Monk Chat

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Friday, April 25, 2014

Yesterday we spent the morning and early afternoon traveling back to Bangkok and catching a short flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. All in all, to take a minibus, taxi, and plane, it was a very easy and fairly quick day of travel. Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, Jeff, the owner of the guesthouse we are staying at, picked us up from the airport and brought us "home". After we settled into our room, Jeff and his wife Fine, each took turns showing us a map of the city and sharing some of the cool things we could do in Chiang Mai. The guesthouse is located in the old city of Chiang Mai, which is a 6km square area surrounded by a moat. Other than the moat and some parts of the old gates at the four main entrances into the old city, this part of Chiang Mai feels and looks like the newer part of the city, but it's kind of cool to be staying inside an area protected by a moat! It feels very medieval! Our first night here, we went to the night bazaar market, which Jeff told us is called the tourist market by locals. It is quite large with many kiosks and stalls selling similar items to what we have seen before. It was fun to walk around and check out the area. We only bought some juice shakes, which Jason has had about 2 of on average each day! For anyone who knows Jason well, Banana shakes are his new sour kids!

Before we headed out today, Jason got a proper lesson on riding a motorbike from Jeff. It was really nice of Jeff to take the time to go around the block a couple times with Jason and then I hopped on with him too. He did much better this time than his first attempt in Koh Tao. Having someone actually show him how ride a motorbike instead of just telling him, really made a difference. We still aren't sure that we will do any long drives on a bike, but at least it feels like an option we have now.

Today I made sure I was dressed appropriately to visit temples. There are over 1500 temples in Chiang Mai and 100 of them are located within the old city. We decided to walk around the old city and see some of the most important temples. I think in total we visited about 6, but we definitely walked by many more than this. Each temple looks different and unique and each is very beautiful. My favourite one was Wat Chadi Luang. At the front of the main hall at this temple complex, there is a standing Buddha statue holding his right hand in front of him with his palm facing forward and beside this statue there is an explanation of its meaning. Two small kingdoms were fighting over the little water they had between the two of them. The Lord Buddha foresaw bloodshed if the disagreeing continued, so he stood and told the two kingdoms to stop because relatives are more important than water. After kneeling in front of the Buddha for a short while and taking some pictures inside the temple, we went outside to engage in the Monk Chat Program that this temple hold five days a week. This is a program where anyone can come for free to literally chat with a monk.

The monk we chatted with for about 20 minutes was very kind and patient with our questions. We started our chat with him asking questions about where we are from and what the weather is like in Canada. He told us he has never see snow and would like to. We told him we'd be okay without seeing snow again for a long time! We then spoke a bit about Buddhism and what being a monk entails. He explained that becoming a monk is a choice made by the individual, but they first need permission from their families as well as the head monk. Once accepted to be a monk, the man must live in the temple and strictly follow the rules of being a monk. There are many. For people who practice Buddhism but are not monks, there are only 7 rules to follow, but monks have over 100 rules that must be strictly followed. This monk also explained a bit of the history of Thailand to us. The area surrounding Bangkok used to be called Siam and it was one of two kingdoms in the country. The other was Lanna, near Chiang Mai. The people of Burma (now called Myanmar) wanted to take over the kingdom of Lanna. The king of Lanna asked the king of Siam for help and it was agreed that the Siam army would help fight against the Burmese in return for control over the Lanna kingdom after the fighting was done. For a while after this, Thailand was called Siam before it became Thailand. The monk also pointed out the 600 year pagoda that stood behind us as we chatted and explained that the top of it was ruined in an earthquake over 400 years ago and has never been repaired. We really enjoyed learning about some of the rituals and daily routines monks must follow and we liked having the opportunity to have this chat with him. I took a great little book of questions and answers about monks with me after the chat to continue learning a bit more.

Not that we would let ourselves fall victim to a similar scam a second time, but we were very grateful for the many warning signs around each temple about the men who will offer to guide us around town. We did encounter a couple of these men at the most popular and most visited temple, where ironically there were no warning signs. I hope these men don't scam too many tourists, but I'm glad we are now educated on what to look and listen for and avoid!

We ended our night with a trip to the south gate of the old city to try some great street food recommended by Tartar, a really fun and bubbly friend we've made (along with Jeff and Fine, he runs the guesthouse).
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