Chiang Rai – Northern Thailand

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Chiang Rai

Our last days of touring in northern Thailand took us to Chaing Rai and the famous (infamous?) Golden Triangle.

Chiang Rai is the northernmost large city (200,000) in Thailand. It was established as a ‘capital city’ in the reign of King Mangrai, back in 1262.  Legend has it that the King founded Chiang Rai because his elephant liked the place!   The seal of the province still sports an image of a white elephant, the Thai royal symbol.

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Old stupa on the way to Golden Triangle

on the way to Golden Triangle we stop at an ancient “chedi” that sports a new top, the result of a recent earthquake in the region.

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Children's Day in Thailand --we saw these Children events happening everywhere along the drive from Chiang Rai to Golden Triangle

Today was “Children’s Day” in Thailand –we saw many children events everywhere along the drive from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle.  This is a very important Holiday in Thailand!

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Golden Triangle

It is a couple of hours drive from Chiang Rai to the Golden Triangle,  the geographic location where Thailand, Laos and Burma all meet at the junction of two rivers.  One can almost see the mountains of China in the distance.   Once a place of vast opium smuggling, now there are buildings devoted to a different drug: Gambling.  Several new casinos are in evidence up here – a large one in Laos, owned by the Chinese, and smaller ones over in Burma/Myanmar.   They bring in a great number of tourists (and $$$), both from SE Asian countries and from across the seas.  Interestingly, we found that the large casino complex across the Mekong River in Laos, the one owned/operated by the Chinese, has actually been granted a ‘Chinese Special Administrative District’ status, that allows it to operate under Chinese law, even though in Laos!!  Fascinating– and adds fuel to that theory that Laos is rapidly becoming a political province of China.

Here we visited the Hall of Opium Museum, a fascinating set of exhibits that chronicle the devastating impact this dangerous product has associated with its culture in the past few centuries.  The Queen of Thailand had it built about ten years ago to stand as a testament to the absolute horror of the drug/plants misuse.  Not for the fainthearted, the museum was created to help reduce the demands of drug abuse through knowledge and education.

The exhibition  conveys the history of opium, its trade across the globe, and provides a comprehensive background on opium, opiates, and other narcotics. It does a more than credible job of  presenting current issues regarding the efforts to control drugs and drug abuse, with the belief that education is a link that will help provide answers . . .

It is quite an education,  and school children from all over Thailand are brought here to learn about the dangers associated with the drug.

They don’t allow you cameras inside the museum, thus no pictures here.  But truth-be-told, after spending several hours viewing all the graphics and reading all the material, you wouldn’t want to look at any images . . .    We both will never forget much of what we have seen here.  It was haunting.

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Golden Triangle -- Burma, Laos, and Thailand

Infamous Golden TriangleBurma, Laos, and Thailand  (red roof on the left in distance is new casino in Burma)  (big complex on the right across the Mekong R. is new Chinese casino in Laos.   Thailand is at the bottom of the picture.

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Golden Triangle

“sun and fun” in the Golden Triangle

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Chinese Casino in Laos

Chinese Casino  on the banks of the Mekong R. in Laos

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Bandaam Museum   ‘the Black House’

Our guide really wanted us to see these next two creations.

The black temple is on the private property of a Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee, located just to the north of Chiang Rai. It consists of nearly 40 small black houses made of wood, glass, concrete, bricks, or terracotta in very unique styles and design.  The cluster of buildings house Thawan’s eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures, animal bones, skins, horns, and silver and gold items from around the world. Several of the houses exhibit Balinese and Burmese architecture and art dating back to the Ayutthaya Period. The artist seems to love the remains of large animals and uses their bones as a source of inspiration for his art.

He has developed this unique assemblage of buildings and art forms over a number of decades, and invites the public to view it free (although it isn’t easy to find).  He has made his personal fortune on the sale of his artwork: oil paintings sculptures, carvings, woodworks, etc.  It is truly an amazing place, and a feast for the eyes, just considering the scope and sheer number of structures and what’s in them, their size, along with all the unique carvings and historical artifacts on display over.  There are 40 different galleries inside these buildings,  spread out amongst a peaceful set of gardens.  Inside each building is a unique display of his art – sculptures, woodcarvings, and furniture created by him, along side things he has collected in his journeys around the world.  This has been his life’s vision,  and is an ongoing project.  One could spend several days taking in all the details around this property.   It was unlike anything else we have ever seen.

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Black House

the large Black House at the entrance to the property.

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the hand-carved wood detailing is most impressive.

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Amazing large buildings, furniture

Amazing large buildings and furniture.  The size of his doors alone is impressive.

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Chair

Chair and table for giants — could easily seat 100 folk around this table

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chair

and get a load of this chair — doesn’t look very comfortable

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detail

exquisite wood detail and joinery

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another craving

another intricate carved panel

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Such detail

…and another…  these are all Siamese icons

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smaller building

smaller structure

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Another large door

Did we mention he was infatuated by LARGE doors?

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inside

inside a different structure: a large meeting room

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Some of his collections

This building housed a bit of his international collections

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Wat at Rong Khun – the White Temple

Another well-known Thai artist, Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, has created an amazing “White Temple”, also in Chaing Rai.  Some have called the Bandaam Complex a vision of hell. (just cause its all black?).   Then the White Temple could be called an artist’s  vision of heaven.  It is located south of Chiang Rai.

The artist began this project in 1997.  His life vision is to build the most beautiful temple in the world(!) and show the glory of modern Thai-Buddhist arts while honoring his country and his religion.  He has 80 devout followers who volunteer their time to making his vision translate into a world wonder.  He anticipates it will take 60-90 years to complete what he now has in his head, and is training others to carry on the work after he is gone.

There are many buildings now completed, with many planned. The white buildings are, by design, a representation of heaven on earth.   The main temple symbolizes a passage through “hell” and the struggle between the Lord Buddha and the demon.  It represents the final conflict before Buddha ‘obtained enlightenment’.  There is a painting of the demon on one wall, with George Bush and Bin Laden painted in each eye.  THAT will jar you!  Ajarn claims his purpose in doing so was to let everyone know “that our world is being destroyed by those who crave to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”  His painting, completed at the time these particular events were in the world’s eye, was to caution George Bush and Bin Laden so that “they could instead look toward a peaceful and happy world”.  He also painted Superman and Ultraman in one of these scenes, “to let people know that there are no heroes in our world”  that would arrive to help “the havoc of the Twin Towers”.  

Work on the temple continues, and it is anticipated that it won’t be finished for  the next few decades.  In all, the structures look fairy-like, with white frosting on top.

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A fairy temple

A fairy temple

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The path to the temple

The path to the main temple

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One of many projects

One of many projects

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Workmen craving decorations and then others glue mirror pieces on

Workmen craving decorations which others will then glue various pieces of mirror on.    The artist was present while i was there: a very exuberant man, barking intricate instructions to his devotee/workers!

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Alas,

. . . we are now headed home, a little earlier than planned. Three weeks earlier than our schedule directed, to be exact.  Gary has contracted a rather nasty infection that became evident as we returned from our excursion to the Golden Triangle.  By the time we got back to Chaing Rai late that afternoon, it necessitated a trip to the emergency room at Overland Park Hospital, where it was correctly diagnosed, and he was sent back to our hotel with armloads of prescriptions and suggestions to NOT get back in a car or airplane for a number of days!  For him, this was a very tough call; it meant canceling out of our trip to Burma, which was perhaps the highest on his agenda.

But we have already determined to go back there!  Maybe NEXT winter!  and see more of the special places we  sampled on this journey.

We did get to four of the five countries we had set out to visit.   Our ten weeks traveling on the S.E.Asian Road was truly a ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’.  It was all we expected and much more.  

Thanks for traveling along with us.

We’ll keep you posted on the time-table for the next one!

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About Smiling Road Warriors!

2 happy retirees, movin' along . . .
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