Visakha Walking Ceremony
Early in our stay in Chiang Mai was an auspicious event, Visakha (Vesak, Vesakha) Bucha day. The day is celebrated as the birth, enlightenment, & death of Gautama Buddha. On the eve of Visakha Bucha, the Buddhist pilgrims hike to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for special activities to show respect to Buddha.
Our hike started early evening (before the crowds) just past the Chiang Mai Zoo at Kruba Srivichai Monument. The hike is approximately 13 km (8 miles) up the mountain on curvy roads overlooking Chiang Mai. Along the route, local people & businesses set up water and snack stations along the way. Because our party left early to avoid the crowds, we had a van that would drive along with us for refreshments.
I’ll admit, close to the top I wanted to give up and jump in the van for the last mile or so, but glad I didn’t, to get the full cultural experience. Once at the top, I learned there were two routes to the temple, the easy way via tram or the hard way, another 309 steps.
After reaching the top of the stairs and catching my breath, I proceeded to walk around the stupa with my Thai Buddy. He also brought us the Buddhist Fortune Sticks. To do this, there are sticks with numbers on them that you shake while kneeling in front of an altar. The stick that falls out while you are shaking has a number that corresponds to your fortune. There are pieces of paper in files with that number on a wall, grab the number in which your stick states and read your fortune.
After partaking in the ceremonies, I walked over to the amazing view of Chiang Mai as the darkness settled in the sky. This was truly one of the most amazing experiences I had in Thailand, and it was only the second week in Chiang Mai.
Life in Chiang Mai
Adjusting to life in Chiang Mai was helped by our group of 24 students from Washington State University We had been meeting for months discussing everything from culture to the Thai language and camaraderie. While in Chiang Mai we had to attend class in the morning and most afternoons were spent touring around the area visiting local temples, speaking with Buddhist monks, and trips to the night market.
On one occasion we had been introduced to the gentlemen from Australia whom had moved to Chiang Mai to become a Buddhist monk. He had been living and learning at his monastery for 20 years. He explained that he had given up his worldly possessions and was focusing on his life around the Buddha’s teachings. Thai Buddhists are predominately of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The monk also gave us a lesson in meditation and suggested that in order to obtain enlightenment would should consider practicing mediation daily.
A daily trip to the night market was always a highlight of my time in Chiang Mai. It not only gave us a chance to haggle for the goods at the market, but also allowed us to practice our Thai language skills. My favorite phrase continues to be “Lot noi dai mai”, which means, make it cheaper or give me a discount. If you didn’t receive a discount, it was always commonplace to walk away and have the vendor follow you to offer the discount.
Life in Chiang Mai over the next several blogs with showcase the cultural immersion we seek on all Knutson Travels tours.
Home in Chiang Mai
After a whirlwind few day’s in Bangkok and a day’s drive, we finally made it to our home for the next three months, Chiang Mai. Our accommodations for the first month were the International Center at Chiang Mai University (CMU).
The next day was a free day around Chiang Mai, where we learned quickly where to find the nearest restaurants, bars, & convenience stores. It wasn’t to hard to find these places because our dorm was right off Nimman road, which is a high traffic area near CMU. The best part of this trip was discovering the various places we could go, and because we had learned a little Thai before we went, we were able to converse with Song Thaew & Tuk Tuk drivers.
Our first experience at CMU was meeting with our “Thai buddies”, who would help show us around CMU & Chiang Mai. My buddy was Pep, he was a little intimidated as I was a good 1 & 1/2 feet taller than him. While meeting our buddies, we partook in a local dinner with lanna dancers and music. As customary, we received flower garlands to put around our necks to show respect for our newfound friends.
The day was completed when we visited the night market, it was a place to get whatever you desired, from DVD’s, t-shirts, bags, watches, & knick-knacks. As I would be living in Chiang Mai for the next three months, I decided against to forgo a souvenir purchase, but I did see Starbucks, so got my usual white chocolate mocha.