© 2016 Lindsay Cope

same same, but different

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A young monk returning from collecting alms in Chiang Mai

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Flowers, sold at the local market, used as offerings to religious statues and relics.

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Outside one of Chiang Mai’s many wats at dawn.

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Bronze statue on the way to Doi Sutthep.

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One of the many intricate temples at Doi Sutthep.

Posing with an elephant statue at Doi Sutthep.

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I was fascinated with the many bells at the Buddhist wats. These had a deep sound. People would say a prayer then gently pull the clapper of each bell as they walked along the path.

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Alms bowls at one of the wats in Chiang Mai.

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Our cooking instructor, Soot.

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Making pad thai.

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Kalen, my travel companion, and me at the White Temple, Chiang Rai.

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Hanging out with some elephants ūüôā

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The famous Buddha head at Ayutthaya.

I took my first out of country vacation to Thailand.  The trip was a lot of fun and included a lot of eating, many temples (wats), a day with elephants, meet ups with old friends, some jazz, and great stories!

Kalen and I flew to Chiang Mai and the first thing we did was findsomething to eat! We were never disappointed with the food in Thailand. For the first two days of our trip, our itinerary coincided with my friend Laura’s itinerary so we were able to do some things together, like cooking classes (yum!), shopping in local markets, and visiting the hilltop Wat, Doi Suthep. The first of the journey’s cooking classes was with Mama Noi’s cooking school. ¬†Located outside the city, we toured their organic farm learning about different herbs and vegetables used in Thai cooking. ¬†We made so much food in the class, soup, curry paste, curry, and another entree. ¬†It was all delicious. ¬†Making curry paste from scratch was very labor intensive. ¬†In a large mortar and pestle, we crushed herbs, peppers, and seasoning into a thick paste, which we later used to make some delicious curries!

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is located on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai.  It is possible to hike up the mountain, but we chose the more common method of red truck.  We cruised up the steep road and scaled the 309 steps to the top to visit the Wat.  The golden shrine is an important temple, as it is believed to enshrine a portion of a bone that some believe to be the shoulder bone of Gautama Buddha.  The bone was placed on a white elephant, which climbed the mountain, trupmeted three times at the top, and dropped dead.  This was believed to be an omen, and the sacred temple was erected there.

A kind monk invited Laura and I for a blessing and chanted in Thai, Chinese, and English so he could be understood by all of the people kneeling before him. He splashed us with holy water and wished us luck. Following Doi Sutthep, we had MORE yummy food and made our way down from the mountain. We ended our day with a massage and margaritas in Chiang Mai!

After Laura left, Kalen and I spent a day exploring Chiang Mai on foot.  We visited Wats, coffee shops, restaurants, and parks.  Taking a leisure day in the city.  While the day was leisurely, the night was an adventure!

Kalen had read about a little live music venue called Sudsanan. ¬†We gathered a few backpacker friends we had met and made our way to find Sudsanan. ¬†The listing Kalen read said it was a hard to find place, located in a private home down a dirt road. ¬†The driver of our red truck said he knew where to go, so we climbed in and made our way across town. We climbed out and made our way toward the venue, according the the directions Kalen had found. ¬†We didn’t find it down the first road, so we tried a second road. It wasn’t there either. We tried a third road and ended up on a farm in the middle of Chiang Mai and had to cross a field and climb a fence to get back on the main road. ¬†We tried a fourth road, but it wasn’t there either. What was there was a large venue, probably used for Muay Thai fights, that was filled with tables serving BBQ¬†buffet. At each table was a personal grill, and people just gathered veggies, fish, meat, and noodles and cooked at their table. ¬†It was like hibachi meets fondue and it was filled with Thai families and smelt delicious.¬†Determined to find live music, we didn’t stay (though I wanted to try the BBQ). ¬†We made our way to a more reliable location, the North Gate Jazz Club and we were pleased with the venue and the music. If you are ever in Chiang Mai, check it out. You will not be disappointed.

Kalen and I took another cooking course, this time in the city.  Our instructor was Soot, a lovely Thai man who has been instructing foreigners in the preparation of Thai cuisine for 15 years.  Soot spoke with a quick cadence as though he were chanting or singing everything he said, which really forced you to pay attention.  We prepared lots of delicious foods with him, including a yummy steamed fish, mango sticky rice, chicken with cashews, and tons more! Cooking classes in Thailand were one of the highlights of the trip, as we were able to try so many different things, and have the knowledge to recreate them at home!

One of our day trips was an excursion to Chiang Rai, further north from Chiang Mai and close to the border with Bhurma. There we visited two new temples, the White Temple and the Black Temple. Wat Rong Khun, known as the White Temple, is an ornate edifice, impressively white in color and sparkling with inlaid mirrors, the temple is breathtaking. Kalen and I happily snapped pictures before we noticed how bizzare this place was.  Leading up to the temple there was a moat of hands reaching upward symbolizing unrestrained desire, emphasizing the Buddhist path to happiness and enlightenment is the abdication of desire and greed.  From the hand moat, visitors cross a bridge to the Wat.  The exterior of the Wat appears to have classic Thai architectural influences, looking like a white washed and more ornate version of many Wats we had seen before.  The murals inside the temple show depictions of good and evil.  These images are drawn from popular culture (literature, movies, comics) and include Superman, Harry Potter, and Jack Sparrow.DSC_0390DSC_0374

The Black Temple was far more macabre; the individual buildings were dark wood and warm, but the interiors were filled with skulls, furs, skins, horns, and other dramatic antiquities.  As we walked the grounds and peaked inside odd shaped buildings, Kalen and I grew more confused.  What a peculiar place.  It was dark, intriguing, and incontestably masculine.

Our last day together in Chiang Mai, Kalen and I took a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant conservation facility started by Thai woman, Lek Chailert, who adopted her first elephant at the age of 13.  The park is home to over 30 elephants and hundreds of stray dogs and cats.  We got to experience feeding and bathing elephants, but my favorite was to observe them closely as the park allowed us to take (escorted) walks on the park grounds. We learned a lot about the park operations and the stories of the elephants, most of whom have been rescued from forced labor for logging and tourism.DSC_0554DSC_0727

We also learned some fun facts about elephants, like, did you know elephants don’t only trumpet they GROWL! ¬†Also, their feet are really sensitive as they receive vibrations through their feet. ¬†Elephants are surprisingly quiet for their large size, this is because they have a cushion in their feet that acts like a shock absorber. ¬†COOL RIGHT?! They are also incredibly beautiful, the older elephants skin has been sun weathered and in parts is a soft pink color with freckles.

DSC_0857When logging became illegal in Thailand, thousands of elephants were out of work and left to fend for themselves in the jungles of Thailand. Some of the lucky ones

One of the first mornings I woke up before dawn to wander around the old city and observe the monks receiving alms. It was beautiful in Chiang Mai in the morning, the streets were empty except for the orange robed monks making their way to the morning market to collect the morning alms and the devotees who gave alms and received their blessing in return.  I have been very moved in my interactions with monks in Thailand, it was the first time I have had an interaction with a religious figure and I felt emotionally moved.

 

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