09.07.2008 86 °F
After our great trek in Northern Thailand we made our way back to Chiang Mai for a few days of wat seeing and shopping. We met up with my aunt's friend Addy again. She was rather busy with work for a couple of the days but she arranged for us to meet up with some of who old students who are Buddhist Monks. Our first afternoon we were given a private tour by two monks around the largest wat in Northern Thailand (Wat Suan Dok). Before that afternoon we had been to many Buddhist wats/temples but always felt like outsiders, unsure of what we were doing and not wanting to do the wrong thing and offend the monks. But right away our tour guides made us feel at home and welcome in their temples. They filled our brains with information on the wats as well as the Buddhist religion. I have always respected Buddhism, but after our tour that day and speaking with the monks I find I have an even deeper respect for the peacefull pacifist religion.
That evening we thought would sample the opposite side of the spectrum of Thai culture and go see some Muay Thai or Thai Kick Boxing. We were hoping to see it at a larger venue in Bangkok, but when we learned that it was less than half the price in Chiang Mai, we decided that Chiang Mai would suffice. We were told the matches started at 8:30pm and figured since it was first come first serve on the seats that we should get there early. So we rolled up to the stadium (more like an open-air ring with plastic chairs set up on three sides and then wooden seats built around that) at about 7:30pm and found we were the first ones to arrive. So we wasted 1/2 hour at a nearby 7-11 (yes, Thailand is full of 7-11's almost one on every block in the cities). We then decided we should grab a seat. We had purchased the cheaper seats hoping to sit with the Thai people and really get a feel of their culture. But what we found was that 70% of the seats were taken up by westerners most likely hoping for the same thing. A little disappointing, but as the matches went on we did see more and more Thais and we were sitting behind the area that all the betting took place so we got to see that. The matches began with the 30kg class, which was basically two 10-12 year olds fighting and then went up from there ending in an awkward match between a Thai and a Canadian. Muay Thai is a gracefull style of fighting. The fighters mostly kick at their apoinent's upper body so there typically isn't much blood and gore. I'm not one to enjoy fighting but I really enjoyed the Muay Thai.
Sandwiching the Muay Thai with another monk experience, Addy arranged for another one of her monk students to meet us at a wat that overlooks the city of Chiang Mai (Wat Doi Suthep). Rain (or atleast that is the western name that he gave us to call him) showed us around his temple which is know to have Buddha relects burried there so it is considered even more sacred to Buddhists. At the same time as our temple escapade, new college freshman at the local colleges were making the 11km trek up the hill as a sort of freshman initiation. Must be a big university cause it looked like a couple thousand of them, all dressed up in their respective departmental T-shirts. Which made it real interesting when we had to find a way though all these kids to leave the area and get back down to Chiang Mai.
Breezy taking over the commentary: Later that day we found ourselves at the night market getting a little shopping in, crap everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen a market this big, must have been the equivelant of walking through a couple of malls. It came complete with a neat little food court, with venders cooking the food right in front of you.
The next day I got a $2 hair cut, and we toured the umbrella factory just outside Chiang Mai. As we were observing all the steps in making the umbrellas we had to wonder "do they make those little umbrellas you get in fancy drinks at the beach"....hmmmm. But we didn't see any of those, just much much larger versions, relatively cheap, but trying to pack something that delicate just seems dumb.
So, we were all Chiang Mai-ed out, and were ready to get on the bus for Laos. This was the nicest bus we've been on, tons of leg room and very nice chairs, T.V and they even served us snacks, always the way to go!! After the 6 hours bus ride, we made a pretty uneventful cross of the border, via a water taxi and papers to be fiilled out. We were now in Huay Xai, Laos, and ready to get on a two day boat ride to Laung Prabang. A couple we met up with in Pai, Joe and Christina, met us shortly after the crossing and we headed out on our slow boat ride the next morning. The slow boats are 50 yards long, and about 25 ft across, have two different kinds of seating. Nice plush car type seats, and then your horribly uncormfortable wooden benches that remind me a little of church pew. Toni and I got the shaft and had to sit on the wooden pew of butt torture both days. The first day wasn't too bad as we were near a lively group, had seat cushions and a few beers.
That night we were suckered into staying at a pretty trashy hotel, the whole place kind of freaked us out. The proprieters seemed a little shifty and the place was horribly overpriced. Morning came and we ended up being some the the last people to board for our final day of arse torture. The sun was out and the country side wsa beautiful, I wish I was able to put more pictures up, but the internet in Lao is something to be desired. We'll try again at our next stop.
Laung Prabang is wonderful, the people are always smiling and everyone seems genuinely happy. The town seems very small for the second largest city in Laos (about 26,000) but that just makes it all that much more appealing. Joe and Christina invited us over yesterday for sitting by the pool and relaxing.....worked out nice, everyone was tired from traveling and we were happy for the down time. Did a little of the market here(they seem to be everywhere tourists are...weird) and then had a bite too eat.
We're headed to some beautiful waterfalls today so we'll be sure to get some pictures on for the next blog, hope everyone is doing well.