Storm clouds rolling in but sun peaks out over Chiang Mai. Beautiful scene from Wat Doi Ku, Doi Saket district. Couldn’t stop photographing this scene!
Storm clouds rolling in but sun peaks out over Chiang Mai. Beautiful scene from Wat Doi Ku, Doi Saket district. Couldn’t stop photographing this scene!
Those of you who know me have probably heard the story behind the dolphin tattoo on my ankle. Or at least you know that I have a tattoo of a dolphin on my ankle. Or maybe you don’t. Either way, I do indeed have a tattoo of a dolphin on my right ankle that I got while in the Cook Islands. I won’t go into the details of that tattoo here, but suffice it to say that the patterns inside it all hold special meaning for my seven months abroad, both in New Zealand and Rarotonga. Ever since then, it’s been a matter not of “if”, but “when” I would get another one.
I’m happy to announce that day has come….!
Now before I hear shouts of “you got a tattoo in THAILAND? Aren’t you going to get diseases and DIE?!” let me reassure you that the artist who did the work was extremely professional and hygienic. This is not the type of activity where I would pull up to any old stall on the side of the road and ask for them to stick me with inked needles for half an hour. Noooo sir. I went to a guy named Tawan recommended by my friend Stu who has previously had work done here. His came out looking good and infection free, so I figured I’d take my chances with Tawan.
After meeting my entourage (Stu, Bex and Josh) in the center of town, we headed over to the studio and got down to business. After a stressful ten minutes of frantically flipping through google images of compasses, Tawan drew up a design that I liked. Up until earlier that day, I had planned on only getting the words done. The compass was a bit of a last minute addition and one that I’m very glad I thought of in time.
After I approved the compass design, he started on the script of the phrase I wanted: “bye tinai?” which is Thai for “where are you going?” With both of the pieces sketched out, it was time to transfer them onto blue drafting ink paper (for lack of a more precise term) which would later be transfered to my wrist. Once the blue ink was stamped on my arm, the fun began!
Now I’ve only had two tattoos done, and the other one was about three years ago, but I’m pretty sure this one hurt more. I was bracing for the pain and while it did feel like 10,000 yellow jackets stinging my wrist, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. At first. It’s amazing how much sensitivity can vary within a very small space. Luckily, the tattoo isn’t too big, so I only had to endure the slicing and stinging sensations for about a half hour. Even better, I had a friend to tell me stories and keep me distracted throughout the whole process (thanks, Katherine!)
Thirty minutes later, I was done!
With my arm all wrapped up and basic instructions on how to avoid screwing it up/getting it infected, I gave my artist a kop kun mak ka (thank you very much) and headed off for some pizza! (This is only the second time I’ve had pizza since leaving the states in January, so this was a big deal.) All in all, a successful night! The whole ordeal including planning, waiting for him to sketch and then finalize the design, transferring the design and inking it on me took a little over two hours. And it only cost me 1500 baht, or about $45. Not a bad deal, IMO.
I’m very happy with how the design came out and what it symbolizes to me. Like Dolph, I enjoy the layers of meaning within it. I’ve wanted something on my left wrist for awhile, and I’ve been thinking about this particular quote for about a month, so I’m quite happy to have it done!
With two weeks to go, that’s one more thing checked off my Thailand trip bucket list. Next up? 1-day Thai cooking school (only slightly less tame!)
Well hidey-o. It’s been awhile and I apologize for falling off the blogging wagon, so to speak. The problem with blogging, and journaling for that matter, is what happens after you miss a few days. As soon as you go from writing regularly to realizing that a week has passed since last updating, the thought of recapping everything that has happened since the last entry becomes overwhelming. Suddenly, a week turns to two and catching up seems even more daunting. At some point, you just need to bite the bullet and get back in the game. So that’s what I’m doing. Now!
I have just over two weeks left before my trip comes to an end and I head back to the good ol’ US of A. I’m not sure where the time went, but my pictures tell me that I did a lot. I realize that I never fully blogged about Cambodia and Vietnam as I intended. So much happened in such a short period of time that things got lost in the shuffle. Someday soon I hope to go back and write more about that trip because it was amazing and deserves more attention!
But starting with the present… last weekend I spent three days out in another district, Wiang Haeng, up by the Burmese border. ATMA SEVA was helping run an English camp for about 40 novice monks. We spent three nights at a foundation center run by this amazing monk up there who has dedicated his life to helping educate boys who otherwise would probably have no access to a school. Over 60% of the novices living at the center are from Burma, many of whom are also orphaned. The novices were absolutely adorable and a pleasure to teach, even if only for a few days. They loved all the songs that we taught them (mostly classic children’s songs with the words altered to focus on the camp’s theme, community helpers) and the kids enjoyed cooking western food.
Over the course of three days we made waffles, scrambled eggs, pork burgers, french fries, fried chicken and spaghetti. I’m not sure who was more excited about this, me or them.
The town of Wiang Haeng is quite small- it does have a 7-11 and a few mom and pop shops, but not much else. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from the Burmese border, although the road here is not an official border crossing. Government traffic and other important people can cross, but from what I gather, that’s about it. There is also a refugee camp set up not far from here that houses Burmese Shan state refugees. I left before we had a chance to visit, but I would have liked to see more of the border area.
Another highlight of the trip was the scenery. The center where we stayed was back off the main road, nestled between a ring of hills in the distance. There was a lovely manmade pond on the grounds and plenty of green space. Adding to the scene, there was a whole litter of puppies running all over the place, which was absolutely ADORABLE. Downside? I’m pretty sure one of them ate my flip flop. I left my room around 7am on day two, bleary eyed and in need of some coffee, to find only one flip flop remaining where I’m sure I had deposited two the previous evening. After a few minutes of searching (as I said, I was only half awake) I concluded that flip flop #2 was indeed gone. RIP flip flops.
Anyways, I digress. The point is that the center was set in a beautiful landscape, highlighted by a late afternoon thunderstorm that came through on our first day of camp. The sky took on the eeriest half-blackened look over the hills. The winds picked up, the clouds rolled in until they hovered directly above us, and then it poured. As a total weather freak, it was one of the most visually stunning thunderstorms I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. The pictures I took don’t quite do it justice, but I tried.
I got back to Chiang Mai on Monday afternoon and I’ve had some much needed break time back in the city: a couple casual nights out on the town, Jazz co-op Tuesday jam night, yoga, several super long walks around the city (some intentional, some accidental when I failed to locate the coffee shop I was looking for… damn you, Bird’s Nest!) and catching up on sleep have all been wonderful. Today’s big plans? A little work, a little massage and a new tattoo! Stay tuned 😉
I promise to try and write more before I return to the boring land of Connecticut two weeks from tomorrow and my life becomes significantly less interesting!
In case you’re unfamiliar with THE BEST HOLIDAY EVER, let me fill you in. Every April, Thailand basically shuts down for three days (in some less urban areas, it’s only celebrated for one day, but the cities go hard for three whole days.) This beautiful holiday, Songkran, celebrates the Thai new year. Coincidentally, this occurs in mid-April during the height of the hot season. This is key because the holiday is essentially the world’s biggest water fight. When temperatures are soaring right around 100 for days on end, and when your apartment lacks a/c, any way to cool off is a welcome change. Especially one that involves water guns.
I’m lucky that my four months here in Chiang Mai coincided with Songkran. Last weekend, I spent three days throwing water on friends, neighbors, strangers, police men, little kids, and little old ladies. It was the best thing ever. Home base was a Thai friend’s house, right in the heart of a busy little neighborhood. We ventured out to the main roads and down around the moat, but the highlight of the weekend for me was seeing how Thai people celebrated just as much as falang. We went down to Thae Pae gate, basically backpacker central, to see the festivities, which were NUTS. There was a foam machine (a la HMC), multiple dance stages, six inches worth of water flooding the streets, and countless people dancing amid the chaos. It was a sight to see, but personally I preferred the time at the house where fresh cooked french fries and endless buckets of water were available. We had quite the battle going with the Thai family who owns the restaurant across the street. Unfortunately, they were more consistent than we were with the purchase of ice blocks to chill their water… Brr.
Anyways, I must say… Songkran is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Young, old, Thai, falang… everyone celebrates together and it is a BLAST! I mean, when else is it socially acceptable to shoot a police officer in the head with a water gun?? Come onnnn.
I’ll leave you with a few favorite photos, courtesy of Katherine’s waterproof camera…
Needless to say, it was a little hard to get back into the swing of work after a 3.5 day celebration like this. After a day of recovery, we’ve managed to have a pretty productive week with a lot of good things on the horizon for ATMA SEVA. We’ll be heading back to the Lawa Village this weekend to pick up a volunteer who has been teaching there for the past few weeks, and then next week we head off to another district for a three day English camp! I can’t believe I only have five weeks left… man time flies.
Until next time,
One of the biggest challenges as a foreigner living in Chiang Mai is finding the balance between the “farang” tourist scene and “authentic” Thai life. Finding tourist hotspots is easy- just follow the flock of elephant pant-wearing white folks clutching Lonely Planet guides. Places like Wat Doi Suthep and the night bazaar are well publicized. I have nothing against a pretty wat on top of a mountain or a market where I can find hippie pants for $3, but sometimes these places can start to feel like tourist traps.
This is why I loved this past weekend. It began with the Lanna World Music Festival on Thursday night, which featured a lovely mix of Lanna (a region including parts of northern Thailand, Burma, Laos and probably more), Korean, African and even American artists. I went to the festival with a few friends and was introduced to several new ones there through a mutual friend. We ate some delicious stall food, enjoyed a few beer towers and relaxed, enjoying the music and atmosphere. We all hit it off so well that we agreed to go out again the next night. And again the following afternoon. Our Saturday afternoon destination? Huay Tung Tao, a lovely lake about 25 minutes outside of the city. As a tourist, you probably wouldn’t hear about this place, or if you did, it could be a bit of a stretch to get there. This is how we spent that afternoon…
One of the best parts was that I don’t think I saw any other huts of farang, or foreigners. Not that I’m anti-farang, obviously almost our entire gang was comprised of ex-pats, but it’s nice to find a place where you don’t feel like just another dot in a sea of tourists. Not to mention the sunset…
Needless to say, it was a wonderful afternoon. Getting out of the city is necessary when the daily average temperature is hovering just around 100 degrees. Even if we didn’t swim, courtesy of the snake David almost grabbed in the water and the bits of trash floating around, the breeze was fabulous. For only a 20 baht entry fee, it’s well worth it. I highly recommend Huay Tung Tao to anyone currently suffering through the oppressive heat of Chiang Mai!
Well hello again! Things have been quiet here for the past two and half weeks while I’ve been traveling through Cambodia and Vietnam with a good friend from college. I barely have time to breathe back here in Chiang Mai before taking off tomorrow morning for another trip to the Lawa Village where I previously lived for three weeks back in February. I’m eager to get back and see all the kids, including possibly my favorite baby in the world (she was just on the verge of being able to walk when I left.. I’m hoping she may be walking this time!)
This trip to Pa Pae will be a welcome vacation from my vacation, which was amazing but quite the whirlwind and rather exhausting. Trying to get through Cambodia and Vietnam in just two weeks is hard. Most people take 3-4 weeks in each country, fully maximizing the 30 day visas. We spent 4 days in Cambodia and 10 in Vietnam (and 1 in Bangkok where we met up.) Amazingly, everything went pretty smoothly! Details and pictures will be posted next week when I return from Pa Pae, but I’ll leave you with one as a teaser…
Highlights included Angkor Wat (NOT overrated), Starbucks in Saigon, touring the DMZ with a former ARVN officer, Halong Bay, successfully crossing roads in Vietnam, and lots of pho and rice paper spring rolls. As much fun as it was, I’m happy to be back in Thailand with my pad thai and only slightly frenzied traffic. Man did this trip open my eyes to how much I love Chiang Mai and how (relatively) quiet it is. Anyways, I’m getting ahead of myself. I am alive and well and will share more soon once I’ve had time to process it all (and sort through the 700 photos I took!) 🙂
Some colorful flowers and Buddhist philosophy spotted on the hill of Doi Saket, about a half an hour outside Chiang Mai.
Well, I made it back to Chiang Mai! As promised, English speaking company, delicious food and a beautiful apartment were all waiting. We arrived back in the city Saturday afternoon and by bedtime I had moved into my apartment (upstairs from the new ATMA SEVA office!), gotten a much needed massage, eaten a delicious plate of pad see ew gai, and spent several hours spewing as much English as I could to Katherine over said delicious dinner. All in all, a great first night back in the city.
I have to say that the highlight of being back, other than the food and being able to communicate, was a spontaneous trip to a nearby district last night to celebrate Sangha Day, a relatively important Buddhist holiday that occurs on the full moon of the third lunar month (thanks, google!), which coincided with the dedication of the district’s new wat. We were invited to go out to this wat for a “ceremony,” which I took to mean a relatively quiet evening at the temple with the monks performing some sort of ritual. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, this is what we encountered:
Yes, that is at the wat. And yes, that is a dance party. We arrived around 5:30pm and went straight to a party at a friend of Natch’s, one of the teachers at Wat Doi Saket. The best comparison I can give for my American readers is that it felt like a 4th of July party. There were about 30 people already there, food lined up on long tables (including a “make your own noodle soup” station) and beer aplenty. There was even a DJ with massive speakers, not a sight unique to our party. As we drove down the street, we must have passed at least ten houses with the exact same set up. There may or may not been hours of Thai karaoke involved. It was quite the event. After stuffing ourselves, and I mean stuffing- the hosts kept bringing over more and more food, including a plate of recognizably barbequed pork… SO GOOD- we finally made our way to the wat. And by “made our way” I mean literally danced our way down the street to the wat followed by a truck loaded up with speakers and disco lights. There were people stopping to light off firecrackers, Thai ladies dancing with us, and plenty of singing and revelry.
Needless to say, this was completely unexpected and, I think, a wonderful way to celebrate the dedication of a new wat and holiday that celebrates the Buddhist community. No quiet, subdued ceremony, but a full on dance party that lasted well into the night with delicious food and fun new friends.
It was a wonderful first full day back in civilization! I’m looking forward to many more random adventures like this now that I’m back in Chiang Mai. On the horizon is Songkran, arguably the biggest holiday in Thailand, which is held during the hottest part of the year and involves everyone going outside and throwing water on each other. Yup, this is a national holiday. One I’d like to bring back to America.
Until next time,