Pattaya Hill and Big Buddha Temple, Pattaya, Thailand

At the top of Pattaya Hill a left turn brought us to the home of Pattaya Radio, a small temple, and the monument to HRH Admiral Krom Luang Jumborn Khet Udomsakdi, while a right turn took us to Wat Phra Yai with Pattaya’s 15 meter tall Big Buddha.

The Navy’s temple is home to many beasts, especially young dogs and cats (one of whom looked very much like our cat Aran, except “he” was a pregnant she),

and a sign-posted “wild monkey” chained by the neck to his perch in a tree, a sight which was very distressing. Why would the monks or temple workers chain up this poor creature who looks like he’s about to expire? He may be wild but could he not be returned to the forest to live out his days with other animal companionship?

The Admiral’s monument occupies the highest point of Pattaya Hill and is also the site of a shrine with many, many elephant, horse, zebra, dancing warrior, and rooster models, so many that the shrine has had to be extended with a long metal table to accommodate the overflow.

After wandering around this hill for a bit, and admiring the expansive view out over Pattaya City and Bay, we walked back down the hill along a newly-made cement path through the woods, then up again to the Big Buddha.

The big guy sits at the top of a long set of steps guarded by two freshly-painted golden Naga serpents. Along with BB are several other Buddha statues, including nine that represent the different days of the week.

The Buddhists believe that saying a few words to the Buddha born on the same day as oneself will bring one good luck. As well, the belief is that:

•Monday’s Buddha will bring peace.

•Tuesday’s Buddha will give peaceful sleep.

•Wednesday’s Buddha means one is a giving person.

•Thursday’s Buddha allows one peace of mind to meditate.

•Friday’s Buddha will give happiness.

•Saturday’s Buddha will ensure protection from the elements.

•Sunday’s Buddha will search for the needy and care for them.

At the entrance to the temple, young girls sell tiny birds in cages which, judging from the empty cages left behind next to the various Buddhas, quite a few people were inspired to set free. This practice is supposed to bring one luck, but the more birds that are sold, the more that will be caught and caged … what happens to the unsold birds?

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Ubud, Bali: a feast for the eyes and ears

Q’ull picked us up from the Little Pond Homestay right on time for our one hour trip to the arts and culture centre of Bali, Ubud. Along the road between Sanur and Ubud are many small villages, all specialising in various crafts, mostly carving and sculpture for temples and private homes. As we zoomed along, we saw all manner of sculpted figures and heads, large and small, gracing the side of the road. After an uneventful, but busy, ride into the interior we pulled over at the side of a busy street in Penestanan, a village just outside the town centre, and dragged our bags along flat cement footpaths through rice fields to our rental house.

This house, along with a few others, is nestled right in the middle of beautiful bright green rice fields. It is a tall two story structure, mostly open to the elements, with two decks overlooking the fields, a very large fishpond, and a small plunge pool, the pool just finished the day we arrived.

It must have been hatching season for small red spiders because shortly after we moved in a vast stream of them emerged from under the stove top and underneath the large stone goddess holding up the staircase. There were too many simply to lift outside so unfortunately I had to blast them with bug spray, leaving hundreds of tiny corpses on the counter and floor. Although we do see little spiders, ants and other tiny insects crawling around the place, hopefully we’ll not be inundated with an entire army of them again.

The fishpond holds many large orange and gold carp and attracts beautiful dragonflies during the day and not-so-beautiful toads at night. Since I’ve only seen some small ones hopping along the cement paths, I’m not sure how large the toads that frequent our garden are, but they have very large voices with an interesting range of expressions. Some creatures in the rice fields (not sure what they are) sound like cell phones ringing, others make sounds like “whoop-whoop-whoop”, still others sound like crying babies. We also have a small bird visitor, one with a tiny white head, a black body and very long yellow legs and large feet, who strolls through the living room periodically.

After settling in Saturday, we headed out down one of the many cement paths through the rice fields to find the Bintang Market. We took a very circuitous route through a series of small paths but eventually emerged at Bintang where we purchased food and other supplies for the week. Later, on our way back, we stopped at a local restaurant (called a warung) nearby where we had some really excellent prawn curry for very little money.

The weather has been very good, warm (sometimes hot), not too humid, with only a tiny burst of rain once a day. Ubud is really a fascinating place; it’s always been on the art peoples’ radar, but ever since the 2009 publication of Eat, Pray, Love, and the crappy Julie Roberts movie version, it’s been flooded with even more western tourists looking for enlightenment. Right now it’s the low season so it’s not as busy as it otherwise might be (which is a good thing), but the main roads through “downtown” are bustling and during the day busloads of tourists from Kuta and points south, as well as cruise ship patrons, are dropped off to shop for a couple of hours.

From what we’ve seen so far, the town is full of art galleries, temples, bars, restaurants, yoga places, and various other necessaries for spiritual seekers, many of which ask western prices. Sunday we walked from our place into town, stopping first at the Antonio Blanco Renaissance Art Museum, a Campuhan hill-top compound, formerly the artist’s home, dedicated to all things Blanco. I’d never heard of Antonio Blanco before, but apparently his claim to fame in the 1950s was that he was the first artist to paint women’s clitorises … He’s known as the Dali of Bali and the site contains a neo-baroque museum, small gallery, and the studio where he used to paint, including all his paints, brushes and half-finished canvases seemingly undisturbed in the 12 years since he died.

The garden is fabulous, with many different kinds of tropical birds in residence, including toucans, parrots, cockatoos and a type of small buzzard. The museum building, which one enters through a gigantic sculpted rendition of the maestro’s signature (apparently renowned as the world’s largest signature),

is in colossal bad taste, with golden cheesecake statues of women gracing the terraces and rooftop, and two floors of Antonio’s paintings, collages and drawings, all in his own especially designed wooden frames (one featuring an effigy of ET).

Somehow, a piece of sculpture that might look right at home on a Hindu temple seems out of place on one man’s personal museum … We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum itself (I only snuck one of the second floor interior, shown below).

A museum attendant opened two special frames for us which displayed a couple of Antonio’s more pornographic works, one featuring a woman and a red candle dildo and the other two women having sex. His portraits are very skillful but OMG what kitsch! Breasts, buttocks, sultry looks everywhere in a softcore surrealist style.

The museum is a fascinating, and somewhat grotesque, testament to one man’s vanity. After a couple of hours at the Blanco compound, we strolled up the main drag, stopping for a drink at a riverside restaurant, and a snack at Coco’s International Restaurant, a good people-watching spot, before hitting the large tourist market. We had been told to head straight into the centre of the market if we wanted to buy anything, since all the shops sell more or less the same things, and those on the top floor interior get much less traffic. After looking around (and seeing a dead rat lying on the ground next to some garbage), we bargained hard for a black linen shirt and hit the road.

After a dinner of local specialties at a small path-side restaurant nearby, we were heading back to the ranch when an older guy invited us along to hear a “world-class trumpeter” at the Casa Luna Restaurant and Bar. We accompanied him back into town and had a drink at the Casa Luna downstairs bar while listening to a jazz foursome play. And the trumpeter was great –

I found it interesting that, while many of the many restaurants along the main street were practically empty, the Casa Luna, with its desultory service, was quite full. The restaurant is large and vaguely European in design, with antique wooden tables and chairs, marble columns and elegant décor, and could have been anywhere (possibly the reason for its popularity). While we didn’t eat, the restaurant is recommended for its good food – we will hope to check that out later.

Ubud has a profusion of temples replete with amazing sculptural decoration. Almost everywhere we look we see something beautiful or bizarre. The town has more galleries than the entire rest of Bali, I’m sure, some very high end and others more kitsch. It also has several museums dedicated to Indonesian and International contemporary art which I’ll visit while we’re here. And this is the first place in our travels that I’ve seen art supplies on sale. Almost every night there are Balinese dance performances, gamelan music, shadow puppet presentations and the like, many put on in the various temples downtown – a cultural feast.

See more pictures here.