From hell to heaven: benediction at Chiang Rai.

If I told you that I thought I might have come down with dengue fever, you could be forgiven for considering that diagnosis over-the-top. Still, since we are so far away from home, and I just spent three days and nights alternating between sweats and chills, and drifting in and out of sleep for 20 out of 24 hours, the thought crossed my mind. I was able to  reassure myself, as apparently the dengue headache is mindblowingly painful, (mine was medium, but constant) and the fever is referred to as “bone break” for a reason. As much as I love a good story, it would appear that so far I have escaped a tropical ailment; just caught the good old-fashioned flu. Woke up this morning, “It’s a miracle! I’m alive!”

It began four days ago, on our travel day from Pai to Chiang Rai. First the three-hour mountain road (762 curves – someone has counted) to Chiang Mai. Then a three-hour wait in the bus station, where we both fell asleep upstairs in the waiting room on bus seats that were so dirty I normally would not have sat on them. Then, a three-hour bus ride to Chiang Rai with no air-conditioning. At one point, I was sweating and shaking and feeling so sick, I didn’t know how I was going to last. I asked our hostess to please turn on the air-conditioning and she walked down the bus, reaching for the vents and frowning; a small sea of hands began waving in front of their vents. She appeared encouraged to find the faintest little “pfff” coming from our vents, but nothing improved. I believe it was either faulty or deliberately turned very low to save on fuel. We finally rolled into Chiang Rai, grabbed a songtaew and made it to our hotel, where I have spent most of the last 48 hours in bed.
Briefly, I did get outside for short walks with Stephen, but until today, he has been on his own. Yesterday, he ventured into town for a bit of sightseeing and first came upon came upon this portly golden Buddha.

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A bit further down the street, he discovered Wat Phra Kaew, unbeknownst to him, but the more important temple in Chiang Rai; site of the original Emerald Buddha.
In 1434, a bolt of lightning struck the chedi to reveal the original Buddha hidden inside (made of jade, not emerald, as was first thought). This treasure was moved about until it found its final place in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Over 500 years later, A new Buddha was commissioned for Thailand’s Princess Mother’s 90th birthday in 1990, using jade imported from Canada (maybe Jade City, BC?)

Our country’s contribution to Thailand’s history:

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The city of Chiang Rai has been described as being more liveable than touristy and that is an accurate assessment. Although it is packed with temples, it is more a launching spot for hill treks, trips to the Golden Triangle, and in our case, the last stop before we leave for Laos.
We’re staying at the Chiang Rai Condotel, which offers large condo studio suites with kitchenette, seating, a balcony and use of a very large and welcome pool – for $25 a night. We were originally booked for just two nights, but extended our stay by another two, to let me get better before we took on our two-day boat trip down the Mekong.

We found these very curious mannequins in a local shop two nights ago. I have seen laughing mannequins just once before – in a hat shop in New Orleans – and now here they were in all their garish glory in a nondescript dress store in Chiang Rai. I have Googled them, would love to know if there is any significance to them – let me know if you’ve heard of them.  Stephen grabbed this shot with the proprietor proudly sitting beside them.

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There are a number of innovative motorcycle-driven vehicles to travel around Thailand, but we thought the old-fashioned rickshaw had largely disappeared.  Stephen grabbed a photo of this driver, asleep. I could not imagine how we would feel sitting in the cab, watching his frail back as he cycled us along in the heat.

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They say if you do one thing in Chiang Rai you should visit the White Temple, so we headed out this morning, hoping to beat the heat and the crowds. We were largely successful on both counts; by the time we left, tourists were being herded across the bridge by bullhorn-ed directions,”Keep moving, please. Don’t stop on the bridge, please.” Ours was a far more leisurely and zen-like experience.

The White Temple has to be seen to be believed – our pictures cannot capture the excess,the sugar-froth confection, and the forces of good battling evil, that is the brainchild of visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.

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Self-described as a devout Buddhist, the Buddhist church would have kicked him out but for the support and admiration of the late King, who bought a number of his paintings. That patronage has helped to make the artist a very wealthy man, and his themes of moving from hell and damnation to nirvana by means of eschewing all earthly desires may be suspect. Cardboard cutouts of the artist portray a more bon vivant pitchman than humble holy man.

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Walking up the bridge toward the temple, one must first pass by hundreds of hands, reaching and begging for help; a reflection of human suffering.

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Other frightening symbols from the dark side.

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The Gate of Heaven is guarded by monstrous creatures, who will decide our fate. This one does not show one speck of benevolence.

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And then…over the bridge, and we have crossed to nirvana. We entered the temple (no photos allowed) – rather simple, but for the pop culture and superhero images inside. Apparently Keanu Reeves’ image is in there somewhere – I did not notice it.

The rest of the park is all about the details – surreal and outlandish as they may be. The artist covered the temple in pure white plaster to reflect the purity of Buddha and in embedded mirrors to reflect His glory.

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I loved this tree and its gnarly vines – there were a number of big, older trees like this on the property, as well as bromeliad orchids.

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Everyone was lining up to have their photo taken with this fellow, so I did as well.

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We leave Thailand by sending out good wishes to all of you. Seriously – we bought a silver leaf for 30 baht (just over $1), and wrote on one side “Health and happiness to our families”and on the other side “Health and happiness to our friends.” That silver leaf hangs on the tree, preceded by thousands of others on other trees and rafters. We are confident it will work. See you again in a few days.

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21 thoughts on “From hell to heaven: benediction at Chiang Rai.

  1. Eveline Boysen February 2, 2017 / 3:39 am

    Being ill while travelling can be daunting. So happy you recovered quickly.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 5:20 am

      Thanks Eveline – that is when you find yourself wishing for home! Mostly all better now though and ready for the next adventure.

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  2. Annie February 2, 2017 / 6:17 am

    Glad to hear you are better. Its horrible being ill while away from home.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 2, 2017 / 7:03 am

      Thanks Annie – yes, those 3 a.m. dark thoughts loom large when you’re not well. I’m saying that is it for the rest of our trip – I am now properly immunized.

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  3. Vikki February 2, 2017 / 7:50 am

    Oh my poor friend ,, you were quite right to by worried about picking up a bug there . Just glad your okay .. The laughing mannequin is a direct relative to “Gertie ” from Gabriola .. Cousin,I think ..be safe Vikki

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 4:57 am

      thanks, Vikki. You kind of wait for the bugs to hit – and I’m just glad it wasn’t food poisoning – fingers crossed that we avoid that.

      Gertie – ah, so now I know the story of the laughing mannequin – well that’s helpful. They’re selling them on eBay, so there is a collectible quality to them.

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  4. Kathryn Molloy February 2, 2017 / 7:52 am

    Sorry to hear about the dengue-like illness. Not fun, especially in heavy heat. Enjoy the boat ride up the Mekong River. If you end up on the same boat we were on, then bring something soft to sit your butt on. Laos is lovely. When we crossed the border into Laos it was the most chaotic border crossing I’ve ever experienced, just go with the flow. Thanks for sharing your journey .

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 6:48 am

      Hi Kathryn! We’ve been well warned on all counts, but it looks as though most of the boats have smartened up – they now have soft seats ( and assigned seats at that) – we booked this afternoon.

      also, to avoid the border chaos, we came over this afternoon, and sailed through the border in about 15 minutes. Now, we’re all set -nothing to do but look forward to this beautiful Mekong journey.

      I’ll send you an email soon. xo

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  5. Lesley February 2, 2017 / 8:05 am

    Sorry also to hear you were sick. Thanks for thinking about the rest of us and our health !

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 4:59 am

      Thanks Lesley! I thew a few coins in the wishing well for good measure. I don’t think I fully realized how superstitious I am.

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  6. Joy February 2, 2017 / 8:43 am

    Not fun being sick when you are travelling, glad you are better. Look forward to more adventures. Stay healthy.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 5:00 am

      thanks Joy – isn’t it something how quickly you can move from feeling excited and engaged to wanting to pack up and come home to my own bed. Except of course, I don’t have a bed anymore!

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  7. Elisabeth Charlotte Dieryckx February 2, 2017 / 11:34 am

    The dangers to one’s health are always present when one travels to and in far distant countries, with tropical climates and its ramifications. Be very careful of what you eat, mainly, and/or drink. Never drink any water that does not come out of a closed bottle at your table. I had my fair share of experience with strange malaises while being 3 weeks in Bali.
    Glad to hear you did not get Dengue, but just the common flu, and happy you recuperated well! take good care, hugs, Lis

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 5:03 am

      thanks Lis. You know, it is funny – we have travelled all over Mexico and stayed in some remote places, and the only place I got sick was Sayulita! Steve got sick there very year.

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  8. Donna & Garry February 2, 2017 / 1:07 pm

    Whew, so glad to hear you’re mostly recovered. Must have been quite alarming. Love the photos and stories…safe travels on the next leg of the journey!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 5:07 am

      Thanks you guys, but you’re not the only two with a strong dramatic streak you know! I came to Thailand worried about contracting dengue, so as soon as the fever and chills started, I thought, “this is it – just as I thought – I’ll be sick for 3 weeks, in terrible pain, and spend time in hospital to boot.” Luckily the difference between dengue and flu is quite significant, so it quickly became apparent I was not in any trouble.

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  9. Danielle February 2, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    love your pixs and stories, beware of malaria on your trip!!hope you have some nevaquine with you?

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    • leavingourselvesbehind February 3, 2017 / 5:11 am

      Hi Danielle – I asked the pharmacist about our malaria risks before we left, and he felt the treatment was worse than the potential ailment. As well, the anti-malarials can have mixed results, in his opinion, so we decided to leave it. I’ve been spraying myself with DEET quite religiously.

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  10. linda ogle February 3, 2017 / 6:53 am

    Ginny
    That flu of yours, while not dengue fever, did not sound very ‘common’ -thank you for forging ahead with your blog while there in spite of it. I have heard other travellers a bit disillusioned by the wealth of many of the Buddhist monks. I guess that demonstrates the comfort with dichotomy for which that part of the world s so known.
    Can’t wait to hear about Laos – it is one place I would really like to visit. And -not that I am superstitious or anything, but thanks for the silver leaf!
    xoxo

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  11. Patricia Brown February 3, 2017 / 8:44 am

    GLAD UR FEELING BETTER!! CHANG RAI LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.. GREAT PHOTOS!!

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  12. Heather Scott February 4, 2017 / 4:00 pm

    I’ll take the flu over dengue fever any day, but the flu is bad enough, especially when you are travelling. So sorry to hear you were sick. I hope by now, you’re feeling better and your adventurous spirit has returned!

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