Monday, December 19, 2011

Chiang Rai - Black and White

Chiang Rai is home to many Thai National Artists. The artistic products of two of these artists have become some of the most popular tourist destinations in the province. Artist Thawan Duchanee is the inspiration behind the series of installations often referred to as the "Black House" owing to the dominant black color of most of the buildings found on the extensive grounds. This plot of land of over 100 rai (40 acres) is located at Ban Dam, Nang-lae, Chiang Rai. The artist was born in Chiang  Rai on September 27, 1939 and was eduacted in both Thailand and the Netherlands where he received a PhD in Metaphysics and Aesthetics from the Royal Academy of Visual Arts.

Over the past 35 years the grounds of Thawan's land have witnessed the installation of numerous  buildings of varying size and construction many of which evoke traditional Thai building forms plus  carefully composed rock gardens, Balinese sculptures and water worn boulders from the Mekong river. All of the foregoing are placed in a peaceful forest and garden setting. Many of the buildings house valuable collections of traditional folk arts while others contain installations which showcase the artists vision using natural items such as hides,skins and skeletal parts.

The artist has not been without controversy owing to his fusion of Buddhist and natural images in his paintings and his use of animal skins and bones in his installations. Some have criticized him for being mysterious or even ghoulish while he states that "they mean nothing, They are for
study, to help me with anatomy, form and function." He has further stated that "Colors and shapes
of animal skin, skull and bones as well as the myths related to them give me power. Moreover, looking at those animal corpses makes me think of life after death.....I can gain power by observing birds, reptiles and insects. In addition, I observe the details of lives to revive them once again on my painting."

Tawan's paintings evoke a sense of the organic combined with energy all rooted ina unique perspective of Thai Buddhism. The artist who says that he paints "out of pure emotion" is noted for rapid almost frenzied painting which can result in a finished canvas in a matter of seconds to minutes. His paintings are represented in collections all over the world and he is adept in many forms including: painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative art, music, literature and poetry. 

About his paintings Tawan has said "I think paintings are not things to be explained or interpreted. A painting faces you, so you just look at it. ..."I have depicted fate, dignity and sadness floating in the sea of my work." ...."What I basically try to express is the Buddhism philosophy in a contemporary style."..."As an artist I need inspiration. I need something psychological, sensual, difficult to understand and lonesome." ..."I try to express sublime loneliness and love in a visible way."...... "Paintings are a way of expressing feelings without any explanation." "I see the world in black and white."..."What I want is the heart-to-heart contact just like the waterfall touching the mountainside and cliff."Each visitor to the "Black House" compound will be touched in their own way influenced by what they bring to the experience. 

From the large wooden hall structure with its steeply pitched roof and richly carved doors to
the small concrete structures filled with furniture and displays of animal parts the visitor is sure to be engaged and challenged by the richness and uniqueness of Tawan Duchanee's art. A small
gift shop and gallery is located on site. There is no admission charge.

                                                    ROOF LINES                                                        

The Black House - Tawan's Work Place
Rock Sculpture
Concrete Structure
Chairs of Horn with Shells and Hides
Skulls - Black and White Vision
Another Roof Line
Black House Still Life 

Chiang Rai National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat has been pursuing a life's work which outwardly at least is almost totally white. Wat Rong Khun or perhaps better known as the"White Temple" is located about 11km. from Chiang Rai and is now firmly established as a must see.Under construction since 1997 the temple complex consisting of nine buildings is expected to take a total of 90 years to complete. To insure its completion the artist has trained a staff of over 50 young architects, painters and designers to carry on the work after his passing. Born on February 15, 1951 Chalermchai like Tawan was recognized at a young age as possessing extraordinary talent and became very successful through the sales and commissions for his work. Accomplished in many media and sculpting visitors will be amazed at the intricacy and detail of his paintings, sculpture and architectural works. 

Chalermchai has stated his purpose in building the temple - "It was my strong intention to build a temple in imitation of heaven. I wanted it to be heaven on earth." ...."I wanted it to be like a house of the Buddha with white color representing His purity and white glass (mirrors) representing His wisdom shining all over the earth and the universe." Chalermchai also wishes .."to make this temple a national and world heritage." ...He also wants "it to represent art and craft that flourished during the reign of His Majesty the King", for whom he wishes to dedicate the temple.
To these ends Chalermchai is dedicating his life.

The architectural layout and structures are based on Buddhist mythology and symbolism beginning with the bridge to the main building or ubolsot (chapel). The bridge symbolizes the change from the cycle of rebirths to the land of Buddha (nirvanna). The small semicircle in front of the bridge represents the world while the larger semicircle with the large "demon king's fangs" symbolizes passion and desire which one needs to throw away into the mouth of the demon king before entering the ubolsot. Along the railing of the walkway are 16 monsters representing the 16 kinds of passion. Mid bridge represents Sumeru mountain the abode of gods with the pond below standing for Sithandon Ocean. The 16 magic lotuses surrounding the main building represent the 16 layer Brahma's land which lies above the 6 layer heaven. The biggest 4 lotuses situated beside the entrance to the main building represent the shelters of the 4 great followers of the Buddha. The semicircle before the stair represents transcendent wisdom and the three steps stand for impermanence, suffering and non-self. After this one reaches the four levels of the Realm of the Formless Brahmas,which are represented by four celestial lotuses and four door panels the uppermost of which is a triangular glass pane signifying emptiness. At this point one crosses into the Abode of Buddha. Inside the Ubolsot all paintings are in gold hues and show the escape from the defilement's of temptation. (Adapted from Creating Buddhist Art for the Land by Chalermchai Kositpipat).

The complex of temple buildings are set on manicured grounds. Also within the temple precinct are workshops producing architectural and decorative elements for the various buildings, a souvenir sales room and a gallery containing original works by the artist which are not for sale. However in both locations selected prints in varying size are available for purchase. There is no admission fee. 

Both of these Chiang Rai natives have devoted their lives to perfecting their art and both have produced important monuments to their respective visions. Guests at Lanna Thai Villa are able to schedule private and personalized visits to these and other culturally important sites in Chiang Rai and adjacent provinces. The above are two of the more well known attractions in the province, however, many interesting and lesser known sites are events are regularly part of the opportunities afforded those who stay with us where culturally sensitive people to people experiences are a priority.

Wat Rong Khun
Souls in Hell
The Bridge From Cycle of Rebirth to the Abode of Buddha
Some Images are Fearful
Some Images are Peaceful
Multitiered Roof With SymbolicChofa (finials)
Temple Grounds
Detail of Chofa
An Admonition
Bottle Fed Fish in Temple Pond

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thai Style Wedding at Lanna Thai Villa

It was a real pleasure to provide a Thai style wedding for recent honeymooning guests Andrew and Michelle from Birmingham, England. It is always special to have guests who want to experience local customs and interact with local villagers. Prior to their arrival Michelle and Andrew indicated an interest in experiencing a local wedding ceremony. We therefore contacted the resident practitioner of ceremonies or Maw Sukwan to set an auspicious date and time. In the meantime Sermsri arranged for a baci tray to be made and gathered the requisite ceremonial items including two specially prepared chickens. The centerpiece of the northern Thai wedding is a soul calling (sukwan or baci) ceremony. It is believed that a person has 32 spirits (kwan) which can wander about and hence at auspicious times (such as weddings or traveling etc.) they are "called" and ceremonially bound back to the person so that the new endeavor is begun with ones full faculties. The spirits are enticed back to the person(s) via their linkage by strings to the Baci Tray which is attractive to spirits owing to its beautiful construction with flowers and banana leaves and its containing items spirits like such as flowers, incense, candles, whiskey, cigarettes, sweets, fruits, rice, and specially prepared chicken. By chanting, the Maw Kwan first calls the spirits back and then with appropriate words will extend wishes for good health, protection from accidents, a long and happy marriage etc. The spirits and wishes will be bound to the participants by strings from the baci tray tied around the wrists. Then in turn those witnessing the ceremony will extend verbally their own good wishes and at the same time bind those wishes via strings around the wrist. This is perhaps the most meaningful and moving part of the ceremony where each person in turn can directly verbalize their own sentiments to the newlyweds.








Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lanna Landscapes in the Vicinty of Lanna Thai Villa

Lanna Thai Villa is situated in Thoeng District of Chiang Rai Province. Geo morphologically the Province is characterized by its Basin and Range topography. The Villa is situated near the foothills of the Thoeng Range a linear ridge system which trends Northeasterly until meeting the Mekong River. This range is composed of volcanic rocks dating some 210 to 286 million years ago.  Another parallel Northeast trending  range,  the Pha Mon Range,  forms the Thai - Laos border and is composed of  sedimentary rocks including sandstones, shale, siltstone and conglomerates around 280 million years old. It is on this ridge line that the famous view points of Phu Chi Fah and Pha Tang are located. Lying between the two ridge systems is an undulating valley primarily underlain by sedimentary rocks dating to around 210 million years ago  and overlain along the river courses in the valley bottom with flood plain and alluvial deposits ranging from modern times to the past 100,000 years. Flat low lying areas which are the focus of intensive rice cultivation are formed from Quaternary or ice age sediments dating from the past 100,000 years or so. Basin sediments vary in size but widespread areas of fine grained clay and silt which are poorly drained permit successful wet rice agriculture. Elevations range from a typical 370 m (1,213ft.) above sea level in the fertile plains to more than 1,000m (3,200ft.) above sea level in the mountainous zones. The Phu Chi Fah mountain view point is at  1,628m  (5,341 ft) ASL  while Doi Ian which looms behind Lanna Thai Villa has an elevation of. 1,178m (3,865 ft.) ASL. Though much of the original vegetation has been cleared for agricultural practices the construction of wooden homes and the use of wood for fuel in tobacco processing many areas of older growth dense jungle remain, especially along the Laos border from Ban Huak to Ban Lao Ou.
Whether day tripping by bike or vehicle Lanna Thai Villa's location permits ready access to the natural beauty of the local area. Paved highways and back country roads with little traffic make exploring easy. Many scenic bike routes have been mapped out which focus on local farm access roads which wander through valleys providing closeup views of adjacent hills and mountains and ever changing agricultural activities.A well maintained trail leads to the little visited summit of Phu Chom Dao, 1,532 m. (5,025 ft.) with expansive views of Laos and Phayao Province of Thailand. The trail passes through both second growth and pristine jungle and requires about 1 1/2 hours from car to summit. Local guides can also be arranged to hike off trail to other summit view points. Phu Chi Fah and Pa Tang viewpoints are easy 25 min. hikes from nearby car parks. These cliff top viewpoints offer views of Laos and the Mekong valley.

The pictures which follow were all taken on local bike trails or within a 1 1/2 hour car drive from Lanna Thai Villa.

Lanna Thai Villa Starting Point
  View Across the Highway from Lanna Thai Villa    
Basin and Range Topography
Looking East to Ban Pagee and Ban Ngao
Farm Access Road - Ideal for Biking
Good Views from Quiet Road
Doi Ian
Flame Tree Along Country Road
Country Scene
Country Scene
On Road to Phu Chi Fah
Doi Pha Mon Range Marking Thai/Laos Border
Phu Chi Fah
View from Phu Chi Fah with Mekong River in Background
Color in the Mountains

View from Pha Tang View Point
Mountains Near Pha Tang
Mekong River and Laos from Pha Tang
Clouds and Mountains at Pha Tang
Mekong River
Doi Phu Chom Dao in Right Background
Beginning of Trail to Summit of Phu Chom Dao



Wild Bananas Along Trail
View Looking Northwest From Rocky Promontory
Interesting Tree Along Route
Canopy of Wild Banana
Sentinels of the Forest
Patterns in the Jungle
Looking East Into Laos
Laotian Ridge Lines
Hmong Village in Laos
Picnic With a View
Enjoying the Panorama