Last Saturday in Thailand. Early in the morning before daybreak I went to the temple and watched the morning offering of food to the monks. The Buddhist faithful bring food to be placed in their begging bowls and then they kneel for the monk to give a blessing. This is the only food the monks receive and if there is more than they need they give it to the poor. The devotion is stunning and the reverence with which the ritual is carried out is very moving. The monk with whom we had a “monk chat” said that this is a way to inculcate the virtue of giving. This morning offering is instructing the faithful Buddhist to be generous every moment of the day through this discipline.
Then on to the Wat Dol Suthep temple. One has to walk up 308 steps to the temple and the stairs are enclosed with a railing of a colorful snake.
The temples are all surrounded by images form Thai mythology. Once again I am struck by the devotion and piety of the people as they pray.
That afternoon I walked to the cathedral of the Sacred Heart and encountered a young Thai deacon who will be ordained a priest in June. I asked where he was from and he said he was from the Karen tribe. And then asked if I had heard of the tribe. I said yes because a few days arlier we visited the Karen tribe, that is, the longneck people. He said his father was a Buddhist and mother a Protestant however he converted. I asked how his parents felt to which he said they were okay with it as long as he believed in one God. I had several conversations with Thai priests from different tribes that evening. They said the Thai people are very respectful of all religions. The evening concluded with Mass in Thai. I concelebrated and observed how devout everyone is. They folded their hands in prayer all through the readings and everyone sang and chanted. I was given the privilege of administering Holy Communion and was struck by the reverence.
Although Mass was in Thai I felt at home because I was with my tribe! What a wonderful way to conclude this trip.
Sunday. After a long day of transit I was back in Bangkok. That afternoon I visited the Ananta Samakhorm Throne Hall also called the marble hall designed by an Italian architect and built of imported Carrara marble. It was intended for King Rama V (from the King and I) however it was not finished until the reign of his son, Rama VI. Interior photos of this impressive hall were not allowed. And it houses “Arts of the Kingdom” which is a display of beautiful master works of silver and gold and textiles.
The evening concluded with a cultural show which highlighted the history of the Thai people. Before the production there was a film spot on the King. The King has no political power however he is beloved by the people. He has reigned for 60 years and the royal family lives a simple life and avoids any ostentation rather they devote themselves to royal projects that are for the cultivation of local economy that lifts up the people and preserves their cultural heritage. At the end of the film there was a quote from the King on the day of his coronation: “I will reign with righteous for the welfare and happiness of my people.” This struck me because it set forth for the mission of all those who exercise authority which is given for the common good.
Final day. The morning began with a visit to the golden Buddha which weighs 5.2 tons and worth $250 million.
Then a visit to the Jim Thompson house. He was a Princeton architect who took several old teak Thai homes and configured them into a single home. He also restored after WWII the lost art of Thai silk and marketed it through the world.
This was the final evening and I am still trying to absorb what I experienced in a culture whose religion is so foreign to me. However what I experienced that resonated with me so deeply was the respect with which the Thai people treat one another. The words of the Gospel that call us to mutual respect continued to echo in my mind.
In the morning we set out to visit Mae Taman Elephant camp.
The elephants are trained to put on a performance where they danced and played ball and even painted.
The performance ended when they elephants came right over expecting a tip for a good performance. And if we wanted we could be lifted up on their trunk.
We then took an elephant trek through the forest for about an hour. The ride is quite exciting as you go up and down hills and through rivers.
Afterwards through an interpreter we had a conversation with a trainer on how the elephants are cared for and the bond of affection that develops between the elephant and his trainer.
They even recycle elephant dung at this camp to make paper!
After lunch we took an afternoon cruise on the river on a small bamboo raft.
This was a day to enjoy learning about how elephants are used today as a vital part of the tourist industry. And also to enjoy the beauty of the forests in northern Thailand.
This morning we set out to visit the Opium Museum which sets out the history of the opium warlords in what is called the Golden Triangle. These tribes in this region regions formerly cultivated the poppy for opium production.
Today through government programs these same tribes have begun to cultivate crops and tourism has proved an alternative to drug trafficking. According to the tour brochure there are more than 20 semi-nomadic tribes who live in northern Thailand and the borderlands of Burma and Laos.
With this new means of productivity to sustain life these tribes are more interested in preserving their ancient traditions.
For lunch we took the open songtaew trucks to a restaurant in the area occupied by the Akha tribe.
This evening we had dinner with the “Longneck” Karen tribe. We visited their tribal village where their wooden dwellings, traditional clothing, and way of life have changed little over the centuries.
At dinner with them received a brochure that refers to a Polish explorer Vitold De Golish who referred to them as the land of the giraffe woman because of the rings worn around their neck.
The woman make crafts and spend textiles and the men work on the farm. I asked the woman from whom I purchased a scarf what religion they practice. She said she is a Buddhist and her husband a Christian.
We had a opportunity to speak with members of the community through a translator. The rings around the neck provoked many questions and they answered with smiles. The women are very proud of the rings; in fact she said when they are removed they do not feel beautiful.
Their brochure said legend says the rings protected the women from tiger bites but wearing them helps maintain individual and tribal identity. The woman spoke with great pride about her rings.
Dinner was unbelievable. All the produce from the farm is organic. The barbequed pork was extraordinarily seasoned. We watched them prepare the food.
After dinner we had time for conversation with them through an interpreter. The evening concluded with music and dancing and we even danced with them.
Today was a long day on the bus to Chiang Rai where we will begin a full exploration of north Thailand. We made a stop that proved interesting in the structure of the local economy. We pulled over and there were stalls selling hoes and rakes and knives and sickles and other instruments for agriculture.
After this we drove to a local school in a village and sent some time with the children. This was most enjoyable. We saw their morning exercises and observed classroon instruction. The children were very well mannered and they practiced their English with us.
We then had a late lunch on a large lake in a very prosperous town. Finally we arrived at the Golden Pine Resort Hotel. We were taken by the settimg which was beautiful.
Our main focus today was to explore the 13th century Sukhothai which is Thailand’s largest collection of ruins. On the way we stopped to walk in a rice field. Then we went to a rice factory to see the process of production but also a rice museum to see how rice was processed 70 years ago.
When we arrived at Suklothai I was amazed at the extent of the ruins. This was the place, as the guide said, where old Siam was born. We also visited the monument to King Ramkamhaeng who created the Thai alphabet and achieved much for his people. He promoted the spread of Theravada Buddhism.
Boundary markers that mark out an ordination temple
Roadside factory that produces skewers from bamboo for kabobs
Indigo home factory
This morning we left our campsite and began our trip to Phitsanulok. It was a long bus trip however on the way we encountered some unexpected surprises. As we were driving down the road we encountered a colorful procession of a young man all dressed in white on a horse surrounded by happy people singing and dancing. We got out of the bus to join the procession. The young man was being taken to the temple to be ordained a monk.
We continued along our way and stopped to see a roadside stand selling cooked rats which the local people eat.
We continued our journey to the temple where the bats are protected and trees are ordained.
Bats in the trees
Then we went to the river that runs through the temple precincts to feed the fish that are also protected.
The final event was a boat ride on the Uthaithani river. This was on a large traditional wooden rice barge. We had lunch and were surprised that the rats that were purchased that morning were prepared so if we wanted we could taste that delicacy.
After we arrived in Phitsanulok we went to dinner and then to the night markets. Our guide took us to a vendor that sold all sorts of roasted bugs. For example roasted silk worm cocoons and even roasted tarantulas. She ordered a small platter of assorted bugs and invited us to taste a few. This was quite an unexpected experience! Asian cuisine is certainly creative.
This morning we spent what was called A Day in the Life of a Western Thai Community. We started at a local market. Each of us was given a vocabulary list and one item to purchase. Trying to communicate with our transliterated vocabulary prompts created a lot of smiles and playful interaction with the vendors. In the end the group purchased what was necessary for us to prepare part of our lunch.
After our adventure in the local market we headed to a coperative and met with some of the folks to discuss through an interpreter the cooperative. Then we boarded a Jeep and went further into the countryside to begin a walk through a farm to taste all sorts of produce.
Fresh coconut juice out of the forest
This has a nutty flavor
Where we had lunch, after our walk through the farm
We each had to make our salad.
Boat ride on the River Kwai
Camp at night
After breakfast we left Bangkok and experienced the morning traffic as we headed for the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak. Although I enjoyed the palace complex I was anxious to leave Bangkok which is a huge amd modern and very congested city.
We arrived at the floating markets and enjoyed the color and local market scene.
A little local entertainment.
After we left the Royal Complex we took a long walk to the temple that houses the golden reclining Buddha. I was stunned at the size of this Buddha.
We then visited a workshop where more Buddhas were being restored.
A restored Buddha.