Monday, June 17, 2013

Northern Thailand

in one of the caves of the monastery

Thailand - everyone has a different idea about this exotic country - wild beaches, underwater world, cheap women, full-moon parties ... I've already been here once  and this time I decided to discover a different Thailand - to find peace in the north in a Buddhist monastery, practicing Vipassana.

wonderful scenery around the monastery

one of the temples in Bangkok
Bangkok, the city that never sleeps, welcomed me with full power. It seemed quite changed from 4 years ago when I was here. After India and Indonesia I felt like I was teleported to the future. The Sky Train picked me from the airport, inside everybody talking to his I-phone, but no one talks to each other. The tuk-tuks are shiny and new and not even bothering me like it was  before. There are almost no beggars. The parks and the train station, where before homeless people were sleeping, were now clean and tidy. People definitely looked richer than before and wages are higher than in Bulgaria. As always Bangkok is full of tourists and I even met some Russian friends from India who hosted me on the roof-top  of the cheapest and best guesthouse in Bangkok.
Two days later I took the train to the north - to Chang May. I arrived early the next morning and I found that in a village close by there is an Umbrella Festival. I arrived just in time for the last day. Large and small umbrellas made of bamboo in an ancient Chinese manner. Beauties cycling  with umbrellas in hand, children sang and played traditional Thai songs. Thousands of umbrellas everywhere, and of course, many dragons. Colorful and fun.
In Chang Mai, I met for second time with Irina - the Bulgarian girl we saw in Goa. I experienced the incredible Thai street food before entering the monastery. I can say - the best food so far from the whole trip. I could not stop, fresh juices and fruits on every corner, spring rolls, sweet and sour delights unknown mixtures of salty, sweet, hot and sour and those tempting aromas in the air that make you forget where you are going. However, I went to the monastery the next day and said goodbye to city life.
meat in Bangkok

making umbrella from bamboo

strange instrument

the night market in Chang Mai - sweet pigs filled with meat
неустоими сладкишчета
and other goodies ...

one of hundreds of temples in Chang Mai

The monastery is set in one of the most beautiful places in the Thai mountains. There was a wonderful forest, two lakes, rivers and towering cliffs with many caves. Three of the caves are suitable for meditation, there are 2 more meditation halls-one outside and one inside. They gave me white clothes and my own house called kuti (wooden house on stills). In the kuti there is nothing - just a pile of blankets and mats. But I had my own brand new bathroom inside the kuti. The idea is to live as a monk and sleep on the ground. But for me it was a luxury - private kuti with a private shower. The weather was quite cold at that time in the mountains, and I'd left all winter clothes and my sleeping bag in Bangkok. Every morning the girls complain about how they survived the cold night, an American girl even left the first morning - she could not sleep on the hard and cold. For me it was perfect, even I used only three of the seven blankets that we were given. The program was similar to that in Vipassana center, but with less meditation and more freedom. I had to refrain from listening to music, singing, dancing, meat and any food  after 11 o'clock  and of course lying, stealing, killing, sex ... but you can talk to people, help in the kitchen, feed the fish and generally to deal with side things besides meditation. This makes the stay very pleasant and I even did not want to leave. Food was only in  7 and 11 o'clock, but it was sufficient. Each day a variety of vegetarian dishes, mushrooms and exotic fruits. I felt incredibly happy and relaxed. The only thing that bothered me  was that my visa was expiring. Two weeks were insufficient for this place. I was too lazy to bother with visas in Kuala Lumpur and decided to take advantage of the new service for Bulgarians - a visa at the airport in 2 weeks. Proved to be a big mistake - I paid $40 for 15 days (and all Europeans come free for 1 month at the airport!) And wasting a whole page of the passport. I only have 2 blank pages and I had to plan carefully my next visas.

another amazing cave suitable for meditation
the wonder forest around the temple
feeding the fish - large sacred catfish
The programme
the vegetarian food in the temple
and the fruits...
walking meditation

the kutis
In my kuti - there is nothing, but I don't need anything

In the monastery lived four monks, one of them very talkative and friendly. No one really teaches Vipassana meditation, so it is best first to pass a course at Goenka ( There were boys and girls from all parts of the world, even three days before I arrived there was a Bulgarian! It's a pity that we didn't meet.
In Thailand being a monk is temporary, sometimes only few months. Under the red robes there are very ordinary guys. It is even allowed to eat meat, with the exception of nine kinds of meat prohibited by the Buddha. (Snake, tiger, etc.). Most of the monks are studying ancient texts and Pali language, few are devoted to meditation. The monks in this monastery were devoted to spreading of Dhamma among foreigners.
I stayed a week at the monastery, and although I did not want to leave, it was time to take to Cambodia. I promised myself to come back to this wonderful place for a longer time. 

On the way back we hitch-hiked together with one American guy from the Monastery. Very soon a pickup with a totally drunk driver stopped. Return to Freeze Pie with an American. Immediately stopped the pickup with scary drunk driver. With a smile, he invited us into the front seat and poured us a glass of Thai brandy. After a wonderful cleaning at the monastery the last thing I wanted to see is alcohol. I had to refuse about 100 times until he agreed. The road was mountainous, with many sharp turns and we were slightly worried by the state of our driver. The American guy even wanted to go down. "Do not worry," he assured us, "If I'm not drunk, I can not drive." Indeed he drove very slowly and smoothly through the turns, but as soon as he got sober, his eyes closed. "Viewpoint!" - He shouted and then pulled over for us to photograph the scenery and in the same time he quickly swallowed 2-3 cups rice brandy. Then he cheered up again, started talking gaily in Thai and although we didn't understand a word he said, we just agreed. We traveled three hours and stopped about 5 times to drink. We even picked up another hitchhiker in the back of the truck and he also drank from the rice drink to the delight of the driver. Though the man lived 20 kilometers before Pai, he decidet to take us to Pai. I think he just didn't want to go home as he kept saying how his wife would scold him when he gets home.
Chinese village

In Pai there was a three-days reggae festival. I caught the third day, listened to reggae until dawn and remembered the African reggae concerts. There were many Thai groups, one Jamaican and the most famous Thai reggae band - Job To Do. It was quite a contrast after the monastery, but somehow I found it easy to enjoy everything, especially good music. In the last two days of the visa I hitch-hiked to the nearby waterfalls, visited several villages and as I was very close to the people with long necks, I could not resist to see them. I heard it was like a human zoo, but they live entirely on tourism. They are refugees from Burma and they have no choice to endure. I paid a huge entrance - about 15 euros, which I hope goes to the people in the village. All were smiling, but their life is not nearly as happy. I admit I was ashamed that I was there. It's debatable whether tourism helps them to survive or because of the tourists they have been put in this situation. I left depressed and regretted my curiosity.
Pai reggae festival

I didn't miss to spend some time with Thai butterflies and orchids

My visa was expiring and it was time to head for Cambodia. I said goodbye to Thailand and somehow I was sure I would come back again. If I've been in one place twice, I will be back a third time.

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