Week 21 – Chiang Mai – Stroking one foot and Burning another.

Week 21, and I’ve reached Chiang Mai City in Thailand’s North-West.

I’ve decided to stay put for a while in this city and spend the first couple of days exploring within the city walls.
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Common form of transport in Chiang Ma - The Songthaew

Common form of transport in Chiang Mai – The Songthaew

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I had Skyped home with my dad recently. “I’ve been following your blog son. Aren’t you getting sick of temples by now?”

Well, in truth, there have been a lot……and the first one I ever saw in Thailand packed much more of a visual punch than….let’s say the 200th……but every now and again there is one which still makes you gawk for a minute or so. In Chiang Mai, there is the Wat Chedi Luang.
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I also learned, while walking the grounds, the story about this monk, Prha Sangkajai….

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Apparently, this guy was praised by the lord Buddha for his skills in being able to explain sophisticated ideas in an understandable manner. He was so handsome that some men wanted him for a wife, and his beauty was a constant distraction to the wisdom he was teaching. In an effort to avoid these frustrating (and probably awkward!) situations he transformed himself into a fat, ugly monk. First world monk problems: I’m so wise….but too damn sexy to be taken seriously!

After a day or two, I venture out of the city a bit more over the next couple of days. I take a trip to the nearby 3D art museum, visit the night bazaar, get drunk with a media team from Beijing one night, and tick another item off my bucketlist – attending a Thai Boxing event in Thailand!Chiang Mai Chiang Mai Chiang Mai

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Random drinking buddies!

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Night Bazaar

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Rachael arrives a few days after me and I go to meet her at the station. The train is delayed, and mosquitos are trying to nibble my arm. I get up off the bench and start to move around, in part to stretch my legs, and in part to flee those evil bugs.

In Thailand, there are certain privileges offered to monks. One of which, is a seperate, fenced, waiting area at bus and train stations (as well as their own toilets).

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Rebel Dog, just doesn’t care about the rules!

As I’m pacing around the around the station, I see a lone monk in the waiting area. He’s leaning across the fence, a massive grin on his face, and waving at me. I wave back, and he then gestures for me to come over. He is between 60 or 70 years old, and his ever-permanant grin is infectious.

“Where are you from?” he says in good, but staggered English.

“Manchester, how about you?”

“I’m from Chiang Mai, but I’ve been all over Thailand” the monk says. “I’m travelling to Bangkok to stay tonight….6am, the train comes”. I look at the clock, it’s only 10pm. He sees me looking…..“I can sleep here, it’s no problem for me”, he laughs and then points to the rolled up tent he has on the bench beside him.

God, I feel pampered! I struggle sometimes if the guesthouse bed is too hard, or the air-con isn’t working….this dude is well over 60 and is about to spend the night in a tent……..on the station floor!

Waxwork monk in a Temple

Waxwork monk in a Temple

“What will you do in Bangkok?”, I ask

“There is a temple I will stay at………I teach meditation”, he says, smiling the whole time, ……and I’m smiling too……I can’t help it.

“You will teach meditation? To who?” 

“Anyone who wants…….people…monks……I’ve been a monk for 20 years!” he says, and flexes the fingers of his hand back and forth 4 times……20 fingers.

“Wow!”

“Can you imagine? 20 years and no shoes?…….Here……”, as he is sitting he grabs his left foot with his right hand and moves it over his right lap (I hope I’m that flexible at his age). He points to the blackened, exposed sole of his foot. “Touch it”

Now, I’ve got to be honest……when I woke up this morning, if you’d have told me that a 60-plus year old monk was going to be asking me to stroke his feet……I’d have some questions.

‘Well, when’s the next time I’m ever going to do this’, I think and reach between the yellow ‘monk fence’ to touch his foot. The sole of this guy’s foot was as hard as a rock and as coarse as sandpaper.

“See?” he laughs. And then points to the door of the monk fence, followed by patted the seat next to him. “Come, come”

“Is it ok?”, I say…. Apart from a stray dog, I have never seen anyone but monks in this area before.

The monk just raises his eyebrows at me, the look says it all, ‘I’m a badass old monk! I make the rules in this little fenced area!’

I go in and we talk for a while. He tells me where he’s travelled in Thailand, the different coloured robes he had chosen to wear over the years (currently it was bright orange), what makes good monks (no smoking or drinking seemed to be important….but as he whispered to me before glancing around….‘some still do…a little’). After asking a bit more in detail about his meditation teaching, I even get a small crash course. A guy from the UK in his 30s and a chanting monk from Thailand in his 60s, both with their eyes closed, walking up and down a little fenced-off square in an almost-empty train station at 10pm!

I hear the train come in which breaks the meditation. I thank my new friend and wish him all the best for his journey (and his sleep that night), and go to meet Rachael. As we were both leaving, the monk waves us both over and gifts us each with a little present.

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After catching up with Rach (who had just finished volunteering at a school in Phichit for 2 weeks), we finished off the week together. Checking out the 2nd hand bookstores (Chiang Mai is known for its bookstores – some of which had two week old kittens in to keep me entertained!), wandering around the weekend night market, taking a scooter and exploring some of the surrounding areas – including a drive through the mountains up to a waterfall and Doi Suthep, I also sustained my first bike injury – an exhaust burn on the foot! 

One more week before the visa runs out, next stop to Pai and Mae Hong Son!

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Bookstore Kitten

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You may be Rock and Roll, but you’re not ‘Sleeping topless on a bench with your arm draped over a pushbike decorated with teh hide and skull of a stag’ Rock and Roll!

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Doi Suthep

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Doi Suthep

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Banana Fritters ….Nyam!

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My first Bike Injury!

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Curry served in Banana Leaves

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