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Thailand - Monk Chat & Tour

THAILAND | Saturday, 19 December 2009 | Views [525]

Monk Chat & Tour

Thursday:   Panom toured us around all day.  We thought we had a nice time at the Monk Chat in Chiang Mai, well we spent all day on a Monk Chat with Panom.  He first took us to his Temple where he was a resident monk for 10 years.  His friend, who was ordained with him, is now the Abbot.  He explained that the only reason he resigned was to take care of his younger siblings.  They wanted a higher education than the primary school which he received. In order to do that they would have to leave their village and go to the bigger town, and that cost a lot.  By the way the average income here is 90,000 Baht per year.  One Canadian dollar is about 30 baht.  Panom explained the daily rituals, customs and beliefs of a Buddhist Monk.  A lot of Buddhism is influenced with Hindu, and modern technology and society is also destroying the true Buddhist way of life.  There is a sect of Buddhism that wears brown robes and is the Forest Monk.  They tend to live away from the mainstream society (but still close enough to a village to take alms).  They are stricter and practice the old ways.   As with most religions, less and less men enter the monastery and even less remains a monk, so it is harder and harder to keep the old traditions going.  His temple seems alive and well.  The Abbot is a good teacher and they also have a program at the monastery for local people to learn new skills and to be able to sell their crafts and herbs and rice to help support themselves, while taking training.

From there we drove another hour north, into the mountains.  We went to a cave temple that is situated at the base of the third tallest mountain in Thailand.  He said, as a young monk, he and his teacher would walk to this temple to spend time meditating.  Remember I said it was an hour by car......  We had to walk up about 500 steps, through the forest, to get to the cave.  Initially, it was just a cave on top of a small mountain, but because so many people started to come to meditate there, and because wealthy and/or people who feel the place has been of help to them, donate money to modernize the temple, and to make it more comfortable for the monks.   It is now quite lush.  The steps up are cement with angle iron reinforcement, there is a covering on the entrance to the cave, as well, there are numerous buildings for resident monks, visiting monks and (Michaela, you will love this) for lay people to stay, meditate, and help in whatever way.  The place has no phone, web-site or brochures.  It is not a tourist spot.  The only way to know where it is located is to know someone who knows.


Then we went to the bottom of the mountain to another cave.  Lights lit the passage for about a half kilometre in, then the lights stop, but the cave carries on for another 700 meters.  Panom said it loops around until it joins with another cave and he had actually been through it but also said that at times one had to squeeze through a very tiny opening.  There were also places further in that had fairly deep water.  We went as far as the electric lights; to a Buddha shrine that was built in the 1800’s.  One can only imagine ancient monks entering this cave to meditate with only candles and torches.  The only sound was the far off echoes of water dripping.  Irene ventured a few meters past the lights and the blackness of the cave beyond was absolute.  Just gazing into the abyss gave one a sense of awe.

From the caves we went to a temple that was so opulent and grandiose it was almost ridiculous. Apparently a very wealthy businessman from Bangkok was on the verge of bankruptcy and suicide when he came to northern Thailand to visit a young monk.  The young monk prayed for him and sprinkled holy water on him.  The man felt better and promised that if his business improved he would build a temple for the young monk.  Well, obviously the man became a billionaire.  He keeps sending money to have this temple built, which is located in the most remote farming village.  The buildings that are completed are the most spectacular we have seen yet.  There are about another 4 under construction.  As we witnessed at Panom’s home temple, the carved pillars at the entrance to all temples are hand carved teakwood.  All plaster work is handmade, on site.  The artisan craftsmanship is so amazing it never occurred to us that it is ALL handmade and on site.  This particular temple had not only a couple of lions guarding the temple doors; it had about a dozen guarding the entry to the temple grounds.  The snakes guarding the temple stairs were about 10 meters long, winding around the teak pillars. The mirror bits that resemble gems were not just in a few strategic places, it was the WHOLE entry way, in a geometric pattern that rose up about 4 meters.  The snakes and chickens on the roof looked gold gilded.  Holy Too Much Money, Batman!!  Now the sad and ironic thing is that young monk is the only one living there.  He is not a very good teacher and no other monks want to even visit and meditate there.  The small, old temple right in the heart of the village has resident monks, but not the big fancy one.  The grounds that are usually taken care of by the resident monks are being done by paid workers from the village.

As you can see, our last day or two in Chiang Mai turned into 5 days and 4 nights; thanks to the beauty of our guesthouse and hosts.  If anyone plans to go to northern Thailand, you MUST go to Chiang Mai, look up the language school in the lonely planet,  then talk to the owners about  Tin Thai Ngarm Lodge.

Friday:  Chiang Rai. 

Saturday:  Chiang Khong, Baanrimtaling Guest house.  Preparation for Laos crossing...... 


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