Archive for July, 2010
Candle festivals were held all over Thailand last weekend; but the biggest, best and original gathering of candles can be found in Ubon Ratchathani. Temples from the city and surrounding regions compete for trophies which are then displayed in the temple in a very non-Buddhist fashion.
To create an entry capable of winning, a temple will need sponsorship to purchase the vast amounts of wax required. Less affluent temples are limited to a small display:
But if you have the cash, then you can make a substantial candle:
With some trimmings to make a bit more of an impact:
Creating one of these monsters takes weeks; and they were still being constructed on the day before the parade. Wax was being prepared:
And workers were finishing off the construction:
The next temple we visited took a more complex approach. They started with a red base, and then laid on detail with thousands of small pieces of wax.
Monks had to take a break from meditating to help in the production process.
All this effort would survive for a few hours in the parade, before the sun started the inevitable process of reducing the creations to large, sticky puddles.
If I had to rate the navigational skills of she who must be obeyed, I would give her a solid 9.9; out of ten thousand. Take her a kilometre away from home and she will never return without assistance. Ten minutes in a shopping mall and she will have no idea where the car is parked.
All the more surprising then, that when we were in her home town of Ubon Ratchahtani, she directed me down obscure side-streets in search of elusive shortcuts, and they all worked. She knew every road, every tiny sub soi; and always knew exactly where we were. I was extremely impressed and told her so in my usual charming way: “You are less crap than usual.”
So it was with some confidence that I accepted her proposal to make an afternoon visit to Sam Pan Bo, a collection of rocks a mere 70 kilometres away.
Two hours and 165 kilometres later, we arrived. Evening was approaching, there was a threat of rain, and there was no sign of the famous rocks. Apparently we had to take a boat, and the boat owner wanted 500 baht. Fortunately, we found some people to share the ride and soon we were standing on some rocks with holes in them. And that was the attraction, just some rocks with holes in them. Take a photo at sunrise or sunset and you might catch a red reflection in the water; but there was no sign of the setting sun. We had driven for two hours and taken an expensive boat ride to stand on some rocks which looked very similar to the rocks on my beach outside our condo.
In the midst of this natural wonder, there was one rock pool which was circular, with a couple of little pools on the side; such that it looked vaguely like the outline of a cartoon character. This was enough for the many other people who had been conned out of 500 baht for a ride in a boat; and a mass shriek of “Mickey Mouse! Mickey Mouse!” erupted, two fingers were raised, stupid grins put on faces, a happy memories of a mouse shaped pool moment were captured with cameras. I refused to indulge, although to be honest there was little else to photograph.
After all that excitement, we still had to get home. By the time we returned to the car it was getting dark and it had started to rain. We decided to take an alternative route back which looked shorter, but wasn’t.
Road repairs in Thailand are apparently administered at a very local level. We would do a few kilometres on smooth tarmac, cross into a different village area, and suddenly be on a surface more suitable to a rally stage. It was dark, wet and the road was narrow. It had been a long time since I had had to deal with such unpleasant driving conditions and all the time I was praying to a god that I do not believe in. Please, imaginary friend; no puncture.
She who must be obeyed has a thing about driving at night down country roads that are lined with trees. And the thing is, she doesn’t like it. There is no doubt in her mind that ghosts are lurking in the undergrowth and under no circumstances are we allowed to stop and open the doors.
Once we had reached the safety of Ubon after a round trip of 350 kilometres, I asked her what she would have done if we had stopped with a puncture. Apparently we would have locked the doors and waited until daylight; or until a lorry driven by a drunk plowed into the back of us. I think there would have been arguments. Thank you, imaginary friend.
Good to see Thailand behaving like a responsible adult at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil.
At issue is the Preah Vihear temple which sits on land which Thailand agreed belonged to Cambodia in 1904 and was confirmed as being Cambodian at the International Court of Justice in 1962. Now that the temple has been given UNESCO World Heritage, Thailand is getting worked up about it again.
The argument by the government is what you would expect from a four year old. “It’s not fair. Do what we want or we will take our toys and not play here again”. Pathetic. The UNESCO response should be “OK, fuck off; and we’ll remove world heritage status from all sites in Thailand.”
You could visit Preah Vihear and be ripped off by both Thailand and Cambodia, and run the risk of being caught up in some stupid dispute involving the use of bullets. Alternatively, you can visit some very fine Khmer temples in Thailand, in areas that once were not Thailand, such as Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, and Prasat Muang Tam.
Prasat Muang Tam is close to Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, and you can visit them both for an extra 50 baht on your ticket price. Over the long holiday weekend it was reported that up to 5,000 people a day were visiting the two temples. But when we visited Prasat Muang Tam late on Friday afternoon, we were the only visitors. It was special place to have to ourselves.
All shots – Panasonic GF1
Postscript: 1,000 posts on Pattaya Days. Please send a cake.
A Canon 100-400mm lens will cost you around 60,000 baht and will fit in a rucksack. The Panasonic 45-200mm (effective 90-400mm on a M4/3 camera) will cost you around 12,000 baht and will fit in your pocket without anyone thinking you are pleased to see them.
Image quality is pretty good. The first of these shots is at 103mm, the second at 200mm. Panasonic GF1.
If by intention or accident (depending on the quality of your navigator), you find yourself in Buriram province; then it is worth making a trip to Phanom Rung. It’s a thousand year old Khmer temple built on top of an extinct volacano; and it’s an impressive site and sight. Depending on the car park you choose, you can either walk up a long avenue and up some very steep steps….
…or park round the back and walk right inside. Naturally we chose the latter option.
Be aware that double pricing is in effect, and you will have to pay more than a Thai to enter (and waving a Thai driving licence does not help). If you are one of those people who comes over all indignant about having to pay 50 baht extra to see a thousand year old piece of art then:
a. Don’t go, and
b. Get a life
Which is what I wanted to tell a noisy Yank who was bitching about it; but he was much bigger than me.
All photos – Panasonic GF1
The Ubon candle festival features a competition between temples in the region. You can imagine that the first competition was won by a single decorative candle carried by a monk. Then one temple had the idea of enhancing their candle with a tiny statue, and then the whole thing got out of hand; and now the winning entries need to be towed by a lorry, like this one:
Built on a plaster and coconut strand base, this is all candle wax, with a single candle in the middle which will presumably be lit at some point. The amount of effort required to build such a monster is staggering, and when we went round a few temples yesterday, they were still hard at work preparing their entries.