Just when I thought Chiang Mai was the superlative of fun, me and my new-found friends’ fernweh took us to the northernmost tip of Thailand.
Initially, I was reluctant to leave. Even during the van trip to Chiang Rai that morning, I was thinking what difference would it have made, had I gone to Pai instead. But all doubts dissipated the moment our van pulled over on the side of the road across the White Temple.
Wats are my answer to Liz Gilbert’s Ashrams. The White Temple, in particular, is my most favorite of all. It is a giant pop-up, graphic bible for today’s attention-deficit human race.
The genius behind such avant-garde wonder emphasised three tenets:
COLOR CODING - White for the purity of soul and Gold for the divinity of the body.
Hence, the “white” main temple. It symbolises how the soul is nurtured through faith and religion. On the other hand, and remarkably so, the toilet, a separate building adjacent to the main temple, is gold. It makes sense; just as we nourish the soul, we also respect the body.
ONE WAY STREETS - The journey from darkness to light is one long, continuous loop. One has to come in one way and go out another; a cleansing of sort.
A dedicated steward is stationed at the entrance to direct people in to “only move forward.” I ran back and forth of course, overwhelmed by the richness and eeriness of the foreground. In the end, I had to go back to square one and restarted a slow and almost serene journey to the temple.
POP CULTURE- Icons whose sparkle come from a bigger source of light, and of power beyond the grasp of our understanding.
If White Temple’s facade was overwhelming, nothing has prepared me for its interior. Pop culture representations like Ben10, Doraemon, Kung Fu Panda and The Matrix to name a few, were painted on the walls and ceilings. References to materialism, urbanisation and technology littered the mural; the tangible and the temporary, tethered to the bigger universe.
Disclaimer: Understand that I am writing about a place I do not have a sober recollection of. But I will try. So here goes...
Post catharsis came mayhem.
Our last Thai stop before crossing the border to Laos was Chiang Khong. We stayed at a guest house situated on the brim of the Mekong river. I shared a room with 2 English girls on a gap year whose energy levels are reminiscent of mine some 10 years ago.
Come nightfall, we borrowed bicycles from the guest house and explored the rest of the tiny town. From the riverbank, we have had to cycle uphill to the main town. There wasn’t much to explore but we got what we needed for the night:
1. a place to eat; and 2. a place to drink
For dinner, we found an artsy-fartsy restaurant on the side of the road that, judging by the chilli drawings on their signage, promised signature hot Thai dishes. I gobbled a plateful of Pad Thai, expectedly so.
After dinner, we went to a bar ran by a Belgian dog-lover and his Thai wife. Much to my utter pleasure, there was San Mig light on the drinks menu. Too pleased that, in my measly backpacker budget, I even bought a round for everyone.
Since we were the only customers in town, the bar owner gave us free access to the pool table and a deck of cards.
The young English girls taught us a card game called “bullshit” which, eventually, became our undoing. By the end of the night, we’ve sang out-of-tune, silly-danced, and scream-cried-laughed (one at a time at first, then simultaneously).
I recall Danny (yes, by the end of then night, we were first-name basis friends with the blog owner) giving us free tequila shots. I also recall us cycling to our downhill cul-de-sac home for the night.
How we got there unscathed and lived to see another day, that I didn’t know.