Grand Palace in Bangkok? Overblown.

One of the first things I did when I studied abroad at Thammasat University was visit the Grand Palace, or Phra Boromma Maha Ratcha Wang, in Bangkok.

So why haven’t I written about it until now?

I just wasn’t that impressed.

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Pha That Luang in Vientiane, Laos

The Disappearing Man

Pha That Luang glistened in the distance, a beacon on the far side of the sea of tarmac. On my side a few stubbly trees gave shelter to a smattering of dozing songthaew drivers. Their makeshift hammocks, strung across the bed of their little pick-ups, rustled as they spotted me and began to lazily shout.

“Tuk tuk! Tuk tuk!”

I ignored them as I searched the shaded oasis.

The driver I’d arrived with, and not yet paid, was gone.

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Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathon, Thailand

“Please be invited to pay homage to the thousand years Buddha, the happy monk and the four faced statue of Brahma. Our officer is being service to you inside.”

“What do you figure is down there?”

“I dunno.”

“Think we can go in?”

“Yes?”

“Let’s go,” I say to my friends as I slip past and slowly descend into the tunnel.

Reassured by the echo of accompanying feet I mentally pull out my “tourist card” just in case. It usually works wonders displaying a confused expression when people find you in places you shouldn’t be. A bit of scolding might be dispersed but that’s easy enough to digest.

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Chin Swee Cave Temple, Genting Highlands, Malaysia

It was like the first gust of air that strikes you when you watch a thunderstorm creeping up across the prairies. The moment when the air is sucked away and the world goes mute as the distant clouds display spats of brilliance. Then, as you watch, the wheat at the horizon kneels as everything bows to the shrieking force in the distance. Settled on a small green embankment your fingers grasp at the grass by your legs. Gulping down a breath as you clutch the protective blanket of stillness around you, the gust finally hits and yanks it from your presence.

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Wat Phra That Chae Haeng, Nan, Thailand

During my first semester in Thailand I had the opportunity to listen to at least two fellow exchange students grumble about how, “once you’ve seen one wat (Thai word for temple) you’ve seen them all”.

I’ll admit this wat displayed many familiar features: a massive stupa, a humble temple, a tall surrounding wall, a line of Buddha images ready to receive coins and two growling nagas racing down the hill to greet temple visitors. But it was the details that were the most intriguing.

With the initial awe wearing off I was starting to wonder about the meaning of the curious objects around me.

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Wat Phumin, Nan, Thailand

When I first laid eyes on Wat Phumin I saw a fortress within which the quiet denizens of the area could seek sanctuary. Even with a bustling textile fair throwing clamoring bids and chatter about, and a fashion-show blasting music right across the way—the merriment couldn’t breach the temple’s grounds.

The two rolling serpent creatures, or nagas, upon which the temple seemed to rest—looked as though they were holding back the din, biting the air clear of noise and careless speech.

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Wat Phra That Khao Noi, Nan, Thailand

There is something mysterious and alluring about a human figure forever captured in a forward motion. It’s the ultimate symbol for so many things humanity upholds.

Progression. Preservation. Hope. Strength. Compassion. Protection. Isn’t it easy to imagine these figures are ever prepared to step forth to protect the people of the area?

A statue caught in mid-stride frames these ideas within the grace of movement.

I mean, while a standing statue casually gazing forward is a remarkable sight in its own right, there is something extra special about a statue stepping out into the world.

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Angkor Complex, Cambodia (by bicycle)

Angkor, Angkor show me your wonders true,

I’m half crazy over the likes of you

It won’t be a speedy viewing

I can’t afford a tuk tuk

But you look sweet, from upon the seat of a bicycle borrowed for 2

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Angkor Complex, Cambodia

“One dollar, one dollar. Two magnets, one dollar. Ok, ten postcards one dollar. One dollar. One dollar. One dollar.”

The child looked up at me, her eyes wide and glimmering. Shuffling the objects in the plastic tray slung across her stomach she pulled up one item after another and repeated the mantra.

“One dollar, one dollar, one dollar. Lady, maybe later? One dollar.”

She looked hopeful, her eyes sparkling with calculations but a tired strain fed into her voice. I could only smile at her. I didn’t want to be rude but I wouldn’t be buying anything.

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Bayon Temple, Cambodia

Down in the labyrinth, beyond the soaring light, I found a place of contemplation. Dust particles danced on the one weak shaft of light that managed to pierce its way through. Settled in the nook of a once-window-in-the-wall or perhaps once-home-for-a-Buddha I looked across the small sheltered courtyard. This place at the centre of everything felt right. Far above me, in the heat of the afternoon amused entities observed the tourist traffic at the foot of their towers—their eyes ever open to the world, their lips cast in chuckles and half-smirks. Continue reading “Bayon Temple, Cambodia”