24 March, 2008

Up a tiger's bum. Another Thailand diary update

This month we walked into a dragon's mouth and up a tiger's bum, all in the same day. Our erudite author/musician/poet friend Bill took us to see the amazing Wat Kwan Ying (or Guanyin) in Chiangmai - a 'jaw-drop' place, off the normal tourist trail (anyway, what's a normal tourist?).

Marie and Ronny follow the Magical Mystery Tour Guide.

...and from half-way along, a view of the dragon's wee tail:

...and a cute little dragon paw:

...then onwards, right up the tiger's bum. Spot the tail, top right:

This lady rides inside the tiger with serene impunity. Now we know how Jonah felt:

...and after disgorging us, there was a Donation Box (surprise, surprise) in the form of a safe with a slot:
Near the entrance to the wat was a statue of the goddess Kali. Precient of Marie's daughter Nicolette, who was soon due to arrive in Chiangmai.
Update: She's arrived.

...and even the cafe had an impressive seat or two:

Bill also generously took us to visit Wat U Mong, a so-called "forest wat" in the treed (but dry) foothills of Doi Suthep. The apex of the hill on which the 700 year-old wat is built is honeycombed underneath with passages carved out of the rock and decorated with very faded pictures of the life of Phra Buddha. Further down the hill, there was a peaceful tortoise/catfish filled lake, and this 'graveyard' for de-commissioned Buddha statues:

This is the teak house which Nicolette is renting.
No, I lied, it's one of the monk huts at
Wat U Mong:

The photo of this Sala [= open room/pavillion] along Chiangmai's north moat is only here because I took a shine to the carving on the roof. I'm a drooling sucker for carved teak:

Likewise this derelict old teak house, complete with sala:

I'm not sure what this dog is thinking, but the pic sure epitomises Thais' love affair with the Canine:

Likewise this iconic photo of the typical Thai street foodcourt:

Marie wants to buy a few elephant sculptures and sell them on Elph-bay. I'm sure we can find room...

Weather is dry and heating up now ...the usual build-up to the Wet Season (about July-Sept). This mock-up photo says it all:

...but unfortunately, rice farmers are in the habit of burning off rice stubble after the harvest, and no amount of threats of fines deters them. Also, forest fires are sometimes deliberately set, particularly by collectors of mushrooms. Mushrooms sprout profusely after a fire, and are easier to spot and pick. Consequently, we get some days of bad air porrution, particularly after weekends when the fire complaint hotline isn't manned [or womaned]. Today you couldn't even see the mountains from our apartment ...but you could see the new building which is springing up [centre]:

Given the pollution, we therefore plan to escape to the beach soon, partly to breathe clean air, and partly to avoid the pesky water-throwing festival of Songkran on April 13. We don't like getting drenched, so we go snorkelling instead (if that makes any sense). There's a secret island off Baang Saphan in the Gulf of Thailand to which we like to gracefully retire during Songkran.

Here's an antiquarian postcard of a Songkran Day in Chiangmai, many decades ago in the River Mae Ping (near our post office). Songkran ain't quite so civilised these days:

Thai politics? The new Thai prime minister Samak is doing all the textbook things you might expect of a right-wing extremist business-oriented knuckle-dragger. Thais will get what they deserve, I have to say. Starting with casinos, then continuing Thaksin's War on Drugs during which at least 2500 people were shot on the streets without trial.

Here is Samak putting a small ceramic elephant on a spirit house - to prove to the media that he's Mr Nice-Guy. Not.

He's just come back from a visit to Burma, nimbly hopping over any inconvenient puddles of monks' blood, presumably. Various morally-bankrupt and lucrative business deals were sewn up. These 2 cartoons say it all:

(Noppadon was Thaksin's lawyer. Now as his reward, he's been made Thailand's Foreign Minister under Samak's government.)

Meanwhile, Bangkok is still pretending not to care that it is sinking at 1cm per year - at the same time that sea levels are rising. More on this interactive NASA-Google flood map for Bangkok on which you can simulate up to 14 metres of flood. Check out your favourite street, bearing in mind that the satellite reads the tops of the buildings and trees as if they were the real ground level, thereby significantly underestimating flood depths. EEK! Therefore find an open area and flood that to get a more accurate picture. You'll freak out. Then navigate your way to your own city, and home in on your own street. Nervously.

Here's a recent pic of the King's Palace. Well, OK, the photo's been doctored a tad, but given 10-20 years, it may well be close to the truth. Moral: don't buy a ground floor apartment...

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