Michelle’s spent a slew of Chinese New Years here in Beijing, but she’s never seen these before — 大头娃娃 (Dàtóu wáwá or Dai Tao Fut) — incredible paper mache masks that we found in the back of a junk store, in Bangkok’s Chinatown. In English, they’re called Big Headed Buddhas, and for just a few dollars each, how could we resist picking them up!?!
Wat Suwannaram, a 12th-century temple, is hidden on the far side of the river in Bangkok. It’s remote — no tourists, only two praying women in short skirts (they’d left their high heels outside.) The real draw here is the mouth-dropping murals, which tell the most bizarre and glorious tales. While we tiptoed around, a couple of masked women carefully touched up the murals, many of which were fading and cracked.
An old hag gets waylaid:
An hour east of Beijing on the 930 bus, you’ll pass a couple of ominous industrial (nuclear?) chimneys. They’re real big. Springfield Simpsons bastards, if you pardon my French. Hop off the bus, and sneak behind them. That’s where you’ll find the most charmingly bizarre guesthouse, The Tianzi Hotel (天子大酒店).
Apparently, business was bad. The receptionist told us they’d hoped to draw more of a crowd by resurfacing the hotel to look like the iconic Chinese superstars, Fu (the lucky guy), Lu (rich man) and Shou (Mr Immortality, himself.) I’ve been seeing the characters everywhere in China — in temples, shrines, gift shops, restaurants.
Sadly, after a few more questions, she finally admitted that, 10 years later they still don’t have so many visitors.
Don’t miss that Shou’s incredible peach of immortality has been converted into a fruit with a view. Har har.
An insane Thai artist, who resides somewhere between Henry Darger and Moebius the Frenchman, realized he needed to return to his hometown, Chiang Rai, and build a temple. Not just any Wat — it had to be something bigger, something bolder, something more… white. It was to be the most renowned tribute to the Buddha, yet. It was to deliver him students and followers, and scores- nay, millions- of tourists a year. It was to put Chiang Rai back on the map.
And it did.
Bouncing along dirt roads in a tuktuk, sucking in truck exhaust, I cursed Sasha and Tina. “What’s another Wat,” I kept asking — I’d seen thirty, forty, maybe even a hundred, so far. I was sick of Wats. And here I was, twenty five minutes away from my guesthouse, and the bus to Chiang Khong, just to see another.
Then, far down the road, something white appeared. Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น) was glistening. It was literally brilliant. Closer, it appeared to be a palace made of Ice — something from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Pollution and open sewers aside, this was breathtaking.
Out near the zoo, hidden in a dusty residential neighborhood, miles from the nearest high street, is a Chiang Mai forest. In the middle of that forest, lies this piece of majesty: Wat Umong.
The koans, which you’ll find nailed to trees at random, read like a stocking-stuffer self-help book. But they’re great.