Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chiang Rai, Thailand: "The White Temple"

It was a late September afternoon, and Bri and I found ourselves crowded into a white rusted van bumping along the back-roads of the Northern Thai country side. We had just spent several days in Chiang Mai, which offered some intriguing adventure opportunities, as well as a healthy dose of Muay Thai Boxing, naturally. The idea was to cross the border in northern Thailand in the small river-side city of Chiang Khong, then take the slow boat down the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang, Laos. That's precisely what we did, and it was quite the experience. However, what I want to write about today is a temple that we stopped at on the way to Chiang Khong - one that I'll never forget.

After spending a year in South Korea and visiting Japan a few times, I'd certainly had my fill of temples. It's not to say that I was "bored" of temples by any means, but more than I had seen hundreds upon hundreds, and so I generally had a hankering for something unique.

We chose this particular route to Laos with the understanding that we would be able to visit "The White Temple." We had heard about this temple from a traveller we had met in Vietnam only weeks earlier. Officially, the temple is known as Wat Rong Khun, but among many travellers and foreigners it's known as the White Temple. This temple was made by the well-known Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kostitpipat not so long ago (1997). He blends together Buddhism, imagination, and surrealism while using the temple as his vehicle.

We arrived to a light rain, and the white of the temple marvelously contrasted the stormy skies above. Immediately, I was taken aback, and I likely would be again if I had the chance to visit sometime in the future. As you cross the bridge towards the temple, suffering hands reach out towards you. Demons and guardians adorn the bridge's rails, along with silvered dragon scales. Symbolic heads hang from trees nearby. The list goes on, and the detail is just astonishing. During my year and half in Asia, it's possible that I saw a thousand temples or more, but none were like this.

Everything catches your attention.

Not to get decidedly metaphorical, as I'm fairly wont to do as an English major and travel writer, but this temple is full of symbolism and metaphors. All good surrealism should be, it seems. Perhaps the most prominent symbol or metaphor for me was the notion of crossing a difficult path to find meaning and, to some extent, enlightenment. The initial bridge presents itself as something any reasonable person should turn around and run from, but only in crossing in it can you discover the temple's true meaning and beauty. So to in life.

1 comment:

  1. The other day I was training one of my clients who has dabbled in martial arts and boxing for years. At the end of our session he asked me what I believed to be the benefits of doing muay Thai. It’s a very simple question, but to be honest I don’t think one of my students has ever really asked me before. Boxing in Connecticut