The north of Thailand has a bit of a reputation for being great for motorcycling, an area that forms part of what is known as the ‘Golden Triangle’. Similar to the famed Rhubarb Triangle, but its opium rather than delicious fruit that is grown round these parts. It is not the crops, but the roads and scenery that have made this part of the world (shared between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos) a bit of cycling mecca.
For anyone interested in riding a bike round here I would recommend http://www.GT-rider.com as a wonderful source of information and routes. From this site we select the ‘Sameong Loop’, apparently the best 100km loop in Thailand, and head out on a wonderful day in the saddle and enjoy the all but brief feeling of having independent travel capability again.
The loop brings us back into Chang Mai on route 108, which is conveniently the right side of the city for our evening plans at the only silver Buddist temple in Thailand (maybe the world), Wat Sri Supan. Clearly a remarkable structure with intricate silver work on both the outside and in, but one that does not allow women to enter (so apologies that the internal and close up photos are mine, not Niki’s).
Whilst an interesting temple, it is not the reason we have chosen to come here. The reason is simple: ‘Monk Chat’.
This was sold as a chance to speak to some of the Buddist monks in a unique opportunity to gain greater understanding about their culture, beliefs and way of life. Eventually we got a chance to do this but not before we were given a task by the two young gentlemen dressed resplendently in orange before us, and that was to help them with their English Literature homework!
Both were originally from Cambodia and have been learning English for around 4 years, which made the fact they wanted help to understand two English poems written in the 17th and 19th centuries a bit of a surprise. It is also made it quite hard. Understanding the deeper meaning of “Good-morrow” (John Donne http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173360) and “Because I could not stop for death” (Emily Dickinson http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177119) ourselves was a challenge, trying to explain that to two people without English as their mother tongue was almost impossible.
English language and spelling has moved on as the years had passed which meant they had struggled with the Cambodia:English dictionary app on their phone. After an hour or so of scribbling all over their notes, drawing pictures and a good deal of laughter I think we can safely say we will have paid a significant part in helping them achieve the D- they will surely receive.
We then spent another hour finding out about people that are held in such high regard in Thai life. Monks have special seating areas in train stations, reserved seats on the metro, people give them gifts and food and every man is expected to be a monk at least for a period of time in their life (that may be for life, or a shorter period of around 3 months). They don’t pray or believe in a god, but instead believe in a way of life set out by the man Buddha, who lived approximately 600 B.C. His teachings are set out in 3 books detailing the rules of a monk, the story of Buddha, and the psychology of man.
Meditation is a very key part of their life, and following a simple introduction to it, we can see how doing this for the amount of time they do (hours a day) makes them what they are, which is some of the calmest and most relaxed people we have ever met.