Tag Archives: Thailand

Sound and superstition: peaceful prayers and scaring spirits.

Thailand is such a vibrant, alive country.  Sounds of street vendors frying tasty morsels for passing hungry locals and tourists, the rushing traffic and endless pip-pip of the tuk-tuk drivers trying to get your attention, music blaring from bars as you walk past, with staff coming to chat and try to entice you inside.  But for me, the sounds of Thailand that I hold onto with fondest memories are the sounds of Thai spirituality. Contrasting ends of the scale, for this week’s travel theme: noise.

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It is traditional to start every new boat voyage is started with fireworks, to drive away the bad spirits. Here, at the start of a dive trip around the Similans, one of the boat boys did a great job with a string of firecrackers.  For such tiny things they make a real racket!

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Back on dry land, at Wat Hua Lamphong.  It is a Royal Buddhist temple in Bangkok, and its opulence was quite staggering.  By comparison to their surroundings these prayer bells looked quite drab.  But the whole time we were there the temple compound was filled with the gentle pealing melody of the bells being rung by visitors.  The belief is that ringing the bells while offering up your prayer increases your chance of it being heard and answered.

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Under the waves and over the blues.

Feeling a lot frazzled, a little fed up and fairly weighed down at the end of a particularly trying week, there is one sure-fire way I can fall back on for getting that Friday feeling going.  Thoughts of slipping under the waves and letting it all go for an hour of tranquility with the fish.  I’ve not got any dive time scheduled for the next few weeks, so I’ve been looking at my photos again.  Not as good as the real thing, but taking me to my aquatic cloud nine in spirit at least!

From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders.  He is bolted to earth.  But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.

(Jacques Yves Cousteau).

I love these two photos from our pre-baby Thailand dive boat trip, enough to share them as a rare secondary take on photographic ‘dialogue‘ for the weekly WordPress challenge. We had three dive-packed days cruising around the Similan National Park waters of the Andaman Sea, off the west coast of Thailand.  The rock formations in the area are beautiful, the large granite boulders rising up out of the seas looking quite beautiful in their majesty.  Even the legendary scientist and scuba diver, Jacques Yves Cousteau, was entranced when he dived there.

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Under the surface the rocky scenery takes on an even more impressive presence.  Koh Bon is one of the outlying islands in the group and it is known as a potential hot spot for shark and manta ray encounters.  We’ve been fortunate to see sharks and rays in our dive travels, but like most divers, we’re always up for more.  We dived at Koh Bon three times, and each time we were feeling hopeful as we flipped off the back of the boat. Each time our hopes were sadly misplaced and we came up exhilarated by the dives but without that coveted manta-ray moment.

Despite the shy marine life, the dives were stunning, if for scenery alone.  The towering rock formations rise up to the surface, covered in corals and plant growth, waving in the ripping currents that wash over them.  We’d finned furiously into the current to get to them, and then hovered in the sheltered lee of the rock, quietly enjoying the goings on and waiting to see if anything big would turn up with the current.

Some divers would have considered the no-show dives a waste.  I try to take a more relaxed view about it, although I confess I sometimes feel a slight twinge of disappointment.  Like that Maldivian dive where we could hear the clicks and whistles frustratingly close but not actually see the pod of dolphins just that bit too far off in the blue. Or the morning we dived off the Scottish East coast with no seals in sight, only to find out afterwards that other divers in the water had been playing with them as the seals tugged on their dive fins!  Being a scuba diver you have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes the luck just isn’t with you!

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Besides, I can remember hovering there in the warm, sheltered curve of the rock, watching these Moorish Idol fish and feeling incredibly at peace and privileged.  They were fluttering around like marine butterflies against the backdrop of the cathedral-like rock formations in the sunlit upper reaches of the water column.  If that’s a ‘miss’ I’ll take it.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

(Jacque Yves Cousteau).

 

One word photo challenge: Gold.

 

Head shot!

Head shot!

This beauty is the reclining Buddha found at Wat Pho.  Also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  A fitting if unimaginative name!

As with all reclining Buddha’s, this one represented Buddha in his final stage of life, before death and ever-lasting nirvana.  He was the biggest Buddha I have ever seen. Entirely covered in gold leaf (apart from his feet, which are inlaid with mother of pearl).  That is a lot of gold!  He is more than 40 metres long and 15 metres high.  There was literally no way of getting a decent shot of all of him at once, using the little compact camera I was carrying on the day. I tried!!

looooooong legs.

looooooong legs.

Although I don’t have a shot which does it justice, the detail on his feet was particularly impressive. They are adorned with auspicious symbols and figures with which Buddha’s are associated, such as lotus flowers, elephants and tigers.

I also really liked the textured golden swirls which covered his head. Way too high to reach, but I thought they were crying out to be touched.  I often think when I look at statues – whether wooden, marble, or gold-leaf coated – what tactile objects they are.  Perhaps an inevitable consequence of something crafted painstakingly and lovingly by hand?

Golden curls on display as the Buddha props up his head with one hand.

Golden curls on display as the Buddha props up his head with one hand.

Wats are Buddhist monastery temples.  This one is in the centre of Bangkok, Thailand.  One of the oldest and largest Wats in Bangkok, it sits cheek-by-jowl with the Grand Palace.  It is absolutely stuffed full of Buddha statues and images – over 1000 in fact.  It was quite amazingly overwhelming.  I didn’t know where to look first.

Buddhas as far as the eye could see...

Buddhas as far as the eye could see…

I took so long getting round Wat Pho that we never actually made it to the Grand Palace. Like most holiday makers and travellers, I do feel like we need to make the most of our much anticipated trips, and squeeze out every last drop of opportunity.  But I also don’t just want to feel like I’m rushing round everywhere in order to progress through a list of top tourist hotspots. So maybe we’ll get to the Grand Palace next time? Wat Pho definitely warranted the extra time spent.  Some might say it was golden.