So we go from the lowest point of the trip to the two absolute most shining moments of the trip – and the two experiences could not have been any more different.
The last full day in Chaing Mai was a Sunday. The morning was left open for everyone to do as they pleased but there was an activity planned for those who were interested. In addition to visiting several more local temples, it included a visit the temple directly behind the hotel in order to make an offering to the monks who lived there. There were 6 of us that went. The hotel did a beautiful job of packaging up the food (see photo) and we were led not only by Pranee but also by one of the hotel staff. Again, I suck with names and I did not record hers, but she was young, enthusiastic and absolutely lovely. What struck me about her as with other guides I have seen is how much she loves her country and her culture. There was a pride in the way she told us about ceremonies or the history of certain activities. She patiently answered all of our questions and when a tourist from another group started to listen to her, she simply included him in the discussion.
She reminded me of a different tour guide from a different trip. This tour guide was slightly older and had a master’s degree in art. We met her on my trip to Istanbul several years ago. During our visit to Hagia Soffia, we heard the Muslim call to prayer and one of the members of our group asked this tour leader how she reconciled not being able to pray at that moment. The woman paused and took several minutes to give her answer. She simply said that her god understood she had responsibilities and that she would pray when the time was appropriate. She had tears in her eyes as she told us and you could see that her worship was a very important part of her life. It was one of the most stirring moments I have ever witnessed first hand. And I respected her more for it. I don’t know how to convey my feelings here. What moved me was her conviction that she had a deep connection to her god and that god, in her view, did not think that her devotion had a specific timetable.
In Chaing Mai, our visit to the temple and our offering was very ceremonial and I did not understand a word that was spoken. I am not sure that I truly get all the pageantry but I respect it. I was not brought up with any formal religion so this is just different to me. One of the questions I never asked, but should have, was whether or not the monks were speaking in a language that everyone understood or if it was a language like Latin and no one understood it.
The remainder of the day was spent poolside and then there was a massive night market just after dinner. The market was just behind the hotel and stretched for several blocks in every direction. It is a weekly occurrence and you could buy anything you wanted. There were even banks of massage chairs set up for foot massages. The following morning we headed to the airport for our third city – Phuket.
Now I am not sure these two cities could be more different. Chiang Mai is agricultural, mountainous and quiet. Phuket on the other had is like Miami meets Vegas in Thailand. Where there were no buildings in Chiang Mai over five stories tall, Phuket had many hi-rises all along the coastline. The beaches were crowded and you could hear any language you wanted. Our hotel did not have beach access but it did have an infinity pool and a swim up bar. And that is the location of the second high point of the trip which was happy hour on our first day in Phuket.
I don’t know if it was the heat, the liquor, the fabulous pool or all of us just deciding at the same time to let our hair down, but it was just a blast. There was great conversation, splashing and silliness and a bonding that happens when a group travels together for two weeks. At one point, I was being goofy and twirling around on one of the granite stools in front of the swim up bar. I actually convinced one of the women in the group that the seats actually spun… Like I said, there was a little alcohol. In every single picture from that afternoon and early evening, everyone has a broad grin on their face and there was not a single negative comment. Okay, perhaps that’s not true. We did have a tough time getting the bartender to pay us a little more attention but that was so minor it’s barely worth mentioning… and yet I just did. The afternoon stretched into early evening and many of the concerns from earlier in the trip disappeared.
By this point in the trip, the photographic opportunities were winding down, but there are two more events worth mentioning, but that will be my next post. Until then…