Monday, 31 March 2014

WAT DHAMMAKAYA - and my visit to the largest structure on EARTH ! Part 3

The Dhammakaya enthusiasts I spoke to on my visit would appear to consider that conventional Thai Buddhism has seriously lost it way and had become innately corrupt , promoted outdated superstitious practices and had many temples and monks which  tolerated poor behavior amongst the monks and the laity and they seemed set up to encourage regular donations and 'merit making' - (tamboon in Thai) for the  laity without equally encouraging and directing them to make real changes in their lifestyle and spiritual commitment that they feel ought to be made to become a true follower of the renunciant Buddha. In effect they wanted an easy life with occasional visits to the temple to top up their supplies of 'Buddha Magic' to help with problems in their life that need solving.

You will find no faint hearts or weekend part time Buddhists in Dhammakaya - when you join it's a 24/7 , for life full time existence and it appears that you must leave your old ways behind when you begin this journey and you will be encouraged to and will no doubt willingly donate any extra money you may have (or not have!) to the 'Movement'. It is this obsession with money and wealth that is part and parcel of the Dhammakaya movement that leads many ordinary Thais to hold the movement in great suspicion and with some fear.

My 'down to earth' , rooted and wise minded wife whilst dropping me off at the temple refused to come and have a look alongside me and showed no curiosity whatsoever and showed much disdain for both the temple and it's values and to a lesser extent my visit.

Undoubtedly I'd posit that lots of its enthusiasts really do cleanup their lives and live disciplined and useful existences with meditation and a devotion to the temple and movement at their heart. While you walk around Bangkok you are easily able to place a Dhammakaya business because they will always prominently display a picture of the Dhammmakaya founder - the meditation master monk Phra Dhammachayo in a high position in their business premises. These businesses in my humble opinion frequently appear clean, well-organized and thriving in comparison with that of some of their non Dhammakaya neighbours.

I'd urge anybody who's remotely thinking of visiting to study its curious and rapidly growing worldwide movement or simply really wants to visit a gob hitting illustration of what can certainly be called and merits the title  'Amazing Thailand' to visit and take a look.

So in conclusion and particularly since you can travel there on a brilliantly cheap12 baht city bus picking up just outside of Rangsit Future Park that takes about twenty minutes for the journey and stops just outdoors the temple I would urge you to go and HAVE A LOOK !

Oh and for the record whilst I was enormously impressed by their enthusiasm , undoubted huge endeavors and gob smacking breadth of their vision I will certainly not be joining them - it looks far too much like a cult and far too intrusive into my existence for my liking !

If you were ever wondering what kind of temple and cult that alien beings from another world would create then in my opinion Wat Dhammakaya would tick most of the boxes !


WAT DHAMMAKAYA - and my visit to the largest structure on EARTH ! Part 2

Main pagoda and towers for the roof.

I asked the tour guide whether there have been any nuns - and he responded no - not now - but you will find well over 1200 monks on-site housed in condo like structures and a number of them work in an enormous Buddha statue factory on the  temple site that has produced over a million Buddha statues up to now which comprises the outside and interior from the primary pagoda.

I also came across in addition a volunteer village , a medical facility along with a school for child monks and a monk dining hall using the familiar huge UFO dome that can house all 1200 monks in a single sitting.

 Initial meditation hall can house 100,000 people with underground car park. 

It should also be said that the original temple is a modest , ultra modern and chic Thai temple which is beautifully designed and executed and sits in verdant gardens and behind it lies a lake and a golden pyramid structure which houses the remains of Kuhn Yay Acariya.

Original white ultra modern temple begun in 1970 with just 3000 baht.

Their overarching concept of growing their religion is to set up modest 'branch offices' of Dhammakaya around Thailand and also the world these outlying 'temples' are relatively simple and modest structures and the energy and donations are channeled to the primary temple ,Wat Dhammakaya. The temple publicizes itself as a place designed for the whole world and a major centre for promoting world peace they hope it will remain for well over a 1000 years. Enthusiasts are urged to go to the primary temple as frequently they can and when they do should wear only white and modest clothing  The most important day of their year is Magha Puja day and when I visited in 2014 it fell on the 14th February  when they expected in excess of  500, 000 supporters to attend. I really wanted to see this (see the stunning video below) but my wife vetoes it and it was Valentine's day ......


Maha Puja day at Wat Dhammakaya - Official Video

Nevertheless everyone I met in the temple were very friendly and welcoming and there was no hustling for any money on this my first visit. I additionally discovered a semi-falling apart 3 story shopping mall of which just the first floor was occupied by Dhammakaya companies for example votive shops, a massage shop and many food shops. The massage shop that I  visited and had an excellent foot massage for 250 baht had their round-the-clock DMC TV channel on quietly in the background for the entire time. Also close by to the compound was a housing estate with houses available for sale known as 'Meditation City'.


Semi Moribund Wat Dhammakaya shopping mall

WAT DHAMMAKAYA - and my visit to the largest structure on EARTH is continued in Part 3.

WAT DHAMMAKAYA - and my visit to the largest structure on EARTH ! Part 1

Wat Dhammakaya - main pagoda surrounded by 10s of thousands of white clad devotees
The Thai Buddhist (and some critics would label it a 'cult') order of Dhammakaya has it's roots nearly 60 years ago way back in 1959 and was started by the renowned Thai meditation master Phra Dhammachayo and has grown in numbers , reach and influenceever since.

The 'movement' has grown meteorically when after his death the leadership was passed to his most devoted (and disciplined) disciple of his leading 'nun' Khun Yay Acariya (Chandra Khonnokyoong) who established the temple at its current site near Rangsit in the northern Bangkok suburbs.

Founded on its new green field site in 1970 it has grown year on year from an initial 80 acres to now occupying well over 1000 acres and frequently holds congregations of its followers that can be in excess of 500,000 people.

I'd first visited the temple just over 10 years ago and I was then staggered by the scale and almost insane vision of the environment, people and buildings and on my recent two month visit to Thailand I wanted to visit the place again and find out what had happened in the following ten years.

Suffice to say the spiritual vision and its physical execution as befits a now truly worldwide movement is now well beyond crazy and also the huge , inhuman scale of the vast concrete and gilded structures is gob smacking , redolent of something which the Nazis or even the North Koreans would build and something warrants a sharp intake of breath and a heart stopping ' WTF'  Amazing Thailand moment.

The place lacks any homeliness and roots in the local population that is the mainstay of most Thai 'wats' (temple in Thai) and in my humble opinion  represents a gross perversion of mainstream Therevadan Buddhism with it emphasis on personal liberation, mindfulness and non-attachment along with 'doing good' . Dhammakaya temple is using its focus on huge structures and mass events to act as a massive show of spiritual energy and power designed to show to Thailand and beyond it is a force to be reckoned with.It would appear that building the temple and mega super-sizing the vision has become the foremost guiding principle of the movement.

UFO like pagoda made up of million Buddha statues

On entering the temple site you are first confronted by the dome of the underground meditation hall with its surrounding cascading fountain and moat. Past that you soon come across the largest structure on the site and also on EARTH!

The primary UFO shaped and alien looking modernist pagoda is encircled by a 3.2km of  a two story doubled deckered huge concrete structure that took ten years to construct which will remain unpainted (as a pint job would require huge efforts and materials and require constant updating whereas the concrete will age and stain with the passing of the years to achieve a more natural look).

It like the concepts of the Nazis Third Reich is designed to last a 1000 years and bisecting one side there is an enormous hydraulic bridge to ensure that it can open when necessary to receive huge ornamental carriages and barges where necessary. It looks rather like some vast unfinished airport building with no planes and when I visited virtually no people save for a few mediating woman dressed in white.

They also have just began setting up some support towers that eventually will support a vast roof and which will go to  make it the biggest structure ever put together on planet earth !  The 'UFO' pagoda consists of 300,000 identical Buddha statues constructed in the familiar Dhammakaya Buddha alien type shape - and now the interior of the pagoda has become sealed and full of over 700,000 Buddha statues.

After being stopped a couple of times by a pleasant  girl in white on a motorbike and then a monk I was 'encouraged' to join an organized tour group from the visitor centre which I was happy to do.

I checked into the tour centre and became a member of a Burmese tour group that led by an English speaking Burmese guide so we continued the visit on an electric golf cart around the site also, he also asked regarding who I was and whether I was in fact a journalist and likely to talk about them (for the previous 2  hours I was traveling around unchaperoned and on foot filming most of the structures).  I suppose the fact that I am blogging this now and spent much of my time looking for good video shots mean that in a way he was astute to my intentions and was right. There seems to be some degree of paranoia to the outside world and their perceptions of them.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Thai Girls Night Out in the Karaoke Booth - Photos !

Just thought I would get used to the Google Photo album and put up some photos  in the beautifulthailand99 album and see how they integrate into Blogger. These are some photos taken by my wife at the recent Thai karaoke session mentioned in my previous blog entry. Her and a number of her friend's were celebrating a pre (gay) wedding party by going for the traditional karaoke session to which I made my excuses.

Whilst writing this I thought I would have a quick look at the Wikipedia Karaoke entry to see what is the history behind this ahem wonderful 'art form'. It would seem rather like Kamikaze bombers and hara kiri we have the Japanese and their fetish  for technology for thank for this as it started back in the 1960's 

You will find various accounts about who first invented the title 'karaoke'. One of the most predominant claims would be that the karaoke styled machine was introduced by Japanese music performer Daisuke Inoue in Kobe, Japan, way back in 1971.

After becoming more popular in Japan, the karaoke craze spread to all parts of  East and Southeast Asia throughout the eighties and subsequently to other parts around the globe. Even though the audio company Clarion is deemed to be the very first commercial producer of the infernal machine and they invented the device, there's no information about them on any of the patents.

It should be noted finally that in face saving Asia 'Karaoke' has a slightly more risqué reputation and one can see so called karaoke bars in the red light districts of many Asian cities often with seductively clad attractive young ladies sitting outside to lure what are most often Asian punters to share a booth and a lady for a few hours. and often at enormous expense. It is not that these ladies are prostitutes per se but in some cases rather like the bar beers in Thailand if they like the customer then they may arrange some after hours liaison.

Also some of the videos (they were often originally VCDs which was video version of the CD featured scantily clad young ladies often in naturally beautiful locations. Here is a good example of the genre !

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Ultimate HORROR that is Thai Karaoke - NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH !

What is the worst thing about Thailand, is it the constant 'saving face' lies that occur , the frequent scams on the naive or unwary newcomers , the insane traffic in Bangkok or the near and often suicidal driving by just about everyone on  the world's 2nd most dangerous roads ?

Maybe but I thinks one things just about pips all of these to the winning post - all of these are obviously bad and compelling reasons to get annoyed but there is one thing that I feel trumps all of these by a long way - and that is the Thai people's obsession - and we are probably 30 years into the craze that is 'Karaoke' or คาราโอเกะ in Thai.

So bad has this phenomenon become in Asia it has even led to the so called My Way killings where violent disputes broke out over renditions of Frank Sinatra' classic My Way that reportedly led to at least 6 deaths in the Phiilipines. 

And we are not talking about the euphemistic  'karaoke' here where Asian businessmen or others sit in some padded booth and pay way over the odds to sing songs with some young Thai bimbette with snacks and drinks with the intention of maybe going somewhere else after - we are talking the group karaoke sessions that seem to be an essential part of many young and not so young Thais idea of a good night out

The one where they collectively hire some dining soundproofed booth (thank god for the neighbours) - and order plate after plate of Thai food and snacks  (often not the tastiest grub in town because after all it as karaoke place) and wash it all down with beer, whiskey soda or some other relatively inexpensive Thai alcoholic drink (SPY anyone or the equally grim Thai wine coolers ) which ensures as the night goes on the singing gets ever louder and more raucous but overall totally tuneless and painful.

Suffice to say 99% of all Thais CANNOT SING - it needs to be said CANNOT SING AT ALL - but that doesn't stop them as they caterwaul-er into the mike and chalk this up to a GOOD NIGHT OUT.

The following videos come with a health warning - that cannot be watched or listened to by anybody with any sensibilities of any kind without severe ear ache and mental anguish and were thankfully taken by my wife who remained sober and fulfilled her social duty to go with her friends to a pre-wedding party in @Siam in Frith Street , Soho , London.


Be warned they are not for the squeamish or faint hearted and good luck .

Friday, 28 March 2014

Is this a real GHOST sighting inside a Buddha Cave near Phattalung City - Southern Thailand ?

This is not actually a Buddhist temple - which are called  'Wat' in Thai  (it lacks the minimum number of monks to be regarded as such). That said Thais simply call it ถ้ำพุทธโคดม Tham Phutthakhodom (Buddha Gautama Cave) .  It is an amazing, tranquil and most delightfully beautiful  cave and can be found just off the main Trang to Phattalung road. Phutthakhodom Cave is next to Samnaksong Tham Phutthakhodom and is located in Phatthalung Province, Southern Thailand

This big and delightful Buddha cave features stunning and large stalagmites and stalactites, in addition to a huge natural rock formation hall which was thronging with bats and wildlife when I visited and it's a natural and most stunning natural rock cathedrals of beauty. The Buddha cave has two levels with the first being  on the ground level whereas the second is much deeper underground. This cave houses many Buddha images in several different positions and is well lit wit electric light and most safe to visit..

Aside from its natural peaceful demeanour and its reputation as a place of solitudinous retreat , the Buddha cave is also significant as a famous spot for meditation practice , particularly with Southern Thailand and Malaysian Buddhists.

The Buddha cave resident monks are renowned for eschewing commercial activities and the trappings of some of the more commercialized Thai temples (such as fortune tellers and amulet making and selling ) and it is presently the place to find three monks and a location for teaching  pure Dhamma ('The Truth' - the teachings from the Buddha) to those that visit.

Although walking alone within the cave which I accessed from behind the hill housing the temple from a seldom visited but comfortable home stay resort I was profoundly struck by the calming tranquillity and peace the cave offers and that I wanted to carry and share this more widely by videoing the cave area and surroundings for a short film that I had been planning to create around the temple, cave and grounds. This went on for maybe 20 minutes and though I was mildly creeped out by the quietness and eerie nature of the place I returned to my companions upbeat and refreshed by the experience. 


But on carefully analyzing the footage after we  had left the area and we were returning on the plane from Trang to Bangkok I spotted a most  unusual artefact on the video at approximately the 1.5 minute  mark for a couple of seconds which seems to be a shadowy monk like figure fleetingly walking over the cave entrance .

Is this truly the picture of a real ghost actually caught live on camera  or just an artefact of the light ? I really don't know - but it should be noted that  I didn't hear the sounds of another body within the cave and also, since it features a sandy gravelly natural cave which crunches noisily underfoot and echoes off the hard rock cave walls I'm sure I would have heard the 'thing' had it been real and of physical substance.

I posted this on the most popular expatriate Thai hangout Thai Visa Forum to seek out views and make more public the  video I had unwittingly taken.

Maybe a job for the redoubtable Ghostbusters ... who ya gonna call ?

Is this the coldest beer in Thailand or even the World ?

Thais love to put ice in your beer and as an apparent warm beer loving Brit (this has always been a cliché and in this day age you would be pushed to find someone who confessed to this) we would rather have a beer cold but without the ice please. Ice just melts in the warm Thai climate and weakens the beer - which is of course a big no no

So it is  with a sense of surprise and some delight I can report what I am pretty sure is the coldest beer I've ever tasted and also one of the best. I'm not usually a Singha beer fan (I seem to think it causes worse hangovers due to some unspecified 'contaminant's in the beer and so stick to the more farang like Heineken when imbibing beer in the Land of Smiles) but the special and unique Samsen Villa style won me over.

A friend of the missus - Khun Allin - now lives in an elegant and gastronomic retirement in Bangkok and as our most generous local host treated us to a visit to one of his best and most favourite Bangkok restaurants- The Samsen Villa. This is a tucked away little gem of place down a relatively quite soi off the tourist beaten track in Bangkok.

The day I was there it was totally farang free except for me and the inexpensive but absolutely tasty Thai food was both a revelation and a huge delight. So much so we were to visit three more times in the two months we spent there and each time was as perfect as the last . Dishes included sumptuous finger licking tasty satay and sauce, marvellous crispy tod mun plah (always the signature dish of a Thai eatery in my opinion ) and then plate after plate of perfectly cooked, beautifully balanced Thai dishes which were a pleasure to view , delightfully aromatic  and then delicious to eat right down to the last morsel and crumb.

But the biggest delight of the night was their signature ,  ice cold Samsen Villa beers. These are served from frosty large glass mugs deep frozen and then filled with similarly below zero frozen beer (not with ice) that forms some sort of slush-puppy style beer mush. It shouldn't really work - but it does marvellously and I and the rest of my party found ourselves quaffing delightedly Singha beer delivered Samsen Stylee.

So if you are looking for a real beau of a restaurant that break the bank , is loved by Thais and at the moment doesn't seem to have been  invaded by farangs then seek it out on your next visit to Bangkok.

Oh and say beautifulthailand99 told you to go

Aroy mahk mahk , jing jing !

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