The Thai Temple of Tai Po

29 08 2015

This weekend I went on a super-satisfying adventure. One evening, while idly googling, I had found a hand-drawn map on the internet, detailing the way to a Thai “forest temple” on a hillside in Tai Wo which I had never seen or heard about anywhere else. For some time I had been wanting to test out this “The Beach” style scenario, with my my cyber-secret map to the mysterious shrine, so undeterred by the rain I set out to relatively distant district, close to the border at Lo Wu.

I set out from Tai Wo station across a river, through a New Territories village and up a lushly forested slope where a fast-flowing mountain stream ran amid thickets of banana trees. A gargantuan freeway spanned the valley above. Thunder rumbled and birds and butterflies flitted through the undergrowth. A light rain was falling, but occasionally I would come across a sign in Chinese bearing a Thai flag, reassuring me that I was headed in the right direction.

Then, sooner than expected, I was there.

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Greeted by barking (but it turns out, harmless) dogs, I came to a group of women around a table heaving with fruit, tofu, vegetables and spicy sauces. One of them, who spoke English, insisted I sit down and eat. She explained that the feast was held every Saturday and Sunday, free of charge, for visitors to the temple (breakfast around 7.30am and lunchtime at 11am, as the monks are forbidden from eating after noon.) I chatted to her for a while and wandered through the modest complex with its various Buddhas and burning Vassa candles before being led to an orange-robed monk who blessed me and offered my life advise – I should exercise in the mornings and not worry so much, apparently.

And with that, my heart singing and plans for returning already buzzing in my head, I set off again down the green, dripping valley, thankful for having stumbled on to such a beautiful secret.

Many thanks to Dr Anchalee Gibbons, whoever you are, for the wonderful map!





L.A state of mind

18 08 2015

I’ve yet to make it to America’s West Coast, but despite all the breathless love I hear for San Francisco (and I’m sure its great), I have always been more attracted to Los Angeles. Maybe its the impression I have of the city as a Northern version of another one of my favourites, Sao Paulo: same twisting freeways and shimmering towers, same dripping wealth and contrasting grit and adrenaline, same ethnic confusion, same voraciousness, same endless centre-less sprawl. When I think of LA I think of Lana Del Rey playing, martinique wallpaper and splashes in sunlit pools, Silverlake hipsters dancing away at (gay Asian club) Gameboi, convertibles cruising sinisterly late at night along Mulholland Drive, gunfire, Koreatown, tacos, the plastic Persian princesses of Tehrangeles, new age pyramids, South Central and all combinations and permutations thereof.

And now I have two new mental images to add. “Everything is terrible” is an intallation, or a “temple” if you will, erected in the city’s Chinatown and constructed of 10,000 VHS tapes of “Jerry McGuire”, a cryptic comment on LA’s perfect monster child, the little-loved Tom Cruise.

Also, there is this place: Clifton’s Cafeteria. It operated in the 1930s as an eccentric city landmark, a “cafeteria” decorated with carved redwood trees, a gushing indoor waterfall and stuffed animals, that also served meals and gave them away for free to the city’s needy. It was part of a string of bizarre diners in the city that included others with a tiki “South Island Seas” theme. The exciting news is that Clifton’s is due to re-open this year as a restaurant/ bar/cafe/bakery following the original wild theme, with (bonus!) a steampunk nightclub in the basement.





ROAAARRRRRR!!!

18 08 2015

The “Godzilla view” room at the popular new Gracery hotel in Kabukicho, Tokyo, which opened in April this year. It looks like it is near the old Koma Theatre and where Liquid Room and Code nightclubs used to be, around a dusty concrete square where homeless people always slept and I went to see “Dreamgirls” in the rain. Ahhhh, Tokyo memories…

…and while you are there, why not try out this Tokyo Snake Cafe?





The strange tale of the Indonesian Chicken Church

11 08 2015

Why was a giant church, built in the form of a chicken, left abandoned in the Indonesian jungle? Read about it here.





Saphan Kwai

7 08 2015

On my return to Bangkok, I had to find a new hotel and I plumped for an old favourite, the Liberty Garden in the Northern residential area of Saphan Kwai. The Liberty is a wildly eccentric place, the kind of hotel Donald Draper might once have staid in. In the 1960s this part of Bangkok had a string of top-class hotels, the Liberty Garden, the Elizabeth, the Ambassador. In fact they are all still there and – more or less – much as they were then. Unrenovated, the rest of the city has slipped past them, and the action has moved away from Saphan Kwai leaving these hotels, and the Liberty Garden especially, in a kind of dreamy rundown timewarp. It doesn’t take internet bookings, or even creditcards, its not on Agoda but it is still there – half fallen down ( one wing was torn down for renovations which never happened several years ago giving it a pleasingly dilapidated air). Fans whirl in the oddly decorated, quiet lobby and for 20 USD per night you get a big double room with air conditioning, breakfast in the Lynchian “Blue Diamond” coffee shop and use of its generous pool, with its clear water and chipped tiles, in a courtyard under a lamphu tree, next to the Beirut-like rubble of the torn-down wing.

Its rare to see another guest. The Liberty Garden seems to be something that has slipped down the side of some enormous couch somewhere. You can imagine a junior member of an enormously wealthy Bangkok family stumbling across it in a dusty ledger book and asking in astonishment, “did you know we have had a hotel in Saphan Kwai for the last forty years?”

One day as I was swimming, gloriously, through the little used (but clean) pool, I heard a strain of music coming from the ruins. I couldn’t help smiling. It was the perfect song for  an aging sixties belle like this- “You Only Live Twice”.

Other than its seedy dated charm, and the price, the other great thing about the Liberty Garden Hotel is its location. Saphan Kwai might not be on many visitors’ hitlists, but the main drag of Thanon Pradiphat is as vibrant a local Thai neighourhood as you could hope for. Every single time I walked down the street I would notice something new that I had not seen before. There was simply too much to take in in one go – food stalls selling tom yum or gai ying chicken or barbecued skewers or fruit, little local coffee shops and desert places, Buddha shops, the garlands of flower sellers, traditional Thai clothes, underwear, Arab and Indian tourists ( seemingly the main market for the aging hotels in the area) and dusty-looking foreign exchange stores, blaring internet cafes, an occasional junkie or homeless person, motorbikes, monks. Towards the skytrain station, a ten minute walk away, there were footpath vendors of porn magazines (gay and straight) and magical amulets and a great second-hand book store.

Saphan Kwai really has everything.





Too Fast To Sleep

7 08 2015

Just next to Wat Hualamphong, and steps from the girlie (and boy) bars, thumping clubs and tatty night markets is an interesting new addition to Silom’s night scene, Too Fast To Sleep, a library-like all-night work and study space filled with shelves of books, power sockets for computers and when I was there, packed full of college students and teenagers, squatting in corners and sprawled over the floors with the notebooks and the class projects.

Of course, they also provide food and drinks, but seemingly there is no compulsion to buy. If you just want to come and use the stylishly-designed space for studying, thats fine too.

An interesting change of pace for Silom nightlife.





Tropical Gothic

3 08 2015

Chulalongkorn, usually called “Chula” for short, is Thailand’s most prestigious university and its green, manicured grounds stand just back from Siam Square and MBK, stretching to Silom. In fact, Chula is the landlord of the shops in Siam Square, which is partly why the area was targetted by anti-establishment rioters in 2010 – it doesn’t get much more “establishment” than Chula.

Politics aside though the campus is a nice place to wander, and a decided change of pace from the commercial frenzy around Siam Square. In addition to sometimes screening interesting free movies, the university also has some other hidden attractions.

Tucked away in a the quiet Biology 1 building, behind trees alive with bushy tailed squirrels, sits the dark and dusty Natural History Museum, virtually unvisited.

The museum contains quite an interesting collection of dead animals – pythons and turtles in tanks of formaldehyde, skeletons of crocodiles, humans and horses, deer and antelope skulls with strange antlers, shells and stuffed parrots and armadillos, as well as a (dead) specimen of the giant Chao Phraya stingray.

When I went there was not even a staff member to be seen, I had the whole slightly creepy collection to myself.








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