Chiang Mai, Thailand
I had quite the sleep in today – my first meal was a late lunch! I sought out and found AUM Vegetarian Restaurant just a couple of doors down from my hotel. It receives rave reviews and with good cause. Being the only one there, I had my pick of the cosy tables upstairs nestled between bookshelves and other thai boho ephemera. I gladly took up a seat on the floor to relish my delicious cashew stir fry and mango smoothie.
Fortified, I roamed free within the city walls to see what I could see. What I saw was Wats (aka temples) and lots of them! Within the old city walls, there are 36 active temples and over 300 in the greater Chiang Mai area. That’s a lot of holiness! At the outset of this trip, I had considered doing a silent retreat or similarly spending time staying in temples in the hope of finding spiritual enlightenment, divine guidance or inner peace but then I had to admit that it’s just not me. I’m not going to find my solutions in the beliefs of others. Don’t get me wrong, what I know of Buddhism, I have great respect for but I’m no expert and don’t wish to be hypocritical in my ignorance. Having said that, I was more than happy to spend a considerable part of the day in quiet contemplation in the tranquil surrounds of the various temples I came across without any a set route or agenda.
At one of the larger temples, Wat Chedi Luang, I saw a sign for ‘Monk Chat’ with an invitation to “Please come and talk with us to promote culture exchange and to allow us to practice our english with you”. I hadn’t used my voice much today so seized the opportunity to make sure it was still working. I walked in and felt suddenly conspicuous by the fright my presence seemed to cause the young monks in their saffron robes. I took a seat and introduced myself to Thon, a 22 year old student at the Buddhist University on the same site. As we chatted, several other ‘student’ monks gathered around but quickly shied away if ever I turned my attention on them. I stayed a while asking and answering polite questions about this, that and the other before taking my leave to an almost audible sigh of relief, eyes following me all the way out. I don’t think they have ladies stop by very often!
I wandered back to Ratchadamnoen Road to see it without the hustle and bustle of the markets. I allowed myself to be lured into another massage parlour, C&R Massage, with an entryway clearly designed to appeal to a western notion of Thai luxury. I opted for a traditional Thai massage to see what all the fuss was about. After having my feet cleaned and soaked in a bath of warm water and citrus, I was led upstairs and given an outfit consisting of a white cotton shirt and knee length Thai-fishermans-trousers to put on. Once in uniform, I was led to a room with 6 thin mattresses on the ground, 5 already occupied by other similarly attired customers. I laid down and the masseuse got to work. This woman was climbing all over me like I was a piece of training equipment for Cirque du Soleil! Often times when I’ve had a massage, I’ve wondered at how much it’s supposed to hurt and at what point do I say something. Today I found out that it’s when someone treads on your back and you shout out without pause to consider whether you should or not! It was intense! The ginger tea afterwards took the edge off and I left walking taller as though I’d had a couple of extra inches stretched out of me.
Back on the street, night was beginning to fall. I turned in the opposite direction to find a thriving part of town I hadn’t yet seen – food vendors, bars and guesthouses all vying for the lucrative attention of tourists. I grabbed a banana smoothie and wondered amongst it a without feeling the need to join in. Without a map, I took what ever twist or turn took my fancy until it led me back to my hotel for a reasonably early night.
Not a huge day, but a good one none the less.