If there is one issue I have with Thailand then it is how little one feels integrated here. It’s like tourists and locals don’t mix at all. Culture, but probably more language present a huge barrier. That is in stark difference to my experience in Colombia where a 3w language course kick started a pretty local experience. But as so often in life, things can change rather rapidly … and that’s what happened to me in my first day in Chiang Mai.
But first things first. After few goodbye words to Team Kiel, I had a pleasant and on-time journey from Khao Sok to Surat Thani airport. In fact, I arrived so early that i couldn’t even check-in my bag yet. Big mistake as it turned out, as by the time I queued up again, all the full moon party goers had returned from Koh Phangan (well, those that were able to move). Anyway, by 3.30pm I was already way up North in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai felt different right away … ahh yes, the beach tourists have no reason to come here. Closest beach is more than 500km away and in Myanmar. Perfect. I shared a cab with two israeli women into town in order to pick-up a scooter for the ‘Northern loop’ I had put together in the morning. Since Mango bike rental (1,100-1,200 per week for 125ccm scooter) didn’t have any left, I went to Bikki bikes around the corner. THB1,500 for 6 days. Hardly a steal, but that’s life. What was more annoying is that the bloke tried to give me a really shitty bike. Tachometer suggested ‘only 700km’ … until l got on it and found that the tachometer didn’t work (hence the 700km). Engine didn’t have much juice either. I swapped it, with no pushback, for a better bike. Hope all goes well since they now have my passport and scams are common I read. I will find soon enough.
Indicative schedule – 1,000km of Northern Thailand
Once I was on the road it felt awesome. First stop was the Bo Sang, a suburb of Chiang Mai. Here they produce the most incredible and colourful umbrellas. Unfortunately I arrived a touch too late to witness the manufacturing process for myself. After that I had no clue, no booking … just the general direction of Phayao some 220km away.
The first rice fields and mountain ranges came into sight and so did a buddha statue some 35km outside Chiang Mai. I stopped to take a picture. A monk approached me and to my surprise spoke english. Initially i was inclined to continue, but then I figured i can’t miss out on one of the few english speaking Thai’s. So I stayed.
Who is this monk?
His name is Ajahn and he is 69y (looking 50 tops!). He is in charge a buddhist temple, be it a very modern one that looks like a meditation center, and lives here for the past year. His past is rather colourful. More recently he was a teacher in Malaysia including the art of Qi Gong (check here on youtube). But why did he turn monk? As he told me, it was only after he had a stint as a communist who was fighting the government more than 30y ago. Once amnesty for the rebels was granted, and considering his mum’s wishes, he turned monk at basically about my age. He has remained since and looked pretty happy about that decision.
Back to last night. Ajahn showed my around the property (quite big with many different houses & lots of plants) and teaching me quite a few things there, including his view that he sees the German culture (esp. philosophy) as quite similar to Buddhism (he has got a long-term German student who has now finally relocated to Thailand). For anyone interested to meet him too, just facebook him.
Buddhism in one chart byu Ajahn (I refrain from explaining it here)
We also met the only other person living there. He is a carpenter and left his past life behind him (unsuccessful marriage as i understood) to grow food to feed people for free. Ajahn met him on one of his ‘begging’ trips and now they are some sort of shared household whereby the monk retains his status (e.g. he always eats first).
6 elements of Buddhism: earth, fire, water, wind, space and consciousness.
After dinner i quickly washed the dishes and then the carpenter (whose name i sadly forgot) took me to the hot springs nearby in his slightly outdated yet functioning car. There were three different pools with warm to very hot water. We opted for the latter and washed us using a large & small bowl. You can’t sit in the pools as they aren’t very deep and muddy at the bottom (worthy of some construction effort in my view … a la Iceland or Hungary). It didn’t need much to fall asleep also given first time normal temperatures and much less humidity. I didn’t even mind the little visitor.
Going begging in Chiang Mai
The next morning started bright and early at 5.45am (4am for the monk who has his first meditation session at 4.30am). We had two eggs each for breakfast, which the carpenter had boiled in the hot spring. As you can imagine, the water we also used for washing wasn’t that hot and the eggs still pretty liquid (but no problems for the stomach).
Afterwards we drove to town for the daily food collection. We visited small stalls, the market of the suburb and shops/restaurants. All the people were prepared and had a little bag with food handy. He knows his sheep and doesn’t ask random people. Once handed over to the monk, he gave them a blessing and shared his teaching of how to live good buddhist life … a long and happy life and apparently also wishes good looks. Learning to give is a very important part of that teaching.
The tall blond guy following him caused some excitement and he explained that I am German who stayed with him. Felt really part of the whole experience. Quite amazing. We got loads of food … basically filling a large shopping bag (which i gladly carried) including anything from rice to vegetables and drinks. This will be the three meals for the two guys (for me just breakfast).
Once home, the monk eats first while the carpenter and myself we cleaned up leafs and burnt them. And then it was already time to say goodbye. What a wonderful experience. Will keep me thinking for a while and is, after my Islamic experience in Bahrrain, yet another religion that I understand very little (well, now a little more).
Thank you both for everything. And of course, see you another time!