Finding Tranquility in Thailand: Exploring Sukhothai Historical Park

The thermometer flirted with 40°C (104°F) as we wandered from one marvelous temple to another in Thailand’s Sukhothai Historical Park. The scent of frangipani blooms danced in the air, and powdery dirt coated my skin from my knees to my toes.

All was quiet. It was a refreshing change from the bustling markets and hectic streetscapes of the city.

I tried to imagine what these grounds would have looked like 700 years earlier, when the Sukothai Kingdom was at its apex and this was the capital of the Thai Empire. Back then, Sukhothai had around 80,000 residents.

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Photo du Jour: A Novice Monk in Luang Prabang, Laos

Novice Monk Luang Prabang Laos

In the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, it’s common for boys and young men to temporarily commit to monkhood, even if they do not remain in service for the rest of their lives. This custom brings a merit to both the novice monks and their families. As the elder monks do, the boys shave their heads (we noticed the monks tended to do so all on a set day) and don the saffron robe.

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Photo du Jour: ‘Monk Beds’ in Luang Prabang, Laos

In Buddhism, it’s believed that followers can get good results by giving merit. One approach is by offering alms, either through a Tak Bat ceremony or by donating items to those who are leading a monastic lifestyle.

In Luang Prabang’s Wat Xieng Thong temple courtyard, we happened upon this recently-donated stash of goods. There was everything from orange bunk beds and bedding to toiletries, fans and pillows.

Novice monks mingled out in the courtyard. Some read books or toyed with their iPods or mobile phones while others interacted with tourists who were eager to show them photographs they had snapped.

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Wat Xieng Thong: Waiting in the Wings During the Golden Hour

It’s the sort of environment that could hold my attention for hours. In a heavily-carved and gilded structure that’s tucked away on the grounds of the Wat Xieng Thong temple complex in Luang Prabang, Laos, are stored a fleet of Buddha statues, crackling wooden devotional panels, nagas, and the Lao king’s cremation chariot. Adorned with cobwebs and dressed in dust, they are waiting in the wings for a regal parade.

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Sculpting Buddha – A Meditative Exercise in Laos

On a shady street on which we regularly strolled during our stay in Luang Prabang, Laos, we watched a sculptor as he gradually turned rustic concrete into the smooth likeness of Buddha. I wonder what the man pondered on those quiet afternoons – as he was overlooked by other Buddhist figures in progress – in a sun-kissed courtyard garden. Perhaps he took lessons from the Buddha himself, whose quotes are featured so prominently on objects for sale in boutiques in the vicinity of the quiet lane.

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Photo Du Jour: Street Art For Sale in Luang Prabang

With vivid strokes and vibrant hues, artists depict Buddha, saffron-clad monks and shimmering banyan trees on delicate paper. This artwork can be found in Luang Prabang’s night market, as well as stands informally set up along the town’s brick sidewalks. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the paper as it’s being made, drying in the sun on a sleepy back street.

When I made my maiden voyage to Laos a few years ago, I purchased a picture similar to these. After exploring Luang Prabang’s markets for a few days, I eventually chose an image of Buddha sitting in lotus position underneath a banyan tree. I rolled the minimalist black and gold painting, tucked it into my backpack, and handled it as gingerly as I could. However, by the time I made it home three weeks (and many bumpy bus rides later) the handmade paper had creases.

Years later, those wrinkles remind me of the journey the picture – and I – went on.

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Vignettes From Phnom Penh’s Riverside

Carrying salmon and ivory-colored lotus blossom offerings, the Buddhist worshippers entered the crowded courtyard in front of a small temple along Phnom Penh’s riverside. Once inside, they left their spiritual contributions.

The green, pink and white pile of offerings inside was apparently growing so vast that officials periodically tossed the decorated green coconuts and buds through an open window – landing into a receptacle outside the tiny temple.

I wondered where the spiritual buds in the growing pile would next journey having had such short-lived residency inside the temple?

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