Written in October 2008
Wow, where do I start? Thailand is amazing. Thailand means Land of the Free, BTW, and man do I feel free right now!
SUNDAY began with a bicycle ride around the ruins of Old Sukhothai, many of which are from the 13th century when Siam was rollin’. Now I am not Buddhist; though I do appreciate the philosophy, the one piece that always grabs my mind and stops me is the basic tenet that life is suffering. I am a very very lucky girl, that’s why, and have had little suffering in my life, comparitively speaking.
That said, when I stand in front of a centuries-old stone Buddha, it’s pothead eyes gazing down on me and elegant fingers with golden nails beckoning my thoughts, a sense of calm descends upon me that I cannot describe. Maybe it is the smooth curving lines of the stone, maybe it is the ancient handiwork of humans, or maybe it is Buddha on my shoulder but I get overwhelmed. This is Sukhothai.
It is as HOT AS TEXAS here- no wait, it is hotter. And the hot season does even not start until November. Sweat drips off my ears, my nose, my chin, my elbows, my eyebrows; it pours off in gallons, marring postcards. I stand to buy a coke and walk away leaving a puddle of salty Shilo. It is the tropics, though the Thai people do not seem to sweat at all. Americans do, oh my God. The good news is that having your laundry done is as cheap as everything else. I had a delicious picnic lunch on the grounds of the ancient ruins (along with long-eared cows, kids swimming in ditches, a gaggle of puppies and fishing grandpas in speedos) then hopped a bus further north to Lampang.
In Lampang I stayed at a guesthouse right on the river, made completely of teak- so beautiful and chocka with bright purple bougainvillas, straw hammocks, and manky little dogs. Looked for some nightlife and was told down the road there was a club playing music. “What kind?” I asked. “Disco crap.” was the reply. I went to bed, sleeping beautifully on a very hard bed which seems to be standard here- my Dad would love it- like sleeping on a plank.
MONDAY, yesterday, was one of the best days of my life. Breakfast included banana jam and dragonfruit, which has a delicious neon-fuschia flesh, spotted with black seeds. Took a songtaew (the open-air truck) to the Elephant Conservation center where I got thisclose to the elephants, from 4 year-old babies to 50 year-old grandpas. Elephants once were used for logging in Thailand but after the practice was banned, many of the poor pachyderms were abandoned as useless or became beggars in Bangkok or even meth-heads. Now the Conservation Centre is trying to help them. I saw a big elephant bathing party; watched them show off their logging skills, xylophone skills, and painting skills- no shit. These amazing, ancient, gentle creatures paint flowers and trees. I bought bunches of tiny bananas (the only kind here) to feed them, and of course, took a ride through the jungle where I held on for dear freaking life- my elephant was spastic, kind of like me. I also checked out the world’s only elephant dung paper factory where elephant shit is turned into all manner of notebooks, albums, and gift wrap. I bought my brother a souvenir from the dung factory, and myself a sweet piece of elephant art done by a 14 year-old female who is “naughty and likes to eat.” My kind of girl!
Next door is the Elephant Hospital where sick or wounded animals from all over Thailand can get medical care for free. Many elephants have been severly injured by stepping on landmines on the Thailand/Myanmar border; it is SO sad. Fucking humans. It always hits hard when I am traveling how you can be so inspired and disgusted by human nature all at the same time- like seeing shit graffiti on ancient columns in Rome.
Elephants live here in the Conservation Centre with a leg blown off, thanks to this one amazing woman has dedicated her life to providing care for these smart creatures, including prosthetic limbs. The older elephants have a hard go of it, but a younger two year-old named Mosha walks around on her fake leg, painted grey with toenails and everything, like a three legged dog who has no clue something is wrong. I was so inspired by this silly animal, sassy and energetic, who would beg for rice cakes and get them. There were many other elephants there at the center; all with the same life span as humans- they fill your heart and break it all at once.
I made a quick stop by some mineral pools which were lukewarm; much better was the foot massage I got poolside. The masseurs rub sticks in- between your toes, up and down and twisted all around. It is so good you want to run away screaming!
Then another songtaew trip (many of these songtaews are just pickups with benches along each side) to the village of Mae-Ohn where I stayed with a family in their home, dotted with pictures of outings to the beach, Buddhas with sunshades on, and photos of Elvis. The family served a feast including pork and tomato curry, zucchini and egg, pork rinds and KFC. During the meal the family played traditional instruments; Dad led the band including nine children. Then even more kids came out, and more- many Thais live in extended families which is SO better than the nuclear family and in fact the way that humans have lived for most of our existence. That way, if your mom and dad turn out to be total freaks, you have options.
After dinner was a music lesson on traditional Thai instruments (I am pretty good on the sunt) then outside to see the girls do nail dancing (as in fingernails). The young boys also performed a dance which translated into: kick your brother in the ass and try not to get yourself kicked in the ass. It was pretty fun, and quite the workout- maybe the next cardio fitness fad? Ass-kickin’ cardio!
The young girls came back out and started twirling swords! Hell yeah! All the crowd freaked out and scooted back, not me though- because I know when you pick up a sword to twirl it in the air, you know what the hell you are doing. ‘Cuz I twirl swords too, and freak people out on a regular basis.
The night was capped off when uncle #3 lit on fire a giant paper lantern, about 8 feet tall, attached a long tail of fireworks and let it go into the sky, and we all stood there and ooh’d and aah’d like a gang of five year-olds. Everything was burning and exploding and crackling in the starry sky; they obviously don’t have the same fire codes in Thailand as they do in the US!
I slept under a mosquito net on a mat on the floor, very very well. The mosquitos here are viscious- I have been bitten three times since I have been typing this post, and I have gobs of bugspray on.
Tons of other exciting things happened, of course, like a fire starting outside the home; I saved the day by running over barefoot and putting it out promptly- but I gotta save some stories for when I get home, right?
TUESDAY: Woke up at 6AM, had the most delicious Sanka of my life and then went to the temple to give alms to the monks. The temples are ridiculously ornate and colorful, and even more so inside, with bright murals, big gold Buddhas. and multicolored mirror mosaic altars. The novice monks wear bright yellow and orange robes; alms today were bags of fried rice and slices of watermelons. Being female and dirty dirty dirty I cannot touch a monk or even hand anything to him; I must place it in a bowl and take care not to touch the rim with my polluted self. It’s all that techno music that has made me so damn filthy, I just know it!
Fried rice for breakfast is the bomb, and food here is so so so good, like Jai Thai except FUCKING GOOD and NOT crap. Pineapple abounds everywhere.
I took a bike ride around the little village I had stayed in past about 3 billion more scratchy little inbred dogs to another temple, this one even more decked out than the last. These Buddhist temples put the Vatican to shame in gaudiness and exuberance, wow. I pedaled past rice fields and distant purple hills, by jungles and more temples to a mushroom farm (picked some for lunch), a sewing shop (purses for $1-2), then to the best stop of the day: an elementary school, where I helped teach the little five-year old urchins how to speak English.
GOOD MORNING. HOW ARE YOU? I AM FINE. THANK YOU!
I don’t know who liked it more, me or the kids! We sung the alphabet song, counted on fingers, did the hokey pokey and the chicken dance, played with blocks and then I taught them the high-five, a winner with six year-olds worldwide in my experience. It was amazing. Staying with the family was the best experience of my trip so far; they opened their home and shared their food, their children, their bucket shower with me, all with the smiles that characterize the Thai people.
After yet another home cooked meal with the best curry I have ever had, fried bananas, sweet and sour vegetables, and about six other dishes I hopped yet another songtaew to the big city of Chiang Mai where I write you now. (Funny, one blog post ago I couldn’t remember the name for songtaew; at this point I will never forget it!). I took a shower, shaved my legs and washed my hair and feel like a million baht! Then I had another massage though this one was a little pricey- $7 for an hour. Oh well, city prices.
I love to travel but you know what makes it even better? Having friends at home who you care about to come home to. Thank you.
Tonight we are in the big city and it is time to PAR-TAY. Last night’s entertainment was Jenga so I am ready for some dancing. If Lonely Planet is correct, there are quite a few techno clubs here and I am HELLA excited to sample the Thai flavor of techno- I bet it is spicy!
Much love my friends! I am writing these posts and not even rereading or spellchecking them, so forgive me for any errors.
Have fun and hold it down for me!