Thailand: Day 7, Chiang Mai Part 1

Written at Aug. 31 at 10:30am.

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Somehow, yesterday’s activities feel like a long time ago, but maybe that’s because it was a long day. It was also my favorite day so far and I have so much to say about it that I’m splitting it into two posts.

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We started off the day being picked up by a tour company. We were disappointed that our previous hired ride had not taken us to the right Chiang Mai sights so we decided to do it better this time. Instead of taking a truck, we rode motorcycles to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and few waterfalls. I tried the motorcycle out in the tour company’s driveway and it was a little strange and scary, especially because Thais drive on the left side of the street. (Did you know that? I didn’t.). But after a few laps around their quiet block, I felt a little more comfortable. Jessica was planning to drive as well, but she hurt her foot that morning so instead she opted to be the passenger of our tour guide. It was the more relaxing choice to be sure.

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Driving the motorcycle was exhilarating at first, but after a few wobbly turns, I also realized just how dangerous it could be. I was cautious as we wound up the narrow mountain roads to the wat, though I became a little more comfortable as we wound our way back down again. The ride took us along lush forested paths, through a passing storm that soaked my clothes, down a pastoral two lane road (I had to cross the lanes to avoid a large herd of cows), and back into the busy city in a swarm of dozens of other bikes, all waiting impatiently for the green light.

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It was wonderful to experience Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep with a guide. Although the wats are ornate and beautiful, I have been feeling clueless about Buddhism, so they weren’t exactly evoking deep feelings for me. I wanted to know more. Our guide, Leon, gave us some history of the wat then walked us through a few Buddhist traditions:

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-White elephants are a symbol of power for the royalty in Thailand and this wat was built where a white elephant had died.
-Buddah’s shoulder bone is inside the chedi at this wat.
-Circle the chedi three times clockwise with a lotus flower between your flat palms and pray for something you want. Place the lotus near the container representing the day of your birth.
-On your knees, bow three times to the Buddah image and shake a container full of sticks. When one falls out, the number on it indicates your fortune.
-Adding oil to the fires in the temple will lengthen your life.
We also rang more bells and put more coins in buckets. While we were resting, he even told me more about Buddhism in general and explained why he is a Buddhist. It made the experience much more meaningful.

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After the wat, we visited our first waterfall. It was large and beautiful but although it had nine levels, we could only access the first two. From there we moved on to Huay Thung Tao, which is a military owned park with a large lake. We settled in a bamboo shaded outdoor restaurant and Leon ordered a delicious but mildly flavored foreigner-friendly lunch of pork fried rice, greens, mushrooms, and a ground chicken soup. Leon told us that he used to come to the lake with his family and they would play guitar and sing. A group of Thai 20-somethings nearby was drinking and doing just that. Leon played some Billboard hits from his cell phone and we lounged and splashed in the water and sang along and felt truly Thai for an hour or two.

To be continued…

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