The wandering I did so gladly and for so long a time at Wat Palad reminds me now again of The Lord of the Rings. I was like a Hobbit from his rustic Shire struck by the fantastic sights of Elvenhome. At times the sight of a particular ornamental grouping caught my attention because it could well have been from the garden of someone’s granny, but never did anything I see cause the corners of my mouth to turn downward as lawn gnomes are certain to do. Even the ceramic bunnies sitting in the greenery seemed to me perfectly apt and appropriate for some reason I can’t name exactly. I’d certainly never have any such thing in my own garden, you can rest assured on that point. Homey don’t do chachkas. Somehow these figures in their setting escape the tackiness that would be their only hallmark if I plopped them into my garden. The magical environment in which they’re embedded makes all the difference. It’s an environment in which everything appears sacred, where everything has its rightful place in the scheme of things, myself the wanderer included. And let’s face it, as I go about the place I’m an ornament considerably less aesthetic than anything you see in the pics. If the place can apportion even to me a rightful place in its aesthetic scheme, then we’re dealing with very powerful magic, indeed.
A stream — I think it’s called a river on the map, but that’s giving a bit too much credit where credit is undue — flows through the compound, tumbling down from its source in the higher precincts of the mountain. Running water is always lovely, of course, even more so if it’s from a natural source rather than from the plumbing of a fountain, but the stream at Wat Palad is incorporated into the complex in a way I’ve not observed in any other place. The stream’s course has not been altered; it’s a completely natural phenomenon. You perceive it, however, in the bosom of these delightful vistas and ornamental details so that it becomes something other than a natural stream in the forest, nor is it reducible to a “water feature” like you’d see in a Western garden. It is itself and at the same time an integral part of the temple complex. What a lovely synergy to see, and what a fine testament to the Thai sense of composition using natural elements together with creations from the hand of man.
I think the reason the complex feels so homey (or homely, if you’re British) lies in the similarity of the ornamental scheme to others I’ve seen in purely secular venues. The decorative groups placed everywhere along the pathways and in the garden areas remind me of funny or particularly handsome things I’ve seen on the patios of cafes, on the grounds of restaurants, or in the forecourts of hotels. Here are two examples, one from a cafe and one decorating a residential wall in the Old City. I think both groups could easily be put into service at Wat Palad without any injury being done to the aesthetic there: