"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Friday, 5 June 2015

30. Getting Lucky in Chiang Mai

Sometimes you're good, sometimes you're lucky. Sometimes you're both, but I don't have much experience in that area. Sometimes you're neither - a situation I'm more familiar with. But if I have to choose between the two, I'll take lucky every time -- even if it's disguised as bad luck as it was on our recent trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand's tourist magnet in the north.

Most visitors to Chang Mai book themselves into a hotel or guest house inside the old city walls. That's where most of the 300 ancient Buddhist temples are. It's also where you'll find the dozens of travel agencies that will book you on the exact same tours as every other travel agency: glide on a river raft; see a waterfall; ride an overworked elephant; visit a hill-tribe village and pose with a colourful-looking native. And it's where you'll find the most pubs, reggae bars, jazz clubs, pizza parlours and Indian restaurants - all those authentic experiences that brought you to Thailand in the first place.

Still, I can't claim complete innocence in this affair. We did, after all, try to book a room inside the old city ourselves. It was just our misfortune that it was during the Christmas-New Year season and everything was booked up.

Or was it misfortune? We ended up booking in for 10 days a few blocks outside the city's northern wall. On our first day there, we shunned the inner city, following our own path outside the wall. In the process, we discovered three amazing temples.Best of all, since the inner-city residents rarely strayed outside the wall for their temple-gazing, we practically had all three to ourselves.

Wat Montein aka the "dragon temple" was built by Laotian monks. It's not particularly old, but it's hard to miss with its very large outdoor Buddha, multi-tiered roof, and gilded front door:

as well as what may be the most lavishly ornamented exterior outside Bangkok's Royal Palace:

Inside, the Wat was no slouch either, with its beautiful Buddha shrine:

Immediately next door was another temple, Wat Kuan Ka Mah, which - for reasons that might be obvious - we referred to as Wat Horsey:

None of the prayer halls or reception rooms were open, but what we saw from the outside was more than impressive:

As it turned out, we had saved the best for last. Across the moat from Wat Montein and Wat Kuan Kah Ma (i.e. even further away from the old city) was Wat Lokmolee. Unlike the other two temples, Wat Lokmolee was genuinely ancient. So ancient, in fact, that no one knew when it had been built. Its name first appeared in historical documents in 1367.

The Wat was a splendid vision both outside:

and in:

with the principal Buddha, wooden columns and decorated ceiling being particularly spectacular:
The temple grounds were full of shrines to a panoply of gods, many of which originated in Hinduism but were later embraced by Buddhism. Like Brahma:

Lord Ganesha:
The Chinese Goddess, Kuan Yin:
And, of course, those omnipresent denizens of Buddhist temples, the Nagas or serpent deities, shown here in exquisitely carved detail:
So the moral of the story is, as it usually is for travellers -- as it often is in life -- don't follow the herd; don't run with the pack. Or as the poet, Emerson once said "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." You might just find something more interesting lies there.