Visiting Wats

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Mar 10, 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

With over 300 temples -- or "wats" -- in Chiang Mai, it's almost impossible to see them all.  Today, the last day before starting my meditation studies at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, I decided to visit two more of them: Wat Chiang Man and Wat Chedi Luang.

It was a tough call.   Yesterday, I learned that the Chiang Mai Women's Prison runs an active spa, in which female prisoners offer traditional Thai full-body massage to visitors.  I have to admit that this was a tantalizingly tempting way to spend the day....being in a women's prison while getting a rubdown is pretty much the penultimate male masturbatory fantasy....but I decided to take the route to good karma instead.

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. - I'm not sure why.  Well, actually, I do....I went to bed last night at 6:00 p.m.  I think it's the combined effects of lingering jet lag and putting in 10-12 miles of walking each day.  I sat for an hour of meditation at sunrise on my porch, then read for another hour before grabbing a quick shower and heading out for a walk (only four miles this time) on the river.  I had a nice breakfast close to my guesthouse and decided to take a nap at 10:30am....c'mon, I had been up for six hours already!!  Anyway, I wanted to make sure I didn't run out of energy like I did yesterday.

Waking up refreshed two hours later (that's 12 1/2 hours sleep today if you're counting), I walked down to Wat Chedi Luang.  This temple complex dates back to 1441 and is well known for a very large Lanna-style chedi.  This main chedi was damaged by an earthquake sometime in the 16th century and is in partial ruins now.

While I was there, I took the opportunity to speak with one of the monks.  Every day, Wat Chedi Luang sponsors something called "Monk Chat", which gives their monks an opportunity to practice their English while farangs can brush up on their Buddhism.  The monk I spoke to was 22 years old.  He grew up in Chiang Rai, a medium-sized city to the west of Chiang Mai, and came here about eight years ago.  All boys in Thailand are expected to practice as novices for at least two months before reaching manhood.  Only a few decide to become monks, as this man did.

I was very nervous, but told him that I had come to Thailand to study at Doi Suthep.  I asked him if he could recall what was most difficult for him when he began studying meditation.  He immediately pointed to his head and said "monkey mind".  I have heard this term from Buddhists before -- it refers to the mind's tendency to bounce around from place and place and the difficulty in staying focused on experiencing the present.  I asked him if it had gotten easier with time.  He paused and responded, "Sometimes yes....sometimes no".

We spoke for a few more minutes about Buddhism.  Before I left, I asked him how long he would stay at Wat Chedi Luang.  He paused again and said, smiling. "For a very long time, I hope."

As I bid him farewell with a traditional -- albeit awkward -- "wai", I walked away, momentarily forgetting my backpack.  I turned back to retrieve it, and saw my new friend smiling and pointing to his head, and then to me, saying "Meditation!  Meditation!  Focus!  Focus!" :)

At Wat Chiang Man, just a ten-minute walk way, I spent about an hour praying and looking at the impressive Buddha images, some of which date back over 2,000 years.  The wat itself was founded in 1296, making it the oldest temple in Chiang Mai.  Within its gorgeous grounds, I saw at least 100 dogs and cats, sleeping, playing, and in some cases, praying.  Clearly, the wat has had a calming influence on the animals, and there were several boxes that accepted donations to take care of them.

I hope all is well with you.  I'm determined to have Kao Sawy, a Thai concoction of chicken, spicy broth, and wheat noodles tonight.  And I'm committed to stay up until at least 11pm. :)

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graylinc on

New Year
What an incredible start to what is bound to be an amazing New Year for you, Steve! Thank you for letting us live vicariously through your excitement, as we all head back to work, errands, and the post-holiday daily toil...


knees on

Happy New Year
What a great way to start your year, and we get to enjoy it with you via this medium. I read each post with great interest, and really enjoy the photos as well. I wish you much luck in absorbing all you can, and then some, as you begin your studies.

betsyv on

Better Person
Hey Steve,
Pleased to read that the initial anxiety you felt as you started your journey has been replaced by a pervasive calm. But COME ON??? I get the 'becoming a better person' bit but the Steve I know would not miss a slippery rub-down in a women's prison. Please don't lose yourself in this process because I think I speak for many of us who read your blog when I tell you that we love you just the way you are.... Be safe.

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