Chang Mai

A disclaimer right now: I have an affinity for trains.  I trace this to several generations of ancestors who worked on the railroad in the Old Country to the point where one invented an important part of the steam engine (I don’t remember what exactly, this is just what I’m told).  All in all this means if there is a train option and a bus option I will take the train one, which explains what I was doing on the night train from Bangkok to Chang Mai-

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One distinct advantage about the night train vs bus is you actually get a decent night’s sleep (whereas I just can’t sleep on a bus).  I was a little worried about security and hence opted for a top bunk but turned out it was a little overrated- when I got up in the middle of the night to get my jacket (victim of over-air-conditioning!) a pair of eyes from the next berth was instantly on me at the sound of the zipper.  Turns out I scored the bunk next to a member of the train police…

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Typical scenery from the train in the morning, when not going through jungle I wouldn’t want to attempt walking through without a good machete.  I have a lot more pictures of rice paddies and the like but suspect pictures of train scenery are taken primarily to amuse the picture taker when she was bored at the time, so instead I will continue.

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This is as typical as Chang Mai gets in my mind, as there are over 300 temples in the city. (This one is right next to where I am staying actually- that lovely tower attracted me to this street.) If Bangkok is like Tokyo- both busy, too much to take in at once but in an exciting way- Chang Mai is like Kyoto for all the temples and relative quiet, plus it feels managable to get around.

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View of the Chang Mai moat that used to wrap around the entire city, but is now a series of lakes.  Quite lovely, though on both sides there is a strip of “yes we will run you over” traffic that tests one’s jaywalking skills quite thoroughly!

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The Tha Phae Gate, part of the old city walls built ~700 years ago and now where most of the backpacker stuff is located in Chang Mai.

Note the monk: while they’re always present in this part of the world there are a fair number more due to the temples, obviously.  I am fascinated by the monks.  I attribute this to learning that they can’t touch women to the point where you need to put something on the ground for them to pick up instead of handing it to them, and in fact most refuse to even talk to a woman.  I don’t know why I should be so fascinated by a set of people who will never, ever shake a monk’s hand, but guess that’s probably the very reason.

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Another thing I like about Chang Mai- it’s the first place where I’ve been able to see Thai houses on little side streets, as any other city has been too crowded and/or separated from the tourists.  This little house is my favorite addition to any Thai yard- Thais believe that if you give a separate little house to evil spirits, it keeps them from coming into yours.  A lovely idea.

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Walking around Chang Mai is like walking around Kyoto because really, in both you are forever running into temples.  To continue the comparison though, if the Japanese version of Buddhism is Protestant in its architecture then the Thais are definitely Catholic- you cannot imagine Buddhist temples more ornate than these!

image390This is the inside of Wat Phra Singh, the most famous temple in Chang Mai (the above picture was the outside of the same building).  What was the most fun thing about this was a little sign I saw while wandering the grounds, saying you could talk to monks inside as part of the “English Club.”  Really?  I went inside, and had a nice conversation with a few monks and students attending the school they run (yes, the monks talked to me, though one only talked through the students).  Which was really cool- we talked about what one does to become a monk, their meditation, and what it’s like to be a student in Thailand versus the United States.

And because you can’t come to Thailand without inquiring a little into this here is the coolest thing I learned from the monks, on how a monk meditates and how they always only focus on the present-

As soon as you stop reading this stop for a moment, and imagine that you are going to die in one minute.  The last things that you are going to experience are reading  these words, sitting in this room, thinking and feeling what you are right now.  It is the end of your life- no time to write a letter, make a phone call, all you can do is experience what is right now.  You stop fighting, you stop needing, you stop being concerned with physical discomfort, you stop achieving, you stop maintaining, you stop wanting.  Things like enlightenment, achievement, attainment, and all the rest become meaningless.  You are just present.

No wonder I find monks fascinating.

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