Courtesy of my friend Chip’s mother, I embarked on the Great Thai Road Trip. On Monday we left Bangkok in a rush hour deadlock, then raced north to explore the mountain temples and lush valleys of northern Thailand. In typical Peeraphatdit fashion, we packed a lifetime of experiences into five days, so the highlights approach, while not nearly doing everything justice, may be the best approach.
- Doi Suthep – Set in a national park just outside Chiang Mai, this mountain top temple is gorgeous. We visited on a rainy day, the mist and clouds weaving through the trees and caressing the golden roof of the wat. A quick, but strenuous climb up 299 steps past the tacky tourist stalls and a napping dog begging for money led to this other world of the devout, dodging tourists to light candles, wei before the Buddha, and pour oil into the oil lamps. The devout receive blessings from the monks, water tossed over them with a bundle of branches, after which string is tied to the wrist. Below the clouds, sunny windows of the city of Chiang Mai punctured through, like windows into another world.
- Thai fast food – Far superior to our greasy drive-thus, Thai fast food stalls set up in an open-air pavilion next to most gas stations. The food is cheap and extremely tasty. Spicy soups, noodles, and rice dishes, all causing the eyes to water and nose to run, unless we asked Chip to tell the cooks to tame it down a bit for the weak farangs! (We rarely did.) My favorite meal might just be the curry dish call kausoi, complete with a chicken leg.
- Fresh market dinner and homestays – For most of the nights, we stayed at the home of our driver, north of Chiang Mai in a rural community. Every morning I awoke to the rooster’s serenade to dawn and showered in a basic bathroom under the tin eaves. We shopped for a feast one night at a Chiang Mai market, a maze of endless piles of fruits and vegetables, slabs of meat and fish, and even huge orange candles to light at the temples. Here I watched a woman slice mango so fresh, the knife slid through like butter. That evening, after our feast with our host, we tried mango sticky rice for dessert. Coconut milk poured over sticky rice and topped with mango. Safely one of my favorite desserts ever.
- Elephant jungle ride – We rode Asian elephants through the forest for at least half an hour, up and down steep hills (a rather bumpy experience – we were tossed around our seats like ragdolls!) and down a river. After a while, I became used to the sway of the elephant. Beautiful creatures.
- Rustic living – Last night we stayed at the home of the driver’s brother, only a few kilometers from the border with Myanmar. He owns an orange grove and our “cabin” stood on the hill overlooking a postcard perfect mountain valley. Even the pouring rain didn’t detract from the beauty. We peeled and ate fruit, watched geckos attack the water bugs and moths (lightning fast attacks!) and enjoyed the misty haze of mountains as the rain played a cacophony on the roof. Chip’s mom turned on the Thai version of country music and a mini dance party commenced. Raucous fun with only a light or two in the distance. all of this offset the discomfort of sleeping on a mat on the floor. I awoke this morning stiff and painful. It’s early to bed tonight for me!
- Cave temples – Yesterday we went spelunking, led by a guide, through the cave temples of Chiang Dao. Huge arched caves, full of bats (which have a rather pleasant chirp, much like birds, as they flutter around). Various rooms housed Buddhas, where monks once lived and meditated. They now live in a brick and mortar monastery outside.
- 7-Elevens are our friends – This convenience store chain is EVERYWHERE and became the best chance for a western style toilet (although I have remastered the squat-ee), tasty road trip snacks, cool bottled water, and rich coffee. A local coffee shop always nearby, I have discovered the rich, dark coffees grown in the north. Fantastic enough to rival anything in Portland. The best perk for my travel companions? A WiFi hotspot in the middle of nowhere.
Tomorrow I head out to the village where I will be teaching for the next few weeks. My ride from the village will pick me up bright and early. In preparation, I have prepared my “shopping list” – toilet paper, bottled water, laundry detergent, and soap. Food and my bed are provided. I know I am teaching three classes among the Karen people there at the Bible school, but I don’t know exactly what to expect. I am excited, nervous, and frankly having first day of school nightmares that every teacher experiences. Will I be able to communicate enough to teach them English? Will they be receptive to my teaching and like me?
And so begins the next adventure.
My access to the Internet will be nonexistent in the village, so this may be the last time I post until I can get into town. See you then!