Ruom Collective

Great Big Story

Nicolas Axelrod works regularly with Great Big Story through out Southeast Asia. Some of the stories he has covered for them are travel pieces like Wat Plai Leam in Koh Samui, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Supertree Grove in Singapore, The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, The Erawan museum in Bangkok, Wat Samphran and the Amphawa floating market also in Bangkok, other are character driven pieces like Pam's chef's table in 'Fine Dining at Home', or the story of Lek and Baitoey who sell bugs in Bangkok's Koh Sarn road, others are about food - blue noodles in the south of Thailand, or fried flowers on the Chaophraya river.

Video: Nicolas Axelrod · Publication: CNN - Great Big Story

There are 33,000 traditional temples in Thailand. But with its majestic, otherworldly exterior, Wat Rong Khun is unlike any other site of worship. From the ghoulish heads that hang from surrounding trees, to the hands that reach for you as you cross the bridge to the main temple, every part of this site is unique. While Wat Rong Khun attracts thousands of tourists from around the world, it received negative attention when it first opened because critics said it wasn’t traditional Thai art. Yet the temple continues to stand defiantly as a symbol of Thai art for a modern world.

In the center of Singapore, a manmade horticultural haven blooms. Supertree Grove is a man-made forest meant to enhance greenery and flora in the bustling city. The grove consists of 18 “trees” acting as vertical gardens, with trunks covered with over 200 varieties of orchids, ferns and climbing plants. Each tree reaches 80-160 feet high, and is connected by walkways that allow visitors to view the city from the treetops.

Thailand’s Sanctuary of Truth is a modern day marvel, made entirely of wood without the use of a single nail. Built using ancient carving techniques, the religious shrine has been under construction since 1981, with teams of dedicated architects continually working to finish out the plans of its creator. Originally commissioned by a Thai millionaire intent on keeping traditional craftsmanship alive, the structure is now considered to be a religious shrine, a cultural monument and a work of art, all in one. Welcome to the Sanctuary of Truth, a divine masterpiece in the making.

Located just outside Bangkok is Erawan Museum, commissioned and built as a place to preserve Thai heritage and arts. To access the museum, visitors must first climb up the statue of a 250-ton, three-headed elephant. Inspired by the white elephant god in Hindu mythology, Erawan features large statues of elephants that trumpet as guests walk underneath, as well as copper pillars carved to represent Theravada Buddhism, Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism and Brahma Hinduism. Inside the belly of the elephant sits Erawan Museuem and temple, serving as a beautiful tribute to Thailand’s past.

In the Samphran district of Thailand sits one of the country’s most spectacular Buddhist temples. Wat Samphran is a towering pink masterpiece scaling in at 80 meters high — an homage to the number of years Buddha lived. Known for the hollow dragon’s head that encircles the temple, visitors are welcome to ascend the 17-story superstructure to touch the dragon’s beard, or climb inside the belly of the beast.

It’s a love story for the ages — man, woman … and a cart full of fried insects. Husband and wife team Lek and Baitoey sell deep-fried scorpions, tarantulas, caterpillars and other creepy crawlies at a food stall in Bangkok, Thailand. Their cart has become a popular tourist destination on Khao San Road, serving up the local delicacies daily.

Everything tastes better deep fried. And in Thailand, the same goes for flowers. Just north of Bangkok lies Koh Kret—a quiet island known for its pottery, Buddhist gardens and traditional dance shows. However, locals know one of the best things about this island are the fried flowers. That’s right, fried flower petals. Boonrod is the oldest of the island’s fried-flower vendors. And for more than 10 years, she’s been selling this delicate treat, made from delicate butterfly pea, bougainvillea and ixora blossoms that she harvests from her own garden. We swear, they’re blooming good. This Great Big Story was made in partnership with Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Kanom jeen is a traditional Thai noodle with a history that stretches back centuries. The noodles are made over the course of two days from rice flour dough that’s kneaded, fermented, boiled and hand-pressed. Each cook in Thailand puts their own spin on the dish. For Samrith Petchkong and many others, kanom jeen noodles are always made with vibrant butterfly pea flowers and turmeric, which turn the noodles bright purple and yellow. Petchkong, the director of Silapa Vithi (Life Arts Center) in Thailand’s Trang province, is on a mission to save the cultural heritage of old Thailand. Preserving the traditional recipe for kanom jeen noodles is an important part of that goal. This Great Big Story was made in partnership with Tourism Authority of Thailand.

It’s not every day that you find a fine dining establishment run from a chef’s personal kitchen. But then, Pichaya “Pam” Utharntharm is not your everyday chef. At just 28, she has studied gastronomy in both France and New York, and worked for a Michelin three-star chef. But her dream was always to return to her native Thailand and open up her own place. So, she did. Now she’s serving some of Thailand’s most inventive dishes out of Bangkok’s most exclusive joint—her dining room. Welcome to The Table. This Great Big Story was made in partnership with Tourism Authority of Thailand.

For hundreds of years, floating markets have been at the center of communities in Thailand. Originally built along canals and rivers, the markets emerged during a time when water transport played an important role in daily life. Today, one of the country’s most popular is the Amphawa floating market. Located 45 miles from Bangkok on the Mae Klong river, this 30-mile-long market features a cornucopia of produce, seafood and traditional Thai dishes to satisfy every taste bud. This Great Big Story was made in partnership with Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Thailand is home to over 40,000 Buddhist temples, but none of them is quite like Wat Plai Laem. Completed in 2004, the site is a collection of temples and statues located on Koh Samui, Thailand's second largest island. Wat Plai Laem's temples are active, set in a tranquil location, where quiet reflection is encouraged and appropriate attire is a must. One of the temple's most eye-catching figures is a nearly 100-foot tall statue of Buddha, painted in bright red, white and gold. But the main statue is the Buddhist goddess of compassion and mercy, Guanyin. There, she is represented with 18 arms, which shows her ability to help many people in need at once.