Today is a day I've been really looking forward too. In fact, most people have. On the schedule no less than a visit to the elephant farm, which is what most people are waiting for, but first of all the temple on Doi Suthep: Wat Prahtat
. This is going to be a really long journal entry, don't say I didn't warn you!
Wat Prahtat is by no means the most beautiful temple I've ever seen. It will also be the last temple I'll visit during this trip, probably, and though many of my travel companions are truly fed up with those, I'm absolutely not. I've been praying to have no mist, since a girl I know has been here some years ago and there was so much fog then they couldn't even see the buildings properly. But as I look through the bus window while we drive up the hill, I'm confident that there won't be the slightest problem.
The sky is crystal clear and the sun is shining brightly. Things couldn't be more beautiful.
After arriving, most people take the little elevator up to the temple. There are just five of us climbing the stairs: David and Mireille, Sonja and Elisabethe, and me. The walk isn't even that hard. As I heard our guide talk about it, it sounded like a hell of a climb, but actually it is pretty easy and not at all time consuming. We arrive at the temple gate before the others do, and we didn't hurry at all. What is nice about the stairs are the nagas fencing the sides and guiding you up (or downwards). They are probably one of the most typical images of Wat Prahtat, but they are so for a reason.
Ones in the complex I am immediately stunned with its beauty. The promenade surrounding the actual temple is wide and full of life: monks are walking around, vendors sell lotuses, jackfruit and orchids grow from the trees, people take of their shoes to enter inside, and there is a large terrace, full of sun, from where you can watch the view over Chiang Mai.
We don't have any fog here, but there sure is a lot of smug around the city, as we don't see much of it at all. But non the less the view is wonderful.
A hundred times more stunning however, is the temple itself. As soon as we enter I am completely amazed. All is gold and shining in the sun, contrasting with the blue of the sky. The marble floor is warmed up by the light and the statues and decorations here are all beautiful and detailed, just as the architecture of the buildings. Also typical are the golden "umbrellas" standing here. I've haven't seen them in any other temple, but here they just blend in perfectly. The area isn't too crowded, but yet very vivid. There are people walking circles around the chedi to ask for good luck, and others praying in front of the Buddha's.
All together the atmosphere and surroundings are just perfect (except for some French people who each pose while hugging one of the Buddha's. Is it so hard to just show some respect and not touch those? I would have been angry for it, if this place wasn't so peaceful. Seems like today, nothing can spoil my good mood).
What I really like at Wat Prathat are the little bells hanging everywhere on the sides of the roofs. They all have little plates attached to them on which people can write a wish, and when the wind sounds the bell - so they believe - their prayer converts into music and in that form reaches the ear of the Buddha, who will make it come true. That is such a poetic thought it charmes me instantly. I try to read some wishes but I only find Thai ones so I can not understand.
.. So I move on to the inside of the temple buildings, which is equally great as the outside. In one room sits a monk who's handing out blessings. This is definitely a moment I've been waiting for. I don't know whether to believe in blessings, but for some reason it feels really important to me to join this one. I've always liked Buddhism, even though I don't know all about it, and since in Thailand that interest has only grew stronger. I've been feeling so "at home" in these temples and so charmed by the Buddhist customs, and I have gained just so much respect for it whether or not believing in it. These places make me feel at peace more than any other place has ever done. The architecture impresses me more than anything else, and no other customs have touched me more. It is probably a bit stupid and maybe typical for someone who's in an Asian country for the first time, I don't know.
But that is how it feels to me. I won't say I'm a Buddhist, I'll just say I feel really comfortable being surrounded by Buddhism. It makes me feel simply peaceful. For what it's worth.
So anyway, this blessing means a lot to me. I don't want to believe in it, I just will. It is something spiritual I want to take home with me. So I put away my camera and tie my scarf a bit tighter around my shoulders before entering, making sure it wont slide of. Then I crouch on the ground waiting my turn. I've heard the couple in front of me talking outside so I know they're Thai, and that's just perfect. I wouldn't want to copy some of the tourists that get blessed before I do, as they completely mess up, but these Thai people surely know how to behave while being blessed by a monk, and as I don't I'll just watch and learn.
Then, just as they did, I crawl closer on my knees, put my hands together and -while seated on the floor- listen to the blessing. I don't understand anything of it, except for the last sentence that is in English and says something like "I bless you with health and a happy life". The text before that was ten times longer, so this last phrase surely can't translate everything, but it gives an idea alright. I can't believe it, but I'm really nervous, and I don't even know why. All kinds of things run through my head, each one completely meaningless. Then the monk splashes water of me and hands out a little cotton string, that is supposed to be tied around ones wrist as a bracelet. When you're a man, the monk will attach it, but as I am a woman - and monks are not allowed to touch women - he just places it into my reached out hands.
I fold them together again and make - I've been practicing for some ten days now- the most proper and humble bow I possibly can. Then I place a donation in the gift box, crawl backwards a bit, not turning my back to the monk as I presume it is disrespectful, and move to the side. Here another guy is seated and he's the one that attaches the string around my arm, before I get up and walk backwards to the door.
That is how I remember my blessing. A thousand things may have happened around me, but I can't tell. Time went so fast and so much was going through my mind, I didn't record much more than what I've just written down. These monk might sit there just for pleasing tourists and gaining some money for the temple, and he'll probably be pretty bored with doing so, but he has surely no idea how much the little piece of string and those few Thai sentences have meant for this Belgian tourist.
It surely is one of my personal highlights on this trip, if not the biggest. The string is supposed to stay around ones wrist until it falls of. I hope it lasts long :)
As I wonder around the complex some longer I pass some bells on the terrace, before returning to the meeting point to retrieve my shoes. I remember the bells at beautiful Nakhon Pathom, probably the second highlight, and in remembrance I sound one to make a wish. But as the sound carries over the plateau, and further on over misty Chiang Mai, I honestly can't think of anything to wish for. All of me just feels so perfect. Like in that song: all is bright and beautiful.
Ok, enough sentimental stuff about Doi Suthep I guess. We drive on and have a short stop at an orchid farm
on our way to the elephants.
I can't believe these plants actually grow here without any sand to put their roots in! They really don't need any water don't they? I used to have an orchid which I really loved, but after a while she started looking a bit sad, and stupid me thought she might need some more water. She was placed not so far from my heating so maybe she got thirsty right? I've actually been lovingly drowning that poor flower. After another two weeks she was completely dead. So I'm only keeping some easier plants for the moment. I'll try an orchid again when I'm over the last one ;) But anyway, the orchids here are all great. I didn't know there are so many colors. In Belgium you mostly find white and purple ones, but I'd never seen yellow or orange examples. There is a little butterfly-garden as well here, which is also not bad for a pitstop.
Than we arrive at the elephant farm
, were we first have dinner, then see the elephants bathe in the river and afterwards see the show. It is a lovely performance! There are little elephants with fluffy hair and bigger ones with huge teeth, and they are all so intelligent! They can do anything from playing music to dancing, painting, playing football,... but most of all gather banana treats from the spectators. After the show we take the safari tour through the "jungle". The jungle isn't jungle at all, but it doesn't matter as the elephant ride is great with or without a panorama. I must say I've been doubting quite long before deciding I was going to make it. Still at home I swore no, once in Bangkok
I thought I might, but now I've just decided to do so.
An elephant is big you know, and strong, and basically: if it doesn't like you it isn't an effort to kill you at all. I know the animals are being trained and treated well so they don't really have a reason to. But just the thought of sitting on top of such a strong and smart creature, without being able to control it in any way, is a bit threatening. I've bought some bananas to please "my" elephant. I call it "my" elephant, because I feel like having a little bond with it and I want it to like me. So I also ask the "driver" (how do you call it in English, the guy that trains and "drives" the elephant?) for her name (it is a female elephant). Turns out she's called Song Yang, or that's how it sounded. From my little knowledge of Thai numbers I know that Song means two, but I don't know what Yang means.
Maybe the elephant just has a number and not a name, I don't really know. But when I tell Sonja she absolutely loves it anyway. "Your elephants is named after me!" She laughs :)
After the humpy bumby elephant ride (it really rocks much more than you'd expect) I say goodbye to Song Yang, give her my last bananas and transfer to a ox-wagon. It is supposed to be authentic but as the vehicles have pink parasols on it, lets say the rustic feel isn't as intense as it could be. Nicer is the 45 minutes float on a bamboo raft, enjoying the sun and the peaceful sound of the water. Apart from that and the sounds of birds and monkeys in the trees, their is nothing to be heard. Every ones in a while we pass an elephant crossing the river, but that's it. A really peaceful ending of a wonderful day!
Back in the hotel, after diner, the couples and I visit the night market
Wat Prathat - misty view over Chiang Mai
This is colorful, huge, and stuffed with lovely souvenirs. I must try really hard not to buy too much, since lately I have to try harder and harder to fit all things in my backpack. But I manage pretty well to control myself tonight. The only thing I buy is two little Buddha statues to put aside the bigger one I bought in Kanchanaburi
. I've been looking for those ever since I bought the large one, so it's not like I got them the loose canon way. And on top of that, I negotiated them to less than half the price. By the time the market closes we return to the hotel, to get a good sleep. Tomorrow is our last "tour" day, after that everyone will split up to separate hotels at the beach.
Wat Prathat - misty view over Chiang Mai
So I'll be able to have a nice long sleep and a relaxing day at the pool then, until we leave for the night train back to Bangkok. Though all our hotels had swimming pools, I haven't swum yet. So many other things to do! But tomorrow, there is nothing on the schedule so I'll be swimming for sure!
2 Brothers on the 4th floor - Dreams