After last night’s excesses we both woke up feeling just a tiny bit groggy. My bad feelings soon evaporated though after we had chowed down on a very excellent portion of breakfast noodles at the little place we had found just round the corner from our hotel. Excellent food at excellent prices (= cheap) and because of the variety of the condiments and extra sides of fresh vegetables and herbs, you could make it taste however you fancied. Liz still felt a bit rough though even after eating and it does sound like she could be coming down with a bit of a cold! This was no day to be feeling poorly though as we had earmarked this one for hiring two of the hotel’s bikes again and cycling all the way to Rong Khun also known as The White Temple, situated about 14km out from Chiang Rai!
Now bike riding is always a bit daunting in any big town, even back home, but here where the rules can and do alter at an alarmingly quick pace adds a certain frisson to any ‘Tour de Thailand’. I was hoping my wife’s ill health would not prevent her from keeping her wits about her as we both would be needing them on the ride. The route itself seemed easy enough on paper but we would not be travelling on paper, rather we would be on the hard and gritty road. All we had to do was carry along on the main road going out of town till we hit a dual carriageway then join this turning right and follow it for a good few km until the temple would be signposted or else, appear like a vision from the mists – or so the map said!
As ever on these trips, there is the time it takes going out to visit the place in question – a journey it seemed of weeks only rivalled by the crossing of the desert by Lawerence of Arabia – and the time it takes getting back – in comparison a mere blink of the eye! Okay maybe I am exaggerating a little but it could have been because the way out was just so exhausting … lol. Now this could have been due to the fact that every now and then we had to keep stopping because of some almighty downpours! When this happened we would jump off and shelter under a tree or something similarly pointless whilst the rains battered us from all sides, then it would abate and off we would go until it all happened again. However, we had our very own rain-stopping secret weapons – the Mighty Ponchos (so good they are in capitals!). We donned our natty rainwear and off we went, we actually looked like some strange children’s TV programme – Pat, the very wet Blue Triangle and Liz, the very wet Orange Circle go to see the White Temple!
Anyhow we carried on and on and went further and further and got wetter and wetter but still no sign of the temple or even a sign for the temple! Eventually, under great duress Liz cracked and broke the unspoken law that is taboo among men but less upheld by the female of the species in that she … wait for it, this need more dots (!) … ‘asked the way’!!!! What is it with women wanting to know ‘the way’ and men refusing to ask for directions, trusting instead to their very own ‘compass-like’ force, something handed down from Neanderthal man – yes, the one who died out and this was possibly why. he did not actually die out, merely got so very, very, very lost!! Anyhow the lady asked told us we were nearly there and a mere five minutes later we cycled up, still very moist and somewhat dishevelled to the wonder that is, the White Temple!
It really was something to see especially as the rains had just stopped but the skies above looked all dark and foreboding whilst down below stood the gleaming white temple, a really amazing first sight. Without waxing too lyrical, it was almost as if it had taken up opposition against the great sky and was defying it to rain. It must be a vision to see on a bright and clear day but seeing it like this was, for me anyhow, even better.
The temple is a work in progress though and the vision of the artist Charlermchai Kositpipat and really something to see. It reminded us of the clock tower back in the town at the roundabout and with good reason too as he had designed that as well. As it suggests it is white but it also has many small mirror tiles embedded in it as well which reflect light in all directions too. First though we visited the artist’s gallery and it was really a variety of styles and symbolism – I think my favourite pieces were the more simply drawn black and white pencil on paper images. There was plenty of other thought provoking images though, including a painting of George Bush and Osama Bin Laden riding on a rocket entitled ‘Love’, not really sure what I was supposed to glean from it but my brain hurt for a while contemplating it!
We finished the gallery so I had a photo call on a bench seat with a statue of a robot and then we passed a bit of greenery with a bronze sculpture of the top half of Predator poking out of it, looking like it was drowning in the grass – or at least that’s what it looked like to me! Then it was over to the star attraction, the main temple building and this was quite something. You walk over a white bridge and either side of this there are sculptured grey hands some passing bowls or skulls symbolising hell, quite spooky really, I can imagine a lot of people have nightmares after visiting this place! Once inside the temple you cannot take photographs which is a bit of a shame really as there are a lot of murals with all sorts of imagery including a lot of modern themes – Star Wars characters and even a Minion on one of them!
Once back outside we wrote a couple of inscriptions for the family back home that went on a tree for that purpose and it appears that ‘funky trees’ is a bit of a theme at the temple. On another such tree there were some hanging heads with hairs coming out of the bottom of them like dwarf beards and another tree had faces secreted in the tree itself, it all looked a bit creepy like something from a horror movie set. One of the out buildings was another white building but yet another was gold! Like I say it was all quite challenging for the brain but well worth the bike ride as long as the rain holds off on the way back.
To give ourselves a bit of energy for the journey home we dined on that most excellent of Thai dishes, the Pad Thai and again there were so many accompaniments that you could make it taste however you wanted – delicious. As soon as we had eaten our fill though we set off back to town. Luckily, it was not so rainy on the journey back and this gave us a chance of taking in some of the scenery on the way. In the distance we could see the mountains that surrounded Chiang Rai and close to the highway were a couple of wats all of which we had missed on the way to the temple as the rains made sure we kept our heads down. However, we were soon enough back in the town and once there we even popped into a Robinson’s mall to have a bit of a nose around. We even managed to get my wife a new top – not factored into my budget at all (Argh!)!
The day’s exertions had taken it out of both of us but, in particular, Liz as she was feeling quite bedraggled and poorly and I was joining her as she had a bit of a relapse so it was back to the hotel post haste for a recuperating forty winks. This was a good thing as we did not spend too much time in the bed before we were back out and ‘at ‘em.’ It was back to the Night Bazaar for us and tonight we simply grabbed a mix of the various foods that were on offer at the stalls. The food and everything was lovely and although we were really getting into the vibe of the place we knew that we had to travel tomorrow so it was early home to beddybys for us.