Thursday, April 2, 2009
North - East Thailand
To get off the beaten track my next stop was east of Chaing Mai, close to the Laos boarder - Nan. Finally a bus ride in which I was the only white person :)... the situation didn't change much once I arrived and I had an opportunity to see the real Thailand. Once I arrived local boys advised me on a hostel and transportation ... I never though my 15kg backpack was made to be behind me on a motorbike - but it worked surprisingly well :)
During my stroll through the city I was greeted with smiles one would expect from a long lost relative - they seemed so happy to see me and many asked if I needed help and wished me well. It was simply beautiful ... so was my visit to Wat Phra That Chae Hena about 3 km outside the city along rice fields, overlooking the Nan Valley. The wide driveway is flanked by monumental serpents gliding down the slope, and inside the walls stands a slender,55 meter high golden chedi (a bell looking tower)... I saw many young monks around. Apparently education is for free if children decided to join the monastery (for a certain amount of years only - it is not for their entire life). One can see the different status of the monks on the way they were their rope - if a monk shows one sholder (instead of both being covered) it means the he passed and shows seniority.
While I was in the temple I was allowed to sit in while they were having a ceremony for a young monk passing ... an older monk prays out loud while the entire family is sitting (on the ground) around the front ...the young monk was dressed in white for the ceremony, but will wear orange again thereafter ...at least that is what the locals tired to explain to me/ I understood :)
Another highlight here is Wat Phumin - five hundred year old temple, with a Buddha centerpiece in cruciform shape, in which four Buddha's are facing each direction, backs to each other.
My next discovery was that the way to Laos would lead me down south, than east and back up north .... a bit more back tracking than expected, but another opportunity to discover the country ... so the next 6 hour bus ride took me to Phinsanoluk, right in the center of the country.
I arrived in the morning hours and booked my overnight bus to Udon Thani for 11:30 pm, giving me a day to discover the city. Again the people were overwhelmingly friendly ... since I didn't want to carry my large backpack around, I asked the bus station clerk if I could keep it somewhere in the terminal (like a locker) ... yes, she motioned right underneath her tiny desk ... after a split second of doubt I agreed and got on the next bus trying to find my way to Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat - the second most important Buddha image in Thailand. The entire bus tried to help the clerk to explain to me when to get off the bus - successfully :)
While there I ran into a Canadian girl that pointed me to another unique experience in Thailand: Buranathai Buddha Bronze-Casting Foundry- where many of the Buddhas you see EVERYWHERE actually come from. A hour walk later I arrived to discover the detail process of pouring wax into a silicon Buddha mask, covering the wax in clay, stabilizing it with wires, melting the wax, filling the clay with bronze, coating it and finally adding the pure gold on the outside ...
Back at the bus station I was delight to see that my bag was still there. When I tried to pay the girl a tip, she denied it, which delighted me even more ... trying to escape the ruthless mosquitoes (and enjoy some AC) I fled into a 7/11 (which are everywhere in Thailand) and eventually into a online game store, with great internet connection (so I could update my blog). My bus didn't show up until 2:30 am, but being surrounded by many other Thai people and sitting across three monks that all had smiles made me feel incredible safe (very different from India). Thankfully I paid a bit more to get a seat, because the night bus was so full that they put little chairs (Hocker) in the ails for people to sit on.
As you guys might know, I am blessed with excellent sleep, so of course I had to rely on a stranger to wake me up one we got to Udon Thani - thankfully they did just in time :)45 minutes later I made it to Nong Khai, argued with a tuk-tuk driver, which tried to trick me and overcharge me on top of it, but did drop me on at the friendship bridge connecting Thailand and Laos. Some paperwork, a bus, some money, some more paperwork and some more money later and I made it into Laos :)