After a second day of journeying on the river we approach the border with Thailand. The immigration offices of Laos and Thailand are separated by the Mekong River. We disembark on the Laos side, get stamped out of the country and catch a little boat to the Thai immigration on the opposite bank to get visas for Thailand! This is surely a border crossing with a difference! I have never done a water border before ..and it is very cool! Unlike some of the other land borders we encountered, this place is quiet and feels really safe.
I didn’t think I would have anything to write about this journey, till we stop for lunch at Chiang Rai! I always wondered what this town was famous for, because I knew it was on the backpacker trail – a number of friends had mentioned they were visiting but I had never enquired why!
Wat Kong Khun is the amazing vision of the famous Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Looking closely at this temple which is silver with inlaid bits of mirror work I am reminded of the work of the Spanish architecture Gaudi, whose work dominates Barcelona. This temple is really unusual because firstly it is silver as opposed to gold, the usual colour of temples in this part of the world. The inlaid mirror work is also unusual, as I have never seen anything like this before in South East Asia.
We have not come appropriately clad for this unexpected visit but fortunately for us they are well equipped for the ‘falangs’ who pass by, and we are offered white cloths so we can cover up.
The white low lying cloud makes this place appear to be almost floating in air. We learn this is one of 9 temples that will be built in this complex. The work is slow and will take about a 100 years to complete. Donations are welcome but no donation more than 10,000 baht is allowed, to ensure it is accessible to the average Thai.
There are graphic reminders of both heaven and hell and reminders to give up the vices of smoking and drinking! While white and silver is used to depict all things heavenly, gold is used to depict all things earthly. Hence the world’s most ornate loo as been all decked out in gold! There was such a rush to use these facilities when the temple first opened that the loo is now closed to the public!
The highlight for us was the chance to actually meet and chat to the artist who dreamt up this place. I thought he was quite a charming simple man till I asked him if his art was influenced by Gaudi! He throws his head in the air in a completely arrogant gesture and said, “ ha ha..of course not! I thought of this place all on my own”! He was not amused at my question and I was completely baffled by his reaction. I thought all great artists were influenced by the Masters who had preceded them! He had also worked in Europe so it was hard for us to believe that Gaudi’s work had not influenced him. The work is definitely different to Gaudi and has a strong Thai influence…but there are those inlaid bits of mirrors that remind me..of Barcelona! Perhaps he gets asked this question just a few too many times…and is perhaps a tad sensitive to the comparison?
Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection. ~ Lawrence Durrell