Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Kamphaeng Phet: "Take Your Time!"
November 5, 2006
Dear Friends and Family,
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep sits on the very peak of Suthep Mountain.
There are two methods to reach the top: Three hundred and six steps up a staircase. Or a funicular cable car.
Is there any doubt as to how I would have ascended last year? Is there any question as to how I will transport myself this year? . . . But first . . . .
I hire Bomb, yes that's his name, to drive me for the day. We set out from Chiang Mai, up the mountain road, past a lovely waterfall park (a monk meditating in the distance) and arrive at the foot of Doi Sutep. Bomb parks the car, smiles cheerfully, and passes along his advice. He is only 23, but he says wisely, "Take your time."
I pay my "carfare" and ride up.
Here's the guidebook:
"The temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is certainly one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai, as well as one of the most revered among all Thais. The temple is a major pilgrimage destination during important Buddhist holidays. Its importance, as well as its location, owes much to the legend of its founding.
According to this legend, a Buddha relic, which some say glowed, magically replicated just before it was about to be enshrined in the big chedi at Wat Suan Dok. The "cloned" relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant, which was allowed to roam where-ever it wanted.
The elephant eventually climbed to the top of Suthep Mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the spot where the relic wanted to be, so King Ku Na built the original chedi on Doi Suthep at the end of the 14th Century."
The main golden chedi is just enormous. At its side stands a golden "umbrella" - Burmese style. The temple complex is filled with pilgrims and worshipers and visitors. Young children and adults light candles, circle the temple grounds holding flowers, pray at many of the surrounding buildings and shrines, and receive the blessings of the monks. The atmosphere is respectful and yet festive. I take lots of time and I take lots of photos. http://thailandforvisitors.com/north/chiangmai/suthep/
Our next stop is the Summer Palace. The palace is really a parkland with walkways and gardens and trees and trails. I stroll and take my time.
I take a leisurely lunch.
We visit my friend Kitty who is working at The Queen's Project. The Project encourages and trains local families and artisans to produce handicrafts. We take our time with a coffee and dessert.
Bomb is generous with his time. We visit several temples on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. My favorite has ancient carvings on its walls. My second favorite is a large white complex of towers with an adjoining cemetery with many smaller white towers. Boys are playing whatever young boys play as they scamper about the towers and monuments.
Bomb and I plan a second day on the road.
We will visit two small towns east of Chiang Mai - Lamphun and Lampang - with more golden Buddhas and golden temples and towers and carvings and gongs and murals and pilgrims and children. This is the weekend of the Loi Kratong festival and we are celebrating with flowers and candles and incense.
I had a happy week in Chiang Mai - two days at the Royal Floral Festival, two days on the road, and two more days at the Flower Festival. Next, by bus, I travel four hours south along the Ping River to Kampheng Phet.
Kampheng Phet is an ordinary city with an extraordinary Historical Park. With Bomb's words of advice still in mind, I take my time wandering around tall stucco and brick images and brick temples that have survived here for more than 500 years. The Buddha images have weathered and look like modern sculpture. Picasso or Modigliani come to mind. Yet, despite the weathering and pitting, I do believe that the artists' original intentions of smooth grace and peaceful repose are still evident today.
I visit the adjacent museum. Sculpture and artifacts are on display that were unearthed within walking distance. The artistic quality is suprising and dramatic, and I am happy that the relics are here and not in some gallery in London or New York.
The caretaker at the museum encourages me to visit the local Hot Spring. I hire a motorbike driver for the ride through the countryside. I do not know what to expect. Maybe a small stream with some hot bubbles emerging.
What a surprise! The Hot Spring is a floral park with pools and lakes and curving pathways. My first stop is a private indoor bathing area where I skinny dip in a huge tub of hot mineral water. Then I find a pool with large round stones inlaid into the base. It's a foot massage!
I take my time along the walkways with flowers and sculpted shrubbery. But I cannot take too much time. I am headed south to visit friends in Ayutthaya and then east to Nang Rong to visit more friends and then back to Bangkok to prepare for my trip to Miami.
From time to time, a fellow traveler or more frequently, a local friend, like Kitty, will say to me, "Jan, you are lucky." What they mean is that I am "lucky" to have the energy and the resources and the time to "take my time" to see what I want to see. Yes, I am lucky.
And, I am lucky for yet another reason. How many churches and cathedrals and synagogues have I seen? How many Buddhist temples and Hindu temples have I seen? How many mountains and rivers and geologic spectacles? And yet, the child in me never tires. I come to a new town and I want to see the attractions. And then I move on and I want to see even more. I am lucky. I just love to discover what's new around the corner.
This last trip has been an affirming event. I have made the correct decisions for myself. I am happy to live in Thailand. I am happy to be on the road. I am happy to be independent.
There is just one thing. Sometimes I do create stress for myself. I have a long "To See" list in my mind. And I feel anxious to just go "there." So, I now must recall the wisdom of my young friend Bomb, "Jan, take your time."
Cheers and Happy Holidays,