The temple itself was gorgeous. On top of a long series of steps flanked by two naga (dragons) whose bodies formed the banister all the way up, the temple complex stood with what might have been an impressive view of Chiang Mai had the haze not been so thick. As it was, walking up to the railing at the edge of the small cliff looked like you were approaching the end of the world.
Inside the main courtyard of the temple, the highlight is certainly the huge gold stupa/chedi that towers and gleams over the complex. It’s surrounded by gold Buddha statues of varying sizes, metal umbrellas and shiny marble floors. Monks blessed visitors inside a couple of enclosed temples, worshippers knelt on the hot ground and tourists snapped away.
Yesterday, while Sarah went off to her cooking class, I had the fortune of witnessing the ordination of the new monks at one of the city’s largest temples, Phra Sing. I won’t go into the details, but it involved a lot of parading in an out of the main temple in order for the monks to pray, receive gifts and supplies for their new life and to talk with and say goodbye to their families. As with the alms-giving ceremony in Luang Prabang, the graphic image presented by a row of monks made for a striking visual.
I even got to see the rare (and somewhat unfortunate) event of a couple monks coming to blows. Yup. Monk fist fight. I didn’t exactly see what started it, but it was immediately after the new novices had completed their group photo. As they were walking off, a couple of them were talking. Probably trash talking. One of them must have made one too many ‘yo momma’ jokes and the other came out swinging. He threw a few inaccurate haymakers before being subdued. I guess he hadn’t yet internalized the ‘no violence’ precept that novice monks are supposed to follow. It was, after all, his first day, so I guess we can forgive him.
After the group photo, the boys were herded into waiting tour buses and shown around town. Perhaps they have already seen more of Chiang Mai than Sarah and I. Perhaps not. But I think we will have had a more relaxing time than them. After all, we don’t have to wake up at 4:00 am every morning – I think our time in Chiang Mai comes out on top for that fact alone.
Though, it’s not like we’ve seen and done nothing here. There was, of course, Sarah’s cooking class. We also saw heaps of people engaged in perhaps the coolest sport on earth: Sepak Takraw (imagine three-a-side volleyball where you can’t use your hands but you can do flying bicycle kicks played in the dimensions of a badminton court). We went out to the handicraft villages where we spent our day with pushy salespeople. We temple hopped. We’ve eaten like war rationing had just ended. We saw Thai boxing and markets. We went to the movies a lot. Okay, so that last one’s not a typical Chiang Mai tourist event, but really, it’s so cheap here, how could we not?
No, we’ve had a fantastic time here. If for nothing else but for all the laughing we’ve done – even if we didn’t see a thing, it would have been great.
It’s easy to get behind on my journal when I have someone to talk to each night. When I would normally be writing, I now have Sarah to chat with until the wee hours, so my updates have been lagging. It has been great to have some steady company though, so I’m afraid I have no regrets in getting behind.
At the same time, the relentless pace I typically assign myself in a given day has slowed. Sarah’s not exactly willing to trudge behind me for successive days of 12-hour photo excursions, so with only a couple of days as exceptions, I have treated my time in Thailand with her as my vacation from traveling. We wake up slowly and forsake the sunlight in favour of debating whether turning up the air con means to make the room colder or hotter. Once outside the room, we have often spent more time hunting down a good meal or the best fruit shakes in town than blasting from sight to sight and trying to cram as much travelling into the day as possible.
There have been, however, a couple of days that stand as exceptions. First, in Ayuthaya, a town not too far north of Bangkok where impressive temple ruins and modern wats rise above the modern city’s low lying architecture. Hopping on bicycles, we ignored the oppressive heat (for a while) and toured some gorgeous sights. I was pleased that even after seeing a place like Angkor Wat, the temples here still captured my imagination.
In the late afternoon, we took a boat ride around the island formed by the converging rivers and explored even more temples. When we arrived back at our hotel, the sun was just beginning to set, so Sarah exhorted me to bike off by myself to catch the last rays of day and then to take photos when the temples were lit up at night. I dodged the stares of security guards while I tried to get as close as I could to the illuminated temples. Similarly, I dodged the punches of Thailand’s brattiest kid who decided I would be his plaything while I was waiting for the temples to light up.
That long day was followed by a relatively peaceful days trip up to Sukothai where the bike riding and temple hopping was repeated. Another expansive collection of ruined temples coaxed us from the shade and we explored the former Thai capital’s ruins. Happily, both Ayuthaya and Sukkothai were not bustling with tourists like the now-overrun Angkor area and the days were peaceful and not spent waiting for a tour group stop crowding a narrow passageway.
Now in Chinag Mai, Sarah and I have had a lovely time chilling out, exploring the Sunday night market, going to Muay Thai boxing, and doing more chilling out.
Muay Thai was one of the highlights for me. The dim Thapae arena is a regular host to nights of fights heavily marketed to tourists. Though marketed in this way, the fights themselves seemed quite authentic. I spent most of my time at ringside trying to rise to the challenge of shooting a sport I had never even seen live before let along photograph while marveling at the spectacle and occasionally getting showered by a splatter of sweat from a recently-punched boxer.
Happily, Sarah ran into one of her best friends Hannah who is also traveling in Southeast Asia. They were planning to meet in Cambodia in a week, but managed to cross paths at the boxing match so now the two of them could chat and ignore the fact that grown men were surrounding them and yelling at young boys to kick each other in the neck.
When I say young boys, I mean it. One of the matches featured a couple of boys who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, but they may have been as young as 10. It was simultaneously disturbing and impressive. The crowd of gambling Thais at ringside were excitedly cheering them on and they shouted in unison whenever one of these kids made a strike. A chorus of yells went up each time a knee hit its target. And plenty knees did hit their targets. Each of these boys probably could have kicked my ass. They displayed remarkable skill for their age and seeing them duel was like watching them turn into men before your very eyes. But at the same time, they were just boys, and the crowd was furiously calling for each of them to pound the hell out of the other.
The other matches weren’t quite as disturbing since the combatants were mostly above the age of consent. As a photographer, it was a decidedly challenging sport to shoo, but it was good fun trying to rise to that challenge. Not surprisingly, the last bout of the night was easiest to shoot since it was just a demonstration match where each fighter took turns landing his most furious blows on the other. They sent each other flying in exaggerated arcs to the canvas after unleashing crushing kicks to the side. The best part was that Sarah and Hannah both thought it was real and was the best fight of the night. They were truly disappointed when I told them it was all fake.
So, from ancient, ruined cities to boys trying to knee each other in the face, Thailand has so far offered a diverse experience. Time to go see what else it has in store for us.
Sunburn bloody sunburn. Well, it’s not really bloody. That would mean I should be in the hospital I suppose. No, just pink. My first (and possibly last) trip to the beach on this trip has resulted in a nice coating of pink on my back.
After leaving Luang Prabang, I have arrived in Thailand where, after getting into my hotel, one of my first acts was to head back to the airport to pick up Sarah who will be accompanying me for the next couple weeks through Thailand. We spent the next couple days bumming around in Bangkok, drinking yummy fruit shakes, making fun of hippies (really, that was just me) and having a fun time while trying to dodge the heat.
Since we were in Thailand, we felt somewhat obligated to head south and visit an island. Without a lot of thought into the matter, we chose Phuket. Looked nice enough. Why not? So, a quick flight and we checked into a nice little hostel, cranked our air conditioning and started planning a day at the beach.
(A side note: I have only had air con once so far on this trip – in Taman Negara and I only got it there because it was the only room I could find at all – so having Sarah, whose Japanese winter has not yet ended, here is a bit of a blessing for me. I can happily splurge on the AC and have the excuse that it’s for her sake.)
We boarded a bus and headed to Karon beach where we found ourselves some beach chairs to call home base. The clear sun had heated the air and sand and the blue water was by far the most inviting place for us to be.
We splashed and played in the relatively calm waters for a good couple of hours, laughing the whole time, merrily ignoring that tremendously hot ball of fusing atoms beaming down upon us. When we emerged, giddy from the water, we started probing around our exposed skin to discover that we had miscalculated the strength of our sunscreen.
Sarah put it well, ‘In this day and age, there’s really no excuse to get a sunburn.’ But somehow, we both did it. We had applied Sarah’s SPF 30 cream when we left the hotel. In between then and waiting for the bus, the ride to the beach, lunch, staking out our beach spot and loads of watery frolicking, the protection had substantially diminished and our skin silently soaked up the UV rays. Add to that the sun sensitivity we both seem to be experiencing at the hands of our anti-malarial tablets and the results are predictable. We sheepishly packed up our things and left the beach knowing we would be in for a few days of vaguely resembling lobsters.
But we didn’t head back to Phuket town and our hostel immediately. Oh no. When you know that you are within walking distance of a Dinosaur-themed mini golf course and you are me, your day is not finished. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been rotating on a barbecue spit for a few hours, you’re going to putt some balls!
And truly, this course was excellent. My traveling companion Sam in Singapore had urged me to seek out a fantastic sounding venue for our new favourite sport when we had been denied the opportunity to go there on his last night in the city, but I was never able to find it’s location. So, in his honour, I made damn sure I was not going to miss a mini golf course that featured a smoking volcano, an animatronic T-rex and a series of Triceratops droppings that took the place of course obstacles.
The match was hard fought, but I managed to beat the gracefully-losing Sarah by a few strokes and I now have a two-game undefeated streak going (you cling to such victories when your favourite basketball team is the perennially underachieving Toronto Raptors). I consoled Sarah that there was no shame in losing to the best.
Once we got back to the hotel, we nursed our wounded skin and proceeded to rest for the next couple of days. We sported skin-covering long shirts and went shopping and to the movies (V for Vendetta was good fun by the way) or watched the hostels DVDs while not thinking about words like ‘ultraviolet’ and ‘stupid tourist.’
Really, my shoulders still hurt a few days after the fact, but I still wouldn’t trade in the fun we had in the ocean. But I may regret that decision because tomorrow, I actually have to don my pack for a whole day.
We’re now in Ayuthaya, a small city North of Bangkok where ruins a plenty await our exploration tomorrow. I’ll certainly be bringing my cameras along for the day since I took almost no photos in Phuket. The only photos I shot were a couple of Sarah and I in the hotel. I felt like I had to take at least one photo while on the island, so all I have is a close up of the two of is in front of our hotel room’s blue walls. Good thing the memories will last a while.