I can hardly believe that we left Melbourne only one week ago. I feel that we have packed in months of experiences! That said, we have still tried to take things at a relatively relaxed pace. We’re not pre-planning too much but are letting things evolve a little. Before I launch into what we got up to on day seven, I’d really like to say a big thank you to the people who have left me comments saying how much they are enjoying reading about our travels. I was a little dubious at first about the wisdom of turning a sewing/crafting/crocheting blog into a travel blog for a short while, but they I figured that “hey, it’s MY blog, I can do what I want”. I knew that this would be a convenient way to let family and friends know what we were up to, and I’m just so glad that others are having fun arm chair travelling along with us! And to those who aren’t interested – that’s okay too. Normal programming will return in a few weeks time (maybe even when we get to the resort part of the holiday, where I think I’ll have time on my hands sitting around the pool that might allow me to catch up on some very long overdue sewing blog posts).
So, this morning started off nice and early. Orn, our host at the guesthouse, had offered to take us up the mountain to visit the temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We left at 6.30am in order to take alms to the monks on the way and make some merit for ourselves. Orn had prepared parcels of food wrapped in leaves and a bowl of lychees. We pulled to the side of the road near the temple, where monks were congregating to receive alms for the day. Five young monks rapidly approached us, and the girls and Dan placed the alms into their bowls. They then chanted to us, bestowing good luck upon us and thanking us for what we had given. It was a most unusual experience for me. I cannot get over the way that Buddhism is so integral to life here. It is woven into the very fabric of each day. The monks receive food and other offerings from those wanting to learn to give without expecting anything in return. It’s not just talk; instead it is practiced in a highly visible and tangible way.
We arrived at the temple shortly after 7.00am. This was a beautiful time of day to be there, as it was incredibly calm and peaceful, as well as being quite cool. The jungle is lush and green, and it is easy to spot fruits growing on the jungle trees. There were 306 steps up to the temple from street level. The girls practically sprinted up. The adults took their time. The temple was first established in 1383, and is a particularly significant and sacred temple. The gold plated chedi inside holds a Buddha relic, and that is the main object of worship.
Orn bought offerings for us to make. She chose lotus flowers, and showed us all how to prepare them so that they looked beautiful with the petals folded back to expose the inner flower. She also taught each of us the correct way to make our offerings.
We also visited a monk who blessed all of us with holy water to wash away bad luck and bring us good. He then placed a white string bracelet on Dan’s wrist, while a temple attendant placed the same bracelets on the wrists of the girls and I. Monks aren’t allowed to touch women, hence the attendant assisting. The string bracelets have been blessed and are to help us with luck and fortune to resist the temptation to do what we should not but rather to keep us on the right path and behave as we should. I’ve been reminding Stella of the purpose of her bracelet whenever she needs to modify her behaviour. The bracelet is meant to stay on until it falls off, or the strings can be untied to remove it. However, it should not be cut off.
From there we moved to another part of the temple and had our fortunes told by shaking fortune sticks in a pot until one fell out. The girls both managed to receive the same fortune. This is mine.
There is also a wonderful view over Chiang Mai from up high at the temple. It is very hazy at this time of year and doesn’t photograph well at all, but it gave us a sense of the scale of the city and how it nestles into the mountains.
This temple visit, with a person who goes there regularly, was a very special part of our trip. But by now we were all feeling a little hungry, so it was back to the guesthouse for breakfast and a rest. That gave me time to consult my guidebook to figure out what to do next.
We decided to take a tuk tuk to the river, to go on a Scorpion Tailed Boat river cruise. It was our first tuk tuk trip – the girls absolutely adored it, especially our little speed demon Stella. Tuk tuk really is a great way to travel – you are very much in with the action as the drivers weave in and out of traffic. The safety quotient probably isn’t all that high either. Clare in particular hates it when she doesn’t have a seat belt. And we have already warned the girls that the “how to cross the road” habits that we have quickly learned in Thailand will have to be just as quickly forgotten when we return home!
The Scorpion Tailed Boat River Cruise on the Ping River was a really fun experience. The guide told more Dad jokes than I have heard for a long time, but was also extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city and of the river. The cruise stopped at a herb and fruit garden for a little while where we enjoyed mango and sticky rice, washed down with lychee juice. Yummo! We also learned about farming and fishing practices and the construction of eel and water snake traps.
Doesn’t everyone want some snake, scorpion and ginseng in their whisky? This was a terrific tour – simple, interesting, and entertaining.
Stella fell over and scraped herself on the ground just after the tour. She has been getting a bit whingy and clumsy over the past day or so – I think she’s really tuckered out. We returned to the guesthouse and Stella and Dan rested for the afternoon. Stella found some games on the internet so that kept her happy after I had tended to her scrapes (they weren’t bad). But Clare and I were still keen to visit another Wat or two.
Wat Phan Tao was interesting as it was made of teak panels supported by teak pillars. Very different materials to the other temples we had visited. We are noticing the differences in styles between the temples.
We were able to get a close up look at some of the offerings that are given to the monks. Very practical!
Our last temple for the day was Wat Chedi Luang. This is a very large complex, built around the partially ruined, partially restored chedi that was built in 1441.
Some of the temples offer “monk chat”. This is where foreigners have the opportunity to talk to the monks and ask them questions. The sign even suggests topics – “Buddhism and Thai Culture, Life of Monks, Traditions of your Country, Charity Work, Anything”. It gives the monks the opportunity to practice their English and hopefully the foreigners can get some answers to their questions!
On the way back to the guesthouse we were deluged with school children. School had just finished for the day and there were kids everywhere, including crossing the roads. Children act as crossing supervisors, blowing whistles and waving flags to stop the traffic so that their peers can dash across safely.
And to finish off the day, the whole family found a local cafe that served up fantastic food at ridiculously low prices. Pork noodle soup for me – scrumptious! Washed down with a local lager.
This evening Dan has been to a meditation session for foreigners at a local temple, complete with monk chat. Dan says that the temple was a bit like the train – full of twenty-something European backpackers, and that he was the oldest one there. He has extensive mediation experience, although in the transcendental mediation tradition rather than the Buddhist tradition, but there were many similarities as both traditions come from the same initial Indian roots. Translating such a complex metaphysical philosophy across a number of second languages was rather difficult, but Dan was still glad that he went along.
We’ll be up relatively early again tomorrow – off to play with the elephants!