chiang rai

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

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1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

 FHI BANGLADESH

2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

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3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

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4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

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5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

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6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

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7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

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8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

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9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

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10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

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11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

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12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

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13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

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14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

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15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Rai’s White Temple

One artist’s vision of purity — with plenty of pop icons thrown in as well. Where else can you see Hello Kitty, superheroes, Disney villains and Harry Potter engaged in an epic battle?

The White Temple is the most popular attraction in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Though he was born in Thailand, Chalermchai Kositpipat is not a typical Thai artist — as you can see from his masterpiece, the White Temple. Trained as a painter at Silpakorn University in Bangkok, he began working on his ambitious, non-traditional self-funded masterpiece, Wat Rong Khun, in 1997.

Duke at Wat Rong Khun. He tried not to be too upset that you can’t take any pictures inside the temple —you’ll just have to see that kooky pop culture-infused mural for yourself!

We hired a driver, the highly recommended Tommy (you can reach him at t.tommy2556@gmail.com) for 4,000 baht. Our day trip to Chiang Rai included the Blue Temple, the Black House Museum and a crazy Alice in Wonderland excursion through one of our favorite temples in Northern Thailand.

Wally made a new friend at the White Temple, where the pristine glory of the buildings pair strangely with pop culture references

Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure of the White Temple like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The overall effect is spectacular.

If you’re staying in Chiang Mai, the White Temple is located further afield — about two and a half hours to the north.

Wat Rong Khun isn’t an actual temple — it’s more of an elaborate art installation

The White Temple isn’t complete, though Kositpipat says that when it’s finished, it will consist of nine separate buildings. The artist assumes that construction will continue well beyond his death.

The temple sustained earthquake damage on May 5, 2014, and at the time, Kositpipat declared that it would be closed indefinitely. It's perhaps not surprising that he was merely grandstanding, as his vision is considered controversial — it’s a vast departure from traditional Thai Buddhist temple art.

The White Temple is the singular vision of the once-controversial artist, Kostipipat

Over time, Kositpipat’s work has become more accepted, with the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej among his clients. The unusual artist has been quoted as saying, “Only death can stop my dream but cannot stop my project,” which he believes will give him immortal life.

If you have hopes of getting a clear shot of the main hall and reflection pond, you may want to consider spending the night in Chiang Rai. We left Chiang Mai around 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, arriving at the same time as a fleet of tourist buses. Keep in mind that the White Temple closes every day between noon and 2 p.m. for lunch. Luckily, there’s a food court right on the premises. We had a decent lunch at a restaurant in the back corner.

The temple complex was crowded around midday

Monument to Impermanence

The main building is resplendent in white, plucked from a fairy tale but rooted in Buddhist mythology. It represents the purity of dharma, the Buddhist way of life. Delicate details embellish the exuberant structure like lavishly piped icing on a wedding cake. The color comes alive with the contrast of blue-gray shadows and small pieces of inlaid mirror that reflect sunlight. The overall effect is spectacular.

As we headed to the temple entrance, Wally and I passed a sinister sea of arms before crossing the bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth. It’s a disturbing glimpse of what awaits those who allow material desires to rule their lives.

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

You’re not going to want to fall into this moat!

The complex allows the viewer to become a voyeur. Much of the temple is dedicated to depicting samsara, the transformative Buddhist cycle of birth and death, due to delusion and fixation on the self.

As Depeche Mode sang, “The grabbing hands grab all they can.”

Hidden within the main hall, Kositpipat has dreamed up elaborate and unconventional murals, a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole, upending traditional Buddhist iconography and drawing upon elements from Western popular culture. Flames and the face of a giant demon whose mouth makes the doorway are paired with Hello Kitty, Elvis, Harry Potter, a few Pokémon, including Pikachu, Spider-Man, Iron Man, a Transformer, Neo from The Matrix, Superman, the killer puppet from Saw, Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean and a crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson.

Reflected within the demon’s eyes are the twin towers of the former World Trade Center with the likeness of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. When asked about this mural, Kositpipat said, “I want everyone to know that our world is being destroyed by those who craved to build weapons that kill, thereby ruining the environment because nothing is ever enough.”

Photography is permitted throughout the grounds but not within the walls of the White Temple. Images of the mural can be purchased inside the gift shop.

The bathrooms at Wat Rong Khun are housed in this glorious golden building

Cool sculptures are found throughout the complex, like this one in front of the restrooms

The restrooms are located in an ornate pavilion known as the Golden Temple. Kostipipat chose this color scheme with the implied message to call attention to our materialistic tendencies and worldly desires.

Sign for the bathrooms at the White Temple

We purchased a heart-shaped silver bodhi leaf for 30฿ at one of the temple kiosks and hung it on one of the ornamental wish trees. I sure hope they don't routinely remove these like the locks on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, France.

Away from the main attraction, you’ll find quieter spots, like this natural grove

Behind the main part of the complex are some new buildings — and some still being built

Behind the compound and across a parking lot we discovered a large onsite workshop, where we took a peek behind the scenes and watched the artisans at work. It was a fascinating glimpse into the work that goes into fabricating Kositpipat's magical forms before they get assembled onto a building.

You can explore Kostipipat’s studio warehouse if you’d like

Adjacent to the temple is a gallery with a number of the artist’s painted masterpieces. You can purchase high-quality reproductions, books, T-shirts and postcards in the well-curated gift shop.

Look for heads of famous characters, like Wolverine and Maleficent. Such touches show the artist’s merging of whimsy and the macabre

Kostipipat’s world introduces elements of irony and self reflection with the promise of the unusual, but the vision is entirely his, and it’s beautiful. –Duke

In the mural inside the temple, Hello Kitty, Elvis and Harry Potter battle the killer puppet from “Saw,” Captain Jack Sparrow and Michael Jackson.

Wat Rong Khun
Pa O Don Chai Road
Phan, Chiang Rai


Baan Dam, the Black House Museum of Chiang Rai

This Northern Thailand museum is the polar opposite of the White Temple. You certainly don’t get to see a penis shaped like an eagle there.

The dark, weathered exterior of Baan Dam’s Main Sanctuary Hall appears a bit sinister

Baan Dam, literally the Black House, is the macabre vision of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, Thawan Duchanee. In many ways, the museum acts as a dark reflection of Wat Rong Khun, commonly referred to as the White Temple, located on the other side of the city of Chiang Rai. Where the White Temple strives for pristine perfection, the Black House Museum revels in a melancholic primitivism.

The museum, including the Sanctuary of Rama, is the vision of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, Thawan Duchanee

Baan Dam is the yin to the White Temple’s yang. The Black House was conceived over a period of 36 years and functioned as Duchanee’s residence and studio. Though the White Temple feels much more like a traditional wat (Thai for temple), neither of these are actually religious structures; they’re both essentially museums.

Where the White Temple strives for pristine perfection, the Black House Museum revels in a melancholic primitivism.
You could imagine pagan rituals taking place in front of the Xieng Thong House

You could imagine pagan rituals taking place in front of the Xieng Thong House

Black List

The museum campus struck me immediately as foreboding — especially after the pureness of the White Temple. The Main Sanctuary Hall, off to the left, looks like a temple, but it’s made of wood and is stained black and dark brown. The more you look at it, the more something seems off. Its gables are steeper, and the barge boards look like they’re coated with dried blood. The tips are made of metal pointing upward like sword blades, giving the structure a menacing demeanor. The building literally looms above you.

The doors to the main building have intricate carvings of demons with animal-headed penises like the eagle seen here

As you enter the front doors, be sure to admire the elaborate carvings. One set features contorted demons with animal-headed penises — the eagle one certainly brings a whole new meaning to the word “pecker”!

A bizarre self-portrait with a string rising up to an image of the Buddha

Inside, the soaring exposed-beam ceiling rises above, and you’re greeted by two likenesses of the artist: an abstract obsidian black figure standing within a silver offering bowl with a string tied around his waist and a larger detailed white bust elevated upon a flurry of mythic beings. The string rises high above to a likeness of the Buddha, symbolizing the yearn for enlightenment.

Duke peeks out from the grouping of pillars in this one-of-a-kind museum

Where’s Wally? Having fun in the Main Sanctuary Hall, the largest gallery space 

Within the hall are a forest of elaborately carved wooden columns, screens, thrones and long wooden tables. Crocodile skins lay splayed open atop one of the tables, while another features a runner made from a monstrously large snake. It wouldn’t surprise me if I learned the Dothraki from Game of Thrones gather here.

Light wood arches balance out the overall darkness of the space

Light wood arches balance out the overall darkness of the space

A throne made of animal skins and horns

The chairs, some evoking thrones, are constructed of leather and animal horns. They don’t particularly appear comfortable, but as Aegon the Conqueror said in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, “A king should never sit easy.”

Supposedly, all the taxidermied animals at Baan Dam died of natural causes — which makes the place more spiritual and less sadistic, Atlas Obscura reports.

A painting of a bull by Duchanee

A painting of a bull by Duchanee

A couple of Duchanee’s large paintings hang in the middle of the hall, bright crimson canvases covered with black slashes and swoops in his signature style.

Escape the sun at the Rest House. There are skulls and horns galore at Baan Dam, giving the museum a primitive feel

Escape the sun at the Rest House. There are skulls and horns galore at Baan Dam, giving the museum a primitive feel

We exited through the back door. Most of the buildings on the grounds aren’t open to the public. But you can wander through an open-air gallery to the right that houses more bones, horns, skulls and animal skins, laid out in symmetrical rows, covering the tables and beams. Keep an eye out for the phallic sculptures sprinkled throughout.

Baan Dam’s exploration of the darkness lurking within humanity is somehow avant garde and primitive at the same time. It’s said to have the largest collection of animal remains made into furniture in the world. There’s a sense of death everywhere, the impermanence of life being a major Buddhist theme.

The white domes are modern takes on stupas (the reliquaries of Thai temples) and are covered with cool graffiti

A glimpse inside one of the stupas

The white domes off to the side are modern takes on chedis, or stupas, the spired monuments that house sacred relics that are found on every wat complex. These, though, seem like American Indian sweat lodges (Duke read a story they were designed for a hill tribe farting ritual), and they feature really cool street art graffiti on their exteriors.

This strange building called the Hornbill House was the artist’s home when he was on site

A big black submarine/sea creature-like building with round glass porthole windows, half sunken into the landscape, was said to be where Duchanee slept when on site. It wouldn’t surprise me if his ghost roamed the complex now.

Once we were finished exploring the museum, we bought ice cream at a little stand out front and some caffeinated beverages at the nearby coffeeshop before our driver Tommy took us to the crazy fun Wat Sang Kaew.

Thawan Duchanee, the man behind the Black House Museum

Portrait of the Artist: Thawan Duchanee

As mentioned, the man behind this dark museum is Thawan Duchanee. The local boy earned a Ph.D. in metaphysics and aesthetics from the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He first took up studies at Bangkok’s Poh Chang Academy of Arts before moving on to study under the Italian painter Corrado Feroci.

I’ve read that Duchanee was a student of Chalermchai Kositpipat, the man who created the White Temple, and that Kositpipat was a student of Duchanee. I’ve also read that both were freelance artists and never taught a day of their lives. Either way, they tend to get lumped together: One created a vision of Heaven, while the other created a version of Hell.

In 2001, Duchanee was officially lauded as a National Thai Artist, but his controversial style wasn’t always popular. “Some of his early work shocked a conservative Thai nation and accusations of disrespecting Buddhism resulted in some people physically attacking his paintings,” Thaizer reports.

Leading figures in Thai society, including the former prime minister Kukrit Pramoj, championed Duchanee’s work. This helped the artist score contracts to paint murals at a number of Thai embassies, and prominent Thai companies to commission work from him to display in their headquarters.

Duchanee combined various elements from traditional Burmese, Tibetan and local Lanna Thai art to create a singular style of his own.

At the end of his life, he was bald up top and sported a long, flowing snow white beard — evoking the stereotype of the wise old man.

He died in 2014 at the age of 74. His unique legacy lives on at Baan Dam Museum. –Wally

The White Temple is a vision of Heaven, while the Black House Museum is a version of Hell.

Baandam Museum
414 Moo 13 Nanglae, Muang
Chiang Rai, 57100 Thailand


Wat Rong Suea Ten, the Blue Temple

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

This newer temple can be paired with a day trip to the White Temple and Black House Museum, as well as the over-the-top Wat Sang Kaew

In October of 2005, a small village in Chiang Rai turned their attention to building a distinctive blue and gold temple inspired by tradition. Full of surprises and named for the tigers that once roamed there, Wat Rong Suea Ten is a six-acre property located in Rim Kok, a subdistrict of Chiang Rai. More commonly referred to as the Blue Temple, its monastery and pagoda were built upon the ruins of an ancient temple, abandoned 80 to 100 years prior.

This lesser-known temple is still not widely promoted, so there are less tourists compared to the White Temple and Black House Museum.
Being a Slytherin, Wally has a special fondness for naga

Being a Slytherin, Wally has a special fondness for naga

Dancing Tigers?

This lesser-known temple is still not widely promoted, so there are less tourists compared to both Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) and the Baan Dam (Black House) Museum. The monastery was designed by Phuttha Kabkaew, a protégé of Chalermchai Kositpipat, and derives its name from the inhabitants of Rong Suea Ten village. The region was once a natural habitat that teemed with wildlife, including tigers who “danced” (leapt) over the nearby Mae Kok River. The name translates as House of the Dancing Tiger: rong is the Thai word for house, suea for tiger and ten for dancing. In what may prove either to be a disappointment to some or reassurance to others, there are no real, live tigers at Wat Rong Suea Ten.

The stupa at Wat Rong Suea Ten

The stupa at Wat Rong Suea Ten

It Takes a Village

In 1996, local villagers agreed to rebuild a temple here. The purpose was to establish a devotional center for meditation, prayer and worship, as they did not have a sacred space for merit-making (earning good karma points) in their town. Construction of the viharn monastery began in October 2005 and was completed in January 2016. Other parts of the temple are still under construction today.

The interior is reminiscent of the White Temple’s artwork — and indeed, we learned that it was created by a student of Kositpipat

The interior is reminiscent of the White Temple’s artwork — and indeed, we learned that it was created by a student of Kositpipat

In Living Color

A pair of fierce and wildly colorful naga flank the balustrade, acting as guards to the monastic hall’s entrance. Both the exterior and interior walls are covered in a vivid indigo hue embellished with gold.

The celestial themes and twilight blue create a mystical feel to the temple’s interior

The celestial themes and twilight blue create a mystical feel to the temple’s interior

Unlike at the White Temple, visitors are allowed to take photographs of the viharn’s interior. Inside, at the end of the great hall, a colossal white Buddha statue in the Bhumisparsha Mudra position sits framed by towering filigreed columns. His legs are crossed and his right hand points to the ground, the gesture of touching the earth, representing the moment Buddha attained enlightenment.  

You can take pictures inside the Blue Temple — unlike in the White Temple

You can take pictures inside the Blue Temple — unlike in the White Temple

The influence of the artist Kositpipat can be seen through the trippy, kaleidoscopic imagery depicting the Lord Buddha’s spiritual journey that covers the walls and ceiling. There’s even a giant demon mouth that serves as the exit. Additional details include sculptures from Thai folklore and streaks of metallic gold, all contributing to the temple’s magnificence.

Turn back to look at the entrance, and you’ll see a representation of Hell, with the doors you came through actually a demon’s mouth

Turn back to look at the entrance, and you’ll see a representation of Hell, with the doors you came through actually a demon’s mouth

To symbolize dharma, the Buddha’s code of morals, the temple is predominantly painted blue, which is associated with wisdom, the infinite, purity and healing. Blue is also the least “material” of all hues and speaks to the limitless heights of ascension. The Virgin Mary and Christ are often shown wearing blue, as is the Hindu deity Vishnu and his blue-skinned incarnation, Krishna.

This angel-like being guards the Blue Temple

This angel-like being guards the Blue Temple

Entrance to the temple is free, and as at all Thai Buddhist temples, visitors must remove their shoes before entering, as well as ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.

Make a donation and light a floating lotus candle

Make a donation and light a floating lotus candle

You can make various donations to the temple. Wally went right over to the lotus-shaped candles, choosing a bright pink one, of course. He lit it and placed it in one of the bowls of water out front, making a wish as it bobbed along with its brethren. –Duke

The Craziest, Coolest Northern Thailand Temple Most People Have Never Heard Of

At Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland. Add this to a day trip that includes the White Temple, Blue Temple and Black Museum.

The storybook viharn at Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The storybook viharn at Wat Sang Kaew in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Our driver, Tommy, knew us so well. After a colorful succession of touring through the White Temple, the Blue Temple and the Black House Museum, we had some extra time on our day trip to Chiang Rai, and he suggested we make one more stop: Wat Sang Kaew.

We felt like Alice tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole, encountering unexpected marvel after marvel the farther in we explored.  
It had recently rained when we visited, providing a misty yet vibrant feel to the temple complex

It had recently rained when we visited, providing a misty yet vibrant feel to the temple complex

The name translates to Glass Light, Tommy told us — though a local tour company insists it means “A lotus that has sprouted and emerged from the water and emits light like a sparkling gem with brilliant light.” That’s a lot to pack into a couple of words.

The front area of Wat Sang Kaew is gorgeously landscaped

The front area of Wat Sang Kaew is gorgeously landscaped

It should actually be called Wonderland, cuz we felt like Alice tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole, encountering unexpected marvel after marvel the farther in we explored.  

Who’s going to love a visit to Wat Sang Kaew?  You  are!

Who’s going to love a visit to Wat Sang Kaew? You are!

This wat, or temple, complex is about 30 miles south of Chiang Rai city — and we both think it should be included on any itinerary to this neck of the mountains. It’s a relatively new complex; construction began in 2010, and parts of it were still being built when we visited in the spring of 2017.

All the single ladies line the side of the viharn

All the single ladies line the side of the viharn

The entire complex is bat shit crazy, giving you existential sensory overload — but in the best way possible. Your first clue are the giant statues that line the parking lot, including Upakut, the son of Buddha and a mermaid,  and one of Pra Maha Kajjana, who according to legend was a handsome monk who transformed himself to a homely, obese man so that others would stop focusing on his physical appearance.  

Pra Maha Kajjana (on the right) was so tired of people fawning over his hotness that he turned himself into a fatty

Pra Maha Kajjana (on the right) was so tired of people fawning over his hotness that he turned himself into a fatty

As you walk up the stairs, you’ll pass through a super-sized white and gold arch, or, as we liked to imagine it, the metaphorical lookingglass.

Inside the viharn is a cool metallic mural that depicts the Buddhist version of Purgatory (which sure looks a lot like our Hell)

Inside the viharn is a cool metallic mural that depicts the Buddhist version of Purgatory (which sure looks a lot like our Hell)

Deep red and gold buildings stand amongst a who’s who of deities whose hands are clasped in the wai, a gesture demonstrating respect and reverence.

We loved the temple’s appropriation of contemporary culture, including two asuras, or demons, bearing a litter holding a large bronze bell with shackles around their feet. One is sporting a pair of Converse high-top sneakers, the other a pair of flip flops with a smartphone tucked into the back of his sarong. The dais they stand upon is surrounded by 20 brass bells. The aesthetics of the temple have been shaped by its primary benefactor, Kruba Ariyachat, who Tommy told us is only in his 30s.

The good guys on the left; bad guys on the right. We loved the modern touches like the red Converses, hand gesture and cell phone in the back pocket

The good guys on the left; bad guys on the right. We loved the modern touches like the red Converses, hand gesture and cell phone in the back pocket

We figured this would be all there is to see. But really we had just begun our adventure in Wonderland.

The beautiful interior of the viharn, or worship hall

The beautiful interior of the viharn, or worship hall

We continued upward, beyond the front complex, surprised that there was more — and it’s bonkers. An open-air sala pavilion contains an assortment of shrines, Buddhas of various sizes and a creature known as See Hoo Ha Dtaa, who consumes red hot coals and defecates gold. (He’d make a great pet!)

This strange creature eats coals — and, as you can see here, poops out gold!

This strange creature eats coals — and, as you can see here, poops out gold!

We passed giant deities and mythical creatures from Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

And then! Just when we thought things couldn’t get any more bizarre, we emerged onto a turquoise blue piazza and entered what Duke and I referred to as the Hindu theme park. Towering brightly colored statues of our favorite gods loomed over us. There’s Duke’s guy, good old Ganesh, with his elephant head and fan base of rats. On the other side is my dude, four-faced Brahma, astride a green goose. In the center, a fountain is ringed by animal-headed men representing the signs of the Chinese-influenced zodiac. Piped-in music further adds to the surreal ambiance.

Ganesh and other giant Hindu deities can be found out back, in a sort of theme park

Ganesh and other giant Hindu deities can be found out back, in a sort of theme park

We wandered around barefoot, and as it had recently rained, I only slipped and almost cracked my head open once.

At the very tippy top, there’s a pot of gold, so to speak, at the end of the rainbow. You’ll find three gold statues of famous monks. The ginormous one in the center is the popular Engineer Monk, Kruba Srivichai, who lived from 1878 to 1938. He’s responsible for many local construction projects, perhaps most notably the road that leads from Chiang Mai up to Wat Doi Suthep.

Three large golden monks sit atop the back of the complex. The guy in the middle is the Engineer Monk, who’s famous around these parts

Three large golden monks sit atop the back of the complex. The guy in the middle is the Engineer Monk, who’s famous around these parts

At the base of the golden monks, you can survey the entirety of the wat grounds — but most striking is the skyline. Bright green vegetation gives way to mountains that are an ombré of blues. It’s breathtaking.

A pale blue and white Buddha in the open-aired sala

A pale blue and white Buddha in the open-aired sala

The more I think about it, and the more I look at the gorgeous (and goofy) photos, the more I realize that this was probably my favorite wat of the entire trip.

To book Tommy as a driver (which we highly recommend), email him at t.tommy2556@gmail.com. –Wally

Monkeys line the sala roof

Monkeys line the sala roof


Wat Sang Kaew Bodhiyan Chiangrai
Mae Suai
Chiang Rai, Thailand