One of the things that strikes me the most about Thailand is the vibrant and multiple colours that you can find everywhere. Thais use colour for their houses, their spirit houses, their temples and just in general. Sometimes Thailand feels like you’ve fallen into a Dulux catalogue. In this post I’ve written about some of the colours that stand out for me, and why.
You can’t talk about colour in Thailand without noting the bright orange of the monks’ robes. Apparently the colour dates back to the time of the Buddha, who taught followers to wear robes of ‘pure’ cloth, the cloth no one else wanted (soiled cloths, or even shrouds used to wrap the dead before cremation). The robes were then washed and dyed by being boiled with spices such as turmeric and saffron, which gave the robes a yellow-orange colour. SE Asian monks still wear spice-colour robes today – the bright orange being the most common colour here in Thailand.
Red brings to mind the red Songthaews which are everywhere in Chiang Mai. For a very small fee, you can flag one down, and jump in along with whoever else is in there (if they were English, we would say 6-8 people max, but in Thailand, they might have many more people in, or, indeed, hanging out of, the back), and you will be dropped off according to a route that the driver will keep revising as he gets new passengers. Not one for when you are in a hurry, but very cost effective (usually 20-60p per person within Chiang Mai for example).
I also have some personal memories of Red, as at Agama Yoga school on Koh Phangan, I went through a ‘Rites of Passage’ ritual, which was very beautiful, and involved the participants wearing red. I will write more about the power of ritual in another entry.
There are two main associations I make with the colour white. The first is my room here in Chiang Mai at Puri Piman, which is almost all white – lovely and fresh, spacious and clean. I love it. The other is the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai, a stunning piece of architecture that has to be seen to be believed. Created by a Thai visual artist (17 years in the making so far), every detail has a symbolic meaning – and with Superman being one such detail painted opposite the Buddha inside the temple, it draws you in to find out more. And it’s now Thailand’s most visited tourist attraction….
Sometimes not an inspiring colour, but for me, the colour of coffee. Thailand’s new-ish to (good) coffee, and in some places it’s still pretty grim, but there’s a burgeoning coffee scene in Chiang Mai, and my life mainly consists of visiting cafes and coffee shops and hanging out. So I drink quite a lot of coffee…and a social enterprise coffee shop called Akha Ama was also the place where I saw the advert for TedXChiangMai (the inspiring proprietor, Lee Ayu, was a speaker) which was an amazing experience, so it also brings that to mind for me now.
The colours of the sky in Thailand are as inspiring as the more people-made colours of the cities and towns. On Koh Phangan, I captured a lot of sunset photos – it’s hard to get bored with them when the sky turns so many colours. A perfect pink is the one that I love the most, and the photos that tend to end up as a background on my computer.
Green has two associations for me. When I came back to the UK earlier this year, a few people said to me I must miss the greenness of England while I’m away. And I do, but not because Thailand doesn’t have green. Admittedly, the ‘grass’ is quite different – tougher – and the flora and foliage are all different types, but there’s plenty of green to be had in the jungle and the mountains. The other green I associate with Thailand is the grass around the moat of Chiang Mai. It’s almost always cool around the moat because of the shade from the trees and the coolness of the water spray from the fountains. Of course, you have to cross a very busy road to get to it!
Not such a popular colour in the UK, in Thailand the majority of the 40k+ temples have a ‘Chedi’, a bell-shaped tower containing a relic chamber. These are usually covered in gold leaf, and make a splendid sight – especially with the bright sunshine making them glint and sparkle. Gold Chedis against a deep blue cloudless sky are an instant reminder of Thailand for me.
Blue should probably come next then, blending into my last entry – as of course it’s the sea and the sky that I associate with this colour. Living on an island, I could spend endless hours looking at the sea, which is always changing yet always constant. And watching the sea and sky interact is mesmerising.
Thailand’s rainbows aren’t only in the skies after a deluge of rain – the real rainbows are in the streets, markets, temples and people’s homes.