My first daylight impressions of Bangkok were from my son’s 17th floor apartment in On Nut. I was mesmerised. By the monks in saffron robes and the Thai way of life. By the endless zig zagging of overhead electricity cables and the traffic that never stopped flowing. Ever. I slept with the curtains and window open so I wouldn’t miss a daybreak and woke before everyone else to watch this scene play out every morning. I still long for those mornings sometimes, even surrounded by all the beauty that is Cape Town.
American wordsmith, meticulous researcher and novelist extraordinaire, Barbara Kingsolver is visiting Cape Town to promote her new book Flight Behaviour. She’s also in the country for talks concerning a screen adaptation she’s working on of The Poisonwood Bible, a tome which took her 18 years to complete. Articulate and incredibly witty, whether she’s discussing her craft, how she creates her characters or reading excerpts from her work, she captivated everyone who skipped President Zuma’s State of the Nation address to attend her launch. And I was delighted to add another author-signed work to my collection :-)
Thailand gave me many memorable spiritual encounters, from elaborate temples where the opulence can sometimes take your breath away, to simpler settings where I would escape in the sticky, frenetic Bangkok mornings to listen to chanting monks and resonant temple bells to calibrate my sensory overload.
Yet the place that touched my soul the deepest is tucked away in an enchanting, tranquil jungle in Chiang Mai.
Ironically, this special place is hidden by lush greenery just off the main road to the hallmark Wat Phra That which towers above visitors on the top of Mount (Doi) Suthep – reputedly the holiest shrine in this part of Thailand.
Built on several levels with a tranquil, sonorific background waterfall, visiting Wat Pha Lat is like stepping onto the set of an Indiana Jones movie. As if by divination nature has made way for a temple complex lovingly adorned with moss-covered stone carvings of Buddhas and dragons among magical places to worship, winding footpaths and staircases and with a surprise around every corner.
I was sorry to leave the lost world connectedness with mother earth and the palpable symbiosis with nature only to head for the glitz, tourists and souvenirs of the temple on the mountain above me and the bustle and traffic of the city below .
I became a bit obsessed with photographing monks while in Thailand. Almost stalker-like. These gentle holy men are wonderful subjects, but they also lead surprisingly normal lives. At first I was blown away seeing one enter a tattoo parlour in Bangkok or another hail a tuk-tuk, but you quickly get accustomed to how they blend into daily Thai life.
Here’s an peek into temple life in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where temple dogs often rule the roost and women are not as welcome :-)
This could well have been called “Postcards from The Edge” at one point, but Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, turned out to be one of my favourite Bangkok temples. Accessed via ferry, you must climb the two steep levels to take in great views of the city and the Chao Phraya River. The trip back down is daunting and at one point I panicked and demanded helicopter rescue. My son was having none of it, looked at me as if I was demented and threatened to leave me there. So I bit the bullet and clung to the railings for dear life. You’ve been warned, so now put this on your Bangkok Bucket List!
As a food lover, I thought I’d seen it all when it came to fresh food markets. Well, until we stopped in Lampang en route to Chiang Mai, that is.
Warning: The photos are not for the feint-hearted or queasy, but they’re typical of the non-touristy food markets I stumbled across in Thailand.
And more tonic for the soul in the form of the gorgeous adjoining flower market.
The temple’s 16 gates are guarded by Chinese giants carved from rock. Inside, it’s colourful and filled with endless chambers, cloisters and courtyards, reminiscent of an elaborate maze. Less kind observers might describe the complex as garish, even ostentatious, but whatever your take on Bangkok’s famous temple, nothing quite prepares you for the magnitude of the Reclining Buddha, the more than 1000 other Buddha images and the temple’s official name – Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan !!
And for someone who really doesn’t like cats, you did ok Son :-)