Chiang Mai

More photos just posted, including a look at a Thai casket factory; a visit to ComPeung, an artist's village a few kilometers outside Chiang Mai, and the Land Foundation; a dog named Kitty and this cat, spotted obstructing sales of knock-off wallets at the Chiang Mai night bazaar the other night. Tonight we're camping at The Land...


Elephant topiary

On the palace grounds in Bang Pa-In, Thailand. Click here for the full panoramic image or here for more photos from Bang Pa-In and nearby Ayuthaya.

Ko Kret stencils

Any idea what these are? Phone booths? Audio advertising kiosks? Found behind a building Ko Kret, north of Bangkok.


Ko Kret colors

We spent yesterday on Ko Kret, a car-free island in the Chao Phraya River just north of Bangkok. Known for its Mon pottery -- hand-thrown and carved red-clay vessels -- it also offered some picturesque and quirky photo-ops. Will post more when we arrive in Chiang Mai. L1040963_1.JPG




Bangkok back alleys

I got myself lost the other day killing time. I wandered a central Bangkok neighborhood, not touristy at all, figuring I could walk the soi (small street) around the block and end up where I started. Not so. First, I spaced out, peering into people's houses and workplaces (off a dark alley, I saw a silkscreen shop where a handful of guys were making what appeared to be knock-off Mickey Mouse t-shirts, then a seamstress shop where a half dozen women were making navy blue work pants). Then I got more distracted snapping photos of back alley murals and graffiti, including one that I'm told is a grade school or high school logo converted into a tag (and crossed ouy, apparently, by a student at a rival school).
By the time, I refocused on my route, I realized I was at a dead end, at the very end of a long soi in a neighborhood few farang (foreigners) have probably gone. A bunch of 10-year old boys approached, trying out their English. They led me through one of the boy's houses and out the other side to a rubble strewn vacant lot. Gesticulating wildly, one eager kid conveyed that straight ahead and "To the right!!!!" was the way back. I gave a heartfelt "korp khun krap" along with the wai gesture of respect (which I think is usually mainly used by younger people addressing elders) and followed his directions, stopping occasionally to respond to a dozen or so shouted "Good Byes" and much giddy waving.

Makha Bucha Day

Two nights ago, on the full moon of the third lunar month, we attended the Makha Bucha Day celebration at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a gigantic new temple complex outside of Bangkok. The day commemorates two events that happened exactly 44 years apart: 1,250 "Arhantas" converged, unbidden, to hear Buddha give the principles of Buddhism, called The Ovadhapatimokha: To cease from all evil, to do what is good, to cleanse one's mind. Forty-four years later on this day, Buddha announced he'd be attaining nirvana three months later; that is, he'd die.Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a modern temple, and 100,000 people reportedly came for this week's ceremony. The complex has many facilities, but the event, which drew monks and families from all over Thailand and the world, was held outside in an area surrounding the "cetiya," or stupa. The temple is lit with spotlights that illuminate a dome covered by 300,000 statues of Buddha, each measuring 15 centimeters high. A detail from the temple's website:I can't say I understood much of what went on, but the bare fact of being in the midst of 100,000 chanting people focusing on peace was extremely powerful. Like, armhair-standing-on-end powerful. Words don't do it justice. (And unfortunately, neither do my photos.) machabuchafireworks.jpgmachabucha3.jpg



Ok, it's a little cliche to come to Thailand to ride an elephant. But I've never seen one up close. We stopped along the road to Khao Yai to meet the family that leads tours through the jungle. We didn't take the 30-minute, ten-baht ride, but I sat on one of the stubbly 35-year-old elephants and fed it bamboo shoots.
See more photos.

Dan Kwian

On the way from Korat to Khao Yai ("Big Hill," the famed national park), we stopped in Dan Kwian for a little research trip. Known for its deep-red clay and the locally made pottery -- everything from tourist kitsch (see bottom image) to historical replicas of temple art to sophisticated glazed vessels -- Dan Kwian has seemingly hundreds of potters and stores. One of the best, I'm told, is the shop run by Mok's sister in law, former wife of her late brother. Behind her store is an extensive operation that produces local clay and its products. After chatting with a bird trained to say "Sawatdee ka!" we made our way back to the clay pits, kilns, and shipping area.
See more photos here.


"Beautiful Banyan"

Outside of Phimai is what's touted as Thailand's -- and possibly Southeast Asia's -- oldest and biggest banyan tree. Dubbed Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan), it's an island measuring around 15,000 square meters made up of one tree and its endless network of roots and branches.As Buddha meditated under a banyan (ficus) tree to achieve enlightenment, visitors flock to Sai Ngam to seek fortune of their own. Vendors are on hand to sell sell birds, oysters, and various kinds of fish to release to bring health, prosperity and good luck. We bought some oysters and a pair of eels to free in the water, which is just beyond a small temple where one can make offerings and prayers and the central banyan, which is draped with ceremonial flower strands.

More photos.

Soi Dog, Phattai

A street dog in Phattai


To get from the ruins in Phimai to Thailand's oldest banyan tree, Sai Ngam, just a few kilometers outside Phimai, we hired a Saamlaw, the ubiquitous three-wheeled bicycle cabs. The bike itself had some intricate, if beat-up, detailing, and the driver truly earned his 50 baht fee (and the 50 baht tip we added).

Prasat Phimai

The tiny town of Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima province is home to a complex of Buddhist sanctuaries dating back to the 11th century A.D. Created a century before Angkor Wat, it's one of Thailand's most important Khmer temples. More images here.

Phimai Monks

Spotted these monks just outside the ruins in Phimai, northeast Thailand, and barely had time to snap a shot as they passed. See the larger version.


Doggy in the window

It was a very surreal taxi ride in Bangkok the other day. First the cab driver, a middle-aged guy who spoke no English, became enamored of the blonde hair on my forearm, so much so that he started rubbing it and purring. Then I spotted this typical Bangkok home. The dog had wedged himself in the bars of the gate, but seemed content to bark at passersby as if everything was normal.

Take a closer look:


Super Tuesday as seen from Thailand: Audio interview with Suthichai Yoon

When I woke up on Super Tuesday, primary results were already coming in, and a prominent national media expert was on TV discussing the outcomes that were unfolding.

No, I didn’t sleep in: I’m in Thailand, thirteen hours ahead, visiting family, and that commentator was Suthichai Yoon, the group editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Nation, the country’s only Thai-owned English-language daily newspaper. In two days I’d be meeting with Suthichai on a personal call -- to discuss media and say hi from an old friend, Jim Boyd, former mentor to Minnesota Monitor and a Harvard Nieman fellow with Suthichai years ago. Given the chance to meet one of Thailand’s pre-eminent political thinkers, I decided to ask him a few questions about how the American presidential race is playing in Asia, and how our trade, diplomatic and economic policies affect people half a world away.

Photo: Santikan Boontongkumkaewmanee


Lots of Future Shock

In LA en route to Bangkok, we spent the weekend with our friends Aimee and Becky. It's our first trip to LA, so we're grateful for good tourguides, who took us everywhere, from the Center for Land Use Interpretation and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City to REDCAT, the Mandrake bar and a Chinese restaurant in Arcadia that serves possibly the world's best dumplings to the galleries in Chinatown. At one, Bonelli Contemporary, we saw this sweet piece, Joshua Callaghan's Lots of Future Shock (click for a much larger version; detail below), assembled from dozens of reissues of Alvin Toffler's 1970 futurist text Future Shock.
More LA photos here.