Chiang Mai: Photo Albums of Modern Structures

After around ten days in Chiang Mai photographing the major temples in the city and in its close neighbourhoods, Phra Supachai returned from Bangkok, and we travelled back to his centre, about three hours north of the city, between Fang and Mae Ai.

There Supachai has started a Lanna Holistic Center, where he is teaching meditation and traditional medicine within a Buddhist context.

The center, which mainly consists of simple wooden structures has been built mainly by the Venerable himself, along with help from family and friends, and with funding mainly coming from Malaysia and Singapore.

Lanna Holistic Center

The Center is set in a beautiful rural setting overlooking the paddy fields in what is still more or less a traditional village setting, far from the Madding crowd. There is room for around 20 people to stay, and he is regularly holdings retreats there, including teaching local doctors about their indigenous medical traditions.

The following day we set out early for Tha Ton in the Upper Kok Valley, right on the Burmese border to see the temple where Phra Supachai ordained.

The original temple has now been greatly expanded and is somehow connected to the Dhammakaya group centered in Bangkok. It has been built on nine levels covering the mountain.

We only had time that day to visit the top two levels, which house the Golden Buddha statue, the Abbot’s residence and a concrete boat on one level; and the Chedi and Chinese garden on the other.

It was at the latter that we spent most time. The Chedi is unusual in that it has been hollowed out, and now houses a museum inside along with an atmospheric meditation hall and a relic chamber.

The museum contained one of the most charming pieces of modern sculpture I have seen in a long time: the Buddha, Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Mahamoggallana in friendly embrace.

Three Friends

It also had a collection of more traditional items collected from all the major Buddhist countries and traditions. Unfortunately though they are placed with the light at the back, which made it difficult for photography.

The following day we headed off towards the ancient capital of Chiang Rai, and its surrounds. The journey is right through the Golden Triangle, and there were a number of roadblocks on the way.

We first passed through Chiang Rai and went about 20km south of the city to where Chalermchai Kositpipat is engaged in building the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun).

This is a project that is expected to take between 60-90 years to complete, by which time the architect will be enjoying his heavenly reward, of course.

The temple itself is a fantasia, quite in keeping with Kositpipat’s fantasy-world paintings. At present only a few of the buildings have been completed, but it includes the magnificent Ubosot.

The White Temple

This was obviously one place that would need a lot of time to photograph properly, as it would be good to see it at different times of the day, and especially I think under the Full Moon, so the photographs in the collection only give a rough idea of the splendour of the place.

But for us time was short, so we headed back to Chiang Mai in order to have lunch. As we had just about enough time we visited the Wat Phra Kaeo, which used to house the famous Emerald Buddha, the emblem of Thailand, which, after many travels around the region, is now found in Bangkok.

Wat Phra Kaeo

The photography didn’t go too well there (it was too dark inside the Viharn), so there are not enough photographs to make up an individual album, although as this is the case with a number of the temples we visited it may be possible to include some of them in collections later.

I had determined before I ever left Malaysia only to work in the mornings so as not to overdue it, as my health is not strong, and the previous year it had collapsed dramatically when in Myanmar.

After lunch we therefore decided to miss out the many historical temples found in Chiang Rai, and head back towards Fang, which was still around two hours away.

On the way back though I had heard that there was a Black Temple, built by the Thai National artist Dhawan Duchanee. It seemed like it might make a good compliment to the White Temple we had seen earlier, so we tracked it down.

When we got there it was clear it was not a temple exactly, and as I found out later is actually known as Black House (Baandan) Museum.

There is not one house, but dozens, how many altogether I didn’t manage to count, perhaps around thirty by now, though the plan apparently is to build forty-two.

The Black House Museum

What struck me most about all the buildings that we saw in these two days, is that there is a mixture of the old forms in their structures, with a reinvention of the details.

This suggests to me that the arts are indeed still alive in present day Lanna, what is not clear is how widespread it is. I must admit I saw some appalling modern paintings lining the walls of some “renovated” temples in Chiang Mai, and more bad than good from the present age, but presumably they will fade away with time, and the ones that are more worthwhile will endure, perhaps, indeed, it has always been like that.

I have also added one further album from my visit to Lamphun, which is of Wat Phra Putthabat Tak Pha, which is an ancient site which has a rather splendid Chedi atop a hill, with a Buddha Footprint in the main Viharn at the foot of the hill.

Wat Phra Putthabat Tak Pha

The albums from my Chiang Mai collection can be accessed from the Thailand index page of my Photo Dharma website.


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