I've decided to go to Laos after all. I met up with Louise,
who I'd met in Singapore, this morning and we had a busy time sorting
out tickets and visas and the like.
The rest of the day was spent doing some more unusual sightseeing.
We visited a park that used to be a prison, and then went to chat
about Buddhism with a monk and one of his pupils.
Romanee Lart Park is the site of Maha Chai Prison, once Bangkok's
most draconian penitentiary.
They've left the guard towers in place
Schoolgirls play badminton here; people of all ages work out at
the outdoor gym, go through the slow motions of Tai Chi and jog
around the flower-brightened park. Then you notice a row of vacant
prison cells and imposing guard towers standing like forgotten stone
sentinels. Sommai, a wonderfully enthusiastic Thai is only too happy
to show you around his museum of the prison. This incredibly interesting
and undeniably macabre series of exhibits graphically depicts life
and death as it used to be in this prison. There is a ratton ball
just large enough for a man to curl up in - that was then kicked
around the exercise area by an elephant, and as if that wasn't punishment
enough, the inside of the ball is studded with nails. The knifes
and syringes that the prisoners made are also on display. The most
chilling objects in the museum are however are the weapons used
to execute prisoners. There are the swords that used to be used
to decapitate prisoners as well as the modern day version - the
machine gun. If this wasn't enough, they also have series of pictures
of actual executions (both prior and after). It is a very intense
museum. I couldn't take any pictures, but the prison does feature
on their website.
The afternoon was spent contemplating a little less unsavourary
subjects. I'd read that there was a monk there that was willing
to show you meditation, "You clean your body and your clothes everyday,
but do you clean your mind?", the monk asks. "I can teach anybody
to meditate in half an hour, for free". We spent over two hours
with him discussing various aspects of Buddhism and monastic life
- and we still didn't get our meditation lesson!
We met Lek 'the modern day monk', as he described himself on the
way out of the temple. He is training to become a monk, but he has
some rather radical ideas about the nature of Buddhism and the life
of a monk in the modern world. He listens to the BBC world service
- to improve his English, but his turn of phrase is decidedly US
film. He uses computers and the internet to expand his knowledge
and wants to travel more to enhance his experience. All these things
are great for increasing Lek's personal experience, but I'm not
sure whether they're exactly compatible with some of the core beliefs
of his religion!
The train was full, so we have to take the bus.