As I have mentioned in previous posts, our trip to Thailand was very Buddha centric. We traveled from one city to the next visiting pristine golden temples and ancient crumbling ruins to see incredible images of the Buddha.
Some of the Buddhas were newly made while others were hundreds of years old. I was excited to learn that we were going to see the one Buddha I had seen on the Internet and wanted to see in person, the Phra Atchana Buddha. This particular Buddha is one of the largest, but I had never seen an image of the whole statue, just the hand. I have a great appreciation for hands and images of hands; it was the hand of this particular Buddha that I found quite intriguing.
The day we arrived at the site of the Phra Atchana Buddha it was an incredible 105 degrees with humidity that seemed just as high. As I made my way off the air condition bus and headed towards the Phra Atchana Buddha, all I could see was the upper part of this huge, white colored Buddha. So I had no idea this was the Buddha I had been longing to see, the one with the larger than life, graceful, golden hand. I had always assumed the Buddha with the graceful golden hand was golden all over. Later I was informed that devotees purchase real gold foil and as an offering and place the gold foil onto the white hand of this statue, making it appear golden.
As I made my way towards this Buddha, I felt overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. The three women I traveled with, along with a few others on our tour, quite aware of the heat didn’t attempt to leave the bus. As I stepped off the bus, the air seemed incredibly thick and the Buddha appeared half of a football field away. As I walked a sharp pain entered my left eye and traveled to my head. I wondered if I might have a heat stroke if I proceeded. I was a quarter way there, when I turned back. Once on the bus, I refreshed myself with cold water and Anu Essentials Refresh Spritzer.
I was bothered by the fact that I didn’t get to see this one Buddha that I had long imagined seeing. In this instance, perhaps it was ignorance that saved me. Had I known this was the Golden Hand Buddha, I might have pushed on to my demise. I’ve asked myself what does it mean that I didn’t get to see this particular Buddha? Was it symbolic, indicating that I wasn’t spiritually ready? I don’t know, but I do know I feel like this was the “Buddha that got away.” It is for this reason and many others, that I will have to return to Thailand one day. It just won’t be during their summer. And just imagine, days in a row of 105 degree and this was considered the start of the Thai summer season.
This photo by our tour guide, Kanokwan Taewattana. Thank you Nok!
Back in October when I asked my friend Patricia Patton if I could join her on an excursion to Thailand, I really knew very little about Thailand, except that I’ve always enjoyed Thai massage and Thai food. This was going to be my gift to me for my 60th! I had forgotten that the movie The King and I, was based on a true story and in many ways influenced the future of Siam aka Thailand. Nor did I realize that the food chain 7- Eleven was founded by a man from Thailand. Those stores permeate the country, with over eight thousand 7-Elevens in Thailand, and over three thousand of those are located in Bangkok.
And I had no idea the level of devotion to the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha consciousness that is palpable throughout Thailand. Despite the fact that most of the population are poor, people appear at peace and happy. This may sound naive, but I do believe it’s the culture, tied in with the beliefs of the Buddha (regardless circumstances, happiness is available in every moment by controlling the mind) that makes for these easy going population. I’m not saying they’re happy to be poor, but the Thai people are just very pleasant to be around.
I cannot deny what it requires of me mentally and physically to take these exceedingly long flights to far away lands. The whole mind game to endure an 18 hour flight to Thailand was substantial. There are some folks who travel around the globe on a regular basis and think nothing of the travel time. Many of them tell me they just sleep through it. I find it quite grueling and resort to all kinds of techniques, like talking to myself and practicing breathing exercises, watching lots of movies and reading. Still, I feel like a kid constantly trying not to ask myself “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And I was so thankful for the compression socks my sister loaned me. At the last minute I couldn’t find mine. But won’t travel without them. What a life, legs, saver!!!
Typically, I was never one who could sleep on airplanes. But these days when I travel, I used my Spritzers and essential oil blends to calm and center myself. These Spritzers are my constant travel companions whether traveling locally in my car, on the subway or headed across the globe. Their botanical ingredients provide an easy access to natures healing powers.
It was incredibly hot when we arrived in Thailand. We later found out that we arrived at the beginning of the Thai summer season. Ours would be the last tour of the season due to the extreme heat. That first week the temperature ranged between 95-105 degrees. No wonder they have Night Markets, where mostly tourists shop at outdoor markets in the evenings when the temps have cooled down. One thing I did notice with all that heat, the little aches and pains I typically have were non-existent. Now that I’m back home to cold, damp temps, those little annoyances have returned….We also happen to be in Thailand during the Thai New Year, April 13th-15th. Since it’s so hot during the New Year season, that it is celebrated with water. And people literally douse each other with buckets of water, water guns, water hoses, it’s hilarious and fun.
In the big city of Bangkok, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the city is laid out, if you can even call it that. It’s a mesh-mash of shanty type buildings thrown right in with 5 star hotels. Not my idea of beauty. Though there are many fabulous boutique hotels and other businesses that have all the bells and whistles. I found the city of Bangkok quite congested and unattractive along with the underlying smell of sewage; much like what I have experienced in Africa and the Caribbean. These facts did not subtract from the overall experience of Thailand, which was just incredible. For my taste, the countryside is far more appealing with rice farms and lots of greenery, palm trees, coconut trees and all kinds of huge plants abound. We traveled to five cities but they were all up north, nowhere near the amazing beaches of the south in cities like Phuket, the place that introduced most of the world to the word tsunami.
What most amazed me was the devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. It’s in the air in the way that the people conduct themselves and interact with others. Imagine begin in a place where everyone who greets you brings their hands into prayer position and bows their head. This is everyone, from the children on up, the shop keepers, the concierge at the finest hotel restaurants, everyone greets you this way in Thailand. There’s something very sacred about that kind of interaction. It’s a cause for a mental pause, to really see the person you’re greeting and who is greeting you. People tend to be easy going and calm, gracious and patient, soft spoken and considerate. Drivers give each other the right of way, and there is no car horn blowing in Thailand. Drivers have the option to buy their cars with or without a horn, and most do not. Imagine that!
There are incredible images of the Buddha, everywhere. There are 14 million people in the city of Bangkok alone and our tour guide said that there are least 3 Buddha statues to every one person. Thailand is an ancient country with statues of the Buddha that date back 700 years. There are ancient temples and ruins to the Buddha that both local people and travelers pay homage to daily. They bring offerings of money, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, garlands of flowers, jewelry, incense, they burn candles, genuflect and pray. The monks are given food daily by the people as a way of honoring those who take very seriously the teachings of the Buddha. All this to say, I was happily in a kind of, Buddha heaven until that last day. The many innumerable temples of all varying sizes, ages, details, are too many to list here.
Another point that stood out in a major way is the love that the Thai people have for their deceased king; this is evident everywhere. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch; he died on October 13th 2016, after 70 years as head of state. All over the city, the country, in the homes and businesses are huge photos, posters, and elaborate water resistant framed images of this king, the late Rama the 9th. Yet, he was hardly ever in the headlines. Why, because he was a great man, an upright leader who cared. Had he been a tyrant we would have heard much about him.
Seemingly he was a king of and for the people. Our guide told us of the many ways he regularly went into the proverbial trenches to support and empower the people, to be with them through natural disasters, to uplift the farmers, to teach the Cambodians other skills so that they gladly left the lucrative business of opium behind. His Highness passed last October, but if you were there now, you’d think he just died the other day as buildings, businesses and homes are draped in black and white mourning cloth. He loved his people and their love for him is still quite apparent.
Last but not least, this time around on Thailand, are of the beautiful indigenous people who live in the hills of Chiang Mai. There are 10 Hill Tribes and the one that is most well known are the Karen Long Neck Tribe. They are located up the hill from the elephant reserve in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, these tribes are becoming like most indigenous people around the planet, scarce. Their numbers are declining as the elders pass on and the young people succumb to the influence of western civilization via satellite television and tourists. There are seemingly more people who live in the 75 brownstones on my block, than who reside in those 10 tribes, put together. There didn’t appear to be even 100 people in those hills.
I was heartbroken that this was not a part of our scheduled tour. And since our tour was so jammed packed, it was just a few of us who decided that on the last day in Thailand (when I was out of steam, time and money) we would get up early to make the journey to see the people of the Hill Tribes. They were the real deal, the ones with the ancient artistry, living the way of the ancient customs and traditions. This was for me the soul of Thailand. I would have gladly skipped spending one more day seeing yet three to five more temples and dozens more Buddha images to spend a whole day and even several days in the hills with the Hill Tribes.
These people of art and the land make their living selling their amazing artistry to tourist. I found myself feeling guilty for being there as a tourist, taking photos of them and with them. I felt like I needed to be doing more, giving more than just an exchange of money for their goods. I’m still grappling with this and wondering what more can I do? But needless to say, despite all the many Buddhist temples and incredible statues of the Buddha, this 45 minute visit to see the people in the hills, was the highlight of my trip to Thailand. If I ever make it back to Thailand, this is where I will be spending my time and money.
There’s so much more that we experienced and learned, like ride on the elephants (images of elephants are also quite prevalent in Thailand) learning how to cook Thai food, we learned how to make paper with botanical designs in the paper, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t already visited, consider going to Thailand for a most unique and fortifying experience.
Today was a day of incredible markets and unusual experiences. In Thailand like in most markets, they are not just a place to purchase food, goods and pick up desirables. It’s a place to commune, connect, and perpetuate community. This is more than evident in the markets we visited today.
First stop, the Maeklong Railway Market just outside of Bangkok proper in the Samut Sakhon Provence. There is no other market like this one in the world. The story goes that the market was originally on land that became too expensive for the merchants, so they decided to relocate to place that would be free, the railroad.
This market is set up on either side of the railroad tracks and when the train comes through (eight times a day) everyone has the clear the tracks and make room for the train. For shoppers this merely means moving out of the way. For the merchants this means, winding in their awnings, rolling back the carts that their wares are on (a foot or two) and then there are other items low enough to the ground that the train passes over them without harm. It’s a most unbelievable experience.
Once the train passes, awnings are rolled back out, crates with wares are rolled back into place and the shoppers are once again all a bustle. Everything you might need for creating a dish is there, vegetables of all sorts, as well as fruits, seasoning, fresh fish and seafood, meats of all kinds and young girls stringing the worship garland of marigold and jasmine that I purchased and wore around my neck.
The second stop was the Floating Market in Dameoen Saduek. We drove another half hour or so to arrive at the dock to take the long nose boat to the floating market. This is a canal that was dug by hand which is incredible to imagine considering the length of the canal. We were on a pretty fast moving boat for at least twenty minutes.
Two of the elements of both of these markets are the incredible heat and humidity and this is true despite the fact that we began our journey at 7:00 to avoid the height of the heat. Despite that the heat was quite intense a somewhat draining. Thank goodness for the air-conditioned tour bus. The other element consists of droves of people, locals shopping and tourist from all countless far away lands. The largest groups are tourists are from China.
Last stop wasn’t your usual market; it was small and was actually a cocoanut processing compound. At this stop we were taught how the cocoanuts grow, the many ways it’s processed for oil, to make sugar, syrup, soap, oil, milk, juice and of course we were able to purchase, fresh, young coconuts to drink. Most Thai food includes some element of the coconut. As a special treat for us, our wonderful tour guide, Nok, purchased some plantain bananas that were rolled in cocoanut shavings and deep-fried. It was very delicious.
At this stop we were also able to go inside of a traditional Thai home. Made of teak wood, these homes are on stilts to raise the house to avoid flood, to house the water catching device and because having the house high off the ground, makes for a cooler home.
Inside each home is a shrine to the Buddha, in varying degrees of elaborateness. There are also shrines outside of every home and business. Each home has two shrines, a shrine to the land elements (soil, air, water, plants, all botanicals) and a shrine to the ancestors. The ancestors have their own home outside the house because they are not allowed to live inside the home; they have their own home.
The land shrine is on a single pedestal and the ancestor shrine is typically on six legs. There are offering made to the shrine daily of acknowledgment and prayers, incense burned, food offered and worship garlands made of flowers like the one I purchased. I wore mine all day long and was just enchanted by the fragrant aroma of the marigold and jasmine. I can only imagine the ancestors loving this fragrance too. It’s jasmine that is the primary essence in the Anu Essentials Sea Scape Perfume, a fragrance that has easy access to my heart.
Also, this home, market had many animals, monkeys, birds, roosters, dogs and a cacophony of insects, which made for quite the sound system. We finally arrived back to the hotel and just as I was about to prepare for a nap, veteran globe trotter Kay called and asked me to go with her to an antique mall. That would take a whole other blog post if I could even find the words to describe one incredibly fabulous store with antiques that are just mind blogging. That’s another post for another day.
Finally there was a delicious dinner with my two veteran, globetrotting friends who planned this incredible trip, Kay and Patricia at the night market on the river front. Yes indeed, the market remains a hub for people to come together, to be together, to live and enjoy life.
After 17 hours of flying time to arrive in Bangkok, Thailand today, I couldn’t wait to have one of those amazing Thai massages. It hurt so good, I felt I had to share this incredible treat with you. Thailand is called the land of the Buddha. But another thing that Thailand is quite famous for is, Thai Massage. Thai Massage has a profound healing affect on the body, due to the many levels of the body that this massage technique is able to access.
Our tour guide informed us that there is no hip or knee replacement surgery in Thailand due to great affect Thai massage has on the body. She mentioned that Thai massage is also the reason why senior citizens of Thailand have no problem squatting to use their traditional, hole in the ground kind of toilet. BTW, squatting is the natural position to relieve one’s bowels. It is a toddler’s tendency to assume the squat position before they are taught to sit on a potty. Indigenous people around the planet, squat to relieve themselves. Squatting prevents straining, undue pressure on the legs and thereby prevents hemorrhoids.
Thai massage addresses meridians also known as channels along the body. When having Thai massage some of the points along the channels are extremely tender when pressed by the therapist, due to blockages. It’s the kind of tenderness that can cause you to groan in pain. Yet, by the second, or third round of adding pressure to that same area, the tenderness subsides, indicating the blockage has been cleared and you don’t have to consider knocking out the therapist for causing you such discomfort.
The massage therapist uses fingers and thumbs for small areas, forearms and elbows for medium size muscles and the foot and knee for larger areas of the body like hamstrings and gluteus maximus. Actually, they use their whole bodies to massage you. They pull and stretch you like you’re a rubber doll. It’s quite incredible. It’s the one massage modality that doesn’t require you to remove your clothes.
One of the ladies I’m traveling with has been to Thailand so many times, the only thing she’s interested in buying this time around are massage therapy sessions. On our first day here she had a four-hour massage. Another friend of mine who lived in other parts of Asia and the Emirates, used to also travel to Thailand just for the massages. Not only are the massages great, they cost under $10.00 US dollars per hour. Often those in the know travel to Thailand just have massages all day long and or for days in a row.
These massage parlors are ubiquitous in Thailand as everyone here receives these services. I was the only foreigner in the little spot I went to today. The parlor I visited had approximately 7 “stations” in one large room. All of the massages are done on a mat, on the floor and it was very clean. I had to chuckle when near the end of my session one elder therapist asked where I was from. I said, New York. She couldn’t understand me even after I repeated it, so my therapist whispered to her, “New York, she Negro American.” I never felt so good to be referred to as a Negro before in my life. Somehow the way she shared my heritage, touched my heart and caused a sweet internal laugh.
You don’t have to travel all the way to Thailand for Thai massage, especially if you live in New York or California, but if you can, it will be worth the trip, because you will get the real deal, at a price that will make you feel guilty. It’s the best guilty pleasure of them all.