It was an exciting stay in Bangkok – my first ever stay in Asia. And the trip on the night train to Chiang Mai was tough, too. So there was a drinking competition with whiskey between a Scotsman and me, which got on me very badly. And yet…
When we finally arrived at our hotel we didn’t see Kevin, the Scotsman, all day long. In the end, I am involuntarily voted the “winner” of this stupid competition.
Defeat Scotsman at Whiskey Drinking. Check!
I have an exciting day with elephants and a shipwreck with a bamboo raft.
In the evening we meet to visit the famous temple complex on the mountain above Chiang Mai: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Two tuk tuks take us up the mountain. At the foot of the top of the mountain, a long stairway leads up to the temple complex.
The stairs and all temple buildings are lined with “Nagas“, dragon creatures, which are supposed to protect the corresponding buildings. According to tradition, these should have come from heaven to protect the defenseless Buddha on earth from tormentors.
In front of the temple we have to take off our shoes. This is the case in every temple as well as in every house. A dance is in progress for the monks, who sit around the dance group and enthusiastically listen to the piece of music. There are very many young novices here; we see very small ones of eight years, the minimum age for new novices. The temple complex is built like most Buddhist complexes in Asia: In the middle is a large golden pagoda, in which sanctuaries are usually kept. All around are the temples, in which all kinds of Buddha statues are set up or Buddha is shown in a sitting position.
One temple is for the public, another for the monks. Inside a temple is a senior monk and nun who will bless anyone who asks.
You have to get on your knees to them, because you can’t sit higher than them. That’s not so easy for me, a big guy, but the monk takes it with humor and grins at me. He inquires about my name and where I come from and blesses me with happiness and health by tying a small white ribbon around my neck.
A smiling Buddhist monk blesses me
In another small building, I can get a horoscope by shaking a box of numbered sticks until one falls out. I can use the number to look for a piece of paper in a closet full of predictions.
My future? My Rice fields will die.
But I had imagined the result to be better.
My future is bitter. She promises me bad luck in all walks of life, both professionally and privately, and my rice fields will die; I should definitely pray a lot to get my karma back into balance. Forget it, I guess. Oddly enough, my camera suddenly ran out of battery.
There is a wonderful view from the complex over the valley with its surrounding mountains and forests. It’s already twilight, the sky is overcast, an hour later it will probably rain heavily.
But some powerful rays break through gaps in the clouds in a few places behind the city.
Around the temples on a lower level are the houses of the monks, their dwelling huts and utility buildings such as small washtubs and study rooms. They don’t have kitchens, because the monks get their food every morning in the village or town from the residents. In many places there are small charming fountains among small trees and shrubs where the monks meditate.
In the morning, monks kneel in the village with a bowl and receive rice from the residents.
At the foot of the mountain, a bunch of traders are waiting for us again, who want to sell us food and pictures. I buy a painting of Chiang Mai, which is still hanging in my apartment twenty years later.
At night I go to a night bazaar and have dinner in an open establishment where you can put together your own menu with the help of vouchers. Ian, Glen, Mia and Becks keep me company.
Did I mention how spicy Thai food is? The menu selection includes everything that pasta kitchens or woks can prepare. If it’s not spicy enough, small boxes offer a selection of dried chillies and some “special” sauces to fire up the discerning palate.
On a stage, the guests dance in the traditional way and music is made. The others separate, wander the bazaar or explore other areas of Chiang Mai. I meet Brian on the way. The senior of the group has no plan how to get back to the hotel and I help him.
“Today” is the day after yesterday.
Day names or dates play no role on the journey after a short time. Here one does not stick to a Sunday, so that one has no orientation in the week. It’s just always the day after yesterday. What happened the day before yesterday seems like weeks ago to me.
The Mekong and Laos are waiting for us.
After a day in Chiang Mai, visiting the monastery and adventures with rafts and elephants, we continue. We are heading towards the great Mekong River and the border with Laos, which we will now cross.