Kampot Caves -Phnom Kbal Romeas & Phnom Chngok

Another day trip and this was more of an adventure. Firstly I missed the turn off about 3 times then I finally found the dirt track that would lead me to visiting the underworld.

I saw on the map a Pogoda and dropped in there first. It was a real proper locals temple, quiet, peaceful, dusty, and setup for individual offerings, the monks would do their thing in the evening. It probably hadn’t seen a tourist in a long long while.

As I drove onwards I saw a sign for “Pre-Historic” caves – hmm I thought could there be Dinosaurs?

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The advice to hire a guide is a good one. Yes you can go look at the cave entrance but clambering onwards you’re likely to get lost, stuck and in rainy season you could well stumble into a water pool in the darkness, plus they looked after my bike while inside.

The Khmer Rouge had dynamited the religious site but since then the locals had rebuilt as much as they could, a resemblance of the temple that once was, with the original bricks they could gather. So my guide along with at least five local kids all went further into the caves, they had all done this many times before, they were skipping over the rocks and along the wobbly bamboo bridges while I was gingerly making my way in sandals, as they giggled at me. I was hoping I wasn’t going to twist an ankle as there’s no rescue services there.

The main entrance isn’t that impressive but my guide Kim pointed to large gap, one that you have to duck and sort of clamber through, I was hesitant, I’m not the most agile and imagined me getting  stuck in a narrow passage way and the kids having to pull my arms to drag me through.

But no, the place opened up into cathedral sized chambers with bamboo bridges to get over the worst bits. I was impressed.

Various rock formations were pointed out and I had to guess the animal, I got the first one right- Elephant, but when he pointed out the head, the trunk, the body as a side on view I had seen it totally different as a head on view with two big ears trunk. Kim thought I was a bit crazy, I could see it in his expression. I also guessed the number of years the stalactite and stalagmite would take to come together –  a 1000 years a good round number, which I bet is not entirely accurate.

The Khmer Rouge also set off explosives inside the cave to try and collapse it inwards – but it only dislodge a big rock which stuck way above our heads and created a sort of roof.

Phnom Chngok Temple Caves

Further up the dirt track was the second more famous cave temple, this had the temple remain intact during the Khmer Rouge regime. It also had a much more difficult climbing experience.

I hired a guide again didn’t get his name but he had a piddly little wind up torch, mine was much better. We had to climb around 200 steps to the entrance and it was a hot day, at the top I saw the little temple which housed the stone covered in orange, it’s been around since before Angkor Wat about 900 years – It’s a big deal to them but I’ve been in pubs in England that are as old.

Similarly the temple was in the entrance a bit more cave to see but without the guide that would have been it before descending the steps again, but I was shown a smaller hole and offered to climb through! After doing the first set of caves I was up for it but this was a whole lot different.

The climbing was much more difficult for me, sliding down a few feet of rock and having to catch a foot hold at the bottom in my sandals!! duck here, climb up there, the guide was great he had the flimsiest of flip flops and demonstrated how to slide down the rock faces, he’d clamber back up and slide down again when I didn’t catch it, It’s easy he said. hmm. There was no cathedral sized interior spaces this time, it was a gradual descent passing various dubious “animal”rock formations over, under and across bridges to exit close to  the base of the 200 steps.  By the time we emerged from this underworld I was muddy hot sweaty and wet, but I felt a whole lot better for it and considered it a great physical representation of the figurative belly of the whale I’d also been going through.

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The view from the cave entrance

 

 

 

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7 Things I’ve Learnt After Living 7 Months in Chiang Mai

1. I’ve found the most annoying and irritating sound in the world.

I’m somewhat asleep and I’m woken by the high pitched fly-by buzz past my ear of the much hated mosquito. This has caused me to slap my head a bit too hard on more than one occasion in the hope of getting that little blighter. Worse still I’ll then be fully woken with numerous itches and have to get up in a quest to hunt down that bugger till it’s dead.

2. I find riding a Scooter quite pleasant – despite all the warnings otherwise.

Apart from a half day basic training course I took a week or so before coming to Thailand I’ve never driven a Scooter before. I’m so glad I did, as it took some slow shaky learning and a minor fall on some quite streets in the UK before being unleashed with a hire bike in Thailand, even then I had a couple of cautious hours until I got the swing of things.

But I have one huge advantage to most other tourists in that I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles in UK which also drives on the left, my years of carefully honed spatial awareness has certainly helped when I’m one of 40-50 bikes around a few cars at lights all turning right but like a flock of birds we all seem to keep just far enough apart and speed off to leave the cars in our collective dust (there’s a lot of dust here as well!)

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Britain likes to follow rules especially in traffic but I soon realised the rule of self preservation is the only one followed here. It’s not unusual to see:-

  • Scooters driven in the hard shoulder (it’s safer away from cars & trucks)
  • Scooters driven on the pavement to get past traffic queues.
  • Scooters driven the wrong way against traffic on the hard shoulder.
  • Jumping red lights – if safe to do so – why wait in the sun.
  • No helmets, especially if the youngsters have done their hair for a night out.
  • 3 people and a child on one bike or more – with no helmets
  • A ridiculous amount of shopping or such stacked & balanced on the bike
  • Traffic not stopping at zebra crossing unless they might actually hit something.
  • Flashing the full beams means here I am, watch out! Not allowing you to pass.
  • Cars blocking walkways/pavements as they wait for traffic to give them space.
  • Scooters and cars slowly turning left into moving traffic, expecting the on coming traffic to move over and give way.

The vast majority of car drivers started out on a scooter and they seem to be aware of how a bike might manoeuvre and generally give enough space for bikes to pass, not like the UK where car drivers will deliberately close a gap so bikes have to wait behind them.

If you’re a confident driver that’s aware of what’s around you and have at least a minimal amount of experience on a scooter then go for it. If you’ve never used one before you’ll have a steep learning curve on not only how to use a scooter (practice in the car park before the road) and how the traffic flows here in Thailand.

3. Find the shade whenever and wherever you can.

I didn’t at first but it was fairly cool and pleasant winter but as soon as it heated up anywhere from 27c to 44c  I soon learnt to find the shade.

I’ve pulled up an waited under the shade of a tree somewhat away from the traffic lights until they turn green. Driven around and around trying to find shade to park in – it’s not nice to sit on a hot hot seat and wear a hot hot helmet any time of day. Of course I cross the road to walk in a sliver of shade. I regularly see the pillion passenger with a coat over their head and the driver holding up a magazine to shade their face as they drive.

If you come from a cooler climate it takes about a month to adjust to the warmer temps. Some ex-pats call unseasoned tourists “sweaties!” but I still can’t get used to temps above 27c and most Thais complain as the temperature rises above 30c.

4. It’s fairly easy to live a western lifestyle and eat western foods.

There’s plenty of western style places to live with western furniture and fittings the only main difference is the little bum wash hose they have in the toilet, oh and air con (thankfully). With the right gadgets and gizmos you can access your home countries TV, movies, radio and news media.

There’s plenty of western food restaurants dotted around, okay maybe It’s not exactly just like home but it’s not spicy papaya salad. In the various supermarkets you’ll find all the main western products and big brands, I’ve found the Waitrose range! You can get all the main basic ingredients (at a price – cheese is surprisingly expensive) to knock up what ever is your favourite dish,  but I don’t see the point unless it’s a special occasion, when there’s so much fresh local produce and excellent cooked Thai food not that far from your front door.

There’s plenty of English language cinema screenings, all the main clothing stores and the big mall shopping experience, but they don’t stock shoes above size 45 or clothes above a western Extra Large.

5. Nearly all local food has extra added sugar.

I’m not surprised there’s so many dentists they must be coining it in.

It’s hard to find a savoury product, sauces, pizza, bread, sandwiches, soup, pastries are all aimed at the sweet tooth of Thailand. Even if the product packaging says 100% ‘whatever’ it will include 5-10 % sugar. Unless the fruit juice is imported the 100% juice brands elevate the natural sugar content to above 20%. The only soft drinks with no sugar is the hard to find Coke Light/Zero or the even harder to find No Sugar Japanese Green or Oolong tea.

The condiment tray, whether its the street food stall or a chain restaurant will have sugar but not salt. Sugar is automatically added to iced teas, a new trend is for bubble drinks which are a sweet milky tea with bubbles of sugar flavour added.

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6. If you gonna speak to Thai’s in English do so in Thai grammar.

English grammar doesn’t translate directly, so most Thais will talk in what appears to be simple broken grammar but it’s more akin to them directly translating into English how they would speak in Thai, once I picked up on this many Thais said they understood me much better and I could easily get across what I was trying to say. Here’s some examples

It’s He or She nothing else like him/her, Me/I or You and what’s even more confusing is they will get these easily mixed up and could be talking about themselves but say ‘you’ throughout the conversation. It’s ‘Have’ or ‘not have’ not I don’t have or had, it’s ‘blue colour’, ‘green colour’, ‘red colour’. It’s ‘like’ or ‘not like’. It’s ‘before’ not last week, last year or yesterday.

So a sentence in English like,  “Excuse me,  may I buy that red t-shirt please” might go in broken ‘Thanglish’ (if that’s a word)  “Sawaadee Krap (hello), Me/I have, red colour t-shirt, – krap” I know it’s far from perfect but less will be lost in translation.

If you can learn numbers and some basic phrases it helps a great deal.

Men say krap and ladies say kaa at the end of sentences as a sign of politeness, there’s very little ‘please’. I started by copying what was said to me so for a while I was ending my sentences with an effeminate kaa, after a few giggles I twigged what I was saying wrong.

Some words are doubled for some reason, sure-sure, ok ok, joop-joop boom-boom! it’s perfectly okay to say – I go pee-pee/poo-poo, instead of “excuse me I need the toilet.”

Use simple words and simple grammar, use the words and phrases that they know already even if it means it’s a very poorly structured sentence.
“Before Chiang Mai, I go Phuket, have bike, have condo, not have car. I eat farang food.” If you’ve spoken to Thais you’ll probably have heard:-  What you do? What happened? Help me. Up to You? Kaput.  “I’m full, would you like to finish that last slice of pizza?” Will get a blank look but “Help me” as you point to the pizza is understood.

And because Thai is tonal it’s easy to express one’s intent or feelings. Thai will express yes, no, like, dislike, surprise, shock and question all with tone of voice which is extremely hard to type but here goes, urgh-urgh, ehurgh, eeee,  oowwwe, aaahhhh. etc etc. you’ll get the idea.

7. Thai’s have a lucky, positive outlook on life.

Thais see good or bad fortune in most things that we might pass off as coincidence. I had the same room number in 2 different hotels, after mentioning this to the reception it was seen as good luck.

Phone numbers that have supposed lucky numbers are displayed and sell for much more than none lucky numbers, lottery ticket numbers are displayed by a row of individual sellers and Thais will pick out from the hundreds on offer what they consider lucky.

After a stall holder sells one of their trinkets to a passing tourist those notes are waved over the rest of their goods as a good luck charm. ‘Bring me money, bring me money’ is the chant.

Amulets, blessed by their favourite ‘lucky’ monk or guru are worn, protective and lucky tattoos are often all across a persons back.

 

Some might say they put their destiny purely in the hands of their gods, they seem  surprised they didn’t find a job or find a rich husband even though they went to the temple to pray for it, got the tattoo, gave many donations to the monks, wore the amulet etc. But didn’t follow through with their many intentions with some positive actions, but it’s a small minority.

The positive attitude shines through and if anywhere in the world personifies the good advice of -smile and the world smiles with you it’s Thailand.

 

 

 

Lersi Korb Kroo Mask Ceremony Pt2

So What Happened?

Saturday was the main blessing day, the assembled monks carried out ceremonies to clear the space, bring blessings and allow previous incarnations and spirits to be present. In essence it wasn’t much different from the western esoteric traditions. In afternoon they blessed a large pile of amulets, statues and the like that will eventually be sold to the laity.

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The white string is a physical representation of the oneness, the connectedness of everyone and everything there. It was wrapped around all the statues, candles,  I even saw them install a new piece which led to a car that allowed a very elderly monk to sit in pleasant air-conditioning due to the heat (40c). More on the string thing later.

Saturday night had some entertainment on – well I say that – there was three stages and the shows ran simultaneously so it wasn’t that entertaining to watch but rather an assault on the ears.

A bit better organised was the Muay Thai boxing.

One of these kids got a right wallop on the nose and started crying but he still went for it in the final round.

If the first day was mainly the formal side for the monks the second day was defiantly  for the followers.

There’s lots going on at first, Traditional Thai dancers, Chinese dragons dancing, the main guy on a horse throwing wrapped up 1 baht coins into the crowd, music.

After that the Chinese dragons received money from the Lersi to obtain their blessing and good spirits, it’s nice to see a balance of giving and receiving that seems so far apart in the western traditions.

After those opening ceremonies it got going with meditation, music and prayers that the whole congregation joined in with. I could feel the large main drum resonate in my chest cavity (if you’ve ever been to decent nightclub you’ll know what I mean) the chants slowly built and built and had a bit of urgency to them.

With all of this put together I can appreciate how some people could go into a state of ecstasy or rapture, the type of which is in the video below. A few people fully felt it and reacted by shouting, raising hands, standing and dancing, and what seems like either losing control or trying to fight off what ever is trying to control them! I had no idea of what was being said, but I could feel the tempo building and the chants getting more urgent, I could predict just when people might react and sure enough when I opened my eyes I was able to get this on video.

Meditation, Prana breath work, drum beats and chants can easily induce altered states of consciousness. This happened a few times in each session – some I thought were getting swept along with the rapture and releasing something built up in them. Some like the girl above, I thought had little control over what was happening to them. A couple of the guys at the front were acolytes and I felt that they could’ve been adding a bit more drama as they felt comfortable to do so or it looked more like they had the spirits flow through them.

If that wasn’t unusual enough, perfectly timed for the end of the morning session there was of course a procession of psychedelic dancing horses, to some rockin’ ska music – brilliant what’s not to like!

Lunch soon followed and then the afternoon sessions used the strings we saw earlier,

 

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Afterwards each person kept their string and the little red blessing/protective paper hung above them. I also managed to catch one of the coins thrown into the crowd at the start of the day.

And finally the main event the  Korb Kroo Mask ceremony.

Each monk had a Khon Mask to place over the heads of the participants and pass on the blessings from that monk and his predecessors, it is designed to remove bad spirits

Some people reacted similar to the morning session they even had military bouncers to hold onto anyone who might hurt themselves or others.

I liked the weekend, It was interesting to see some traditions many tourists would never see, not only did I learn a lot of new things and it added a few more pieces to my bigger picture jigsaw, I did feel better in my spirit/self for a number of days afterwards.

 

 

 

Lersi Tafai-Korb Kroo Mask Ceremony Pt1

I had the great privilege of attending a fantastic but unusual weekend, the Korb Kroo mask ceremony which was held on the first weekend of the Thai New Year I had little idea of what I was going to see, but I learnt a lot and enjoyed myself.

The weekend was dedicated to Lersi – the fire eye hermit, the event was at a purpose built  ranch (not monastery or temple) I was the only Westerner there, the entertainment was a bit of a jumble and the ceremonies and prayer were certainly strange at first. I’ll describe the weekend in part two but for now who is this deity if he’s not Buddha?

Who is this Lersi geezer?

I’d never heard of Lersi before or knew how much of a role he played but as I read up on the subject it became more and more familiar to me.

He has a few names from different cultures, Lersi – Ruesi and one I’ve heard of before Rishi. All are names or rather titles for the archetype of the Fire Eye Hermit, the wise old man as Jung calls him, the hermit, the ascetic,  the number 108 is also linked to the name – more about that later.

It originally comes from the Sanskrit – Rishi which means: Seer or Prophet, maybe Shaman would be a good modern translation. Their abilities include ability to float, voice powers, talk with animals, read minds, teleportation, alchemy, ability to see past, present and future realms, mastery over the elements (e.g. cause fire to combust just be looking) and many more.  In modern terms, psy-abilities, a medium into the spirit realms, chaos magician, mad scientist! the list goes on.

The Rishi is mentioned in the Hindu Veda’s the oldest Sanskrit texts, but they don’t mention any sort of origins. As Lersi is essentially a title for a state of mind, a state of being, a state of enlightenment, participating in this so called stairway to heaven, it’s something that’s been around since time immemorial, it describes the transition from a mundane mind through the various stages towards enlightenment, Buddha and Shiva transited as a Lersi on their way to becoming who they are.

The number 108 is also linked to the title as well, it’s said it represents the different names/levels/types of Lersi but it’s also a precessional number so it probably does have links to further back in time to when the seers of old first started to encode the Great Year of the earth’s wobble. The seminal book on this topic Hamlet’s Mill refers to the avenues of statues at Angkor in Cambodia, “108 per avenue, 54 on each side,” as examples of deliberate precessional encoding.

The Hermit is a global archetype, he appears in the tarot deck and other places, think of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars. This supports the idea that this figure/archetype has been around for a lot longer than modern Buddhism for example. Coincidentally my Tarot birth-card is The Hermit!

 

From the Tarot card interpretation:-

The Hermit indicates a need or desire to withdraw from the world. He is a wise old man, who has learned much about himself and his world through deep introspection and meditation. This card may indicate your soul may be craving a retreat in order to replenish and restore. By taking space and solitude, you will be ready to engage with and guide others when they most need you later on. The answers you seek will be found within you, not in any book or on any website. 

A Lersi is this and more:-

A Lersi will have revoked all self centered thought, and has freed himself from all worldly attachments. This kind of Lersi will see the nature of reality with his eyes closed, he will have complete “Sila” (ascetic vows), know what actions are meritorious and which are causes of negative results. He understands the laws of karma completely and acts wisely in accordance, and therefore develops no negative causes/effects in his future existences.This eightfold Ruesi will have passed the Sodaban level of consciousness, have divine mind, eyes and ears.

3500 to 5000 years ago, the Lersi composed texts, prayers, incantations and spells to invoke the Angelic beings. This was due to the fact that the Lersi had practised training their minds and raised their consciousness to the Samabhabhati level of Jhana. They could see things on higher planes that the normal human cannot, including being able to hear sounds from other dimensions that any normal person will never get to hear. This made listening to the Angelic Beings accessible. when a Lersi enters meditation and Samadhi, he will naturally experience visions and sounds that are created for him as a communication means by the Angelic Being that wishes to communicate with him.

A Lersi is a hermit but also a teacher who passes on their knowledge, the main event as it were is the Korb Kroo mask ceremony it’s a lineage tradition of passing on the teachings and blessing of the previous monks to the next line of acolytes and followers.

I’ll detail the weird and wonderful weekend events in Part 2.

Big Buddha – Ang Thong

It’s Thailand New Year, a time to party and prey. A bit like spring cleaning in the west Buddhists pour water over statues of Buddha as a cleansing ritual.

And where better than the tallest Buddha statue in Thailand, measuring just over 100 meters tall.

The place in Wat Muang near Ang Thong a couple of hours outside Bangkok.

I went quite late in the day the sun was setting and the queues had gone. The whole complex has a couple of other temples, the first is the large golden temple sitting in a large lotus flower, from the far side it caught the setting sun and shone bright.

 

There’s also a Chinese Temple, I get the impression this is an all encompassing deity anyone in China can call their own.

The Big Buddha is fairly impressive, it can be seen from miles around.

Like everyone else I poured some water on the finger nails, big isn’t it.

I also found a group of mini monks – aww cute. An a celestial wheel glinting in the sunshine

 

Maejo University Agricultural Fair

Chiang Mai has a large variety of Universities and Maejo is the big agricultural one on the outskirts of the city. They participate in the Flower festival and I went to their own fair recently.

What I liked about the place more than anything is the organic, non-GMO stance they take, they are fighting the good fight against Monsanto!

The grounds are huge and I didn’t see all that was on show. Apart from some tool manufacturers and the many local craft stalls.

 

There was demonstrations and competitions

Orchids are quite a big deal here.

Real life silk worms, and spinning of the yarn.

 

I never knew the life cycle of a Banana before.

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Plants, fruit trees, vegetables for sale.

A couple of show pieces.

They’ve got a whole division for Vegetable I.T.

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I think the selfie phenomenon has spurned a whole host of things to take your picture with.