A Year in Bangkok – We’re Going to Stand on a Rock and Look at Some Flowers.

15 08 2010

It is kra jiao season. I’m not aware of an English translation for kra jiao although there must be one, probably known only to botanists. Kra jiao is a flower, a member of the ginger family, which is much admired here in Thailand and people will travel quite a distance to see them. A bit like us Brits rushing off in spring to see the woodlands full of snowdrops I suppose, although the Thai people refer to them as ‘the tulips of Thailand’. A group of us have hired a minibus and driver and booked into what is described as a bungalow complex for the Saturday night and we are heading off to Chaiyaphum, a rural province almost bang in the middle of Isaan in north eastern Thailand, where we will look at the flowers and stand on a rock.

Kra Jiao flowers.

We drive there round the southern side of Khao Yai national park where we have heard there is a temple with prehistoric rock paintings behind it. I am very quickly coming to realize how lucky we are in England to have ordnance survey maps as I have so far been unable to find a decent map of anywhere in Thailand. Being, as it were, mapless it took some time for us to find the temple but we got there in the end. We parked up and looked for signs to the rock paintings. We could see no signs to the rock paintings. There were signs to the reclining Buddha, to the Buddha’s footprint and one only written in Thai warning us to beware of cobras but no mention of the paintings for which this temple is famous. Finally, a monk told us they were on the same path as the reclining Buddha so off we went.

Beware of cobras!

What a wonderful little walk! It was all uphill and even included steps carved into the stone. We reached the paintings without noticing them and were happily continuing upwards in our search when somebody noticed some large, curious looking jars. Back we went to discover that the jars contained preserved human embryos. None of us knew why they were there but we assumed it was for some sort of blessing as Thai Buddhism is littered with bits of other older faiths, especially animism.

Garish reclining Buddha.

Burmese Buddhism also has bits of other faiths, for instance the Burmese still fear and even worship nats which are demons and spirits of primitive beliefs that Buddhism has never managed to get rid of. Apparently, they possess the power to assist or totally destroy the lives of those who recognize them. The Burmese even have special ceremonies, called pwes, to appease nats. I understand that there are thirty seven different officially recognized nats and there is a pwe going on somewhere in Burma every day.

Buttress roots.

I have never seen ancient rock paintings before and was somewhat disappointed. They were a sort of dull terracotta colour, small and quite faint and mainly seemed to be hunting scenes. I’m not quite sure what else I might have wanted, especially considering their age and I understand that, in worldwide terms, these are particularly good examples so we will just have to assume that my expectations were too high.

Rock painting.

The scenery around the paintings was spectacular. There were lots of those trees with huge buttress roots which you expect to see in jungles and in Indiana Jones films and the footpath beyond the paintings went up through a kind of gorge with a huge ball of rock balanced across the top at one point. Hey, maybe we were in an Indiana Jones film!

Are we in an Indiana Jones movie?

We soon reached the reclining Buddha which looked to be made from plaster of Paris and was painted in garish colours but, right at the top, the Buddha footprint was interesting. It is not a real footprint of course, but cast in concrete and is the size of a small swimming pool. These are often found in holy places but I have no idea why. The Buddha is believed to have had unusual curly designs, or whorls, on the soles of his feet and these concrete Buddha footprints reflect that. Sometimes they are gold inside but this one was plain concrete. Apparently, there are natural rock formations very similar to this somewhere and they are also referred to as Buddha footprints.

Buddha footprint.

Despite the sign at the bottom warning Thai readers of the presence of cobras, we didn’t see any. Maybe they only bite Thai readers? Coming back down though, as we passed through the gorge with the rock balanced on top, there asleep in a crack in the rock was a bright green pit viper. These highly poisonous snakes are very fast movers and are also quite aggressive so, to me at least, they look their best when they are asleep. It was the closest I have seen a snake out here so far and made a lasting image of the very real dangers of walking in the countryside without good ankle protection.

The green pit viper.

We reached our bungalow complex in the middle of the afternoon but didn’t unpack as the bungalows had no room to put our unpacked stuff. Garden sheds would have been a far better description than bungalows as the bed almost completely filled the available space – there was about a foot spare at the bottom of the bed and about six inches spare on one side with a tiny bathroom off. At least it was functional as we only needed sleeping space.

The land drops away to the plains of Isaan.

Next we set off to stand on a rock. At some point in history there has been a massive shift in the tectonic plates here resulting in a kind of umpteen mile long cliff with the rice growing plains of Isaan stretched out far below it. I’m pleased that we came straight to the top of this cliff without having to climb up. The views are truly amazing and they alone were worth the journey. Added to that, there is a particularly well known view point which is like a V shape extending out at the top of the cliff with nothing but air beneath you. I am terrified of heights and often manage to conquer that fear for special occasions such as this but, this time, I was completely unable to step out onto the rock.

Sitting on a rock.

On our way back to the ‘bungalows’ we stopped at a great little country market. Frogs are quite a popular food here and, on the market, they were presented live but with their back legs tied together to ensure they didn’t do a runner. That evening, we sat outside the ‘bungalows’ and had a couple of beers, but no frogs, before getting an early night.

The market.......

....and those frogs.

Early the next morning we set out for Hin Gnam national park where the flower fields are. Even very early in the morning the approach road was clagged up with traffic and, when we got there, it took for ever to find a space in the car park. In the end we got parked next to the most extravagantly decorated coach I have ever met. It was painted to resemble a huge Chinese dragon and accessorized with several air horns and, get this, fifty three spotlights on the front. Can you imagine that? Fifty three spotlights! I wonder if the vehicle’s generator was powerful enough to light them all at once.

Amazing coach.

The flower fields themselves had wooden board walks to protect the plants and they extended for several acres. Very pretty flowers, dotted around the fields but not exactly masses of them.

One of the flower fields.

They are sort of pastel pinks and mauves and I did enjoy seeing them but I decided I would rather see a carpet of snowdrops. Elsewhere in the park were some great walks and areas of strangely shaped rocks, many of them like giant mushrooms which reminded me of the bride stones in Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire.

One of the rock formations.

It seemed odd that, here we were, in the middle of nowhere yet the place was absolutely heaving with people. Everywhere was really crowded but, during the whole time in the park, we only saw one other westerner. As far as I know, this natural attraction is not mentioned in any English language guide books but is massively popular with the Thai people themselves. All too soon it was the middle of the afternoon and, reluctantly, we set off back for the great metropolis of Bangkok to be ready to face yet another week at work.

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6 responses

15 08 2010
lemondedemina

I thought it was only thr French that enjoyed eating frogs! Oh well, what do you know… I liked your post, nice stories and good photos. Very interesting!

15 08 2010
Ben Salmons

Thanks, glad you like it…hope you keep reading!

17 08 2010
Andrew Hicks

Anthony A. has alerted me to your great blog. You have some spectacular pics and I enjoyed all the stories.

Yes, I too have been frustrated by the absence of maps in Thailand but it does at least give a special sense of discovery to any expedition. I have been amazed too how long it has taken to discover similar mountain temples even within easy reach of my home in Surin as even the locals do not know about them.

Do have a look at http://www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com and you’ll find accounts of my visits there, among other things.

Keep blogging!

Andrew Hicks

18 08 2010
Ben Salmons

Hi Andrew, nice to hear from you. Haven’t visited your blog for a while but this prompted me, liked your analysis of the protests which pretty much reflected my own views. Also liked your story about your elderly neighbours, I was planning something along similar lines but I’ll leave that one alone now! I hear you’re researching Jack Reynolds for a new book – I look forward to hearing more about that, felt he wrote a brilliant and accurate book about life in Bangkok, even if it was over 50 years ago now.

Take care.

17 09 2010
amortization loan calculator

Please tell me it worked right? I dont want to sumit it again if i do not have to! Either the blog glitced out or i am an idiot, the second option doesnt surprise me lol. thanks for a great blog!

18 09 2010
Ben Salmons

Well, something worked!

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