Tag Archives: sightseeing

Wat Phrathat Doi Sutep

Another day, another temple. The famous, the legendary Wat Phrathat Doi Sutep. Set high in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, this is another of the must-sees that is listed in pretty much every single guidebook and/or website devotes to things Chiang Mai. Apparently, this location was chosen by a white elephant who was carrying a relic of the Buddha. He wandered around a bit, climbed a mountain, found a spot where he trumpeted three times and then died. And so, King Na Nuone, leader of the Lanna empire and one who could recognize a sign when he saw one, built Wat Prathat Doi Sutep on the site of the white elephant's death.

Getting to this temple nowadays is a bit of a process, but at least does not involve killing white elephants. We caught a tuk tuk from our hotel out to the University area and then from there, we sat at a songthaew stand, waiting for a full complement of riders. Once our group assembled — a Japanese family of three, a Thai couple, a pair of gays (one of which was wearing the best t-shirt I've seen in Thailand; multicolored appliqué letters spelling out “SUPER LADY BOY”), a young woman from Germany traveling solo, Tim, and yours truly — we loaded up and wound our way up the flanks of Doi Suthep. For the first time since landing in Bangkok, we cleared the layer of haze and/or smog that has followed is everywhere, and saw a blue(ish) sky!

The scene that greeted us at the foot of the temple complex was part Disneyland, part Chatuchak. Stalls selling everything from Buddhist tchotchkes to roasted chestnuts, watermelon slices to hill tribe clothing, lined the four lane road leading past Wat Prathat Doi Sutep and on to the highest point of the mountain, Doi Pui. Hordes of tourists were congregating around three points: the base of a giant golden statue of Sumanathera (the monk whose dream started off the whole Buddha's relic/white elephant adventure), the aforementioned market, and a ticket booth selling combined admission to the temple and a ride in funicular rail car, thus bypassing the naga-lined stairwell. The Japanese family headed to the market. The ladyboys hurried to the tram building.

Tim and I made for Sumanathera and then climbed the 309 steps leading to the entrance to Wat Prathat Doi Sutep.

Inside this temple was everything. When I say everything, I mean everything.

A burning Ganesh.

Bugs.

Big tacky billboards featuring the King of Thailand.
Ladyboys.
Pretty flowers.
Fresh squeezed orange juice.
Beautiful views of the rainforest.
Weird, kitschy sculptures.
The mess and clutter of everyday life.
Fruit that looks like testicles.
Tourists. DUH.
Beautiful Buddhist forms.
Shopping carts parked in unexpected corners.
Flip flops with the word “SPERM” embossed into their foot beds.

I guess that's one of the things I find interesting about Buddhism. There is room for everything. It's not about denying your body, or the griminess of earthly existence, it's not about attempting to be pristine or perfect. It, like the great mystical traditions, sees this human incarnation not as a punishment, but an opportunity. Yes, there is suffering, and pain, and inexplicable tragedy; there is happiness and joy and love. And when the right perspective is found, when all of these individual forms reveal their great unity, what is revealed is beauty. Everything, all together, is beautiful.

 

bryce canyon national park in springtime ~ 26may10

so it’s been almost nine weeks since we visited the amazing, the awesome, the unbelievable bryce canyon national park, and i still haven’t gotten around to posting anything about our time there. why? well because really, what can you say? i mean, it really is beautiful; truly and profoundly beautiful. if you’ve been there, you don’t really need me to remind you of how insane the landscape is because you probably have a million photographs of your own. if you haven’t been there, then no amount of adjectives, no matter how artfully arranged, will provide even the tiniest glimpse of the beauty that this place tosses about with such wild abandon.

so let me just encourage you to find your way to bryce canyon at least once in your lifetime. not only for the nature, which let me repeat, is sublime, but also because witnessing the cross-cultural chaos that occurs when thousands of foreign visitors — from india, germany, japan, france, the uk, the middle east, australia, spain, mexico, brazil, china, russia and yup, even canada — collide with southern utah mormonism and the good old american tourist. imagine a table of parisians at an all you can eat buffet offering classic american items such as: chicken fried steak, pot roast, canned corn, baked beans, and dinner rolls more like giant marshmallows than actual bread. imagine overhearing an interaction between a red-faced german couple and their teenaged waitress that begins with a heavily accented, “vat exactly iz a pickle pie?” it’s an awkward, hilarious and touching parade of all the absurd variety that human culture has to offer.

fortunately, we did not camp at the park itself, or i’m sure that the aforementioned parade of humanity would have driven me absolutely batty. we stayed here , about 14 miles away from the park. (i’ll get around to posting some photos of this place sometime soon because it, too, is outrageously gorgeous.)

so if i were to summarize this post in three bullet points, they would go something like this:

  • bryce canyon is so crazy beautiful it almost makes your eyes bleed.
  • the people watching is outstanding.
  • get your ass in gear and go!
  • great sand dunes national park and the medano forest fire ~ mosca, colorado

    WALKING ON WATER

    one of the most surprising, beautiful and surreal places that we’ve visited on this endless trip is right here , tucked into the southern edge of colorado, right where the rockies begin to descend into new mexico. the first time we laid eyes upon this bizarre landscape was in june of 2009, relatively early on in our journey. by that time we had logged a lot of road miles, but because of a lingering rocky mountain winter and a couple of long-ish house sitting gigs, we hadn’t yet done a lot of actual camping. as we pulled off of US160, heading north towards the great sand dunes, we somewhat naively believed that the place would be mostly empty and that we would have our pick of the park’s campsites. i mean, we’re talking about an extremely isolated, sparsely populated stretch of high plains desert…the veritable middle of nowhere.

    and yet, as we pulled in, we couldn’t help but notice the line of heavily laden suvs, pickup trucks, and rvs. the place was a madhouse! when we finally reached the entry gate, we were greeted by a sign — campground full — and a speech that the park ranger seemed to be reciting from memory: “i’m sorry folks, but our campground is all full up. you might try san luis lakes state park, about 10 miles away, but i’m not sure if there’s any space there either. there’s also a privately owned campground just outside the park boundary…don’t bother asking about tomorrow, because we’re going to be all full up then too.”

    the dunes themselves are magnificent. this is one of the few national parks that allow dogs anywhere past the parking lot and so the three of us dragged our way up a series of undulating, collapsing ridge lines, attempting to get a glimpse of the vast interior of the the dune field. every time we crested another dune, some subtle magic lured us onward, promising us a greater revelation if we managed to reach the next peak, the next vista. we hiked until all we could see, from horizon to horizon, were dunes. it felt like we were on another planet, like we could have walked on forever.

    as remarkable as the dunes were, it was the medano creek and the surge flow that captured my imagination. there was something so entrancing, so completely compelling about the endless combinations of wind, sand, water and sunlight, that i fell into a post of fugue state, utterly transfixed. patterns emerged and retreated in the water’s surface; a strange and half remembered calligraphy. within the space of a few windswept minutes, the water would take the form of delicate herringbone lace, a single standing wave, a string of tiny suns.

    my communion with this place brought one of the first and most persistent revelations of our journey. standing ankle deep in snowmelt, held in the distant embrace of sun, sky, mountain, dune, forest and cloud, the connection between all of these physical forms became manifest and wholly evident. the only thing separating smoke and creek, sand dune and pine tree were the relative scale of time and size. beyond that, there is no distinction. everything exists only for a moment, every form is transient. all that holds us together is vibration; we are simply standing waves in the profound medium of universal energy. we arise and subside as quickly as a pattern in sand, as unexpectedly as a tree growing on the shoulder of a mountain, as beautifully as a forest fire. all is one.

    words are as inadequate a tool as a cell phone camera in the attempt to capture the depth and reach of a landscape like this. better not to dwell too long on these ineffable concerns. better to simply surrender to the call of whimsy, of play, released from the bounds of eternity. let the mountains grind themselves to bits, let the sand scatter, let the snow dissolve into the desert. the sun is shining, the breeze is cool, and the whole world, even the forest exploding into flame, trembles with beauty.

    lincoln home national historic site, springfield illinois ~ 09jul10

    SPRINGFIELD, SPRINGFIELD IT’S A HELL OF A TOWN

    the state of illinois is home to one, count ‘em, one national park site: the lincoln home national historic site in the state’s capitol, springfield. luckily for us, this place was not too far off of the highways we were following in a mad rush to make it first to michigan to drop mazy off with my sister, and then to chicago to celebrate the birthdays of two of my nearest and dearest.

    in fact, we were in such a rush that when we first saw the signs announcing the lincoln home historic area my first inclination was to demur. it was only when i checked my national park passport and realized this was perhaps my only chance to get the single stamp offered by the entire state of illinois that i faltered. we are witnessing, after all, the historic obama presidency, a presidency that has strong connections both to illinois and to abraham lincoln, and what better time to take a moment and reflect on the man that president obama so clearly admires?

    we pulled into a shaded parking lot on a quintessential mid-western summer day: glowering sun shepherding slow-moving clouds in a sky pale with humidity. i ran into the visitors center to get my passport stamp…and then proceeded to get sucked in by the various displays, historical models and movies scattered about the place.

    before we knew it, hours had passed. we visited the dean house and the arnold house (the only two buildings you can visit without the presence of a tour guide), encountered the lincoln troubadors (listen to the audio clip if you want to hear their rendition of a familiar classic), and watched a short documentary about lincoln’s train trip from springfield to washington d.c. at the great western depot.

    we had intended to arrive at my sister’s place at a reasonable hour, not only to spend some time catching up with her and (her husband) tim, but also to get mazy settled in and to pack our bags for our early morning train trip to chicago. instead, we arrived at 12:30am to find the doors locked and the windows dark. we spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get into the building. we finally got to bed at around 2 in the morning, exhausted and heat-stoned. i blame barack obama.

    this audio clip contains a couple of excerpts from the cell phone tour offered at the lincoln home site and a song performed by the above mentioned lincoln troubadors. enjoy!

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