Photography Corner – Wat Lok Molee

Located just north of the Old City, Wat Lok Molee is a lesser-known temple in Chiang Mai, recognized for its large stupa, hidden charms and unique grounds full of statues, relics and mosaics.

The first structures were built in the 14th century and is said to have housed Monks from Burma who stayed at the temple to help spread Theravada Buddhism to Thailand.  The Stupa, one of the largest in Chiang Mai, is left unadorned and reminiscent of the old Lanna Kingdom. The spectacular Stupa holds the ashes of Phra Muang Kaew and his family, the Lanna king in the early part of the 16th century who commissioned the building.

This Wat is definitely worth a trip for its architecture, calm atmosphere, and the statues and figurines throughout the grounds. From a carved wooden elephant statue, Vishnu statues, and wall mosaics, it is easy to spend time just walking around. Although this temple is not often visited by tourists, it it still a beautiful temple that is worth the trip outside the city walls.

 

Photographs by: Alexis Taylor

alexis@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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Photography Corner: Koh Chang

This photography corner is from Alexis Taylor, an on-site intern with ATMA SEVA, from her recent trip down to Ko Chang.  You can read about her adventure here.  Hope you enjoy the photos!

Photographs by: Alexis Taylor

alexis@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Off the Beaten Path: A Trip to Koh Chang

As an on site intern with ATMA SEVA based in Chiang Mai, I recently took the opportunity to visit an island in the south of Thailand called Koh Chang.  The tropical beaches of the south are readily accessible from Chiang Mai, and can be well worth a visit.  I chose to visit a small and relatively undeveloped island called Koh Chang in Ranong (not to be confused with the big, very touristy island on the east coast).

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There are flights available to both Bangkok and Ranong, but to save money I chose to travel by bus.  The longest leg of the 24-hour journey is a 15-hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Chumpon Muang Mai. You have your own personal entertainment system with movies and games, as well as a massage chair, which almost fully reclines, allowing you to sleep fairly comfortably.  The bus departs Chiang Mai at 4 pm (dinner stop and good food included) arriving in Chumphon Muang Mai at 9am. From Chumphon, it’s just a couple of hours by local bus to Ranong, where a soung taew takes you directly to the pier.  The boat to the island is an old fisherman style boat loaded with tourists and supplies for the island alike.  You may very well find yourself sitting on a bag of ice!

The crossing takes about an hour and on the way you see many chow Lair, or Sea Gypsies, who are indigenous to the area.  They live on large, traditional boats for extended periods, although they traditionally camp on beaches too.  Historically, they make a living as fishermen but they have suffered from relocation due to the tourist industry.  The government is now making a move to protect their land rights, but in the past they have had little assistance.

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The crossing to Koh Chang via boat.

After landing on the island, I found a great beach front bungalow for only 300 baht per night (about $10).  There are many “resorts” on the island, usually consisting of a few bungalows (beach huts) with a double bed, mosquito net, and basic bathroom.  There is generally a social area and restaurant attached too.

Koh Chang is a simple place, not a hugely developed tourist center like Phuket or Koh Samuii, nor a wild party paradise like Koh Phan Ngan. The showers are cold water only, and the toilets are usually bucket flush.  Be prepared for this, but the simplicity adds to the beauty of the place.  There is no main line electricity, but each resort has a generator to give light and provide power between sunset and about 10:30 pm.  Any cell phone connection is unreliable and there is no internet except for a couple of satellite fuelled laptops which are painfully slow and expensive!

So…what is there to do?  Well, there are a lot of friendly locals to hang out with, and you can go walking in the jungle.  Spotting wildlife is always fun- there are monkeys on one part of the island, along with typical sea birds and other wildlife, including hornbills and owls.  There are three great beach bars offering affordable beers and cocktails, and the restaurants are delicious!  The food is primarily grown on the island; the fruit is always fresh and juicy, the fish are caught daily, and the veggies and nuts are local too.  Some of the resorts offer fishing expeditions, and many people fish on the rocks.  The sea is generally gentle, although the tides can be extreme.  It’s safe to swim, and a local dive company offers 3 day live aboard dive expeditions in the Andaman Sea.  There is also the possibility of a boat trip to neighboring Koh Phayam and kayaks are available for rent.  There’s plenty to keep you busy!

I completed several hikes around the island, including one seven hour loop of the north.  To do this, I walked to the furthest beach on the northern tip, crossed the water at Mama’s Bungalows and climbed to a trail above the rocks.   After hiking for a couple of hours though the jungle, you emerge at a secluded beach- perfect for cooling off.  From here, the trail here gets quite tough, heading uphill and across the island.  Upon arriving at the west coast we found some small cafes to enjoy a drink in the shade before walking along the coast, and then cutting inland to reach the farmland.  Much of the island is rubber plantation, which you can see this en route.  After a few more breaks, we made it to one of the “roads” (paved trails) that lead us to the infamous “crossroads” –the center of the island in every sense!  Here there is a small restaurant, a store, and the point where the two paved trails that cross the island meet.  It was a great place to refuel before moving back to the beach and the bungalows for nightfall!

Another day I took a smaller hike to a beach called Hornbill, about 1.5 hours through the jungle south from the Long Beach.  There is a small restaurant there and perfectly clear shallow water.  They make great food and snacks, and offer a cozy area with hammocks strung up under a communal shelter, right on the beach.

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Cafe on the Rock, a nice relaxing break from any hike.

There are fewer people and vehicles on Koh Chang than most islands, so wildlife are more easily seen and heard here.  Some people are a little alarmed by their proximity!  I encountered 4 large spiders, a scorpion and a Gecko in my bungalow, as well as numerous frogs, leaf insects, butterflies, beach dogs, eagles, hornbills, giant fruit bats and snakes outside.  The noise at sunset and sunrise is almost deafening, with a cacophony of insects, birds, bats and more!

Aside from recreational pursuits, while I was visiting there was an event held at the school, to raise money for local Burmese children.  Ranong and Koh Chang have a lot of refugee families from Burma, many of whom are not eligible for government education.  The event, including a football match, speeches, and other entertainment, is held annually and it seemed to be a big event for the locals.

The islands down south are significantly hotter than the north of Thailand, and much more humid.  They also have their own pace of life- you never feel like you are in a rush- and the scenery is without compare.   I enjoyed my stay and would definitely recommend a visit!

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Sunset over the water, Burma off in the distance.

Check out this Photography Corner for pictures from the trip!

Alexis Taylor

alexis@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography corner – Muang Mai Market

This weeks photography corner is from Muang Mai market which is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  It is a wholesale market and a place where smaller markets shop for their produce.  The produce literally comes right from the farm to this market and often times you can see the farmers unloading their latest harvest.  You can purchase fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood.

This is a must see if you are visiting Chiang Mai!

 

photos by Alexis Taylor

alexis@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

ATMA SEVA – On site internship first weeks

It has only been a short time that I have been working with ATMA SEVA in Northern Thailand, but the past few weeks have been very eventful!  My internship started with a trip to Wat Doi Saket and then to a Lawa Village, called Ba Pae, in the mountains of Mae Hong Song.

At Wat Doi Saket I was able to meet the novice monks studying there and see them take part in an annual gift exchange ceremony.  I was given a tour of the monastery, including a beautiful new conference room used for retreats and ceremonies.  This large white building overlooks the valley below with breathtaking views.  It was built by a local businessman, working in Bangkok, who wanted to “make merit” and improve his Karma.

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Gift exchange at Wat Doi Saket in new conference center

A few days later I found myself on a bus to the end of the line, where we would be met by my colleague’s cousin to help us on the final leg of the trip to the Lawa village.  We hopped into the back of his truck to make the last 3 hour leg of the journey into the hills, on the dirt tracks.  This was pretty rocky going and didn’t do much to help those suffering from travel sickness!

Road down to the Lawa village

When we finally arrived however we were given a very warm welcome from the host family, who were very kind and hospitable.  Their house is a large wooden building with plenty of room for us to sleep.  The fire was alight in the kitchen and we sat down for tea, some great homemade food, and of course some local whiskey!  The whiskey is brewed in the village and made from fermented rice balls. It is then heated in a large barrel with a fire beneath it until it is forced out of the container when it evaporates.  The vapors are forced down a tube attached to the barrel, and collected in bottles ready to drink.  Different families make different strengths, and local people in the village have their own particular favorites.

The point of our journey was to collect Katherine, another intern with ATMA SEVA, who had been teaching in Ba Pae for the last two months.  During this time she had learned a lot of Thai (practically nobody there speaks English) and made a lot of new friends.  The villagers seemed genuinely excited to have an English teacher and the kids especially were very sad to see her leave!

Entrance to the school in the village

Entrance to the school in the village

The local school is a nice collection of buildings with good sized classrooms and a big yard for sports and play time.  The equipment for teachers however is basic, and it does not always run to the schedule that you might expect in some less rural places.  It was great to see donated sports equipment (badminton sets and basketballs) being used even outside school hours.  They kids were certainly happy to have it! From what I could see the children were very respectful and polite, happy and eager to work with new volunteers.  They wanted to develop their language skills and seemed to be enthusiastic about their lessons, despite being a little shy to speak.  Onsite there is a room for visiting teachers and volunteers to stay in, with a big bed, bathroom, and kitchenette for their use.  Another teacher also stays in the school throughout the week, and returns to her family for the weekend.

While we were in the village we went to have a meeting with the “number one”, who is the elected head of the village.  There are 12 villages in the vicinity that all elect a leader, who runs for two years at a time.  From the 12 councilors a government representative is elected also.  He told us that the village was very happy to have volunteer English teachers and was excited about the prospect of having more soon.  I also had a tour, and met many of the local families and children. With 200 residents, Ba Pae is one of the biggest villages in the area, and one of the better off. The village of Ba Pae is one of the only villages in the mountain which has a basic health clinic, meaning sick villagers from the surrounding area are forced to walk there on poorly maintained trails for basic health care facilities.

kids show in villageAlthough we were visiting a week after Christmas, according to the Western calendar, we were there for the local Christmas celebrations, which were great fun! We visited the local church (built by missionaries) which was the center of the fun.  Despite the fact only a percentage of the locals have converted to Christianity the venue was packed and everyone was welcome to the social event and the party!  The children from the school put on a show, singing and dancing in traditional costumes, before more adult games took place.  These included blowing up balloons as fast as you could – the winner being the first to pop theirs – and having grown men racing to eat cookies and drink milk from a baby’s bottle!  There was also a selection of fairground games to be played, where adults and kids all won prizes donated from the church.  These included toiletry kits, Dettol sets, sun hats, sweets and cookies.  They proved very popular and it was highly amusing to watch the older villagers elbowing each other and pushing over the barriers to win as many prizes as they could.  The competition was fierce!!

One of the tasks which we accomplished while in the mountains was to distribute clothing to a remote Karen village near to Ba Pae.  ATMA SEVA learned about this village through a novice monk who is currently studying at Wat Saraphi.  It is his home and he informed us of some of the challenges that they face throughout the seasons.

Walking down to the Karen village

Walking down to the Karen village

Simply finding the village was a bit of a challenge for us.  It is tucked away down a small track which is hardly visible from the bigger track which substitutes a road!  Luckily our local driver managed to locate the correct spot, and we walked down the trail to the houses.

It can be very cold in this region at night, and warm clothing is necessary – the donation from ATMA SEVA was gratefully received.  While we were passing through we also took a look at their solar panels.  These were provided some time ago by another NGO who never followed up on them or sent anyone to repair them.  The government likewise has not followed up on promises to send someone to service them.  ATMA SEVA had been informed that they have not been working for some time and as such the village had no electricity at all.  We took the serial numbers and models for reference, and became apparent that it is possibly not the solar panel which is broken, but maybe just the light bulbs themselves.  ATMA SEVA will continue to assist and work with this Karen village.

Group shot!

Group shot!

We were planning to stay in Ba Pae until the 3rd January; however the trip was cut short by the fact that there were no bus seats free for our return!  Because a lot of students and adults who work in the city returned home for the Christmas celebration and New Year’s holiday season the seats were booked up long in advance.  Luckily for us a neighbor was traveling to Chiang Mai on the 1st January in a pickup truck, and kindly let us sling our bags, and ourselves, in the back.  It was considerably more comfortable than the bus and the ‘air con au natural’ was also very welcome, as well as the tanning session!  It showed how limited the local transportation services are however, even taking into account that buses only run as far as the town 2-3 hours down the trail.

Goodbye Ba Pae

Goodbye Ba Pae

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Alexis Taylor

alexis@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org