#1195. Thailand temples: « Undestination, destination… and undestination again »

By Pascal Ravach | Travel Photography

Apr 27

(The title came to me from an Asian movie I like a lot, « Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring again »… not for « blockbusters fans », since it is so slow… but wonderful in its meditative state).


Type “Thailand temples” in a search engine, and you’ll get zillions of photos, each one more spectacular than the previous one…


But I never find there the « something »  that drives me back to these Buddhist temples every time I stay in Thailand: the mood…


First, the visual one: the “decorations” show most of the time a complexity defying the imagination… myriads of tiny sculptures, incrustations and colours; a good example of what Pascal J called a “busy” picture, worthy of a challenge :D)… but at the end, the result is surprisingly peaceful, graceful, bringing serenity!


And then, the “atmosphere”…

My wife and I spend many weeks nearly each year (out of pandemic times…) in Chiang mai, North of Thailand, since 2016.


Mostly « un-destination »… not a location tourists target first; but it’s charm lies in the special but recognized « vibe »… relaxed, peaceful, smiling… times stops here, really.

It hosts a lot of expats and so-called “Digital nomads” for that very reason (the very affordable cost of life being the other one, of course…).


Sitting at an altitude of 400m, the air is not suffocating like in Bangkok.


And the people of the North, called Lanna (the Southern ones are the genuine Siamese) are famous for their great kindness…


That evening, my Buddhist wife and I decided to attend a ceremony at a very holy temple, the « Silver Temple », the Wat Sri Suphan; these events are clearly targeted at tourists, with some « scenic lighting » (hence the « destination »); for those interested, here is a link amongst many about the temple’s construction: https://www.orientalarchitecture.com/sid/1056/thailand/chiang-mai/wat-sri-suphan.


But… with the absence of foreign tourists this year, 90% of the attendance were Thai visitors… hence Buddhist believers; so at the end it was both authentic and touching!
The « spirit rope » (the monks start it from the temple, link every person with it, and it ends up in a Buddha’s hands), the candles, the prayers… it sounded simple and true.


The Thais have a very candid relation to their Buddhism; just watching Buddha with the rope ball in his hands… smile 🙂

Pascal Ravach

 

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  • Lad Sessions says:

    Pascal,

    I have never been to Thailand and probably never will. But I thank you for these luminous images that convey the mood or tone of this particular spot; it gives me a virtual glimpse anyway, and a moving one. I’m impressed by the incredible complexity of the temple, and the utter simplicity of the Buddha. As the Heart Sutra says, both are empty–and both are beautiful.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Am I missing something? The heading attributes this article to our friend Pascal Jappy. But I am sitting here reading it, and simply not believing that he wrote it.

    Never mind. No matter who wrote it, it’s very well written, highly informative and lavishly illustrated. I can’t say it’s a country that I’ve never been to – that would be untruthful – but I’ve only been there once, and never had a chance to see anything anywhere vaguely resembling these wonderful images.

    I can’t thank our anonymous author enough, for sharing these pictures. And Mr X, you grasp of colour control with available light photography is world class!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, you were simply too quick to press the trigger, Pete 😉 You opened this email before I had time to create a user for Pascal Ravach. It’s now done 🙂

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I should have noticed it in your covering email. Oops. Ah well, I got the prenom right, anyway. One out of a total of two ain’t all that bad!

        • Pascal Ravach says:

          No worry, Pete 🙂
          We don’t publish on DS to flatten our ego, but to share our passion… even if in all honesty the feedbacks make us happy 🙂

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Thanks, Pete 🙂
      Thailand is indeed a mega-touristic country, but most visit the South, with its famous beaches, islands, etc.
      Nothing wrong with that, but, in any country, my Vietnamese wife and I love to travel randomly in totally anonymous spots, or not-so-special cities, to immerse ourselves in the local life… and on top, Chiang mai is where we met six years ago, in another temple, quite meh that one, but then still dear to us 😀
      In fact, there are a couple of gorgeous temples in the country, but scattered over the place; for us Westerners, coming from countries where the last people building religious marvels died centuries ago, it is hard to imagine a nation where new temples are built all the time! It is in their genetics 🙂
      As for your so kind comment on the available light, the truth is that I had to discard quite a lot of failed attempts 🙂

      • Lad Sessions says:

        The willingness to shed “failed attempts” is the mark of high standards, which you surely have.

        • Pascal Ravach says:

          The simple truth is that it is the very high quality of the pictures posted here on DS that leads me to become picky, and the reason I had only 2 posts in 3 years 🙂

  • Dallas Thomas says:

    Pascal, thanks for sharing your excellent images it brings back memories our my visit many years ago. I do agree Chiang mai is a haven. Take care Dallas

  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Pascal

    Thank you for this post. Indeed you may not contribute often, but always worth our while.
    Having had the opportunity to visit Thailand on more than one occasion, I can only say your pictures are quite special.
    Thank you again, and hopefully, we can have the pleasure of seeing some more pictures in the not too distant future.

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Thanks, Pascal 🙂
      Mainly, that evening was special; and of course when we spend a lot of time in the same place, there are better chances to see something interesting; also, I just happen to love Thailand… out of the beaten tracks, to paraphrase our very Pascal J.
      As for future posts, thanks for the gentle push… I have something in mind, that I did in… the 80s! Photography can be such a nice « Time Machine » 🙂

      • Pascal O. says:

        Holding my breath!
        Thanks again! I agree with you that Thailand is special. Having worked for close to a decade in that neck of the woods, Thai people are among the more welcoming in the region.
        Again, I look forward to your next post! Cheers!

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    Pascal,

    Your photos are impressive for many reasons, not the least of which is the sensitivity to the subject matter that your images conveys. When we visit a place and especially when we visit a place with spiritual significance, we are challenged to make photographs that communicate both technique and respect. We can sometimes be blocked–or better, distanced–first, because we are not community insiders and second because the technology we hold in our hands is a distraction (as Susan Sontag reminded us). It seems to me that you have overcome both obstacles with sensitivity, color, perspective and care. The photos almost seem to gesture toward the “inside” of the experience you had. Impressive. And by the way, yes, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring again is a beautiful film–you are so right to use it as a lens.

    Claude

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Thank you so much for these kind words, Claude, they strike a chord: when I decided to study quantum physics in my youth, my real interest, other than ecology, was contemporary metaphysics, kinda Theilard de Chardin or Jean Charon; I’m not religious, but spirituality is a reality to me. Now, conveying it a bit in photography is a blessing I enjoyed only a handful of times in decades… I am deeply touched to see friends here on DS reacting to it 🙂

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        With my mixed ancestry, I could have wound up being almost anything – christian (catholic or protestant), jewish, muslim, agnostic.
        Instead I was brainwashed from birth and grew up as a crhristian. But I’ve often thought that, given free choice back at the beginning, I probably would have selected Buddhism.

        • Pascal Ravach says:

          I was baptized too 🙂 And you know what « Pascal » means…
          Later, I liked that Buddhism was a philosophy, and liked the respect for life, the compassion rather than rejection, the meditation… the pure religious side of it is not my cup of tea.
          And to end up this on a more practical note – I try to remember Pascal runs a photography site 😀 -, a good side of the fact Thailand is 90%+ Buddhist, is that in most places except the touristic spots, nobody robs you… in Chiang mai, we use to leave everything on our scooter, including the keys… you could never do that in many other South-Asia places, and it is such a source of peacefulness…

        • Claude Hurlbert says:

          Yeah, I see your point, Pete. We are born into who we are before we even know that we are (I’m sure I just plagiarized someone with that, but perhaps you take my point). I fear that if I had been given free choice back at my beginning I would have waffled, Hamlet-like, about which way to go. I say that without any evidence, except that as I age I seem to be on the same twisting path. I think sometimes I see it in my photography, endless interpretation (until the final click of the shutter, that is), which I prefer to the idea that my photos too often chronicle my indecision. Maybe that’s it–“interpretation.” I may be forever caught between poles, moving back and forth. But if I am interpreting, I tell myself, I am making at least some kind of sense (hopefully).

          Pascal, obviously you have not left metaphysics, de Chardin, and Charon behind. They seem to have led to a very good place indeed, if I may judge by your photos. Our photos, too, are sometimes something like those metallic leaves, aren’t they–our postings (maybe even prayers) of supplication, hope, gratitude or love? Of course, our photography can embody other meanings and messages as well, but I have those metallic leaves in mind as I type this. It’s a compelling image.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    And by the way, Pete’s comment and yours remind me to explain something for those not familiar with Thailand: the metallic leaves. In the West, believers (and sometimes non-believers too) usually use candles (I also remember love lockers on bridges in Europe…); in Vietnam it is ribbons; they write on them, then suspend them on sacred trees; in Thailand’s important temples we can often see these leaves, sometimes marked with dates or lover’s names or whatever; I always loved looking at these many personal hopes or gratitude (Buddhists often « ask something » or « thank for something » in their prayers… Asian remain pragmatic people 🙂

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      FYI Pascal – there is an article on Thailand in the “travel” section of yesterday’s “Weekend Australian” newspaper – and it describes Thailand as “the land of smiles”.

      (My “oops” – this comment was meant to be here, but it’s somehow also landed in Pascal’s #1194 Week links of photography – – désolé!)

  • Mer says:

    Pascal

    Nice use of light – or lack of – and colour.

    The image of the candle being lit, gorgeous. I’m trying to stay away from shallow DOF(for now), but shots like this make me reconsider.

    Cheers

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Thanks, Mer!
      I try also to avoid shallow DOF, but this time I fell « compelled » back into it because that moment had such a « inner » feeling, and while looking like nothing special, it had a certain « magic » in it… I think we can say that the situation needed that choice 🙂
      I liked to see Pascal J. using it as a background for the title 🙂

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