Finally got around to sorting through some of the photos we took during our trip to Bangkok in 2014. Originally we were considering moving to Chile but there was just something special about Thailand and after just 2 short weeks, we were hooked.
When we decided to move to Thailand we’d already done plenty of homework so we I can’t say that we are surprised by the smokey season but experiencing it, puts it in a different perspective. We’re only a couple weeks into it and it is getting noticeably worse as the weeks progress. From what we are seeing on various Facebook groups, it appears to be worse in Chiang Mai than it currently is in Chiang Rai, however I wouldn’t be outside doing any cardiovascular activity in either city at the moment. It reminds me a little of the smog alerts we would get in Los Angeles County in the late 70’s, albeit a little more serious. Apparently this time is also used to burn a lot of household trash, including plastics resulting in fine particulates and dust that can be quite harmful to people with sensitivities. It’s sure made for some pretty sunsets but that is no trade-off. We’ll definitely use the burning season as an opportunity to travel next year.
If you or someone you know is considering traveling to Northern Thailand, I would avoid March altogether.
It was purely at the recommendation of a woman we met on a short taxi ride from the Thai consulate in Vientiane that we decided to visit the COPE Museum (http://www.copelaos.org) during our short stay in Lao. We did little research prior to our visit and had no idea what to expect. On arrival it appeared to be a rather typical medical facility, we paid a small fee to park the motorbike and headed over to the visitor’s center tucked away in the corner. It didn’t take long after we entered the visitor center for me to grasp the magnitude of what the COPE Museum represented. Just inside the entrance, dangling from the ceiling was a large American military rocket split in half with hundreds of small, baseball size explosives suspended in the air, more commonly referred to as Cluster Munitions.
You can barely see the map on the wall in the background but the red area (which is actually thousands of small dots) represents the locations where the United States Air Force littered these cluster bombs all over Lao. This short video will provide a much clearer picture of what the 8-year US bombing campaign really looked like.
Here is a couple of the short stories that were posted on the walls inside the visitor center:
Risky Cooking Thong regularly cooked over a wood fire, similar to the one set up here. The fire was built into the dirt floor in her home.
On 10th May 2010 she began to cook above the open fire. She had no way of knowing there was a bomb buried beneath the fire.
The bomb exploded, sending shrapnel flying. Thong and her 15 year old daughter were both seriously injured. Neighbors helped to get them to the local hospital and from there they were transferred to a larger provincial hospital. Thankfully, they both survived but shrapnel remains in their bodies.
Making a fire in the UXO contaminated parts of Lao PDR is never safe. The heat from the fire warms the earth below it and if there is a bomb buried, it could cause it to explode.
and one more …
Mr. Ta In 2004, Ta was out fishing with two of his sons, aged 8 and 10. He found a bomb lying on the ground. He knew it was dangerous but he had heard that the explosive made it easy to catch fish. He sent this children behind a tree and crawled up to the bomb. As soon as he touched it, it exploded. His sons dragged him into a boat and rowed back to the village. In total, it took 9 hours for them to reach medical help.
Ta lost both arms, an eye and all of his family’s livestock to pay for this treatment. For 4 years, Ta described how he had to, “eat like a dog”. Since being brought to the CMR by the team at PCL (A UXO clearance organization) he has received three different types of arms and is now able to help his family and try to rebuild his life. He has become an advocate for a ban on cluster munitions and travelled to Oslo to watch the signing of the treaty.
At this point I was completely overwhelmed with emotion, if for no other reason that (as an American) I felt incredibly humbled to even be permitted inside the country (think about that next time you give a nasty look to a foreigner in the states). I have not been a saint by any means and I am no stranger to violence, but I have never had an experience where I felt such a sense of shame and embarrassment as I did walking through this museum. I wish every American child could walk through this facility, to see the harsh realities of war and the byproducts of US foreign policy. No one “won” the Vietnam war, more than a million people died, and still 50 years later innocent children and people are losing limbs and dying because of the decisions of a few men in positions of power. The only winners are the bankers and the military industrial complex who profit from these fabricated wars. Everyone else loses ……. PERIOD.
Apart from the fact that it was started under completely false pretenses, the War in Iraq will be / is my generation’s Vietnam. If you doubt what I am suggesting, I’d encourage you to do a little of your own independent research, specifically on the use of depleted uranium munitions.
This museum is definitely an addition to the “Must See” list in Northern Thailand. The museum, which I wouldn’t consider to be a black house, is a collection of artwork by the deceased Thawan Duchanee. Admission is free, yep FREE. There are a number of smaller structures in addition to the main building that resembles a large temple. As one would expect, Buddhist artwork, statues and influences are present all over the property, however there is also a certain darkness reflected in much of the artwork and displays. We will be returning at night to see the change in ambiance after the sun sets. A ton of great pictures of this museum can be found with a quick search on Google.
We had the honor of attending the first Meditation Retreat put on by the Chiang Rai Sangha College of Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University at Wat Phra That Phangao. The retreat was designed to provide foreigners an opportunity to learn about the Buddha’s teachings and to gain a greater understanding of the rituals, practices and life of a monk.
While most of my background in meditation has pertained to martial arts and visualization practices, my “practice” has always been rather informal. I definitely took away a greater technical understanding of meditation and how to be more mindful in my activities and daily life. Stay tuned for video of me floating in the air.
Our days began with a morning meditation at 5:00am, followed by a vegetarian breakfast. We had lectures each day by a meditation master, a retired Army officer, followed by more meditation – seated and walking (yup, a walking meditation). While I didn’t mind the vegetarian meals, we didn’t waste any time after we got home to run into town for some meals that included meat.
One of the more powerful experiences of the weekend was being present for the monks chanting. I wish I could have sat in the middle of them and listened to this for hours.
Serving the monks lunch.
Field trip! Some of these temples and sites are close to a 1,000 years old. Talk about historical significance. In a couple of the pictures, you can see the Mekong River in the distance and the border between Burma, Thailand and Lao, or better known as the Golden Triangle. Hard to imagine but all of the agriculture in the area was once opium fields.
Sooooooo we’ve been seeing these huge banners posted all over the area for the 2014 ASEAN Flower Festival and finally decided to check it out. If I had to describe it, it was like the Rose Parade meets the Arboretum meets the LA County Fair …… on steroids. In addition to all of the flowers and plant life on display there were rows and rows of vendors, tons of local food varieties, carnival rides, and lots of plants for sale (from vegetable and fruit starts to decorative plants and of course, our favorite …. orchids).
Here’s another thing I appreciate about Thailand …. there doesn’t seem to be a consistent effort to try and take advantage of consumers at every possible opportunity – parking for the Flower Festival was 20 baht (about $0.60) and there was no (as in 0) entry fee.
For anyone planning on visiting Northern Thailand, the Flower Festival would be well worth including in your itinerary.
The orchid area was probably my favorite part of the Flower Festival.
Here’s some of the orchids that were on sale by the vendors. Most were 40 – 150 THB.
We stopped by on New Year’s Eve to check out the festivities.
We were headed to the store this afternoon and decided to stop at this beautiful Temple along the way. Turns out there was a ceremony being completed for a young man becoming a Novice Monk going on inside (pictured lower right).
I’m not quite sure I have the name of this Temple correct, never the less it was a neat little find while out on the motorbike today. If anyone happens to know the correct name (map is below) please let me know.