Now i believe in God – well, the rain God at least! I woke up this morning to find the ground wet and a cool, refreshing taste in the air. I never thought i’d be so thankful for rain but the atmosphere had become so close, so suffocating, that it felt like i was melting into the stifling air that surrounded me.
ONCE UPON A TIME . . .
Laotian artist and mystic, Boun Leua Souritat went hiking in the mountains in his native land. He was walking alone, minding his own business, when he fell into a hole and landed in the lap of Keoku, a kindly hermit who lived in a cave. Leua stayed with Keoku for several years, during which time the hermit taught him about Buddha and the underworld, and introduced him to some of the Gods and Godesses who live in the higher realms of Buddhist mythology.
After resuming his live above ground, the artist created a vast array of gigantic sculptures in the forset of north east Thailand, which he named Sala Keoku (Hall of Keoku) in honour of his spiritual teacher. Leua’s spectacular figures depict many of the religious and mythical beings he learned about from Keoku. The dominant statue in the park is 25m high.
I cycled up to the park, against the wind, on highway 212. the park is only 500m off this busy highway, yet it feels like a much more remote setting. I ended up spending around two hours being mesmorized by Leua’s creations and wishing i could read the foreign script engraved into the base of many of his sculptures. Amongst the sculptures and numerous plants which decorate the grounds, was a huge cactus garden : hundreds of the prickly pets in all manner of shapes and sizes. It’s a shame they’re not a little easier to transport or i would have purchased one of the tiny offspring being sold just outside the entrance for 10THB.
Following lots of beautifully carved slabs of concrete, i cycled over to the west side of Nong Khai to observe the very un-inspiring slab of concrete that is the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. There’s a small beach beside the bridge, where tubing is on offer when the water levels are low enough. However, there’s not a lot else to do here unless you want to join the few Thai people sitting on straw mats beneath a large thatched shelter (which covers most of the beach) drinking Thai beer and eating sun-dried river fish.
My next destination was also rather disappointing. Ok, so Lonely Planet do say that Phra That Klang Nam “can only be seen in the dry season when the Mekong lowers by 30m”, but i expected a little more than what looked like a rock emerging from the river with a few flags tied to its summit! The chedi apparently slipped into the river in 1847 and continues to slide. If you want to catch a glimpse of it (not really worth the effort in my opinion!) then you’d better get to Thailand fast because there isn’t much left above water!
I spent the evening at Mut Mee eating delicious green eggplant with tofu in curry sauce, reading “Catfish and Mandala” and eavesdropping on the conversations of the expats at the adjacent table. Caroline (a London girl who works at Mut Mee) was nursing a broken heart after her American traveller-lover had moved on to his next destination. I saw the two of them hugging their goodbyes and i’m sure he’s the same guy i encountered in the Organic Mulberry Cafe in Vang Vieng, Laos, about 3 weeks ago. It’s a small traveller’s world out here!
Photo is of one of Leua’s large stone statues at Sala Keoku