Chulalongkorn Day in Thailand

Posted on 24. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, History, Thailand Politics

Rama V

Rama V

Yesterday (October 23rd) was a national holiday in Thailand. This day commemorates Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of Siam from the House of Chakri. Also known as Rama V and considered one of the country’s greatest kings, he passed away on this day in 1910. Although he was just 57 at the time of his death, he had already ruled over Siam for 42 years, as he took the throne when he was a mere 15 years old. Chulalongkorn is the grandfather of the current king of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. During his time as king, he was known amongst Siamese people as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (พระพุทธเจ้าหลวง – prá-pút-tá-jâo lŭang), which can be translated as the “Royal Buddha.” Many Westerners may already be familiar with the king as well, who is the inspiration for the boy prince in the famous musical “The King and I.”

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An introductory video into the holiday, the king, and modern day celebrations.

At the time of his reign, European colonization was dominating Southeast Asia – French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, the British in Burma and India, and Portugal in Timor and Malacca. Although some parts of Siam were ceded to France and Great Britain, Rama V managed to stave off European colonization. As such, Thailand is the only SE Asian nation that was never a European colony. He managed to do this by traveling frequently to Western nations, where he learned of new innovations that he brought back to modernize his country. The first railway was built, communications were improved thanks to a postal service and use of the telegraph, and the government was modernized with power being stripped from local rulers and instead centralized in Bangkok. He helped to create the Thai nation as well, bringing the Thai language to corners of the country that previously spoke different languages. In addition, slavery was finally banned – a huge change considering that 1/3 of the population were slaves before his reign. Chulalongkorn was also a man of the people – he would often disguise himself in plain clothes and immerse himself in the crowd to get to know his subjects, their thoughts, and their hopes for the country. Thanks to the vast improvements that were made under his time, his ability to prevent European colonization, and his great reputation as a man of the people, he’s also known in Thailand as Phra Piya Maharat (พระปิยมหาราช prá bpì-yá-má-hăa-râat) – the “Great Beloved King.”

Rama V Statue in Bangkok

Image from Keng Susumpow on www.flickr.com

The holiday is also known in Thai as Wan Piyamaharaj (วันปิยมหาราช – wan bpì-yá-má-hăa-râat), and it’s a short one-day affair. Government buildings, banks, offices, and schools will have a day off, but many people go about business as usual. Thai people all around the country pay their respect to Rama V by visiting a memorial to him and taking part in a ceremony. Many people gather in the Royal Plaza of Bangkok, a public square located in front of Dusit Palace where the beloved king once lived. Even though he’s been gone for over 100 years now, Rama V obviously still holds an important place in the hearts and minds of Thai people. You can view some photos from the celebrations in Bangkok yesterday here.

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Learn more about the king in this short documentary.

White Temple and Black House Video Tour

Posted on 14. Oct, 2014 by in Uncategorized

Tour the “Heaven and Hell of Architecture” in northern Thailand – the White Temple and Black House of Chiang Rai – in this short video.

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The Heaven and Hell of Architecture in Thailand

Posted on 09. Oct, 2014 by in Uncategorized

As we mentioned briefly in the introduction to Chiang Rai, there are plenty of interesting things to see outside of the city. A highlight of any visit to Chiang Rai is definitely experiencing the contrasting visions of two national Thai artists at the White Temple and Black House – dubbed the “heaven and hell of architecture.” One seems like something out of a dream, while the other more closely resembles your nightmares. One is white and shiny, while the other is black and grim. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, these two ongoing projects make for a fascinating day-trip in Chiang Rai. Let’s take a closer look at each.

The White Temple/Wat Rong Khun

The amazing White Temple.

The amazing White Temple.

While you may be “templed out” from your travels in Thailand or other SE Asian countries, make sure you don’t skip out on Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น) – brainchild of famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat (เฉลิมชัย โฆษิตพิพัฒน์). This unconventional Buddhist/Hindu temple has to be seen to be believed, and you’d be forgiven for wondering whether or not it was dropped from the heavens. As for the choice of color, white stands for Lord Buddha’s purity, while white glass and the reflection it gives off stands for Lord Buddha’s wisdom that “shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe.”

The amazing White Temple of Thailand.

White = Lord Buddha’s purity

When your eyes adjust to the sheer brightness of the temple and you get over your initial sense of awe, take a few minutes to look a bit closer at the surroundings. You’ll find some creepy skulls hanging from the tree, evil looking shrines to booze and tobacco, and even a few alien creatures coming out of the water.

White Temple of Chiang Rai

Creepy stuff around the temple.

Just before the bridge crossing over to the temple, you’ll find hands reaching up from the ground, some holding skulls. The hands symbolize those things that distract people from the path to Heaven, while the skulls represent those who have faltered on their path by succumbing to such evils. Oh yeah, and there’s a character from the movie “Alien” here as well.

Chiang Rai's White Temple

More creepy scenes from the White Temple.

Manage to cross the bridge, though, and you’ve made it to Heaven. As the nice man with the loudspeaker reminds you – “Once you’ve crossed the bridge into Heaven, you cannot come back.” If Heaven is anything like the inside of this temple, that’s a good thing – you won’t want to leave once you set your eyes on the stunning murals that adorn the walls inside. Photography is not allowed, so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself. If you want to know how Spiderman, Neo, and George W. Bush somehow fit into the murals of a Buddhist temple, you’d better get here and check it out.

White Temple entrance

You’ve made it to Heaven!

There’s more to this complex than just the original temple. The artist plans for the project to take nearly 90 years to finish, and he has plenty of apprentices around to ensure that work will continue even after he’s gone.

More White Temple from Chiang Rai

Surroundings of the temple grounds.

As if visiting this temple weren’t great enough, they probably have the coolest bathrooms you’ve ever seen.

Awesome bathrooms of the White Temple

Coolest bathroom ever?

Unfortunately, an earthquake struck the temple on May 7th of this year. Although the initial reaction was all doom and gloom, it turns out that it wasn’t damaged beyond repair and the artist and his team are pushing forward with this incredible project. Another artist had a very different vision – let’s head across town to check it out.

The Black House/Baan Dam

Chiang Rai's creepy Black House

One of the many black houses.

Built by the late Thawan Duchanee (he passed away last month at the age of 74), the Black House Museum is a little tricky to find and much less visited than the White Temple. Known as “Baan Dam” (พิพิธภัณฑ์บ้านดำ) in Thai – บ้าน (baan) meaning “house” and ดำ (dam) meaning “black” –  it is actually a collection of houses and monuments that house some of the artist’s collections. We’re not talking Persian rugs and fine China here, rather animal skins, bones, teeth, fur, and so much more creepy taxidermy. From a full elephant skeleton to snake skins, there are lots of alternative decorations on display here. Animal lovers and vegetarians may want to stay away from this place, and you might think twice before bringing the little ones here.

The creepy Black House Museum

Some scenes from around the Black House.

Black House elephant skeleton

Elephant skeleton at the Black House.

Unlike the White Temple, there is no religious meaning to this vast complex. The artist actually called this place home, and he opened up many of the rooms for visitors. Enjoy wandering around the grounds, peeking into windows and taking a closer look. Although it’s hard to beat the one over at the White Temple, there’s a pretty funky bathroom here as well.

Chiang Rai Baan Dam

A collage of the Black House Museum.

Declared a national artist in 2001, Thawan will be greatly missed by the artistic community of Thailand. To quote Kositpipat (designer of the White Temple) – “He left behind an example for other artists to follow.” You can read more about the artist and his passing here. Although many associate his Black House complex with death, the artist himself said, “Everything in here represents the circle of life — birth, aging and decay.” The man may be gone, but his thoughtful and unique artwork remains for us to ponder for years to come.

Stunning architecture at the Black House.

Stunning architecture at the Black House.