A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Time to think and thank in Chiang Rai

On my last day in Thailand, I need some time to myself...

And what better place to reflect on 2 months travelling in ‘the land of smiles’ than Wat Rong Khun.

Construction began in 1997 on this all-white temple.

The white is said to represent Lord Buddha’s purity and wisdom.

I take a local bus at midday out to the temple – Chiang Rai bus station turns out to be a great place for character spotting.

My mind shifts down a gear as I watch...

...an old man with no teeth and one shoe. He spits a ball of flem out of the bus door.

He buys iced tea in a plastic bag from a smiling lady in a straw hat.

She also sells corn and crunchy green mango.

We vibrate all the way out of Chiang Rai – the metal bus shakes my head, my back, my teeth – but it’s not an unpleasant sensation.

In fact, the movement starts to clear my head, which is full of sensory recollections of Thailand.

The bus driver has constructed a mini-temple at the front of his bus – complete with open bottle of red pop with straw, a wooden Buddha statue with necklace of dried flowers, a pink china figurine and imitation lotus flowers.

And there's a plastic bowl of noodles and dumplings – is that for Lord Buddha? Or is it the bus driver’s packed lunch? Either way, it makes me smile.

Then the bus stops on the side of a busy highway. The female conductor smiles at me behind her pink sunglasses.

‘Wat Rong Khun,’ she says, pointing across the dual carriageway.

I jump down the stairs of the bus and run across the road.

And then I’m dazzled...

Brilliant in every sense of the word. Wat Rong Khun shines with the creator’s inspiration and talent.

Chalermchai Kositpipat is the Thai visual artist who dreamed up Wat Rong Khun.

Kositpipat says: "I intend to remain a painter for the cause of Buddhism until the last day of my life. Nothing can ever change me or divert me from this course, not fame, nor contempt."

I walk past trees with heads hanging from the branches and a red devilish skull with a bottle of whisky balanced on its head.

There are lots of skulls here.

Skulls on gateposts.

Skulls on wall paintings.

Skulls in sculptures.

Skulls in trees.

Even skulls on top of traffic barriers.

So the artist-creator wants me to consider the transience of life?

Or perhaps he’s a fan of horror movies or death rock?

Then there’s the semi-circle of hands, reaching up, almost pleading to be pulled out of the ground. The hands hold bowls where people throw their coins as an offering.

This mass of hands is said to represent the human world. Possibly the grasping nature of the human condition - clinging on to the material world?

Over the bridge and inside the temple....

An artist retouches a familiar wall painting of monks and lotus flowers.

Then I turn to the back wall and see a space age battle featuring rocket ships and Transformers.

Earth under fire.

Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.

Darth Vader in the corner.

An Avatar on a flying ikran.


And superimposed on golden serpents and elephants, Batman flies towards a pink mobile phone.

Time to thank...

I turn to face the golden Buddha on the wall, over 10 metres high.

For the past two months, I have seen Thai people and travellers kneel down in front of images of Buddha to pray, give thanks and to meditate.

So I copy the wax monk on the red carpet in front of the Buddhas. I sit cross-legged and shut my eyes.

In between spells of brain babble, I hear the following words relating to the writers I’ve met...

From Michai in Bangkok, I’ve been inspired by his perseverance – I met Michai at the start of February 2011. He was working as a concierge at the Old Bangkok Inn. From selling lottery tickets on the streets of Bangkok aged 8, Michai’s hardworking nature has led to him majoring in Chinese and English at Bangkok University. In the few weeks I’ve known Michai, his travel writing has been published in Tropical Magazine. And he has launched his own tour business – Alice in Bangkok.

From DJ and Phuket FM radio presenter Mark Wilkinson, I’ve learnt about positivity. Mark is now writing his book about overcoming a rheumatic disease that doctors told him was ‘incurable’ and left him unable to walk for 18 months. Mark is just days away from flying from Thailand to England, to run the London Marathon for Macmillan Cancer (his fourth marathon, no less). Good luck Mark – not that you’ll need it.

From author Cat Nesbit, I’ve learnt about personal transformation. It is possible to make your life exactly as you want it to be, to make the impossible possible. Aged 25, Cat left San Francisco in 1966 on a Norweigian freighter crossing the Altantic. She has never looked back since, having explored over 100 countries. Cat is now somewhere in Malaysia, en route to Paris, for her next European-flavoured adventure.

From diver and writer Ayesha in Koh Tao, I’ve heard about her passion – she uses her writing to communicate her love of diving and Koh Tao, the small Thai island she now calls home.

Queen’s Cabaret creator, Haute, in Koh Tao uses writing to help her to manage her sensitivity. I relate to this.

From Bob Tilley and the crowd at the Chiang Mai Writers Club, I’ve identified with the need for connection with other writers. Bob set up the Writers Club for this reason, there was no place like it for writers in Chiang Mai.

And from schoolteacher Alistra in Koh Tao, I relate to the way she uses writing to explore private experiences. Authentic writing is about intimacy – it is revealing, which is at once the beauty and the challenge of writing.

All I know is I need to write everyday – it’s like a shower for the brain. If I don’t write everyday, I experience physical discomfort – it’s like I have something trapped underneath my skin.

And after 60 days, this is what Thailand has taught me...

My personal equation.

WRITING (everyday) + TRAVEL (in the Land of smiles) = HAPPINESS (a whole new

Thanks Thailand for the lesson.

I wonder what Laos has in store...


  1. Wow - what an incredible temple! So different than most of those I visited in Thailand. And great insights on the writing / traveling life. Thanks Charlotte! Can't wait to hear about your adventures in Laos.

  2. Love the blog Charlotte. Enjoy the next stage of your trip. We have only 2 more weeks left on ours:(

  3. Thank you Sarah, yes the temple did make me breathe very differently, stunning.

    And Lesley / Rob - thanks for inspiring me with your trip, it was a great call to action for me to plan mine!

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