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A Snowbird’s time in Thailand: Making Friends with Monks & Helping out in the Village

We just received this wonderful travel story from one of our clients. Every year, he escapes the dreadful Canadian winter and trades that for a tropic Thai Christmas. This year too, his visit lasted from mid-October to Valentine’s Day. Exclusively for Lloyds, he wrote us to tell his stories from all his experiences there. Happy reading from the Lloyds crew!

Thailand Oct. 19 to Feb. 14 2017

“For the 8th time I traveled to Thailand without travel insurance and for the 2nd year I did not have any reason to have to see a doctor during my stay. Like I have done for many years now, I spent a lot of time at a program called “Monk Chat” which is at a Buddhist university. This program is made for students at the university to come and talk with tourists so that they can practice their English. I also traveled outside the city to visit Monk friends in their temple; I visited a total of 8 temples outside the city. An interesting one was Wat Thamaii, not only was the temple interesting, it also had what was called a “Happy Toilet”. Most temples have two toilets, one for residents and the 2nd for visitors. Usually the visitors toilet is not the greatest: squat toilet and no toilet paper (I always carry paper in my pocket, you never know when that could come in handy), but this toilet was first class! My friend who lives there told me people stop by just to use the toilet. Also interesting was my visit to Wat Chaechang. Not for the temple, which I had visited before, but to be guided by my friend Sokue who took me on a walk in the country side to a noodle shop owned by a woman who Sokue refers to as “his adopted Mom”. She served us a most delicious lunch topped with a salad made from vegetables grown in her hydroponic garden.

This was my 20th visit to Thailand and the first time I did a solo hike there. My friend Douglas had bought me a book listing hikes in the Chiang Mai area. One I thought would be interesting was an 8 km hike from Doi Suthep temple to a Hmong village, return would be a total 16 km which was fairly long. I did not want to do it on my own as I was sure that we would help along the way and people would not speak English. I asked a friend to join me and a Monk friend said he also wanted to come along. This was on December 21st. Just as we were ready to take off, a lady from France asked us where we were going and if she could join us. We managed well until we got close to the village, took a wrong turn and ended up in a place with big strawberry fields. When we saw a house that looked occupied, the Monk called out and asked the inhabitants about how to get to the village. The man took us to a trail which even a mountain goat would have trouble using. Not only was the trail terrible, it was just about straight up. When we got close to the village there was a man sitting beside his mountain bike. Apparently he and his Thai friend were mountain biking down this trail when the man, who was from Edmonton, hit a log across the trail and banged himself up pretty good. He was able to get back to the village. I am not sure what happened with him but I sure hope he had insurance. On one of my hikes here, a member of our group hiked bare foot, but to have this Monk friend in robes and wearing flip flops was some thing to see! When we finally arrived at the village, we stopped for a rest and something to drink. At the time, we did not realize that the village was very quiet. Since we did not know where the trail start was in the village we decided to walk back on the road. A part of the way down the road was closed to traffic by police and just past here were most of the Hmong village people coming up the road, all dressed in their Hmong dress and carrying pictures of King Bhumibol Adulyadej who had passed away in October. And slow me, I forgot to take photos until we passed the last of the group. Our 16 km hike ended up being more than 25 km. For not having exercised in months, I felt good the next morning, but my friend who was only 19 couldn’t get out of bed; he was sore all over.

For the first time in many years, I decided to have turkey dinner on Christmas day. I had heard from friends about a restaurant that whips up a good Christmas turkey. I was joined by three other Canadians, all of which stayed at the same place I stay at. The cost was 500 baht (about $19) and was a big serving and very tasty. Turkeys in Thailand are expensive so it was a fairly good deal.

One of my novice friends (until they are the age of 20 they can’t be ordained as a Monk and are called a novice) asked me to join him at his village for his ordination ceremony. On the morning of Jan. 7th, I was joined by Douglas and 5 of Artits Monk friends at Monk Chat where we headed to a bus station to take a bus to the nearest town to Artit’s village. I bought a ticket for myself and one of the Monks; Monks pay half price. We were assigned seats number 65 and 66 only to find out when we got on the bus that that last seat was number 60! Only in amazing Thailand… As it turned out I ended up in someone else’s seat, but when the bus was ready to leave everybody had a seat. Artit came with a van to pick us up and took us to his village. The whole village came out for this celebration. The temple itself was way up on the mountain and this was where we were going to sleep so we took our bags and started to walk to the temple. A good thing that they realized what we were doing and came and drove us up as we would have had a very long, steep walk. It would take me a long time to explain the whole weekend so I will make it short. Dinner was served for what must have been well over 100 people and then we went back to the temple. It was a bit cold up there so a big fire was started and we sat around the fire until it was time for bed. My bed at the guest house where I stayed at previously was very firm, but this bed was just on a piece of wood and I could not sleep a wink. In the morning, we got up and saw the temple was up in the clouds. We looked out over this beautiful valley with mountains across and Myanmar behind the mountains. Being up in the clouds, with a soft mist and the silence, was simply surreal. After breakfast and lunch, which again was served to the whole village with everybody helping out, it was time for the actual ordination ceremony. Again it would take me forever to explain all that took place but the actual ordination happened in a special hall and only Artits’ invited Monk friends could go in to witness the actual ceremony. Then it was time to head back into town to catch the last bus back to Chiang Mai. I feel so privileged to have been able to take part in this special day for Artit!

In Thailand the second Saturday in Jan. is children’s day. Every year, the Monk Chat club goes out to a hill tribe village with donations for the children. This year, as in the past, I was invited to join them and decided to do it even if it meant sleeping on a board again. This year was going to be really big so they decided to ask for two army trucks to take us and all the donations to the village. The trucks were not available for the 14th so it was decided to do it on the 21st. In Thailand you always must allow for Thai time… The trucks were to be at the Monk Chat club at 8 AM to load the donations and leave at 9 AM sharp. Well, the trucks arrived at 11 AM and we finally left at 12:05 PM. One truck was loaded with donations and the other one with a total of 31 people, plus the drivers and a spare driver. The last 20 to 25 km of the road was not made for anything but maybe a motor bike. Here we were, in these big army trucks, creeping along at 5 to 10 km an hour. I was lucky to be able to sit in front of the truck, but the poor people in the back were really having a rough ride. The bridge to the village had washed out years ago so something called a bridge was built. However, the army trucks could not cross it so a pick-up truck came and we loaded everything from the army truck to the pick-up, which had to make three trips and we all even carried things up by hand. Again, it would take me for ever to explain the whole week end but we were served a dinner and set up for the next day when all the activities were to take place. Then it was time to go to the river for a swim. And yes, I did not sleep much but I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. Besides the village where the school is, two other villages have their children go to that school. The children from the other villages come there on Monday morning and stay there until after class on Friday. To house those children, they built two buildings where the children sleep. Not sure how many of us were in this one room structure, but soon there was snoring and when someone had to go out, the door would creak. The sounds could not wake me up as I never fell asleep. In the morning, breakfast was supposed to be at 7:30 but again we were on Thai time and had breakfast at 8:30. Members of the club had arranged different games for the children so after handing out a lot of school supplies the games started. After lunch, it was time to head back to Chiang Mai. It was then that we found out that the army trucks had not asked for permission to be away from the base overnight so those poor guys had driven all the way back to the base and had to come back the next day to pick us up. The whole weekend was something that so few tourists ever get to take part in so it helps to have many friends there.

On Feb. 4th I did my second hike in Thailand. This one was led by one of my Monk friends, and instead of starting at Doi Suthep, we hiked up there. We were three Monks, 2 novices, one lay man, a woman – not sure where she was from but said she was now living in Nepal – and myself. The first part was not too difficult, but we walked on the road for a long time. Then it was time for lunch which the Monks should have before noon, so we sat on some rock by a small creek and had lunch. Surprising what all they had brought along for lunch! After lunch, we crossed the road and then the fun started. Man, it was a long way up that mountain; every time you thought you could see the top, no there was another bend in the trail and more climbing. But this old man, at 77, was the first one to the top followed by one of the novices in robes and flip flops. At the top of the mountain is a very popular temple and being Saturday, there were thousands of people there. From the temple, you look down and see the city of Chiang Mai: what a view that is! My friend wanted to go back the same way we came, but I decided that because the climb up was so steep, going back down would be too dangerous since it would be easy to slip and have a bad fall. Instead, we took a bus back to the place we had lunch at and then walked the rest of the way.

 

Like I had done the previous two years, I decided to have a pizza party for some of my Monk friends. Douglas wanted to join so we split the cost and had it at the guest house where he stayed. 6 large pizzas from Pizza Hut cost 1600 baht (about $62). We also had watermelon, chocolate and strawberry sundaes and good chocolate, which I had brought with me from Canada. Since the Monks and novices eat what people offer them in the morning, to be able to have something like pizza is a special treat for them.

I left the country with so many new, wonderful memories from my 20th visit to Thailand! I am looking forward to returning in October.

 

Are you thinking of travelling to Thailand or South East Asia? If you would like help planning your next adventure contact Lucas@Lloydstravel.com or your favourite Lloyds Travel Agent.

For more interesting reads about the region check out these blogs and trips!