South East Asia (Thailand) Diary 28 November 2001

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.

To tomorrow...


Created by Dan Leigh 29/11/01