Travel Blog: Week 30

North Thailand – the inner journey Week 30: 03.06.2013 – 09.06.2013 Monday:-       My alarm woke me just before 5. Although Somsee had gone through the order of the day and we had it in the front of our book the published times were now different as we were in a different season. I dozed for an hour not able to get up but constantly thinking I had missed something. I hadn’t, the rice offering to the monks was the

North Thailand – the inner journey

Week 30: 03.06.2013 – 09.06.2013

Monday:-

  

  

My alarm woke me just before 5. Although Somsee had gone through the order of the day and we had it in the front of our book the published times were now different as we were in a different season. I dozed for an hour not able to get up but constantly thinking I had missed something. I hadn’t, the rice offering to the monks was the first activity of the day at 6:30 and I made it on time. We sat around the edge of the outside temple with a plate of rice in front of us and one by one the monks approached us, each getting a spoonful of everyone’s rice.

  

Next was breakfast. Rice and vegetable curry. Now I know this is a time for gratitude but the meal really did not float my boat. This was going to be an interesting few days.

  

I went back to my hut and rehung my mosquito net making a much better job as I borrowed a stool to stand on and a long pole to help me sling something over the rafters to bring it more into the middle. not bad if i say so myself. At 8 we were called to morning meditation. Across the bridge to a different open temple. First we gave thanks to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha then we started meditation. Walking meditation.

  

  

  

  

Walking meditation consisted of walking (no shit!) but really slowly and totally concentrating on your breathing – in and out through the nose. It took a while but I got into the rhythm – I also had a bit of an out of body experience as if I was looking down on this long line of people. Some dressed in orange at the front then the rest dressed in white. What a load of wallies we looked. After we’d competed a circuit of the field it was back to the temple to do sitting meditation. The classic cross legged sort again breathing through the nose. I don’t know about you but sitting crossed legged isn’t naturally comfortable for me and 40 minutes of it isn’t very pleasant. Not knowing he time I think I managed 38 minutes because soon after moving my legs to the side the sitting meditation ended – damn I find just hung in there. The trick is to detach your mind from the pain. Easier said than done but I’m working on it. Finally it was lying down meditation. Much more comfortable but here the trick is to stay awake. I found myself drifting once or twice but did OK. Some people needed a nudge at the end to wake up. The first 2 hour morning session was done and I felt I’d achieved something – I’ll let you know when I work out what. For now I just wanted to sleep. No such luck the next rice donation was in half an hour. I waited and waited for the bell. It was now past 11 which is lunchtime. I know the schedule times changed but this didn’t seem right. My feeling was bang on the money. Everyone was eating lunch and I’d missed the rice to the monks. How did I manage that – I was ready? So I didn’t get a sleep but still missed one thing on the agenda. Grrrr – not a happy bunny. Must do better.

Lunch was better than breakfast but it was helping keep my appetite down. At least we had fruit this time.

  

It wasn’t long before the next mediation bell tolled. More walking meditation this time up through the woods and past the caves. I must explore this area when I get a mo. The flies were on top form. Buzzing around my ears, even landing in them, and on my eyelashes. Not what you want when trying to meditate. More sitting meditation – this time I managed the whole 40 minutes. I think the sound of the pouring rain helped. We also had thunder and lightning and a tree came down around us. How’s that for concentration!!

We managed to sneak in a clandestine yoga session in Nicole’s 3 star cabin. I’m a little jealous – she has screens on the windows, shelves, a toilet that flushes, a sink, shower and mirror. I have a bucket in my bathroom!!!!! It’s suggested you don’t read, listen to music or do any kind of exercise here unless in private. Even talking should be kept to a minimum.

Next was chores for an hour. I collected the fallen damaged mangos from the ground – there were a lot. Maybe not the safest task to choose either. Like at home the wasps gorge themselves on rotting fruit. The wasps out here are more orange and ma-husive and I have to say a bit scary. Anyway I survived.

Bliss – we had an hour and a half before the next meditation. I used Nicole’s bathroom and had a shower. We then bitched about the place – not very charitable I grant you but neither of us were very happy with the Buddhist practices we are expected to do. We were here for the meditation. We were both hungry too, which doesn’t help. The “no food” after 11:30 is a challenge. Needless to say we got over ourselves and got on with it. We might only be here a few days though – minimum 3 day stay is looking likely.

Last mediation of the day. Another 45 minutes of chanting sitting on your knees with feet tucked under and 45 minutes of cross legged meditation. Both left my legs totally numb. This session did not feel like meditation. More like pain control which is what meditation is supposed to overcome. I hate to say it but I need more practice.

It was over. I’d survived my first full day. It was a testing one and I’m still trying to figure out my reaction to it. I would still like to do one of these but the religious slant here is hindering my acceptance of this situation. It’s the meditation I really want to master so maybe a different environment would suit me better. Or maybe I just need to give it a chance. A few more days I’m sure will help the outcome along.

Back to my 1 star hut which I’m now getting used to and even think of it as home. The bugs seem to have given me some space too. Now to master sleeping on the floor with a skinny mattress and the floor vibrating because the fan was going. It was also pouring with rain. Ear plugs in.

Nite nite – namaste.

Tuesday:-

Today was pretty much the same routine as yesterday but with a few subtle differences.

I didn’t bother setting the alarm for 5. I didn’t meditate yesterday morning as the itinerary suggests so thought I should just sleep through til 6. Although sleep is probably an exaggeration. The mattress takes some getting used to so it was a fitful night, particularly coupled with the overnight rain which signalled the beginning of the rainy season.

I still didn’t enjoy breakfast!

I met the Abbott and spoke with him as I arrived at the temple. A happy jolly man who completely changed my view of the monks – the rest are rather poker faced. The morning walking meditation was along the road and quite interesting watching the locals go about there business fixing fences and feeding families.i also only just made it through the 40 minute sitting meditation (my body is really starting to feel the regular kneeling and cross legged sitting) and I drifted into semi sleep during the lying meditation. What a sensational student I am!

I attended the rice donation mid morning. Apparently quite different from yesterday. There was so much food and the women individually presented it to the Abbott who then passed it down the line of monks to the men who transferred the plates to our serving table. The order of wing is monks, men and then women. I again got to speak briefly to the Abbott.

    

Lunch was a knock out with plenty of fruit some of which I stashed in my hut for later. My supply of goji berries and roasted soya beans were meant as snack items but they had become my evening staple diet. Supplies were running low.

The afternoon meditation was a wash out – literally and figuratively. It was raining so no walking meditation. Instead 45 minutes of sitting meditation, which was excruciating and all I did was fidget, and 45 minutes of lying meditation. Most of which I slept through and felt groggy for the rest of the day.

Nicole and I walked up to the woods and the meditation cave. This really is a beautiful spot.

  

  

  

 

Evening meditation was a success. A nearly did the 40 minutes kneeling although with a Thai language chant book (they’re usually in phonetic English I didn’t manage any chanting – I’m rubbish anyway!!! But I did the full 40 mins meditation blocking out the pain in my legs. It may not seem like much but it was a major thing for me. I did help things along a bit by finding the best way to arrange my cushions. It worked a treat. The pain was manageable.

Tomorrow was going to be the last day here. So happy with the evening session I headed off to bed. Eating my hideaway banana and dodging the wasps nest in the “bathroom” which I’d only just noticed. Yikes, they’re big buggers!!! It was raining again but at least it was cooler.

Wednesday:-

The best nights sleep here by far – it’s all relative though! Again the schedule is the same but there are subtle day to day differences.

There had been a lot of new arrivals and the line up for rice to the monks was much longer.

Breakfast didn’t have bananas but a better curry, lycée and white bread (like Tescos value) and fluorescent jam. Reminds me of Belize. All grateful received.

We had better instruction for walking meditation, and I managed the full 40 minutes sitting crossed legged. It was definitely mind over matter for the last 5 minutes – my poor ankle, knee and hip joints. I pretty much stayed awake for the 40 minutes laying mediation too. Crikey I felt spaced out!!!!

The rice donation was like yesterday. Today I found a perfect frangipani flower outside my room and presented this to the Abbott as well as a plate of food. The thought of all that delicious food made the impromptu 10 minute meditation even more challenging! Lunch was gorgeous again and I managed to stash more fruit. I was getting good at the clandestine stuff. I took some time to walk around the grounds.

  

  

  

    

  

  

  

  

Afternoon meditation. Walking – contemplating the mind, body and feeling. Something new to try in bare feet. What!!! 45 minute sitting meditation. Oh the pain ……I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. I opened my eyes to see the others in front of me change their pose, shuffle around or just uncross legs. I’m sure I must be close to succeeding at this. I can do this., I can do this. Aaaaahhhhh, at last the monk spoke. Time was done. Now to unfold my legs. Easier said than done. 40 minute sleeping meditation. It’s not easy keeping thoughts away or not submit to sleep. At times I didn’t manage either but I was fully aware at the end. Time to chill in the hut and maybe a little snoozette. Once I’d attended to all my bites. Somehow my legs were covered and were a bit of a distraction. I won’t miss the bugs, flies, mosquitos, large biting red ants, little orange flying ants and wasps! One more meditation to go this evening. Tomorrow I was leaving.

For my hour of chores I set glasses out on all the tables and then gave my little hut a clean. I dead headed the flowers outside my hut – note to self the crinkled up dead leaves sometimes are home to red ants and that get pretty upset if you try taking their home away. As I was pottering the Abbott came to my hut we had a conversation, well as much as you can with an orange robed monk who has little english and i have even less thai. we spoke of flowers and I held a frangipani flower to his nose. This is not the done thing and he immediately put out his hand to indicate I should drop the petals into his hand. You live and learn!

A shower. This may seem like a day to day thing but I hadn’t had one for over 24 hours. I used the communal showers. The water was already come out of the before I switched it on and was quite pleased with myself when I successfully shut it off to lather up. Covered in soap could I get the water to flow again. Oh the challenges of life here!!!! Eventually a trickle came out and I could finish my wash. The floor was now totally wet so there was no where dry to put anything down. I started to daydream about the things I’ve craved for here; a bathroom with a sink, mirror and flushing toilet sans wasps, colourful fresh smelling clothes, shorts, choosing what I want to eat, good sleep, talking out loud, knowing what to do when, not having to bow, lounging on a bed off the floor without a mossie net – simple things really but worth mentioning so I remember to appreciate them in future. I’d also like to make a special acknowledge to bananas – thank you, it’s been emotional but you got me through!

I was just finishing a cheeky snack in my room when Nicole and Somsee

Evening chanting started with getting very wet getting to the temple. There was a downpour so it was the first I’d sat feeling cold for a while. The chanting seemed to go on forever, with new chants before and after the 40 minute sitting meditation ( which by the way I managed again) – its like a long car journey the last half an hour before home seems the longest. This was my last session and boy did it go on. Anyway, I made it. I’d arrived mid afternoon on Sunday and left early Thursday morning. So much for doing a full 10 day silent retreat. For you cynics out there ….. you were right. I’d learned a lot doing this but mostly that its not for me. I still want to improve my meditation just a different way.

  

Tired and happy to have made it through 3 full days I hit the sack (as well as splatting a few mosquitos!!!) . Tonight’s visitor was a butterfly and snail in my bathroom. Never a dull moment.

    

Thursday:-

Alarm went off just before 6. Today I had renewed vigour and sprang out of bed. Now don’t get me wrong I was very pleased to be moving on but it had been and amazing and worthwhile experience. I would definitely do something similar again. As they say over here “same same but different”.

There wasn’t much to pack as I’d lived out of my little day bag and left the big bag zipped up – I didn’t need any of the things in it and I was also worried a gecko would crawl in and get packed away. I dressed onto my rather grubby white clothes and walked through the trees to the kitchen area. The rice was being served up into bowls in readiness for the monks. There had been more new arrivals and the cushions around the edge f the temple nearly made a full circle. The drum was sounded, everyone took their seats and the monks arrived. Today I actually managed to divide up my rice so that I used it all. Quite an achievement.

  

  

Before we ate we were called to see the monk – the tradition when you are about to leave. We waited patiently on our knees, not easy on a hard tiled floor (oh my poor knees) whilst the monk finished his incantations to Buddha then he turned to us. Blessed something in his hand and passed us each our own Buddha amulet – macramé’d of course. It was for happiness and good karma. An unexpected emotional moment. We thanked him and he asked us to spread the word about this place. Somewhere he said we would always have a home. What a guy!

  

 

Breakfast was hideous. I know I should be grateful for the food that had been prepared and offered me, and I was …..I really was. I just can’t do rice and curry that early in the morning. It was all stewed. A meal is a meal though and it gave us the energy we would need to travel to Pai. We changed out of our whites, collected our belongings, said our goodbyes, made our donations in the temple with salutations to Buddha and left. We had to walk past the line of walking meditation and we got a few smiles, and well wishes. It really was a place of good vibes and positivity.

  

We’d only gone about half way along the track when we were offered rides to the end of the road. I was taken first. Balancing on the back of a scooter with two full backpacks was a whole new experience. Not sure how I kept my balance but we made it. In the meantime someone else had shuttled Nicole to the bus stop too. We dumped our bags and waited for the bus.

According to the timetable they should run every 30 minutes. We recollected our experiences while we waited, and waited and waited. Various buses and minivans trundled along the road but despite our waving no one stopped. At one point a truck load of workers passed playing what sounded like Bhangra music so I jumped up and did the Bhangra choreography from the Olympics – I got smiles and waving hands. An hour and a half later we were still there. Confused and desperately thinking how to solve this I started messing around and sticky out my thumb. The first truck driver shook his head and drove on……FAIL! But then the second swanky looking 4×4 stopped reversed and scrolled down the window. Were we getting a lift? After a few issues with translation we realised, yes, we were getting a ride. The guy, we later found out was called Nop, was only young and sold medical equipment through his company, EFL (everything for life), to hospitals.

Nop had to make a stop along the way but offered to take us to Pai. Bonus – comfy, air conditioned travel. After about 40 minutes Nop stopped at hospital #1 and Nicole and I went in search of food. 11am – lunchtime on the monastery schedule. We found a little roadside cafe, with the cutest little scaredy kittens and was made a version of papaya salad but with cucumbers, and a side of sticky rice. Perfect! We met back at the truck and continued the journey into Pai. Nop stopped at a spectacular high viewpoint where the air was fresh and cool and we took photos – that’s before my battery ran out anyway!

  

 

  

  

Hospital #2 was in Pai. It turned out Nop was going all the way to Chiang Mai. Why not???? We decided not to stay in Pai but continue our luxury travel all the way to Chiang Mai. We had a brief stop in Pai to use the toilet, eat Mango and magnum (Nicole the mango me the magnum) and we were off again. It started to rain, and rain and rain. Torrential. And tricky driving conditions. The tyres spinning on the greasy tarmac up the steep hills and turns. Remember 760 bends!! Nop was a good driver and the vehicle was sturdy. Unlike the local bus which had come off the road and was laying in a ditch about half way into the journey. The passengers lined the road huddled under umbrellas – poor them. It would be a while before the workmen would get the bus back on its wheels.

We stopped for a toilet and coffee stop – the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve eaten since being in this part of the world. We bought Nop his iced coffee. It’s the least we could do.

We soon arrived in Chiang Mai and were dropped near Tae Pae gate. He would take no money for gas – we had been so lucky to get from the monastery in the middle of nowhere to Chiang Mai. The air con deceived us into believing it was still cool. It wasn’t. Hot but a more pleasant dry heat. Off in search of accommodation. We headed for our old stopping ground and found a reasonable place. Twin room with air con and mattresses that would please a king for 450THB. We shared a room which helped with the cost. Bliss, bliss, bliss!!

After a relax, I was tired despite sitting in a car all day, and freshen up we went out to sample the new freedom of a chantless, meditation, free evening. First food. We wanted to sample the raw food at Giva. We popped in and out of shops along the way. Chiang Mai somehow looked different to us and we noticed so many new things. The bijou restaurant was empty but the chef was on his own. It might be a while before we get our food – detox juice, mushroom sushi, combo noodle salad (not real noodles of course as its raw), and egg plant lasagne. A couple came in as we waited and we soon got chatting. They were from Australia and were living out here to start a new business and life. We shared our travel experiences and I shared that I’d been thinking about photography as a new career. Jasmin, the woman, had so many ideas and it really excited me. Barnaby, the guy, was equally helpful and motivating. I was to email them tomorrow and they would give me some web links. This could be the start of something!

The food was fabulous although anything made with such care and freshness was always going to be pricey. Next stop the night market. I spent all my money for the day – new earrings (my lovely mango wood ones from Kunda had broken a few days ago and I’d lost the stud even a few before that) and another ring. Nicole bought new clothes and flip flops.

Happy we headed back stopping for Nicole to quench her craving for mango. It was way past midnight and we fell into bed full of the events and ideas from the day.

Friday:-

Breakfast at Addy’s which was becoming our regular morning hang out.

I spent the morning at the hotel using the wifi. I wanted to give some thought to last nights conversation with Jasmine and Barnaby. It was a frustrating morning as the wifi was not working particularly well. I did manage to download some useful apps and I put together an email with a couple of my photos which could be used in their advertising. I wasn’t happy with the result but it was enough to get the ball rolling. In the meantime I could work on finding the right photo editing app and get much better results.

Lunch was a quick fresh spring roll break.

After an afternoon snooze we went for a turn around the town. Dinner was at Blue Diamond – a mountain of salad followed by brownie with goats milk yoghurt.

    

We stopped to talk to Pooh about his tattoo designs. He would give it some thought and put ideas together for us. He asked us to come back tomorrow to see what progress he’d made.

I found a place that did eyelash tinting. You may think this would be easy but its the only one I’ve seen the entire time I’ve been in Thailand. Well, anyway, I went for it hoping the dye would be kosher and my eyelashes wouldn’t fall out in a few days time. I have to say although the place was tiny with make shift equipment the treatment was first class and the lady, who apparently trained in beauty in Japan, was very professional. And all for £4.

  

  

We stepped away from the old town and walked around the stores some different stuff here.

  

  

Then we gave the Rooftop bar a go. I strange dim place two storeys up. Low ceiling, low tables so you sat on the floor. Great music. Most people stoned or drunk. I’m sure you get the picture.

  

We decided to head back a different way and was drawn to loud music and sounds of a party. We’d found the in place to be. It was packed – ie more than a handful of people I one place. We listened to some live music, Bob Marley – what else!!!! Then we met David – don’t think that’s his real name. A Thai marshall arts covered with traditional Thai tattoos and a long goatee with beads on. He was wearing a green tight tracksuit – bet you weren’t expecting that detail! He sat with us in a very cool arms length kind of way and we talked about his tattoos. He got on his mobile phone and called his tattooist who came out and gave us his card and an invitation to go see him tomorrow. Then Nicole and I went for a boogie. Another fabulous live band. The place was jumping. Cracking night.

  

Saturday:-

I went in search of My Burger which turned out to be Mike’s Burger so that I can find the tattooist I met last night. After some frustrating loops around the block I found it. The tattooist wasn’t in, and I found out he could only do machine tattoos and not the bamboo ones I was hoping for. it was also very expensive. I’d give this place a miss.

I also kept my appointment with Pooh. I had decided I did want to get a tattoo, where and what, I just needed to find the right design. Pooh’s design for Nicole was very impressive although she was having second thoughts. Mine wasn’t quite right but Pooh drew it for me in permanent marker so I could get a feel for it.

Dinner was cheap street food at top of road where we got chatting to a local who turned out to be a tour guide and tried to sell us some tours. They’re such opportunists here.

Nicole wanted a night in and I didn’t so I went for a walk. I went to see the temple holiday celebrations which filled the surrounding streets as well as temple. Lots of food, stalls selling floral tributes and tiny cages stuffed with sparrows for people to buy and release them as part of celebrations. I found this rather sad, particularly as many of the birds lay dead in these cages.
I also explored the back roads around where we were staying and found several boutique guest houses, water dispensers and loads of shortcuts.

Sunday:-

Feeling motivated Nicole and I did yoga in the morning. Quite a challenge in the space available avoiding each other, bags, bins and balancing on a towel that slipped on the floor, but the session was all the more rewarding. The moment was dampened by the discovery of my spork which was now a plain old 2 piece spoon and fork.

Sunday, and so no Addy’s place today for breakfast. Instead we sat in the sun in the bakery – whole wheat croissant with eggs. Not a bad second option!

I went to look into visa options – I realised to get an extended stay I would need to go to the consulate in Laos. Nicole and I would make it into a trip rather than just a visa run. I met two girls , Lauren and Rosy (Lauren, a reminder of you if ever I saw one) when I was enquiring about the visa and they gave me some tips on what to do when. At the same place I noticed an add for rooms to rent monthly. I had a look at one of the rooms. Quite a bit more than I intended to pay but it was huge, with a great private bathroom, good mattress, fridge and the use of a full kitchen. My heart raced and I decided this was where I would live. I only needed to see this one room to decide.

  

Having felt like I had resolved the two things that were playing on my mind, Nicole and I went in search of an adventure. We hired push bikes and went in search of the hip part of town where a) there was a fantastic vegetarian restaurant called ‘salad concept’ and b) all the ex pats hung out. Cycling through the traffic was not quite the adventure we were looking for but it sure kept you on your toes. Trying to manoeuvre the contraflow system just outside the old city resorted in dismounting and racing across 4 lanes of traffic and praying. We made it.

We found the district we were looking for and rode around for a while. Not quite the hip place we thought and not an expat in sight.

  

  

  

  

We did however, find the restaurant and as promised the food was great. A kind of build your own salad place. The portions were man sized and reasonable. A little browse on foot before retracing our steps and heading back. A little more confidence on the road this time turning dodging traffic into an art form.

  

  

Time for a snooze.

Sunday night market again today. This time we headed out earlier and had more time to take it all in, and that included the food. Between us we had dim sum, sushi, fried taro, roselle juice, lycée, deep fried fish, and mango sticky rice. Now that’s what I call a trip to the market. Another late night though.

  

Returned to our hotel room exhausted and then talked for another hour or so!!

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