Thai Temples / Aussi Casions?

Oct 17, 2006
In both of our trip reports riding on scenic routes CM -Bkk Pee and I had a very condensed exchange about temples:

I wrote

"One observation= when have you seen a new church being built in Europe?? On my trip I saw dozens of new small and big temples under construction. What does this tell us?"

Pee replied

Faith is a driving force around here... Does it fulfil people needs?
In Australia I have seen huge temples being built. They were the masterpieces of famous architects... Well, to be accurate they call them "casinos" actually. Does it full fill people needs?
I have got no definite answer Pico...Interested to hear your perspective on the matter...

My, Pico´s, reaction=
I have no substantive opinion on this subject, lack of any meaningful info.
But here are two more of my observations=
1. only here, and only here I see young people in the midst of rush hour go up to a Buddhist symbol and pray, be it in mid Bkk or in a shopping centre. And they seem to do it just for themselves. No fixed temple times, just the need to do "it".

2. I once took a photo of a young woman kneeling alone in a temple. Only afterwards I realized = Buddha was smiling !! It hit me really hard,

Jesus never smiles, 2000 years of indoctrinated suffering.

3. here I see millions of benevolent, if not smiling Buddha statues in PUBLIC PLACES. Try to imagine the same number of suffering, crucified Jesus in gigantic sizes all over the country. Depressing or suicidal emotions ??

I am most keen to hear from people who have been here longer, have more substance to offer.



Mar 10, 2006
Would you choose an amulet or an helmet?

Pico, I agree with you that a "smiling Buddha statue" offers a much nicer sight than a "crucified, suffering Jesus".
One religion tells us that suffering is a normal part of human life and that we just have to accept it. The other teaches us how to lighten the suffering of this life, here and now.
Being atheistic, Buddhism is however the religion I respect the most.That said, I don't disrespect Christianity when it inspires Aretha Franklin to sing or J.S. Bach to write beautiful pieces of music.Soul can't be the monopoly of any church.
Because I am very attracted to Buddhism I try not to idealize it.
The parallel you draw between the two religions (many temple being built in this part of the world, deserted churches back in Europe) brings one composed word at the top of my mind: Meddle Age.
In those times churches were built in Europe. The level of rational knowledge was also very low. People needed to rely on religion to accept the world around them, to make sens of it.
I am not looking down on Thai, Lao people. Our histories are just different. One must admit though that the general level of education is still quite low in South East Asia. How do they make sens of the world around them?
Moreover in this region Buddhism is mixed with animism... For example, these amulets people wear that are supposed to protect them against accidents amongst many other negative events... Wouldn't they be better of wearing helmets at all times?
Like you I see many young people praying. In front of the World Trade Center in Bangkok, girls mostly come to pray a famous Hindu Statue. This a specialized place. Ladies come in hope of a nice, rich boyfriend. In many others places people pray and hope for good luck that will make them win the lottery... This is quite a step away from the Lord Buddha teaching.
The way Thai society is structured, as a cast society, reinforce this parallel with the Meddle Age where people had somehow to make sens of a world beyond their reach.
You are probably aware of the current frenzy about the Jatukram amulet in Thailand. 3 months ago a 50 years old lady was killed, crushed, walked over in a temple where an impatient crowd waited to buy a limited number of this precious talisman. Now, they are even making cookies in the form of the Jatukram amulet.It's not a hazard if this animist frenzy occurs at a time where Thailand is going through political uncertainty, economic slowdown. This situation is generating a lot of anguish. Aren't amulets a kind of placebo?
Moreover, Buddhism doesn't always matches the tolerant image Western people hold. In Thailand a new constitution is being drafted. Monks and Buddhists are lobbying hard(walking protest, eating strike, etc). They want Buddhism being declared the state religion. This is not going to help the reconciliation process with the troubled muslim South.People die everyday over there. Saving human lives should be placed above anything else, don't you think?
In conclusion, the sight of temples being built please my eyes, especially when this happens in beautiful natural surroundings like the ones we 've been through. That flatters the Oriental fantasies of Western men as well.
However, the sight of hospitals or schools being built in equal numbers would satisfy my soul.
Oct 17, 2006
Eric, I relish this little non-biking exchange. Being here in this country I must try to satisfy my curiosity
And because I cant read or speak Thai, I guess I will be left out ...for ever.

We come both from the same direction in terms of view points.

I would love so much to be able to scratch the surface of Thai Society, too big words, I mean,...... I think what I mean=

Yes, a large part of Thais is superstitious, not enough educated, etc.
Is that the reason, why we think they are in general lovely people?
A simplicity that we lost? I did have the impression when I was in a tiny Isaan Village, attending a becoming-monk-ceremony.

Any gut feeling if the Thai is more content, more relaxed with / about his/her life than we farang?
(Taking everythingeverything together).

This does not address the future. In the same village I saw only old women, men working in the fields and countless kids. Where were the mothers? In Bkk, Pattaya.
I will not jugde, who am I. But what it means that these children are growing up under the influence of the grand parents.
In other words these kids are being deprived of the influence/ realities of modern life for 2 full generations !!
A disaster for those kids, when and how will they ever catch up?

I hope nobody here minds my elabortions on a subject that is dear to my heart.

Aug 3, 2004
Hi Pico & Pee,

The Buddha smile, just like the Mona Lisa asks more questions than it answers.

Pleasant but ineffective.

The cross on the other hand is a stark but undeniable statement of the truth that Christ Jesus died for mankind.

What we do about that is by individual choice, but we ignore the cross at our peril.

Cheers, Peter


Mar 10, 2006
-« Being here in this country I must try to satisfy my curiosity
And because I cant read or speak Thai, I guess I will be left out ...for ever »
Not necessarily. Speaking Thai to a working level is not that difficult.
I find also very useful to go back and forth between good reading and visual observation while on the bike. May I just suggest a few books (in English) that are not a waste of time (rainy season coming fast):
-Siam Mapped, Thongchai Winichakul (Silkworm Books)
-Thailand, Economics and Politics, Pasuk Phongpaichit & Chris Baker(Oxford)
-Laos, The Land in Between, Grant Evans (Silkworm Books)

-« Is that the reason, why we think they are in general lovely people?

I have got the feeling that the present time is more important here. We often speak with people who are entirely “here and now”.
Moreover their personality is not hidden behind concepts than we have been fed upon during our education process and sophisticated marketing. Less references, more spontaneity… It’s not easy to really put a finger on it. I have read interesting pages along that line. It was John Burdett, « Bangkok Tattoo », a thriller easy to find in Thailand. The main character is « luk krung », half Thai, half black American. During his wanderings in Bangkok, he goes along meditating about our differences amongst others things. The new one, « Bangkok Haunts » is not bad either.

« In other words these kids are being deprived of the influence/ realities of modern life for 2 full generations !! »
They have older brothers and sisters to help them get a grip on modernity. However, it might only be through a consumerist way.

« Where were the mothers? In Bkk, Pattaya. »
There, statistics would probably tell that more of them are in the factories around Samut Prakan, Samut Sakkhon, etc… Not the kind of biking environment that we really like…

« Any gut feeling if the Thai is more content, more relaxed with / about his/her life than we farang?
(Taking everythingeverything together). »

Which Thai? Which farang? …
Can’t make statistics with happiness.
Moreover, Thai would express their frustrations in other ways.
Though, I feel that they seem a bit less relaxed these days.
Tomorrow I ‘m off to Koh Chang, I need air,

Oct 17, 2006
I am really interested in others people´s observation and I like being recommended good books.

I am a bit behind - time wise, having read and can recommend =

Descriptions of Old Siam, Michael Smithies, Oxford Paperback,
true letters, accounts from 16th-20 century, wonderful insights

Letters from Thailand, novel on the fate of a Chinese immigrant family after WW II
Botan, Silkworm Books,

Epos on a Thai family from Rama V until the Allied Bombings of Bangkok,
Four Reigns, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, Silkworm Books.,

Learning Thai ?? from all what I hear it´s very difficult to reach a level of proficiency that allows to catch the subtleties like I do now in English. I think that´s needed for an in- depth conversation.
If someone can recommend a really intensive, say 3 months crash course, I may go for it.



Mar 10, 2006
About learning Thai Pico wrote:
"Learning Thai?? From all what I hear it’s very difficult to reach a level of proficiency that allows to catch the subtleties like I do now in English. I think that’s needed for an in- depth conversation.
If someone can recommend a really intensive, say 3 months crash course, I may go for it."

You may be a bit ambitious when you write: "reaching a level of proficiency that allows to catch the subtleties like I do now in English"… And all that in 3 months!
I reckon that speaking a correct, simple Thai is better that speaking none. For example it’s already good being able to assess if people address you politely. Do they show respect or not, etc. And the other way around.
This is also a way to hear people tone of voice (and to make them hear yours), which is already a step forward in the communication process when words are not all there to initiate a bond of understanding.
Speaking a basic, simple Thai would allow you to joke with people which is a good way to set a comfort zone straight away.
Moreover, having access to a limited range of vocabulary can become very interesting. One has to express sometimes-complex ideas in a simple way. The exercise can help clarifying one’s mind and ultimately shows life under a different light.

Practically, there are many ways to go.
I went for private tuitions, one to one. First, get the grammar basics; how to form future, past, present times, etc. Very easy, comparing with English.
Then, I asked the teacher to provide me with specifics sets of vocabulary. I focused on words I could use and practice straight away. For example: about soccer at the World Cup time. Or if I had an appointment with a dentist, I asked for "dental" vocabulary, etc.
Of course a good and effortless way to build on academic knowledge is to live with a Thai girlfriend. One practices 24/24, 7/7... However I understand you are married already. That could be a bit of a problem.

I got in touch with the teacher through a Bangkok based school. They have collective morning class tuitions. One doesn’t need to learn how to read and write. Their method is based on a roman transcript (phom rian phasa Thai etc). Not bad… I prefer this than the AUA method. The “impregnation” method: you are supposed to only listen during 6 months before attempting to practice your speaking skills. Sounds a bit frustrating to me.
I am a bit hesitant giving the school name though... It has a Christian background. They used to teach missionaries who came to Thailand to inflict their faith on local people. However, my teacher, middle aged Thai lady, was not in this game and we got along well. Lucky me!
I try to stay away from convinced Christian activists… Why? There is a good example earlier on this thread, (here and now). These people are not committed to a genuine communication. They are too busy casting their pre packed set of beliefs while labelling others ways of thinking “ineffective”… And doing that blatantly without elaborating even a bit. It sounds pretty slack to me –especially coming from a native English speaker.
Anyway, up to you, the school:

Union Language School
109 CCT Building 11th floor
Suriwong Road, Bangkok 10 500 Thailand
Tel: 02 2334 482
(Phone number is 3 years old and I haven’t contacted them since)

I am not aware if they have branches outside Bangkok. However the school is at least 20 years old.

By the way but changing subject, Bush Pilot, congratulation on your Iron Butt Ride Songkhla to Chiang Mai!
Oct 17, 2006
Eric, I graciously accept your bashing over the head re: learning Thai, I guess I was hiding my laziness behind some rather pretentious words, to say the least. I chose the real easy way out= I sent my woman to many schools, careful not to overcharge and yet to let her develop a real interest in learning good English.
She has become so eager that at home she reads aloud and asks for correction.
My thinking behind was my laziness plus more so being also altruistic, I wanted this young woman to have something for her life, irrespective of our relationship, to speak one foreign language relatively well.
That´s what I can give to her
It may change her life, learning Thai will certainly enrich mine but not change it anymore.
Needless to say, she wants me to learn Thai too. So, here I am :)
In this respectyour comments how you went about it are helpful, Eric.

PS 3 months was meant as an initial firing off to get me moving.
Oct 17, 2006
I took time to think about this a bit longer

The Buddha smile, just like the Mona Lisa asks more questions than it answers. Pleasant but ineffective.

And Jesus, does he give any answers to the wars led and atrocities committed in his holy name or the miseries in this world?
Deafening silence over 2000 years.

Any comparable suffering/ atrocity stories of mankind in history in the name of Buddha ?

I rather go with a smile through life looking at smiling people/Buddhas

The cross on the other hand is a stark but undeniable statement of the truth that Christ Jesus died for mankind.

Wonderful flat statement, more meaningless than Mona Lisa, anyhow I prefer a smile anytime.
I certainly will die with a smile on my lips......because my whole life will have been wonderful! The thereafter, I will deal with too, not at all scared.
AND I did not ask anyone to die on my behalf, and after Jesus went through all the trouble I am still supposed to be chastised because I am such a sinful person?
Mission not accomplished.

Clarification = I am not tight to any religion. I respect anyones views.


Mar 10, 2006
Pico, no bashing over the head... I just tried to share a way of learning Thai that worked, at least for me. First hand information that I am sure of. We all do things at different stages of our life. Here comes the blessing of sharing experiences: by doing just that we allow each other to save a lot of time and effort.
I did just the opposite as you did and accept graciously your bashing over the head! You could label me "selfish"... I was speaking Thai when I met my gal... It was just too easy to just build on that without much benefit for her. Matter of fact she doesn't make fast progress with her English.
However it makes sense for us to speak Thai...
a) After all we live in Thailand
b) I don't like the "music" of the English language. Not like Vietnamese, Italian, Arabic that sound nice...
c) The worst is this minimal, stereotyped English we hear too often.
When using a few clichés makes the person feel she/he really belongs to a culture she/he knows very little about -beyond Hollywood movies and other cheap artefacts of the kind.
Such a pity when Anglo-Saxon cultures have so many beautiful things to offer.
d) Culturally, Thai ladies would feel sometimes embarrassed to appear as a leader in social circumstances. Mastering the language can set them up in this role... Their man appears to be in tow and it's not a good look. It's a machos society. Even if you don't like it, it's useful to acknowledge it.

Pico wrote:
"Clarification = I am not tight to any religion. I respect anyone’s views."

For me, I respect anyone views as long as:
a) They are based on reliable and precise information... Or at least the person put the effort to make them understandable by others.A bit of empathy never hurts.
b) People respect my views

I have been enjoying this thread.
Sharing experiences, feelings, intuitions we got during our bike trips help us to improve our understanding of Mekong countries. Or at least, that could help us to better fit in…
By doing that, I believe that we are still on the "Golden Triangle" side of this site... Even if a bit less on the "Rider" side.
Discussing general religion issues take us a bit too far away...
I also feel a bit concerned that this thread doesn't seem to attract much interest amongst other GtRiders...


Oct 6, 2006
Pee wrote...'I also feel a bit concerned that this thread doesn't seem to attract much interest amongst other GtRiders...'

Just to inject a little counterpoint...and controversy into the discourse....

For a large part of humanity mankind’s faith has been shaped by religious text that emerged from tribal desert dwellers who lived around 2,000 years ago. The poison of which Hitchens writes is an old and potent brew. It makes us stupid to the reality of the world and has killed many of us as well. The religious view of the origins of the universe or the nature of man was and remains much closer to the thought processes of Cro-Magon than modern, secular people. Their strange dietary taboos, hamlet raids, child abuse, racial hatreds was only exceeded by their ignorance and untiring commitment to blood sacrifice and violence. But they were clever enough to commit their ugly crimes under the authority of a superior being who they claimed spoke directly to them.

Few people would wish to be operated on by a surgeon trained solely by studying medical text written in the 16th century. A doctor placing a leech on your forehead to relieve your headache would have you screaming out of the hospital to phone your lawyer, who would tell you this procedure isn’t covered by your medical insurance. Yet the same person has no problem with believing with great passion in a set of staggeringly cheesy miracles, sightings, and dogmas ranging from virgin birth to the resurrection of the death. It is in this context that Christopher Hitchens uses his formidable intellect, research and linguistic skills to demolish the tribal rants found in the bible, the Torah, and Koran, --books that have held most people in the world virtual hostages for thousands of years.

These are a few excerpts from a book, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" By Christopher Hitchens.

The author make some very valid observations..!
Jul 6, 2004
gee Guys this thread is getting heaveee! As Neal would say in the Young Ones TV show.
In Aussie God rides a Harley, or so it seems!

Oct 17, 2006
Michael Kinsley, columnist for Time magazine reviewed the book and concludes=
Hitchens has written a serious and deeply felt book, totally consistent with his beliefs of a lifetime.
And God should be flattered: unlike most of those clamoring for his attention, Hitchens treats him like an adult.

My penny thoughts on this=

I accept that most people are superstitous in one way or the other.
And that goes across cultures.
Why can no magazine do without a horoskope?
BUSCH refers all the time to GOD. The Thai elite sees fortune tellers.

Yes, we know more about reality, what makes our world tick, we know infinitely more than all these old tribes who had no other choice but to be superstitious because they simply did not know a thing.

But no matter how far the Hubble telescope travels
(snapshot June 27
and )
and no matter what scientific explanation might be found for THE BIG BANG mankind will always want to BELIVE IN SOME SUPER NATURAL POWER, something which made this all start.

Before this is getting really all to heavy perhaps here someone who will say what made him/her chose Thailand, the land of ghosts, of people with little eduction, little intellectual demands.
Is it only the weather, the girls and the inexpensiveness ??
No God of whatever name will give a sense of daily well being.
HIM we can can have everywhere in any country.
What is it about Thailand ??