What’s ‘Relax’ in Thai?

I’m sleepy. And that’s okay by me. I’m allowed to be sleepy and a bit lazy for one more day before Sarah heads off to Cambodia. After that, I’ll probably be going back to my usual frenetic pace (though, I’ve grown a bit used to these chilled-out days and it might be hard to go back). Sipping fruit shakes and reading in a café in Chiang Mai isn’t such a bad life, but neither is a life spent tracking down good photos all day (well, for me anyway).

We have just returned from Wat Prahai Doi Suthep where we actually did do a bit of sightseeing today. It took us a while to get there because this lazy Sunday also happens to be election day in Thailand and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of people moving about in the city, tourists (for whatever reason) and locals alike. We had hopped in a bus, but the driver wouldn’t leave until he had seven or eight fares. We waited a while and were joined by an Argentinean couple, but no one else seemed interested in heading up the mountain. Eventually, we had to bargain with the driver to take us up for a higher fee than we should have been paying. Another penny lost, but it wasn’t so bad.

The temple itself was gorgeous. On top of a long series of steps flanked by two naga (dragons) whose bodies formed the banister all the way up, the temple complex stood with what might have been an impressive view of Chiang Mai had the haze not been so thick. As it was, walking up to the railing at the edge of the small cliff looked like you were approaching the end of the world.

Inside the main courtyard of the temple, the highlight is certainly the huge gold stupa/chedi that towers and gleams over the complex. It’s surrounded by gold Buddha statues of varying sizes, metal umbrellas and shiny marble floors. Monks blessed visitors inside a couple of enclosed temples, worshippers knelt on the hot ground and tourists snapped away.

Yesterday, while Sarah went off to her cooking class, I had the fortune of witnessing the ordination of the new monks at one of the city’s largest temples, Phra Sing. I won’t go into the details, but it involved a lot of parading in an out of the main temple in order for the monks to pray, receive gifts and supplies for their new life and to talk with and say goodbye to their families. As with the alms-giving ceremony in Luang Prabang, the graphic image presented by a row of monks made for a striking visual.

I even got to see the rare (and somewhat unfortunate) event of a couple monks coming to blows. Yup. Monk fist fight. I didn’t exactly see what started it, but it was immediately after the new novices had completed their group photo. As they were walking off, a couple of them were talking. Probably trash talking. One of them must have made one too many ‘yo momma’ jokes and the other came out swinging. He threw a few inaccurate haymakers before being subdued. I guess he hadn’t yet internalized the ‘no violence’ precept that novice monks are supposed to follow. It was, after all, his first day, so I guess we can forgive him.

After the group photo, the boys were herded into waiting tour buses and shown around town. Perhaps they have already seen more of Chiang Mai than Sarah and I. Perhaps not. But I think we will have had a more relaxing time than them. After all, we don’t have to wake up at 4:00 am every morning – I think our time in Chiang Mai comes out on top for that fact alone.

Though, it’s not like we’ve seen and done nothing here. There was, of course, Sarah’s cooking class. We also saw heaps of people engaged in perhaps the coolest sport on earth: Sepak Takraw (imagine three-a-side volleyball where you can’t use your hands but you can do flying bicycle kicks played in the dimensions of a badminton court). We went out to the handicraft villages where we spent our day with pushy salespeople. We temple hopped. We’ve eaten like war rationing had just ended. We saw Thai boxing and markets. We went to the movies a lot. Okay, so that last one’s not a typical Chiang Mai tourist event, but really, it’s so cheap here, how could we not?

No, we’ve had a fantastic time here. If for nothing else but for all the laughing we’ve done – even if we didn’t see a thing, it would have been great.

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