Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dudeism in Chiang Mai

One place you could visit in Chiang Mai is the Dudeist Church. It is located at Moon Mueang Road Mueang Chiang Mai 50200. It is nothing really to look at and it probably won’t be open. And yet it has to be one of the most intriguing places in Chiang Mai to visit for the fact that it is home to one of the newest and most harmless religious cults in the world. The religion is Dudeism. The Church is called the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. And its founder, the Dudely Lama, Oliver Benjamin live at this address.

You might think this is a joke, but it is not. Look it up on Wikipedia. The religion has over 250,000 adherents and 160,000 ordained priests. Although for those of scholarly and non-dude bent Dudeism may appear a mock religion, for many normal people the religion seems to have a certain persuasiveness.

To gasp the essence of the Dudeist message you just have to recall the character of Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski in the Coen Brothers’ movie called ‘The Big Lebowski’. The central character ‘abides’. He likes taking naps, getting high and not working too hard or getting uptight. He is not into violence or messing with other people. He gets happiness from just being himself and doing the simple things in life such as bowling and hanging out with his friends. He loves his rug because it holds his room together.

Oliver Benjamin has made a credible case for connecting this portrayal of a world-view with the spiritual message of Taoism - ‘go with the flow’.

Anyway, if you can chat to Oliver Benjamin or hear him talk (probably wearing a brown bathrobe and holding a white Russian) you might find that that particular day in Chiang Mai turned out to be a memorable if not significant day in your life.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Baan Tong Luang

Baan Tong Luang is a hill tribes village located a few kilometres outside of Chiang Mai. It offers guests the chance to see several of the tribes that have settled in the north of Thailand over the last hundred and fifty years. They have kept their traditional clothes and customs. To supplement the proceeds from their agricultural activity they have opened this village area to visitors. It is the easiest place to see hill tribes if you opt not to do a trek while you visit Chiang Mai.

The park is described as an ‘eco-agricultral hill tribes village’. They are growing various crops using the traditional methods of their tribes. Naturally these methods don’t include using expensive pesticides and fertilizers. For those interested in seeing how food is grown without modern farming methods Baan Tong Luang is the best place to head.

The hill tribes represented in the village are:

1.    Karen – originally from Tibet
2.    Lahu Shi Bala – also from Tibet
3.    Palong – minority from Burma who migrated in the 1980s
4.    Hmong – originally from Tibet, fought against communists in Laos
5.    Kayaw  -from the Kayah state in Burma and a subgroup of the Karen tribe
6.    Akha / Ekhaw – from Yunnan in China
7.    Yao / Mien – trace their history back to the Song Dynasty of China; originally from the Chang Jiao River basin in China

You get to see the tribes in a real life setting. They are also wearing their traditional costumes. It is a chance to see some of the many minorities that inhabit China and South East Asia whose ways of life have become threatened by development and modernisation.

The only downside to the place is the focus on the Karen women who famously wear lots of golden hoops on their neck to make it look longer. This tradition has become famous and is the main crowd attraction it seems. Tourists gawping at these women put me off a bit.

There are often tribal people doing textile making. Naturally these items are available for sale.

Baan Tong Luang is on the Maerim-Samuang Road. The entrance is on the left, between Maesa Waterfall and Maesa Elephant Camp.

You can combine a trip to the Hill Tribes Village with a visit to Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, Maesa Elephant Camp and Maesa Waterfall.