Deirdre's river travels

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wat Doi Suthep

Going back in time a bit, I wanted to make sure to show you all some pictures from my visit to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the mountaintop monastery near Chiang Mai, in northwest Thailand. I visited with Bim, Bundit and Nun on our sampling trip of the Chao Phraya river and tributaries about two weeks ago. We drove a tortuous road high into the mountains, then climbed the 300 steps of the longest Naga staircase in Thailand (you can see Bim and Nun at the bottom) to reach the open-air temple at the mountaintop. It's said that a bone of the Buddha was carried there by an elephant, who died upon reaching the top, and this was taken as a sign to build the monastery there. The building was begun in 1383 but took many years to complete, and is absolutely stunning, with gold leaf spangling everywhere, bells sounding in the wind, and many of the walking surfaces covered in water droplets from the frequent rains at the top of the mountain. There's also an amazing view of the city of Chiang Mai, the "capital of the north," from the top (you can see Nun, Bim and me, a bit out of focus...). As we descended the staircase a cool afternoon rain began.


Here are a few of the many sturdy crafts we've been using to sample rivers in Thailand (we are studying how carbon cycles through the river system using a variety of techniques -- both studying CO2 gas in the water and carbon in sediment). My favorites are the tiny canoe-like crafts we've been on, which come with umbrellas in case it gets hot or rainy (you can see Bundit and his friend Tik, who came with us on a sampling of the Mun river in northeast Thailand, with umbrellas). Then there's the motorcycle ferry, which goes back and forth across a small tributary of the Mekong -- the driver lets our team use the boat to sample when nobody is waiting to come across. Unfortunately some of my pictures of our wonderful boat drivers are very underexposed, but you can hopefully make out the driver of the motorcycle ferry with his wife and me ... they were very friendly and sweet.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ayutthaya again

Here are a few more images from our day at Ayutthaya ... including one of the little tuk-tuk we used to get to some of the more remote temples...


Yesterday I took an amazing trip with Bim and Nun to Ayutthaya, which served as the Thai capital from the 14th to the 18th century. Almost all of the temples and palaces were burned and destroyed by several Burmese invasions, but the ruins remain incredibly impressive, and definitely give that suggestion of "I am Ozymandias, king of kings ... look on my works, ye mighty, and despair..."
We were especially lucky to be there on the day of the Candle Festival. Hundreds of people had come to these incredible temples to celebrate the holiday, and candles (though not as elaborate as those in Udon) were lit in the doorways and inside all of the temples.
Here are some of the many moments of our day, which was punctuated by heat and a torrential rainstorm (you can see some of the clouds gathering overhead). The golden Buddha you see is the only one that survived the Burmese attacks, as they used this temple as their army base. It's an extremely rare sample of an intact Buddha from the Ayutthaya period (most Buddha images were decapitated, as you can see in some of the pictures, because the heads contained gold).

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My sampling buddies

Since I arrived in Thailand on the 5th of July, Bim, Nun, and Bundit, my new friends and field sampling colleagues at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok have been indefatigable guides, scientists, and pals ... they've guided me through the nooks and crannies of this amazing country from temples to tributaries. They always keep a great sense of humor and a "it's ok" attitude (with the oft-uttered Thai phrase "mai pen lai", or "don't worry about it!" -- even when, as in Bundit's case, his most cherished possession, his cell phone, took a little dive into the drink ...)
Here are pics of Nun (left) and Bim on top of the Doi Suthep monastery, near Chiang Mai, and Bundit, on that fateful day of cell phone drenching (don't worry, the cell phone has since been restored to life ... much to the chagrin of myself, Bim, and Nun :).

Ubon Ratchathani candle festival

I just came from an amazing opportunity to see the finishing touches being put on the candles (yes, these sculptures are entirely made of wax!) for the candle festival in Ubon Ratchathani, northeast Thailand. The candle festival, or Pitee Hae Tien Pansa, celebrates the Buddhist monks going into temples for three months for meditation. My Thai friends have told me that this period of retreat was originally created for crop preservation -- during the rainy, rice-growing season, because the role of monks here is to be always traveling, the people felt it would be better for them to be retreating than to have them potentially walk over the crops. I'm sure I've got the story completely right, but I like that idea. The candles were given to the monks to keep the temples well-lit through their period of meditation, but now even though electricity is used, the candle festival goes on. Ubon Ratchathani is famous for its elaborate candles (many other cities just make large taper candles) and you can see the months of work that went into these. I was lucky enough to see the final stages of candle-making yesterday, the day before the beginning of the festival.

Welcome to my travels!

Hi everyone,
This is my first experiment in blogging, just so I can keep you all up to date on my recent (and ongoing) travels in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I'm starting out pretty simple, as I've been doing a lot of moving around, but I wanted to find a quick and easy way to post some of my pictures. Hope you enjoy it!
(This pic is from one of the first days of my trip, in Vientiane, Laos -- their version of the Arc de Triomphe, where you can see people going for an evening jog in the background as the tropical day was coming to a close.)