Another varied day out this time on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in an area called Mae Rim. If you have been here it is likely you have visited Mae Rim as it is quite a tourist area with things like elephants, buggy rides, tigers, orchid farms etc etc. However most of these activities are situated on or close to the main road that runs through the area. Once you head off this road you are into more rural hilly country, which for me is far more interesting.

Our day out today was organised thanks to Neil, an Aussie friend of ours, who we met originally as he’s a JP and I needed some documents signed. Neil had invited us along for the day to meet a monk who is living in a “barebones” Wat in the countryside and get some lunch on the way back. It ended up being a wonderfully varied day as you can see from the photos. From monks to tigers.

The current Wat or temple.

The current Wat or temple.

Neil has an Australian friend called Kim who has been coming to Thailand for twenty five years, living in Chiang Mai for seven, and has lots of contacts in the area. One of them is a Thai monk, called Boonsri, who had been on the staff of a senior monk in Northern Thai Buddhism but decided to get out of the busy mainstream and get closer to the essence of Buddha’s teachings. He found himself a plot of land in the backwaters of Chiang Mai, which was donated to him by the local headman, and is setting himself up in a very simple and basic way, which is what he wanted.

However since he has arrived his desire for a simple life is being challenged. Out of the blue someone arrived from Bangkok and connected the site up with electricity, someone else decided the house Boonsri and his two monks had wasn’t appropriate and is now building two new houses and a huge Buddha statue is being constructed on top of the hill. Our main mission for the day was to meet Boonsri and have a look at his emerging Wat.

The first half of the drive was on the road I covered separately HERE, but we then continued on from the point where we turned around. On this unexplored part of road we came across a Vietnamese temple being constructed in the middle of nowhere. A lot of work and money must have gone into the place but we didn’t see anyone other than four workers. There was little sign of any maintenance and it was all looking a bit sad.

Overlooking the temple compound set in the hills.

Overlooking the temple compound set in the hills.

Concrete guardians of the temple.

Concrete guardians of the temple.

The central pond with tasteful metal lotus flowers.

The central pond with tasteful lotus flowers.

A Disney scene.

Almost a Disney scene.

Work in progress. These statues would either have been nicked or broken in Australia.

Work in progress. These statues would either have been nicked or broken in Australia.

A LED tree - why?

A LED tree to complement the nice lotus flowers.

Scary statue.

Scary statue.

All done by eye and hand.

All done by eye and hand.

Painstaking detail.

Painstaking detail carved into concrete.

Closing the gate on this empty construction site we continued our journey to the Wat. It is situated just off the only road through this area of Mae Rim at the back of rice fields. The temple site is mainly a small hill with the three monk’s houses set in the trees around the bottom and steps carved out of the hillside to what will be the 30 meter Buddha statue on the top.

Boonsri with Kim and Neil.

Boonsri with Kim and Neil.

The site had many little stopping points such as this one.

The site had many little shrines such as this one.

The bowl in the above photo is full of these miniature Buddhas, which will be placed in jars and incorporated into the large statue when it is built.

The bowl in the above photo is full of these miniature Buddhas, which will be placed in jars and incorporated into the large statue when it is built.

The Hindu God Ganash pops up often in Thai Buddhism.

The Hindu God Ganash pops up often in Thai Buddhism.

Walking up the steps to the top of the hill.

Walking up the steps to the top of the hill.

The statue taking shape.

The statue taking shape. The base will become the temple area usually with views up into the hollow centre of the Buddha statue.

Boonsri thinks the Buddha will be ready in a couple of years. There are two people working full-time on it now. There was a third but it is harvest time in Isaan so he has gone home. The workers live on site in some pretty basic shelters. They must be creating some Buddhist brownie points for next time around.

This lady was working on the framework steel, which forms the base for the hollow structure.

This lady was working on the steel framework, which forms the base for the hollow structure.

Safety issues?

Safety issues? Didn’t seem to worry her. She was chatty and smiley.

Even here one is never far from chillies. Grown on site needless to say.

Even here one is never far from chillies. Grown on site needless to say. These small ones would kill a westerner. Gaun eats them raw.

These furry caterpillars were everywhere. Gaun thought they caused a rash if touched but the monk picked one up to show us.

These furry caterpillars were everywhere. Gaun thought they caused a rash if touched but the monk picked one up to show us.

Gaun and Boonsri heading back down.

Gaun and Boonsri heading back down. For any ladies visiting Thailand you can never touch a monk or hand things directly to them. Their faith is fragile!

Walking through the trees to have a look at the accommodation.

Walking through the “bush” at the base of the hill to have a look at the  monks’ accommodation.

Boonsri's house. Plastic sheeting roof.

House one. Plastic sheeting roof.

The second house.

The second house.

Lush vegetation. A few  mosquitoes and small biting ants around.

Lush vegetation. A few mosquitoes and small biting ants around.

The shower.

The shower.

Wet area.

Wet area.

One of the new houses under construction.

One of the new houses under construction.

This is a teak tree if, like me, you have never seen one. Large leaves.

This is a teak tree if, like me, you have never seen one. Large leaves.

Views from the Wat area over local farming land.

Views from the Wat area over local farming land. Buffalo with bells in the background adding to the peaceful atmosphere.

Rice underway.

Rice underway.

Dry rice in the front. All land used.

Dry rice in the front. All land used.

A misty day in the hills today.

A misty day in the hills today and cooler. Temperatures in the high twenties.

These will form Buddha's hair on the statue, once he has a head!

These concrete “rolls” will form Buddha’s hair on the statue, once he has a head!

Made out of concrete this is the mound they come from. Made from local black clay with kerosene to stop them sticking.

The hair is made out of concrete and this is the mound they come from. Made from local black clay with kerosene to stop them sticking. Once hardened they have to be unscrewed out of the mound because of their shape.

A garden has been established at the bottom of the hill. Boonsri was a nurseryman in a previous life - this time around.

A garden has been established at the bottom of the hill. Boonsri was a nurseryman in a previous life – this time around!

The library.

The library.

A 100 year old cap that will sit on Buddha's head at the pinnacle of the statue.

A 100 year old cap that will sit on Buddha’s head at the pinnacle of the statue.

I found Boonsri to have a lovely quiet energy to him. He was pleased to see us and we have an invitation to return when we want. I wonder if he will get the solitary, introspective life he so craves.

Leaving the temple we headed further into the hills to complete a loop that would eventually bring us back to the main Mae Rim road. In the process we passed beautiful hill farms and country, mostly growing cabbages for some reason.

Just under the clouds.

Just under the clouds.

 

Back in the foothills we stopped off at Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens for lunch. Gaun and I have been here before and my blog story can be found HERE. The entry fee is 100 THB per person and 100 THB for the car. However if you have a Thai driving licence, which we all did, it is half price! There were lots of signs advertising wild bee hives in a banana plantation section of the gardens. We stopped but couldn’t find any. Maybe the Thais have “harvested” them already. I did however get a photo of the strange looking banana plant.

Unusual.

Unusual but then I am no expert on bananas. Bob are you reading?

The cafe, shop and small nursery is at the top of the garden complex, which is a huge area. Just follow the road until you see the big greenhouses and then turn left. The menu was pretty basic but we had a reasonable meal, which cost us $9.00 for four main courses with rice. Afterwards we popped down to check out the orchid greenhouse, as Kim is an enthusiastic grower and I am an enthusiastic photographer of the flowers.

Not orchids but I need to include a photo of me in each story!

Not orchids but I need to include a photo of me in each story!

Again not orchids but a beautiful colour.

Again not orchids but a beautiful colour.

OK. Orchid photo moment.

OK. Orchid photo moment.

More.

More.

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Checking out the visitors. The cafe and gift shop in the background.

Checking out the visitors. The cafe and gift shop in the background.

Our final stop for the day was to be Tiger Kingdom – Trip Advisor reviews HERE. The secret to this place is that you gain entry to the cafe at no cost and get a view of all the tourists getting their photos taken with the tigers costing from 420 Baht for the larger tigers to 620 Baht for the baby ones. A photographer will cost another 299 THB. Ask for a couple of queue tickets at the entry booth but there is no need to use them. These get you into the non-petting part of the facility. Go through the main reception and find a table right at the end of the cafe on the left hand side for the best views such as these:

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The cafe viewing area. Coffee only 6/10 and more expensive but you get free tigers!

The cafe viewing area. Coffee only 6/10 and more expensive but you get free tigers!

What magnificent creatures. If you do go in for a photo/petting session you will be pleased to hear that they are only fed chicken so they don’t get a taste for blood. Just thought I would pass that on for peace of mind. On the way out Kim bought us a small packet of fish food and in the pond on the right you can get a feeding frenzy happening like this:

Koi in bulk.

Koi in bulk.

I still shake my head at how fortunate I am to be able to experience a day like this one. Retired in Canberra would look somewhat different.

I have just completed my first 12 months in Thailand. I arrived in Phuket on 12 June 2013 a very stressed and tired man. I wrote blog entry called “Thailand Six Months On” HERE and will now revisit this to see how my attitudes have changed over the last six months. A blog entry to follow shortly.

Thanks for reading.