The Battleaxe and the Monk - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

January 18, 2024

The Battleaxe and the Monk

Immigration and Khao Hin Thoen Stone Park

The Battleaxe and the Monk

Our Thai month long visas were winding down and now a tourist can renew a Thai visa for one more month for a bunch of money - 1900 Baht or $55.00.  It's a lot for a month but if you consider Thailand gives the first month free it comes out to about the same per month as the fee for a month visa in all the surrounding countries.  Burma/Myanmar is the only country in SE Asia where you can overstay as long as you want, you just have to pay $3 per day overstay when you leave the country.  $55 for a second thirty days in Thailand is basically less than $2 per day if you consider it an overstay fee. So, all in all, it's not a horrible deal.  It sure beats traveling to an adjacent country, walking over the border, paying their visa fee and coming back to Thailand for another free month.  In the end it would be way more expensive to travel to another country and come back.  I don't understand what the big deal is and why there are visas in the first place.  They are a hassle no matter how you do it.  Every foreign tourist would agree.  I'd rather pay something initially when entering Thailand if you could get, say, a six month visa.  The Thai government has gone round and round about visa requirements changing the rules regularly for the past 50 years.

There is an immigration office three miles short of the Myanmar border, or, ten miles inland from Prachuap.  This is the skinniest part of Thailand and we have never been inland from Prachuap so I was looking forward to seeing something new.  I was not looking forward to getting a possible full-of-authority immigration officer.  We had heard from our friends that there was one man at that office to look out for but how can you possibly look out?  You get whom you get.  We prepared to be our normal courteous foreign selves, not wearing caps, wai-ing when meeting them, using our best Thai and doing whatever they asked of us.

The ride over was through a lot of coconut palms which were rather beautiful but it was hot and the ground looked parched.  Dogs greeted us the whole way.  There are more dogs out in the countryside in Thailand.  They are more loose, more aggressive and we have to watch out a bit more but overall they are no problem.  We just have to be cautious.  If there is an especially bad dog I stop.  That confuses them to the point where they usually give up.

Another one of those new style houses.
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These coconut palms are natural (not planted).
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The immigration office was so small, with a sign so faded that it was basically invisible and so nondescript that we rode right past it.  Eventually we figured it out.  There was only one woman officer at first and she looked like a battleaxe.  I was scared of her. She seemed overworked and irritated at life and could possibly be one of those officers who threw their weight around.  She demanded the phone number of our hotel, which on our hotel's site on Google Maps was the wrong number, it turned out when she phoned it.  She called someone else for a brief moment and then I produced a business card for our hotel and she seemed pleased without showing that she was pleased.  She took a photo of it with her phone.  I always take at least one business card from the hotels we stay in just in case of something odd and for once I was able to use it.  I was more pleased with myself than she was!

Then more people came in and an officer from a side office came in to help deal with them.  He was good-time Charlie and joked around so much with everyone that even the Battleaxe started laughing while she filled out form after form and stamped a thousand things using five thousand rubber stamps.  Once she was laughing I knew we were safe. I was really looking forward to five thousand new rubber stamps in my passport.  

It all went well but took some time.  In between dealing with us, a large group of possibly Burmese workers came in and the now Former Battleaxe took a photo of the entire group and they all filed out the door.  It was very mysterious because they didn't even look like Burmese but they had to be I think.  Maybe itinerant farm workers although they didn't look like they had ever done any farm work.  Maybe there is some sort of clothing factory in the area.  We only guess when in situations like this.  Don't rely on this report for any substantial information!  We know very little.  We just wanted our passports back in our hands with all those new stamps in them.

We got out of there clean and set off to something our friend in Prachuap had told us we might want to check out that was in the same area.  At the border with Myanmar are some pretty steep hills.  Just before those hills are huge boulders scattered about in the forest making the Khao Hin Thoen Stone Park.   There is one configuration of three huge boulders leaning on each and a sort of cave is made underneath.  A monk has lived there for 40 years and since that area was on our way back to Prachuap we decided to go check it out.  

First sighting of just the tops of the boulders that the monk lives underneath.
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The monk, Phra Kaset, decided, at age 37, after only three months of being in a temple, that he wanted to remove himself from society, become a full-time monk and take up residence among the three biggest boulders in Khao Hin Thoen Stone Park.  The boulders he has lived under for the past 40 years, are 15 to 20 meters tall and are wedged against each other in what looks like a precarious arrangement.  Phra Kaset spent a lot of time meditating there but also had lots of other time and energy.  So, he started making steps up and between other boulders in the area using cement and colorful broken ceramic tiles.  He made a scary-to-get-to viewing platform and all sorts of other 'sidewalks' to nowhere. What had been pristine, unique wilderness has unfortunately become a maze of pathways, stairs and platforms made of tiles. He was a busy beaver because he never tired of making these things for 30 years. I would have much rather seen all the huge boulders left in their natural state. 

The stairs leading to the cave-like area where the monk lives.
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I'm sorry, this really irked me.  I don't care if someone wants to become a Buddhist monk and meditate all his life but he could have easily done that without building a thing.  Or, he could have done it on someone's private land or his own private land.  If he fell in love with the site with boulders he could have lived there without changing a thing.  I peered into the recesses of the monk's cave and saw that it was filled with a whole lot of junk that the monk had accumulated.  I don't know what it all was but it seemed the monk had maybe not broken free from attachment to things.  What happened to the idea of not acquiring stuff and living an aescetic's life?  

Anyway, when we got there it was approaching lunch time and there was a group of Thais, most wearing white, cooking for the 77 year-old monk.  They greeted us by giving us two bottles of water which we accepted reluctantly because we thought the water had been intended as an offering to the monk by some devotee.  But there were piles of  bottles of water everywhere and the monk probably had enough stockpiled for the rest of his life and maybe his next. 

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A trough has been made to catch rain falling on the boulders so it will not run down and fall inside the cave. The water is directed away.
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He also had lots of cats.  One of the cats came right up to me and laid down purring loudly.  Talk about attachment!  I wanted that cat immediately.  He was so cute.  He wasn't a long haired cat but he wasn't a short haired cat either.  His fur was medium length, fluffy and super soft.  He was black but his whiskers were bright white.  The woman who gave us the water came over and said, "Oh, he loves you."  That didn't help anything because I already was wondering how I could take the cat back to America.  I had already planned to ask the monk if I could have the cat and it would also tend to be a test for the monk, to see how attached he was. 

Phra Kaset didn't look in very good health and it was nice that people were cooking for him.  He set himself apart from everyone else, up a step or two, near to a makeshift shrine with Buddha statues.  I wondered how he dealt with so many people coming there, including us. But, afterall, it was a park!  

Then we went on a walk up onto the biggest boulders, up and over the cave-like area, on lots of sidewalks and patio areas all tiled with the same broken pieces of colorful tiles.  We went around and down the other side, having circumnavigated the monk's "house."  

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Lisa LeslieLike the Wizard of Oz sign, "I'd turn back if I were you!"
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1 month ago
Andrea BrownTo Lisa LeslieIt was that or go over the edge and land on the monk and his treasure. 😵‍💫
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4 weeks ago
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Believe me, I was trying very hard to eliminate any man made things from the photos. I was pretty much able to do it except for here.
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By then everyone was eating.  Some of the people in white chanted a little song-like chant and the monk, sitting up near all the Buddhas, was eating.  Then everyone ate.  If the cat had reappeared and come directly to me once again I would have taken it as a sign that I should take the cat home with me but he didn't.  Sad but also relieved, I left the area, left the monk and all the people in white to eat their lunch.  

This is such a massive boulder that even using a very wide angle lens I couldn't get half of it in the frame.
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I liked the granite boulder formations but the rest of it was all a bit too strange and didn't fit with the natural setting.  It kind of pissed me off that a guy had thought, 'Hey, this is a cool place.  Maybe I'll just move in for the rest of my life and maybe I'll make all sorts of crap on the boulders.'  Okay, think of it this way.  Some really religious man in America goes to Zion National Park and decides he wants to live there in one of the most amazing rock formations in the entire park.  Over the next 30 years he makes all sorts of tiled sidewalks, stairs and even cements together boulders that were nearly touching just for the hell of it.  And he has loads of belongings, which, over the years accumulate to be a huge pile which he stuffs into the rear of his rock formation.  Oh, also everyone thinks he will die of thirst so people continually bring him bottles of water which now the pile is so tall that you can't even see around it.  Do you really think the park service would allow such a thing?  

But here in Buddhist Thailand this sort of thing is allowed for some reason.  Not just Thailand either, Burma is full of other forms of defacing the natural world.  The famous naturalist John Muir was super religious but he didn't dream of doing anything to mar nature.   It would have been better if this monk had painted the boulders completely because after he dies the paint would wear off the boulders fairly quickly.  But if left alone the cement will deteriorate but the glazed ceramic tiles will take hundreds of years to completely break down.  

But here's the thing.... there will be no leaving this stuff alone after the monk dies.  Religious people will make pilgrimages to the boulders for generations and they will add to the sidewalks and stairs.  They will make all sorts of gobbledegook building on what the monk started because since the monk lived there for 40+ years it is sacred and to add something to a sacred site is to personally gain merit.  There will certainly be more cement added to the boulders, more walkways, more of everything mucking up an incredibly beautiful natural site.  This is how it goes in Buddhist countries.  

These spiders are six to eight inches across.
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Bill ShaneyfeltLooks like maybe a giant golden orb weaver.

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/49758-Nephila/browse_photos?place_id=6967
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1 month ago

So, I came away rather irritated about the whole thing.  I don't know Phra Kaset at all but say he was pretty uneducated and had nothing going on in his life.  He knew no women were ever going to want to marry him and he wasn't interested in having a job where he worked for someone so he figured a way out would be to take up a more or less monastic life alone in a really cool spot.  He knew that people would bring him food and anything he needed, especially cement and tiles.  But you can't say what I just said because he calls himself a monk and therefore supposedly religious.  You can't say bad things about a monk even if it is the truth.  

I read that Phra Kaset saw a tree with roots clinging to one of the boulders and some roots were going into a crack in the rock and possibly could eventually pull it apart.  Phra Kaset didn't want the rock pulled apart so he contacted someone who came and cut down the tree!  Because he's supposedly a monk he gets to kill trees in a park?!!  Sounds to me that Phra Kaset has done whatever he wants to at Khao Hin Thoen Stone Park because he's supposedly a monk and nobody is going to argue with a monk.  I wasn't going to argue with the Battleaxe but at the end of our day I think the woman at the immigration office made sense - the monk?, not so much.

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Mike PalmquistSo interesting. I feel your "irritation" about his "detachment to things" and his home inside a park. That wouldn't fly in a National or State Park in the U.S. I wonder if there are any "monks" living under boulders in National Forests...I imagine so.

BTW. That's a huge boulder. Is there any geological explanation the piling of these boulders?
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Mike PalmquistSo far I have not found any explanation for these boulders. Their make up is so interesting too. They must be very very old and a lot of the granite has worn away from rain I guess leaving small chunks of quartz a little bit raised. At least I think it was quartz. The rock was very rough to walk on. I'd hate to fall on it. I'm no geologist, obviously.
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4 weeks ago

lovebruce

Today's ride: 22 miles (35 km)
Total: 933 miles (1,502 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 8
Scott AndersonI’m with you. Sacrilege.
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1 month ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesHow is it in line with Bhuddist philosophy to kill the (living) tree so the (inanimate) rock is not split? Seems like all other religions, the belief system can be twisted to allow for all sorts of nonsense if one can just convince others to play along.
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1 month ago
Rachael AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesVery true!
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1 month ago
Rachael AndersonWhy don’t you have a picture of the cat? I love cats!
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1 month ago
Bo LeeTo Rachael Andersonyes, we want to see the cat!
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Bo LeeYou know how it is when you first fall in love? You just pet the soft fur and listen to the loud purring and admire the white whiskers against the black fur and you are sure they are in love with you too. I'm sorry but I completely forgot to take a photo.
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Steve Miller/GrampiesThere are many flaws to all religions but this one really set me off. The photos I posted do not show the destruction of nature because I tried to move it out of the frame as much as possible. There were also piles of used plastic bottles and a pile of garbage half burned. Plastic, half burned!! And because a monk has lived there for 40 years they call it all sacred. I bet a temple will be built there after the monk dies.
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekI agree. It's galling that he decided to deface all of this nature presumably for his, and only his, own enlightenment.
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3 weeks ago