Monday, May 31, 2010

Chiang Rai History in Wood

While heading towards the Hill Tribe Museum, several tall totem columns in a park struck my eye. They were intricately carved, some places in rather high relief. Inside a roofed enclosure several young men were passionately carving several more totems, each engaged in different steps of the process. On the one wall, detailed sketch plans were hung. One worker put down his chisels and explained to me that the totems portrayed Chiang Rai’s long, proud history. They were selling smaller pieces to help finance their ambitious project. In many ways, their passionate dedication reminded me of Khositphipha, another local artist who is putting his incredible artistic talent and visionary ideas towards the construction and decoration of the White Temple. If I recall correctly, I believe there were about 20 totems planned. With only about five completed or in process, it will take quite some time to complete these works of art using traditional carving methods.

Tis the Season for Mangoes

The months of April and May are scorchers for a large part of India - Chennai included. Not only does one have to bear the oppressive heat and dew point, resulting challenges such as power outages and water shortages also arise. Perhaps the only redeeming item and reason to look forward to India's summer is the arrival of the mangoes. India grows over 1,500 varieties of mangoes and is the dominant cultivated fruit (42% of fruit trees) of the country. India's climate is ideally suited to growing mangoes, with varieties thriving in the dry states of Gujarat all the way to more lush areas - the main exception being areas over 3,000 feet. Tamil Nadu is one of the mango major growing states - lucky for me. I am not versed on the different types of mangoes found here, but I do love their taste. Hopefully the mangoes will continue to stick around for a couple of weeks - long enough to hold me over until I return back to Wisconsin for the summer and begin to enjoy the strawberries.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chiang Rai Night Market

Like its larger neighbor, Chiang Rai also has a night market. Its offerings weren’t nearly as plentiful or as varied as that in Chiang Mai. In addition to souvenir t-shirts, sun glasses, etc., one could also buy bags/purses made by the Hmong and Lisu. Its large food court was a favorite place for eating. Although there were plenty of repeats in toned-down Thai food, I did spot (but did not try) the wiggling variety. Later on, there were music performances on the food court’s stage. For those with larger food budgets and a quest for a more peaceful ambience, the Centrepoint restaurant also supplied quiet guitar music.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hill Tribe Museum & Education Center, Chiang Rai

A very worthwhile place to visit in Chiang Rai (particularly for those considering hill tribe tours) is its Hill Tribe Museum & Education Center. Although the signs were a bit yellowed and some of the display items could have used a good dusting, the explanations were informative and organized artifacts representative of the different local hill tribes. Both the approximately 20 minute film and display signs gave a rather unsanitized view of how the hill tribes are routinely exploited by the Thai government as well as the tourism industry. It also helped dispel some myths about the different hill tribes. The center actually runs its own hill tribe tours, with the proceeds actually going towards the hill tribes, instead of exploiting them. If I find myself in the region again, I will definitely consider their authentic, educational, and humanistic tours – even if they are a bit more.

After a tour of the museum, take advantage of the air conditioning, fairly good food, and entertainment at the Cabbages & Condoms restaurant, located on the ground level of the building.

Photography was not permitted inside the museum.

Here are some facts I gleaned from the center:
There are 950,000 hill tribe people in Thailand. About 200,000 live in the Chiang Rai province. The Karen people are the largest group, with about 47% - or 440,000. Originally their homes were built out of bamboo, but now lumber is also used. White clothing signifies that the wearer is unmarried, whereas the colored costumes signify marriage. The Karen are known for their weaving skills. The Karen’s history is mostly oral – much of which has sadly been lost. The Karen hill tribe is one that has been particularly exploited, with the Padaung being brought to Thailand to be put on display as “freaks” or “oddities” as the longneck people.

The Hmong, originally from South China, form about 17%, or about 155,000. They tend to have large families. The Hmong grow rice, corn, and soybeans. As there are quite a number of Hmong people now living in Wisconsin, I had a particular interest in this group. Their beautiful needlework/cross stitch textiles as well as their storycloths were quite captivating. At about 105,000 people, the Lahu tribe has about 11% of the total hill tribe population. The museum described the Lahu as fishermen and cultivators of rice. Black and turquoise were favorite colors of the Lahu.

The Akha, with 70,000 people (8%), are one of the smaller major tribes of Thailand. At about 3,000-4,000 feet above sea level, the Akha cultivate corn, rice, soybeans, coffee (recent), and some opium. Poverty remains high for the Akha and other hill tribes.

The Yao hill tribe people comprise about 5% of the population, or about 45,000 people. They are known for their opium growing and expertise at animal rearing. The Yao costume is particularly intricate and may take an entire year to make. I was also impressed by their detailed woven baskets. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chiang Rai City

Located 180 km (111 mi) north of Chiang Mai, the city of Chiang Rai (pop 62,000) has more of a laid-back feeling. About 13% of its population are members of various hill tribes, including the Karen, Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Yao, and Hmong. The city itself felt less touristy, but the many signs in front of businesses revealed that there was a large market for hill tribe, trekking, and Golden Triangle tours. Tattoo and massage parlors were also plentiful, catering to tourists.

I stayed at a quiet guest house with a pleasant garden from where breakfast was served. It was a perfect place to begin a leisurely morning, checking my email and “chatting” with people on Facebook – all from my iPod touch and the guest house’s free wireless.

Although Chiang Rai had its fair share of Buddhist temples (including a few that were replicas of those in Chiang Mai), I found few to be as beautiful or as impressive. No Donald Ducks eating noodles with chopsticks, though… Churches were visible in town and in the outer parts, with hill tribe people comprising a fair amount of the area’s Christians.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Golden Triangle, Thailand

Prior to finishing our journey in Chiang Rai, Tee drove us up to what is known as The Golden Triangle. From this vantage point in the northernmost province of Chiang Rai, one has a view of three countries; Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. In fact, the Mekong River (which separates it from Laos) delineates half of its northern border. Mountains separate it from Myanmar. At one time, the Golden Triangle was once a production and distribution center for the opium trade. Now, the Golden Triangle is largely a tourist trap.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Akha Appliqué and Forest Ceremony

Alas, it was time to leave. After the mother-in-law of the village head showed me the beautiful appliqué work she was working on to form a pair of leggings, we thanked everyone for their hospitality and moved onward.

 On the way back to Chiang Rai, Tee stopped at a nearby village where he showed me an altar that had been constructed as part of a forest ceremony. Accompanied by the symphony of cicadas, the ceremony had recently been performed to honor the forest spirits and ask them for protection. Despite the conversion of many Akha to Christianity, traditional beliefs and/or practices still are present.
In the forest, Tee captured one cicada and demonstrated how loudly just one single insect could “sing” with their timbals. It was amazing how much quieter the symphony was with just one of its members momentarily silenced; I had incorrectly envisioned thousands of cicadas all joining in the song. Tee’s own family enjoyed eating cicadas. During February through April, the children would collect this delicacy, using gum-tipped poles to lance the insects and collect between 1-3 kg (2.2-6.6 pounds) per day. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Walk Through Doi Chaang Village

Before we left Doi Chaang, I had a chance to walk through a bit of this hillside village. Homes were very close to each other, with no apparent delineation between where one yard ended and the other began. Most of the homes were built out of wood with a sloped roof constructed of straight or corrugated metal. Some roofs were of a similar style, but constructed of thatch. Windows were small and sparse; many were still shuttered from the night. Tall stilts (some were rectangular columns made out of concrete while others were out of wood) permitted one part to be level with the road and the other to overlook the steep hillside. To get to the main level, one might have to climb a set of wooden (or bamboo) stairs. On the lower stilt level, one portion was often enclosed, with the other open for storage, a place to sit under, etc. Chickens ran freely through the dirt around the homes and onto the steep road. Children played a form of hopscotch on the quieter roads. The dirt around the plastic piping faucet in the yard was wet, with water recently gathered for washing or cooking. Chilies and what looked like halves of bananas dried in shallow woven platters on some rooftops.

Trucks and motorcycles maneuvered their way up and down the steep, winding roads. Vendors also took advantage of the versatile motorcycle, loading woven bags with vegetable, fruits, and bamboo-filled sticky rice. Women carried children tied to their backs with a piece of cloth, just as they had done in West Africa. Some men were already heading up the hill with tools used for the field. Most men, though, gathered on the porches, sipping tea, chewing paan, and engaging in lively discussions.

The Beauty of Black Teeth

At the Akha village, I noticed that most of the older adults had black teeth. I presumed this was due to the habit of chewing paan (easily noticed by the very red tongue, masticating, and occasional spitting). At the Hill Tribe museum back in Chiang Rai, I learned that this was a sign of beauty. The practice of dyeing one’s teeth black is quite old and is practiced in various parts of Asia. It actually helps prevent dental decay, similar to modern sealants.

For more information about the Akha, visit

Friday, May 21, 2010

Akha Coffee and tribe poverty

From there, we walked on a dirt road slanting downward to a neighboring house. Here we saw the cement tanks used to soak and wash the coffee beans. On a large tarp a late batch of coffee was drying – whose late stage typically signifies inferior quality. Here we sampled some of their coffee and cracked open some macadamia nuts. On the way up the hill, Tee pointed out some of the bamboo huts, explaining that many of the Akha are still poor. In fact, many Akha and other hill tribes in Thailand still lack an identity card, making it difficult to receive governmental services! We headed back down the steep cemented main road to the village head’s home and had a breakfast similar to all the other meals. Tea, of course, was plentiful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Akha Village Swing

Up the embankment from the gate was the famous Akha swing. The swing consisted of four thinner tree trunks tied together at the top, sort of like a tepee. Near the top I could see the inner tube swing, its rope now securely tied around one pole. According to an Akha myth, humans came down from heaven through the swing. This swing is used for four days during a festival occurring 120 days after the village has planted its rice. It celebrates the hard work just expended on weeding the rice and tending to other crops. During the festival, villagers of all ages swing fast and high.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Akha Village Gate

While breakfast was being prepared, Tee and I went for a short walk. He first took me to the wooden entry gate of the village. Along the top beam and the top parts of the side beams were woven snowflake-like designs – protection symbols. Next to the gate were statues of two couples – one out of cement and the other out of wood, now very weathered and split. The male figure had an enlarged genitalia. These figures represented the original Akha male and his female partner, a forest dwelling creature whom he brought back to be his wife. The gate was built by the male to help the female understand the delineation between the forest and village. This gate and two figures are found at the entrance of every Akha village. Songs are sung as the people pass through the gate, receiving protection from the snowflake like designs.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Doi Chaang Village Welcome

Just before sunset we arrived at Doi Chaang Village. Meaning “Elephant Village,” Doi Chaang got its name from its elephant-shaped hill. We were to stay at the village head’s house, a typical custom for any guests of to the village. Immediately the wife of the village head and other members of the family began preparing a meal for all. A few more plastic chairs were added to the small table under the overhang. Shortly after we were seated, the meal of rice, pork, greens, bamboo shoots, chilis, and ground soybeans with chilis. Before we began the meal, the mother-in-law, dressed in traditional Akha headgear, presented me with a still-warm hard-boiled egg and tied white embroidery floss around my wrist. This traditional gesture signified welcoming of a guest and wishing them prosperity.

Thin mattresses were laid out for the guests, covered with character bedsheets and a “Hello Kitty” quilt. Through the thin wooden walls, I could easily hear the satellite TV, being watched by the village head’s boys. In the adjoining area, men discussed matters, including how to deal with the skyrocketing prices of property in the village. Finally the sounds died down and I was able to sleep.

Long before it was light outside, roosters once again competed for crowing the loudest. Morning light peeked through the slits in between the wood boards and around the window. Certainly not winter-proofed! From the outside kitchen, I could hear the pounding of a wooden pestle. Over a fire was a large wok. Even the boys were helping out. Once again we were served cups of obligatory local tea.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lisu festival meal, Doi Chaang Café

As the sun got more intense, some people moved two tented structures over the area where the dancing was occurring. The dancers barely paused for this and quickly readjusted the size of their circle to accommodate the new space. People would leave and rejoin the circle after eating or taking a short break, but I was amazed at the “die-hards” that were out there. Lunch and refreshments could be purchased inexpensively at several small booths, or you could join the masses near the primary school. Here, long tables were set up with equally long “benches” made from bamboo. A plastic packet of rice was ready at each plate and the servers came around plopping on veggies and pork on each plate. Water, tea, 2 liter bottles of Coke, and fresh ground coffee grown by the Lisu people was also available.

Leaving the festival, we began our drive on a winding, unpaved road at about 1,100 meters in elevation. Along the slopes were organic coffee bushes, planted around 1983 as part of the Royal initiative to provide the Akha people a meaningful income instead of poppies for drugs. Women carrying babies on their backs walked along the side of the road, wearing colorful character socks and sandals. Others were carrying items in woven baskets, including firewood. Along the way to the Akha village, we stopped by the Doi Chaang Café. Here we sampled some of its organic Arabica coffee, grown by the Akha people and part of a joint venture with a small Canadian group. Next to the café were buildings of the coffee academy, where people from all over the world come to learn about coffee growing.

Kaleidoscopes of Jaisalmer

Just finished this oil pastel portrait of a woman from Jaisalmer, located in Rajasthan, India. Choosing a title was difficult. Any suggestions?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lisu Kwakie Dancers and their costumes

Both young and old participated in the Kwakie dance, most of them wearing traditional (with contemporary changes) clothing and quite a number donning the traditional huto hat. The long red strings hanging down from the hats traditionally worn by unmarried women reminded me a bit of a Raggedy Ann doll. The hats of the married women were also black and had decorative silver beads, short tassels, and a few pink feathers. Both men’s and women’s hats were donut-shaped, with a large hole in the middle.

The women’s velour-type dresses were multi- colored, had an outer covering similar to a full apron, and “highwater” height pants underneath. Around their waist was a belt, to which a long collection of red strings formed a tassel in the back. Although most of the long red strings are now machine-made, some women braided their own. According to my Lisu acquaintance, a woman would be able to braid up to four strings in one day. Large, heavy multi-layered silver necklaces clanged as they danced. Some women had additional silver ornamentation on their “breastplate” which included extensive use of silver coins and smaller half-sphere pieces. Both men and women carried a pouch, which was draped diagonally across the body.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tamil Nadu Political News and the Movies

Today's newspaper announced that Ms. Kushboo is joining the DMK political party of Tamil Nadu. Like so many other politicians of the state, Kushboo is an actor - or actress in this case. Both politics and the movie industry are big things in this south Indian state. Billboards and walls are filled with murals or posters of the smiling faces of both groups of people. Therefore, the marriage of the two seems only natural to many, with being in the movie industry a strong indication of political success...
Yet another movie actor-turned-politican

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lisu Hill Tribe Instruments and Kwakie Dance

Although there were far fewer people in attendance today, there still was a sizeable gathering. Initially people were gathered in the shade, but as soon as a man began playing the fulu (a woodwind instrument made from bamboo and a gourd), quite a number of women and some men gathered and began a circular dance called the kwakie. The dance participants held hands and faced inwards, with the musician swinging in step in the middle of the circle. Just as there was little variation in the musical notes and rhythm, the steps of the dance were also very consistent and repetitive.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Arrival at Lisu tribe festival

The next morning after more rice, greens, dried soybeans, and of course more tea, we said goodbye to our hosts and moved onward into the hills. Tee’s father came along, as he wanted to visit some relatives and friends in the hill village. On the way, we stopped to pick up a village resident friend of Tee’s father. Both older individuals shared a fondness of chewing paan, had their teeth blackened, and talked animatedly in the Akha language.

On the way to the Akha village Tee spotted a cloth sign fluttering in the breeze that promoted an annual festival of the Lisu hill tribe people. Able to speak some Lisu, he was able to inquire of some Lisu people walking alongside the road that the festival was indeed happening today. It was the last day of the three-day festival, but there should be some things going on. Traveling on a narrow hilly dirt road, we passed by some trucks with Lisu people in the truck bed who were traveling away from the festival location. Tee explained that some Lisu people would have traveled for over five hours to attend the festival, with some perhaps even coming from Burma (Myanmar). Yesterday, over 3,000 Lisu were in attendance. The school grounds in the village of Ban Doi Lan (meaning “million mountains”) was the site of the festival. Tee introduced me to one Lisu woman who spoke fairly good English. She was one of the organizers of the festival and saw it as a key opportunity to celebrate and promote the Lisu culture. Like Tee, she expressed a concern for the disappearance of her culture and language. One of her ambitions involved utilizing the internet as a tool for educating others about the Lisu culture and as a way for Lisu people to keep in touch with each other.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More about the Akha Hill Tribe

Here are some things Tee told me about the Akha people: The Akha hill tribe people are originally from China who then moved to Burma (due to political and human rights issues), with some coming to Thailand as refugees. Currently about 60-80,000 Akha people live in Thailand and over 200,000 in Burma. Four generations of his family have lived in Thailand. Tee expressed concern over the disappearance of the Akha culture, particularly with the young generations. Tee’s own nephews and nieces do not know how to speak the Akha language, as Thai is mandated to be the language of instruction at school. Like many Akha familes, Tee’s family is Christian. He feels that a deep reverence for nature (influenced by the Akha tribe’s traditional animist religion) should still be followed. Through a radio program at the college where Tee teaches, he seeks to have the different hill tribes hear talks in their own language, as well as discussing important topics.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Night in an Akha Village

On the first night of my hill tribe tour, I stayed at the family home of Tee, the man from the Akha tribe who was taking me around. His village of Kong pa Kam (meaning “hot spring”) was located about 40 km south of Chiang Rai. About 98 families (Akha hill tribe) lived in the village. Tee’s parents, brother, and the brother’s family lived in the house. The front of the house looked more finished and modern (even had a hot shower, computer and TV). The kitchen was dark, made of cement, and very simple. Cooking was mainly over a fire with ashes. Several women helped prepare the meal, which included some greens, rice, fish, bamboo shoots, fresh chili peppers, mangoes, watermelon, ground dried soybeans with chilies, and pork soup with greens. Eating was done with chopsticks; I’m not sure what I feel more awkward with – eating with my fingers (India) or with chopsticks (Thailand). Later we had tea over a campfire, whose heat source came partly from bamboo pieces. The fire felt rather nice in the cool evening as we sat on low stools whose seats were woven out of bamboo strips by Tee’s father. In the open-air bamboo structure right next to the fire, one could see the large stack of woven chicken egg-laying baskets Tee’s father was making for a large order. Only when it got too dark did Tee’s father stop cutting and preparing bamboo strips that would be used for more baskets.

On the farm they had many chickens (the roosters crowed incessantly, which was particularly not welcomed in the wee hours of the morning). A large bamboo open-air shed was ready for several pigs, but none were in the pens at the moment. Various crops were grown. Tee pointed out the grapes (for eating) fields in the distance. In a simple shed there was a tractor and a truck.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

White Temple Toilet

Even the toilet facility at the White Temple in Chiang Rai was flamboyant and unusual. Note the "his" and "hers" painting on the back.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

Located about 13 km from Chiang Rai, this modern temple was begun in 1998 and is designed by Chaloemchai Khositphipha. (The nine-building plan may take until the year 2070 to be completed and involves many people in order to keep things going). Even from a distance, one could see this was not any ordinary temple. The stark-white scene was encrusted with details and rather flame-like in appearance. To reach the main bridge, we had to walk above a semicircle filled with outstretched white hands, some of which held up skulls or bowls. For a temple that is supposed to remind one of heaven, this part certainly felt like hell! Past two enormous curved fangs were two sword-wielding guardians. Other goulish monsters were also visible. A young worker was busy attaching thin strips of mirror mosaic onto the bridge, making it reflect in the light. White fish swam in the water below.

The interior was equally strange. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted, so I had to take in the sight with only my eyes. Like the exterior, the interior was unfinished. Murals were in progress. The entrance wall mural was the most finished. Near the top, a portrait of Buddha looks serenely downward. Below was a surreal, modernistic scene, a collage of various items. The Twin Towers burned and billowed with smoke after being hit by the plane. Superman flew above. Spiderman scaled skyscrapers. Keannu Reeves of The Matrix stood defiantly. Two monsters emerge from a building. Flying saucers race through the sky, sharing the space with Manga-style figures. The eyes of an elephant revealed Bin Laden in one and Bush in the other. One worker was busy applying rust-colored paint of a background near the bottom of a side wall. Seated in the front of the temple was a lifelike statue of an old seated monk.

The site contained several other buildings, including two which housed artwork by the Chiang Rai native. Originals or reproductions were for sale. One could also buy books, T-shirts, postcards, etc. of Khostiphipha’s work. Proceeds go towards the completion of the temple. Like those in the temple, these paintings were very fanciful and rather surrealistic. Many included messages of suffering or heaven. Some recurring themes included Ganesh, Buddha, world peace, materialism, and global warming. One painting had cartons of McDonald’s fries floating in outer space, accompanied by cans of Pepsi and other modern junk. In another, Bin Laden and George Bush straddled a missile. The highly gifted artist displayed adeptness in a variety of media, including wood cut prints, sculptures, graphic drawings, oil paintings, lithographs, and others.

For a partial explanation of the symbolism behind the White Temple, visit

Friday, May 07, 2010

Wat U Mong

A short distance out of Chiang Mai is the forested enclave of Wat U Mong. This temple was built for a highly respected monk who liked to wander and meditate in the forest. Driving into the woods, the urban sounds gave way to silence, interrupted by the symphony by cicadas. Orange cloth was wrapped around many trees. These and wooden signs bore proverbs written in Thai and English. Younger monks were busy with early morning yard chores, including racking dead leaves onto orange cloth and hauling it away. Although the site had many buildings similar to that of other temple sites, it had unusual tunnel-like chambers in the ground. Walking through the low tunnels revealed niches with melted wax and statues of Buddha in several of the tunnel ends. On the curved brick ceiling, one could view faint murals of birds and animals in a few places. Walking past a shelter in which a potluck was being held, I reached a pond. Bread and popcorn was being thrown out to eager and ravenous catfish. Between the wide opening of the whiskered mouth, even a full slice of bread was no problem to be gulped in one bite. Turtles also provided entertainment for children and adults alike.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Doi Suthep

That afternoon I took a local songthaew up to Doi Suthep, a hillside temple located about 18 km from the center of town. Built in1383, the Lanna-style temple is considered as the symbol of the city. The songhaew parked near a series of stalls selling souvenirs, food, drinks, incense, and flowers. To reach the temple complex we had to walk up a long series of stairs, flanked on each side by the colorful serpentine Naga figures. In the first courtyard, children from different hill tribes performed traditional songs, dances, and played instruments. Commanding center stage of the main courtyard was the large gold-plated chedi, partly covered by scaffolding. A golden decorative umbrella was off to one side. Devotees placed lotus flowers, lit candles, and burned incense. Lining the edge of the roof were small bells from which dangled flat leaf shapes with names on them. Along the walls of the hall were newer-looking murals. Numerous altars and niches offered places for reflection and worship. From the temple site as well as the ride up, one has great views of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Local Market

Early the next morning I walked to the local market. Unlike the Night Bazaar, this one was very non-touristy. Fresh flowers lined the outer rows of the market, attracting customers with brilliant colors, large sizes, quantity, and pleasant scent. Some of the freshly cut flower bunches were wrapped in newspaper. Orchids were bundled in large quantities, moisture still glistening on the petals and leaves. Others such as the lotuses were individually wrapped. Some stalls had beautiful, large floral arrangements and sprays ready for special events or places.

Once inside, different aisles were reserved for produce such as tropical fruit, veggies, and coconut. One stall worker carefully stacked individual strawberries, one on top of another. Women hacked at chicken meat. For pork lovers, one could buy slices, a pig’s head, or bags of pig organs. Seafood including fish, crabs, and prawns were laid out over crushed ice. Some buckets contained finless critters still wriggling in water. Dried fish was pressed together in a neat flat bundle. Snacks of the packaged sort and freshly fried were available, including some waffles which looked rather tasty. In other sections, one could buy cheap clothing, long streamers for temples, incense, fireworks, and stationery. Spongebob, Barbie, and Hello Kitty adorned schoolbags hung from above. Pots and pans were piled high, glistening in the fluorescent lights. For those wanting a bit more glitz, cheap-looking figurines of blinking Hindu gods and Buddha were ripe for the taking – or not.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai

That evening I walked to the Night Bazaar, which comes alive closer to 7pm each night. Like the Saturday Market, it mostly caters to tourists. The quantity of textiles in distinctive styles by the hill tribes of northern Thailand and neighboring countries was quite impressive. Decorative pillowcases, floral purses with cross-stitch designs, wall hangings, hats, and bed covers were just a few ways the hill tribes put their skills to use. I was particularly attracted to the cross-stitch work of the Hmong.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Donald at the Temple

In a most curious temple, figurines of zoo and farm animals adorned the lawn. To one side, Donald Duck was eating a bowl full of noodles with chopsticks. Here a rather poor-looking Thai woman had sparrow-like birds contained in woven samosa-shaped individual cages, seeking a few baht in exchange for the bird’s freedom.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Chiang Mai temple styles

Although there are many stylistic similarities in the temples of Chiang Mai, it was fun to see the variety as well. In addition to the classic Lanna style, elements from Buddhist architecture from Burma, Sri Lanka, and Mon temples were present. The flowing, flamboyant serpentine Naga figures of the staircases never ceased to fascinate me. Some of the temples were built with steep angles and dark brown wood, embellished by ornamental lattice windows and carved awnings. Others were bejeweled and had lavish golden decorations. In one temple, a devotee lovingly brushed on layers of gold leaf onto a standing Buddha. In another, a shiny golden Buddha reclined, similar but much smaller than the one in Bangkok. Construction was a common sight at many temples, leading me to wonder how the temples were being funded.