What Do Travellers Do All Day?: #3 – So ‘Wat’ About Monks and Massages Then? – Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and Pai, Thailand

3: So ‘Wat’ About Monks and Massages Then?

8 Mar 2002

Since I last made contact with the BootsnAll mothership – I have to admit to having seriously let the side down. The side being travellers and their prerogative to “loll around” all day long. I’ve been far too busy and been mimicking that of a… T-O-U-R-I-S-T… Yes, I know my shares are dropping as I write.

I’ve discovered the way to free hassle-free travel in Asia – yes, this is the little gem you’ve all been waiting for. Got any mustard-yellow material lying about, got any flip flops and an electric razor, got a pot you can shove in a bag? These are the ingredients, and with blessings from Buddha, our monkfest will begin.

As a monk you get free food and water from people in the street, rides from buses in the middle of nowhere to nowhere, at no charge. People step aside for you, usher you to the front of a queue and treat you like a good luck charm. I would have more to offer on this subject but when I wanted to go and do some “Monk Chat,” I was persuaded to go and see a movie instead. It seems it was a belated Halloween in these parts, and the least unpalatable movie for viewing was Wolf Girl – which requires no further comment.

“Monk Chat” is the official name they give for an allocated time of day when one can waltz into a Wat and have the monks lay it on the table – everything you ever wanted to know about monks and what they do all day, compare notes, etc. They would help me in understanding the principles of Buddhism, and to return the gesture I’d help them on the road to enlightenment by, say… telling them how much a bus fare these days costs in Thailand. But I have time, so maybe I can give you a blow-by-blow account in future logs.

I have to say that after experiencing the effects of heat stroke (blowing this out of proportion for effect!) from a day on a bicycle in Ayutthaya going from Wat to Wat to Wat (temples) – the monk method sounds pretty okay. With all that sun, who can remember this ruin from that reclining Buddha, to that sitting one to the standing one – I’ve never seen so many in my life and forthwith plan never to plan to see one again. I’d say that I wouldn’t see one again, but with so many planted every few hundred metres I would have about as much luck as trying not to pass a pub in Ireland for a 100m stretch. But it was a great way to get out and see stuff – so a must-do for all going that way. If for no other reason but to play the “Count the dirtiest, most anorexic rabid dog with mange” game without having to stop long enough for it to drool on you.

So Chiang Mai is nice, but if you’ve dipped your toe in the sea of Wats you might want to try a little bit of heaven. Now this scored points for my side – doing nothing AND being pampered at the same time. Renamed “THAI HEAVENLY” massage by me!

The thing is, we got it for really cheap – 100 baht and an hour’s free internet, so even though I thought I’d died and gone to muscle Utopia, I think I may have to have another one as a sort of “second opinion.” I mean, who can be sure? And then a third massage, just to be really sure! The night markets are good too, with lots of “speshl price just for yoo”, it really is that cheap and colourful. We also stumbled upon a street market-cum-amateur musicians’ night, and that was swarming with locals and local fayre such as grubs, cockroaches and roasted crickets and locusts to munch on. I just couldn’t decide… hmmmm (NOT), so we went for this buttered grilled sweet bread and the guy with the grubs etc was wetting himself at us looking queasy and nibbling our bread and surveying the bugs on display.

Slice of ‘Pai’?
I like Pai, I like it a lot. It’s like the best of both worlds in a small untouched village way. Oh, it’s touristy, but in some little secret lost pocket of Thailand. There are only really the “coins in the pocket to get me by” travellers here, not the “socks with sandals bronzed Gucci” budgets – which is why you can find cheap accommodation in cozy romantic A-frame stilted bungalows bordering fields of rice, coconut and banana trees, and bathe from a bucket of herbal-infused water boiled over a fire! So what’s not to like?

We embarked on a trek into the Highlands. Now I must give credit to our guide Noom. If you come here – ask for him. He gave us a great trek into the mountains surrounding Pai. If you’re unfit you’ll be hobbling around like me today, but in 2 days we were taken into Lisu, Lahu and Karen villages. These are all Hill Tribes of people who do not speak Thai, but each have their own adapted dialect from the regions they fled, such as Burma and China. We stayed with Noom’s family on the first night and we ate great food, which he cooked for us. He told us how the conscription into the Thai army is down to the luck of the draw. If you pull a black bow out of a container you do not have to go, and if you pull a red one out – clear your calendar for the next 2 years. He showed us how to make fire from 2 pieces of bamboo (no matches), he told us which plants were good, which weren’t and charmed us with his personality and the character of these lost-in-time villages.

On that first day Noom got a piece of bamboo in his foot. After a little emergency first aid we were on our way again, though with great difficulty.

On the second day Marc slipped on dry leaves and tore the muscles behind his knee cap, rendering him “Hop Along No.2″ and reliant on Mr. Bamboo, his new best friend and walking stick.

So, the pace slackened a bit as we weaved in and out of canyons, up sheer faces and down into ravines. I have to say it was comical, or it would have been if both had not have been in so much pain. But nothing stops me from taking the piss, so it went something like “Run Forest Run” to try and hitch a ride from a stray moped in a village or “Swim Forest Swim” to get through a river to the other side or “You can cry if you want to – I’d never tell a soul.”

After hours of hobbling along in agony, a short reprieve on the back of an Asian elephant and then a long wait at a bus stop – which may as well be called “Wait or Die – Doesn’t Make a Difference” – and the windiest road any of us have ever travelled (hence Jonathon the Israeli feeling a little piquered) – Noom took Marc to the hospital for a few hours whilst I spent them perfecting my own hobble with one rucksack on the front (Marc’s) and mine on the back going from place to place as I imagine Mary (Mother of God) must have done back in the old days – everywhere full. Then a word to the right man on the street and I was ushered to Mr. Jan’s, and it is a real bargain find.

Then if I thought I was tired yesterday, Marc and I woke up at sparrow farts today (earlier than early) and hopped on a 4-hour bus journey to Mae Hong Son, bearing in mind that it took the same amount of time to get back this evening. And all this to see a bunch of women with rings around their necks, which make their necks twice as long as the average person’s (“The Long Neck Village”). It was interesting to see, and the tuk-tuk ride we took to get from the bus station into the countryside, up mountains and through ravines was a good adventure. We would have hired some mopeds to get there, but with ‘Forest’ (Marc) the way he is, we drove in style.

And when I re-bandaged his leg in the village, we experienced the opposite effect… where we were supposed to be looking in awe at them, they were all ooohing and aaahing over Marc’s injuries. By the time I had finished we had really gathered a crowd of sympathetic onlookers. So tonight we have sore bums and are heading in for an early one, and tomorrow we say our teary goodbyes (Marc will be sad to see his new sherper go!). I head for the Laos border if all goes well. Maybe in Laos I can get back to the art I should be perfecting at some stage.

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