So far I've found that every day brings another surprise here in Thailand. Today was no exception. I was going to write about today's surprise and call it the Surprise of the Day. Upon further reflection, I decided to call it the Surprise of the Week!
I will start with some background. One of the things that first got me interested in traveling to Thailand was the fact that every town seemed to have at least one dramatic and beautiful Buddhist temple, a Wat in the Thai language. I would do a Google search on a town in Thailand and soon I'd be looking at images of these amazing wats and Buddha images. One, which I can't find now, was a large white Buddha on the mountains above a town. It might have been the white Buddha at Wat Kiri Suban near Lampang. It looked to me like anyone in the town would be able to look up to the mountain from anywhere and see this large Buddha looking down on the village. The idea of a great spiritual leader being so ever present in the environment was especially appealing to me. It suggested to me a culture that is exceptionally spiritual in its focus.
Fast forward to today. I am especially fortunate to be able to travel with a native Thai as she drives around the central and northern provinces for her job. These are not tourist routes on tourist buses with crowds of other tourists. This is riding in a nice new pickup truck as she goes about her business. Today we were to travel from U-Thong to her next assignment in Sing Buri. She asked me whether I wanted to stop at any wats along the way. "Well only something really dramatic. After all, you have your business to attend to!"
So off we went, driving through farm lands from one town to another. These were mostly rice fields, as well as groves of coconut trees, banana trees and sugar cane. Some rice fields were newly flooded and others were covered with rice plants of the brightest green imaginable. I was enjoying this landscape, flat and green as far as the eye could see in all directions. It reminded me of central Illinois where I grew up, except there the crops were mostly corn and soybeans.And then it happened. As my eye scanned across the horizon, a large golden Buddha appeared far off in the distance! The sun was in the perfect position to make the gold shine at us from very far away. This was just like what I had imagined with the white Buddha in the mountains! I let out a yell of surprise and pleasure. We had come upon Wat Muang, perhaps five to ten kilometers away.
Photo by John Muzi at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/38687363
The impact was dramatic. The fields presented a low horizon in all directions, with the Buddha standing up (or sitting up) far above everything else. Perhaps I was feeling the same way one does when seeing the first pyramid rising up from the desert floor in Egypt. It also reminded me of the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains rising up from the plains of eastern Colorado, as we drove west.
I made a video to give some idea of the horizon all around. The sun was in the wrong position at the time, so the Buddha can only be seen as a dark outline. But you do get to see one of the bright green rice fields.
Well this qualified as something really dramatic, so we did a U-turn and headed back to the road that would take us closer for a photograph. It turned out to be a major Wat, with much more than the impressive golden Buddha.
But first the Buddha. We had stumbled upon the largest Buddha, the largest statue, in Thailand. It is the ninth largest statue in the world, built over the course of 16 years from 1991-2007 at a cost of $3.3 mil US, entirely from donations. It is 92 m (300 ft) high, and 63 m (210 ft) wide, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty in the US. It is made of concrete, painted gold and it is MAGNIFICENT.
This and other impressive images are from http://www.photographythailand.com/Forum/index.php?topic=1461.0
Note the people standing at the bottom of the statue to get an idea of the scale involved.
I saw the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, both totally impressive. This statue was just as impressive. When you come to Thailand be sure to see all three! The admission to the Grand Palace was 400 Baht ($13), Wat Pho was 100 Baht ($3) and Wat Muang was free. Wat Muang will require more effort to be reached, as it is about two hours from Bangkok, perhaps a challenge with public transportation. Again, I am verrrrry fortunate to have a ride along in a comfortable private vehicle.
The next time I come to Thailand, I will want to visit Wat Muang again, for at least a full day, perhaps two. And I hope I will be able to arrange to have an English speaking guide who is familiar with everything there. That's because, besides the Buddha, there is a large area devoted to life size re-creations of events in the history of Thailand (e.g. the Thai-Burma war), very graphic depictions of the Buddhist idea of hell, Thai god paradise and Chinese god paradise and both a male and female "hungry ghost", Pretas that stand 10 m (30 ft) tall, called Ting and Tong by the locals, both given cloth pants, to spare the children visiting the wat.
These displays are all painted in bright colors with low fences around them and signs in Thai script, presumably describing the (many gruesome) events depicted.
Watch the following rarely viewed videos to get a look at these amazing displays.