silver temple

Recently my new friend Suchaya, a young buddhist monk, took me to visit the Silver Temple in Chiang Mai. Originally from a small village near Doi Inthanon, a mountain southwest of Chiang Mai, Suchaya is part Chinese, part Karen, and also part Hmong–the latter two are local hill tribe peoples. He is teaching me Thai and I am helping him with English, he attends one of the local Buddhist colleges. The temple itself is still under construction, and upon closer examination appears to be mostly polished steel or chrome, but still quite stunning to look at and I’m sure it’ll be radiant when it’s all finished. On the temple grounds is also a workshop where people can learn and practice sliversmithing. One could not escape the constant tapping of small hammers while visiting.

wat srisuphan

vientiane visa run
A week after securing a job, I went to Vientiane, Laos to obtain a b-visa so I can legally stay and work in Thailand. Vientiane was heavily influenced by the French in their recent past, and there are many French people living or visiting there today. Consequently they have great bakeries everywhere, with delicious bread, pastries, and Lao coffee which is especially smooth and flavorful. I saw several “replicas” of the Eiffel tower throughout town, each painted red and white and sprouting cellular emitters, but only one “replica” of the Paris Arc de Triomphe. 😉

buddha park
There were two highlights of my trip to Vientiane, the first was forming a friendship with a convivial couple from Chiang Mai, one of whom is American. The other was visiting Buddha Park, a sculpture park not far from Vientiane. Built back in the 1950’s by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the park contains over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. The local name of it is Xieng Khuan, which means Spirit City. More information can be found at wiki/Buddha_Park. The most intriguing structure for me was the large globe with the tree on top. Inside were three distinct rooms/levels each ringed by a hallway. You could peer in through holes or go inside each room via a very small steep stairway, on your way up to the “roof” and base of the tree. Each room contained numerous sculptures, each with a distinct feel. The lowest level, accessed by first going up to the middle layer and then down, was filled with demonic figures, skulls, torture scenes and thorny trees, very much an “underworld” feel. The middle layer depicted people working and being overseen by godlike beings. The upper layer contained many naga-like beings, part snake part human. No doubt there are numerous stories from ancient Hinduism and local Lao mythology associated with these scenes.

interesting food
I’ve tried several interesting foods so far but these two have stood out for me the most. The first is called a beung, a kind of pastry filled with slightly sweet, sticky marshmallow-like substance as well as your choice of shredded coconut or another vegetable, one of which tasted a little like pumpkin. The other is a dish of rice and preserved egg topped with fried basil leaves. The contrast between the gooey preserved egg and the light, crispy basil leaves provided a unique texture experience, and it was also yummy. Just the other evening a group of us went to Sukontha Buffet, a gigantic all-you-can-eat restaurant, with long tables full of cooked Thai delicacies, as well as raw food which you can grill at your table. I ate so much my belly felt like a basketball late into the night.