February 20, 2006

Chiang Mai

Had a quick taste of old town Chiang Mai which is surrounded by a huge moat and the remainders of a brick wall. Then off on an adventurous jungle trek high in the mountains where hill tribe people live and elephants roam wild... uh, they did hype it up just a tad. Although it did make for a fun getaway in fresh air and greenery. Walked through a few rice paddies, sat below freezing (but very refreshing) waterfalls and said "sawadi-ka" to the locals picking tamarin in the trees. Laughed at our guide who was on a mission to find ant nests. He threatened we were having ant soup for dinner, which we didn't, and was actually a little disappointing! The slow elephant ride got exciting when the one behind us butted infront and gave a huge elephant-roar. Trunks were flying and sides bumping, it was quite chaotic. Our well-mannered monster stayed well behind and even opted out of the bath it's very aged skin needed. We did get wet though on the bamboo raft down the river. I don't think it was ever more than a foot deep, but we all got soaked! Jumping from one to the other, crashing into a rock and getting splashed by all the locals visiting the water on their Sunday afternoon.

One free day in the city and I ran around to all the "must see" temples. Chatted with a few monks in orange and saffron in the truck ride up to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. Many of them seem to come from Laos to study Buddhism in Thailand. Returning to the temple with their new purchase, a used tv. But I thought monks don't own anything? "As long as it's used for the right reason." Followed by "Things are changing." The one with a cell phone, asked to take my photo with him which peaked some tourist to lecture me about not associating with monks that way "especially as a woman". Ya, like I'm trying to pick up a monk!

Heading to Wat Suan Dok for the 1-on-1 monk chat, I looked forward to some real insight about Buddhist beliefs. He's (I'll keep the name anonymous) 24 and spoke carefully and patiently, smiling and squinting his eyes genuinely as I imagine the Dali Lama would. Every morning at 6am the monks walk around the temples with an apple, accepting food from people. They only eat what they are given and even though monks are vegetarian, they will eat meat if it is offered to them. A very pleasant chat which unexpectedly ended with "Would you mind if I travelled with you when you're in Laos?" My outburst of disbelief was reponded to with "When I leave, I won't be a monk for a month." ?#$%^&!!! So after presumably being hit on by 2 monks in 1 day, made me a little bit skeptical about this whole monkism idea. I'm sure many are legit, but like our tour guides and drivers, many will leave by their 20's. But you just have to laugh, right? P

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