Category: Thailand

The Temple-Musuem



 The main Temple in the city of Kon Khan was shaped like a cross between a giant spire and a pyramid. It was a place of worship for the living and internment for the dead.


On my visit there I didn’t expect to see anything out of the ordinary. 

After all, I had seen many other Buddhist temples in Thailand – as well as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The temple: a place of rituals, of heavens and hells, of lures and Samsara – and redemption by following the precepts of the Gautama Buddha. 

But in this temple there was something different.

It was a place of worship for the living and internment for the dead and it was also a museum; a place where history loomed large. And it was this I found profoundly interesting and led to me spending far time in this particular temple than I would in others.

 There were five floors.

The largest floor – the first one – was the place of worship. 

On the second and third was where the past was stored: relics from a rural way of life long since vanished. When the village way of life was where most people lived and the cities were a fraction of the size they are today – along with the number of people.

I knew something about that world having travelled in South East Asia during the 1980’s, when Bangkok for example was a large town and nothing like the modern skyline today with high towers and busy highways; when taking the boat down the Mekong was the normal way to reach the post office to pick up one’s mail – letters and postcards. Before the era of the pc, internet, mobile phone and social media.

Still, even then I had no real inkling of what the reality of rural life was until I visited Khon Khan’s temple in August 2022 accompanied by a Thai person who had grown up in a village during that bygone era – and was keen to reminisce.

Without her, those relics would have remained a mystery – none of them were labelled, there were no information boards, nothing. The relics and accompanying paintings were kept there, but no attempt made to systemise any of it. And it was not only foreigners like me – Farang – who did not know what they were looking at but also most Thais, who had either grown up in the city or were too young to know anything about the traditional rural life.

Our Thai friend was nostalgic for the rural way of life which had vanished long ago – of growing up in a village and its rice padddies surrounded on all sides by heavy jungle. 

She used the word ‘easy’, but I think she meant ‘simple’. 

‘Easy way of life. Easy. Food was everywhere. Rats, frogs – many different kinds – birds, snakes, fish big ones and small ones……easy finding food. All around, everywhere….’

She was well aware of the advantages of progress but she was also aware of the price which had been paid for that progress. Her romantacism of the past was in a way an implied criticism of the present – in a nation ruled by a military junta where critics had a habit of vanishing. 

Many of the implements she pointed out to us were used to catch this menagerie of creatures. Other instruments were used to grind grasses and seeds and berries found in the jungle. Some younger Thais joined us and asked her about the various implements on display – and were just as enthralled as we were. 





Then came another part of our Temple Museum excursion: on the walls there were paintings of the past rural village life and once again, our Thai friend pointed out the salient details. 



Nature could be bountiful with the creatures which could be eaten and it could be threatening too….

The first village kids which were obligated to attend school instead of working in the fields or foraging in the jungles. 

In that traditional life, there were no doctors and no medicines. Only the monks offered any kind of solice for the living and also the dying. 

Who was responsible for collecting the traditional tools and implements which had not been used in decades?

And who had arranged for someone to paint the rural scenes?

In the case of each of these, there were many more than featured in these photos. 

Was their someone in the monastery hierarchy who realised that a way of life unchanged for centuries was on the verge of disappearance?

Perhaps a monk who had orginally come from a village (and most of the lower orders and trainee monks would have certainly come from a rural background). 

They were questions which cropped up in my mind after we left Khon Kaen and which I regret not asking about at the time. 

Whatever the answer was, this was the first temple I had seen which was also a musuem. 


Cannabis Cafe


On the last day of our recent trip to Thailand we stayed at the New Siam Hotel and went for a stroll down the famous/infamous Khosanh Road. It was very quiet and many of the places had closed up during the Covid years.

One place which was new and thriving was the Cannabis Cafe. I was surprised that the Thai Government – a military junta – had taken this step. Bound to be popular with the tourists though!




The Buffalo Herders

There was the village with its electricity; its fans, lights, TV’s, hotplate stoves and so on – basic for us but not for the villagers – and certainlly not for the water buffalo herders living outside the village.

Their lives were devoted to raising and keeping water buffalo, an important animal in rural Thailand, the equivalent of the cow in our wesern societies: milk, meat – but also a work animal used for ploughing the rice paddies for example.

But it was tough life. To reach their land involved driving over a rough dirt road, passable in the dry season but a different matter in the monsoon. They lived under a galvanised iron roof open on three sides. When someone went back to the village to stay with their extended family for the night, one person had to remain – otherwise there was the danger that someone would drive in with a ute and steal some of the water buffalo. 

They grew vegetables and kept chickens, but it was hard life alright and something I could see with my eyes and try to imagine in my mind but never really grasp – coming from a world obscenely privleged in comparison. 















Ayutthaya – The Lost City

We had always meant to visit it but never got around to it: Ayutthaya.

The remains of the ancient city state which in the course of its 4 centuries of existence (from the 13 to 17th centuries) gave birth to the Thai culture and nation.

Situated north of the ever expanding mega city of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was one of the best known tourist attractions in Thailand. It was easily reached by organised groups on a day trip.

To be sure, there wasn’t much left of that ancient capital. Like many of the towns and cities built in Asia during in the past, most of Ayutthaya’s buildings and houses were constructed of wood. These were burnt down in the last days of Ayutthaya when it was conquered by a Burmese army. The monasteries and stupas however, built of brick and mortar or carved stone, survived.

They were only relics remaining from the once flourishing metropolis.

Like so many great cities which arose in the pre-industrial era, water played a crucial role in the rise of Ayutthaya – in distant Europe, Venice and Amsterdam being two striking examples of this.

Lying on the confluence of three rivers which flowed into the Gulf of Siam, it became a major trading centre as an increasing number of European ships – from Portugal, Spain, Italy, England and Holland appeared.

Prosperity led to wharves, roads, buildings and monasteries being built. The city state was ruled by a Royal Family and the society was rigidly hierarchical. Religion and dynastic rule went together. As Ayutthaya  grew in prosperity, it became a magnet drawing people from far and wide and also, a major military power able to field huge armies. At the same time, it became the birth place of a culture and identity which later formed the foundation of the Thai nation.  If there had never been an Ayutthaya, there would never have been a Thailand. And so too, one can also surmise that the legacy of Ayutthaya – dynastic rule by a Royal Family backed by the army and supported by an institutionalized  Buddhist hierarchy – might not also have formed the negative legacy of that ancient empire. Thai identity was created in a crucible of obedience and subjugation underpinned by religiously condoned fatalism on the part of the mass of workers and farmers.   

 We finally got to visit the ruins of Ayutthaya as a result of visiting a friend in the city of Khon Khan in the north east of Thailand; from there, we took the bus to the town of Phrar  Nakong, a town situated near the ruins.  This gave us the advantage of being able to visit the ruins in the early hours of the morning, when it was cool; the organised tourist groups who came from Bangkok generally didn’t arrive until around 10am (by which time it was hot and the ruins blasted by the powerful tropical sun).

We had expected Phrar Nakong to have a tourist area, with hotels and tourist orientated restaurants. Surprisingly this was not the case; it was a genuine Thai town. Perhaps because most tourists visited Ayutthaya from Bangkok on a day trip. But also, and this was something we didn’t realise until we spent our last day in Bangkok – tourism was a long way from its old pre-Covid levels. The Asian nations in general (China simply being the most extreme example) have been very slow to ease their border restrictions – a stark contrast indeed with Europe. Even during our visit to Thailand, everyone was wearing masks.












Walking around the suriving relics of a once large city state, I wondered about how people experienced their lives then. Happiness I imagine, was not a relevant concept then; this is a modern invention. Life was about survival and the acceptance of one’s lot. A sense of fatalism was reinforced by a Buddhist hierarchy – and in modern Thailand, I tend to see the very same forces at work. 

At the same time, I reflected on the story of Ayutthaya which unfolded over the course of 4 centuries – an unbelievably long time measured against the standards of our modern times in which change is the only constant. Yes, we are living in an unprecedented time, which is why it is necessary for us to revisit places and times long buried under the sands of time and re-imagine how it was, how people lived and experienced their lives. 



The Enigma of Arrival: Thailand.


Arriving in Thailand we experienced it: the enigma of arrival. 

That euphoric feeling when one crosses the border between the familiar and the strange and finds oneself in a different culture.

We had expected it. It wasn’t as if this was our first visit to this country. Far from it. Over the years we had been there often and seen the country undergo dramatic changes, some of them for the better, others far less so. 

Anya and I broke our flight from Amsterdam to Adelaide to visit friends in living in the city of Khon Khan in the north east of Thailand. Our last visit to Thailand was in the late 2018, when we travelled in the very south of the country, near the Malaysian border (lying near the Laotian border Khon Khan was at the opposite end of the country so to speak). 

After a break of four years – including two years staying in Australia due to Covid and the previous eight months travelling in Europe (Spain, Corsica, Belgium, Finland and Italy) – flying into Thailand was like visiting a strange country. 

Why, I don’t know. 

Perhaps because it was something very different to the western cultures such as Australia and the nations of Europe.

Over the years, Thailand has modernised quickly, in the process losing much of its original culture – and the enigma was palpable. 

We booked a budget hotel for a night to recover from the overnight the international flight from Amsterdam. It was in an outlying area rather than situated amongst the hotel towers closer to the international airport. It took some time in the mini bus to get there. We found ourselves in an area where the hotels were smaller (3 and 4 story) and where local Thais also lived. 


The enigma of arrival involves a sense of otherness. Religion plays a powerful role: here in the most mundane place, outside our hotel, the icons of a different belief system: 




Arriving in our room I opened the back door where there was a small balcony and took in the view:





The following day we took the hotel mini bus to Don Muang Airport to get the flight to Khon Khan; a lot of waiting for a flight of an hour. 

Priority seating for monks at Don Muang Airport


We arrived in Khon Khan mid afternoon, spent time talking to our friends and late in the afternoon went to the local market. If there’s one thing which is unique about Thailand it’s the evening markets. In this case in a lane adjacent one of the ubiquitious icons of the Thai landscape, the ‘7-11’ mini-market: