Thailand is definitely a Buddhist country. Yes, there are hints of other religions represented in this country, but most of the citizens give their faith over to the man under the bodhi tree. The image of Buddha is everywhere and might even be more prevalent than images of Christianity in America. I like to point this out because it has come to me as quite the surprise when the Christmas season came around and I saw all of the decorations that were being brought out to prepare the people of Bangkok for this great holiday.
It is weird to see how much the people in Bangkok really get into Christmas. They obviously do not celebrate it for the same reason that many Christians supposedly celebrate the holiday, but they like the idea of giving each other presents and getting together at the end of the day to have a meal with their family. It does not matter what religion it comes from, it just matters that it gives them another reason to celebrate.
Of course, the Thai people put their own little spin on it. I still have run across the usual snowflakes, and pictures of Santa Claus. They have even brought out the big fake plastic pine trees to decorate them with lights and little baubles, but they have also added a menagerie of animals all painted in pastel colors that I do not usually associate with Christmas, but it does not really matter because it is still festive in its own special way.
I am not really sure I know why it happens out in Thailand. It could be that the companies like to promote the holiday to pack people into the malls so they can make a little extra money, or maybe it is there to respect the cultures of other countries around the world. It could be a combination of both of these things, but I think the real reason is that they just want to celebrate, and this gives them a reason to do so. It is a lesson that the rest of the world could learn from. Does it really matter why we celebrate Christmas anymore, or is it more important that we do celebrate? Should we discourage other cultures because they do not celebrate the same holiday that we do, or should we join them in their celebration? It might mean that we might get fatigued by celebrating too often, but in the long run is anybody ever really sad when they celebrate these holidays? We might be a happier world because of it.
I know it is the beginning of the holiday season, and no matter holiday you celebrate, I hope you have a happy one, but please take the time wish everybody else the same thing. Share in that kind of joy.
Bangkok has become one of the premiere destinations in the world to go on vacation to. It is a big, exciting city with many cultural sites worth visiting, and a lot of great food to experience. Once you get to the downtown area, it is a lot of fun to travel to all of the spots and to enjoy the nightlife. As a city, it is constantly growing, and because of this, there are more and more vehicles on the road. The city did not really plan in advance for this kind of growth, and because of this, a trip downtown on a Friday night could turn into a nightmare stuck in the backseat of a cab. The traffic jams that happen in this part of Thailand make moving from one place to another almost impossible, and it is the biggest headache that this city has to offer.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that Bangkok is an old city that was designed with canals, or klongs, that would be used to transport people from one place to another. They are still in use today, and if you go down to certain spots, you are still able to catch a water-taxi that can take you to many of the sights that you will want to see. It is part of the appeal of this big city, and part of its charm. It is not the fastest way to get around normally, but during the snarl of rush hour traffic on a Friday, it could save a person an hour of time that could be spent doing something more productive like eating pad thai or have a drink with friends.
Bangkok is doing a lot to modernize the city so it allows visitors to get around more freely, but they are still in the process of making this happen and it has not quite been completed yet. They have two line of elevated trains that are called the BTS, and yes, they are the original BTS, not the boy band from Korea. It will take you to many of the bigger sights, but it is situated only in the downtown area, and has not made it out to the suburbs yet. They are working on bringing the line all the way down to Min Buri right now, but until it is completed, it is just causing the road that it follows to be a bigger mess than it usually is. They also have two subway trains that will take you to many more locations. The only problem is the BTS and the subway system are owned by two different companies which makes transfers between the two a little difficult. Despite this small problem, it is helping with the congestion problem in Bangkok, and taking the BTS is a great way of getting a bird’s eye view of the city while traveling from place to place.
Bangkok is a great city that blends old Siam culture together with the conveniences of modern times. It is going through some growing pains right now as it tries to figure out all of the intricacies to put it on the map as one of the greatest destination cities in the world, and even though the traffic is its biggest problem, it should not discourage people from coming out here and enjoying everything that it has to offer. If you do, just make sure that you understand that you will not always get around as fast as you would hope, and a little patience is in order.
When most people think of Thailand, they think of all of the exotic animals that can be found here. There is a plethora of birds, monitor lizards, monkeys, and tigers, and it is impossible to talk about this part of the world without bringing up the elephants. Many people travel to Chiang Mai just to spend some time with these majestic creatures, but if you do come out here to do that, please make sure you do your research first, and find the places that treat the animals well.
And yes these types of animals all exist out here, and in the short time I have been here, I have been able to come across most of them as well as some that you would expect to see in other parts of the world as well, such as horses, water buffaloes, cats, and dogs. Yes, there are plenty of dogs all over the place. Someday, I will have to do a post dedicated to the soi dog epidemic, but that is not what this post is really about.
One of the reasons I became an English teacher was because of my love of mythology. I have always been fascinated by the stories that were told by the greatest of mythology, but more importantly the mythical creatures that I have come across throughout my travels. I knew that there was a mythology associated with Thailand that takes from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but it wasn’t until I made it out to Chiang Mai that I was able to fully understand that rich history behind this mythology and how it is still ingrained within the culture of Thailand.
Nagas can be found at most temples as the guardians to the images of Buddha. They appear as large snakes, sometimes with more than one head, and even though the legend tells of these creatures being born from the Hindu deity, Kadru, their legend is more associated with Buddha himself. When Buddha first reached nirvana under the boa tree while looking out at a river, he was protected from any interruptions from one of these creatures. It is the reason why many of the temples have them at their entrances. Beyond this, they are also associated with the Thai New Year when people will have the biggest water fight anywhere in the world. It is believed that the spraying of water into the air will appease these beasts and they will pop their heads out the many rivers, and the ocean to squirt water in the air and allow for a very rainy season.
The brother to the naga would be the garuda. This is the mythical beast most associated with royalty in Thailand, and is a part of the actual seal of all official documents. It is a creature that basically has the head and arms of a man, but the rest of his body is that of a bird. As far as the stories go, there is only one garuda, and he is the half-brother of all the nagas. They both have the same father, but the garuda’s mother was Vinata. The two creatures fight in an eternal battle with each other with the garuda consuming as many nagas as he can come across.
Though the brothers have some sibling rivalry to content with, they both are mortal enemies of the yaksha. This creature can be found at numerous temples and as stone statues in front of people’s houses. They carry around clubs and cause havoc wherever they go. They are considered demons and they are most closely related to the ones that Buddha had to contend with during his lifetime. They appear in many of the tales across Thai classical literature, and even though they take on the role of the antagonist in many of the stories, they are not always evil.
There are many other creatures that can be found at many of the wats and temples all across Thailand, and they each add a specific flavor to the culture of this country that gives the world a unique and varied mythology. It triggers my imagination, taking it to places that will allow for me to create stories and campaigns for games, and I am happy to be able to learn more about this culture, not only from its beautiful landscape and food, but also from the collection of stories that it has told.
I was doing a quick flip through the pictures I have taken so far this school year. They started in Oregon City, Oregon a day before I got on a plane to fly out to Thailand. There was a distinct change in the amount of color that was present in the pictures that I took before I left as opposed to the world of color that I live in now. To be fair, that last day in America was an overcast day which is part of the reason why it was not as colorful because Oregon is usually a beautiful place to visit. But it is not Thailand with its explosion of color and its expressive nature.
Now, I know that there are other places in the world where the colors explode much in the same way that they do in Thailand. From the pictures I have seen from India, I know that it is an even more expressive place and the colors cause a sensory overload. But every corner that I look down in Thailand I am able to see the same kinds of color showcased. From the temples to the markets, I never feel bored with what I see.
It might have helped that I was in Chiang Mai during a Buddhist holiday. What would best be described as their Lent period ends in October to signify the end of the monsoon season. The monks have been sequestered in their temples during the last three months so that their wandering would not tread upon the rice fields and destroy the much needed crops, but now that it is about time for harvest and the rains will no longer turn the fields into the muddy environment needed to grow these plants, they no longer have a need to hide out. It is at this time that they receive their new robes, and there is much celebration that accompanies this moment. This helped add to the color, as the temples were adorned with yellow, white, purple, and red lanterns.
Despite the temples, markets, and celebrations, there is also nature that adds to this color. Thailand in covered in trees and there are always various shades of green that contend with the landscape. There is also thousands of flowers all over the place that add to the color. And when it is not colorful enough, the people of Thailand know how to add their own touch so that it creates a harmony with the natural surroundings and makes everything look festive.
It is this addition to the whole color wheel to the landscape that makes even the drabbest of color pop out when you come across it, it still seems to add to the festive nature. Black no longer looks like it should be associated with evil, but instead it just adds to how colorful the place can be.
Thailand is a land not afraid of color, and they love to display it in all aspects of their lives from their homes to their food. It is one of the things that makes this place such a destination for millions of people each year, and it is what makes it a fun place to live in as well.
Have you ever played that game where you ask a person if they could only eat one type of food for the rest of their lives, what would it be? Many people would answer Italian, or Japanese. Every once in a while I have heard French, or Indian, but I have never heard anybody mention English food. If you ask them what their second choice would be, Thai food tends to pop up more than any other kind. Sometimes when hearing this second choice from other people, some may change their minds and make this delicacy their first choice. It is a type of food with rich history, tons of variety, and enough spice to keep you interested for the rest of your life. And if you are ever in Chiang Mai, it is a wonderful way to spend a day, not by hopping from restaurant to street vendor, but enrolling in a day long cooking class.
There are many different school offering all day cooking classes around town and it may be hard to pick the right one, but I was happy with the one that we went with, the Thai Farm Cooking School. The day starts early in the morning when they picked us up at our hotel, and drove us out to one of the markets so they could talk to us about some of the ingredients that we could find there, and what would we would want to buy to make the perfect Thai dishes. It was a fun introduction to the markets in Thailand, and the one they took us to was one of the better ones I have seen for produce.
Afterwards they took us out to a farm that they ran. The tour continued as our guide, Gift (yes, Thai names can be weird, but they usually fit the personality of the person that possesses them), took us around so we could try the various flowers, vegetables, and roots that could be found in the garden. It was interesting to see how complicated the process came to collecting the right ingredients to make some of these iconic dishes.
The rest of the day was spent making a dish and then eating it. I had heard about what a test of endurance this could be for even the hardiest of eaters, so I made sure to have a light breakfast before I started on what would be a delightful culinary day. I learned about why my Thai cooking never turned out as good as the food I could have gotten at a restaurant, and I learned how to blend them together to make the perfect dishes. A lot of it had to do with ingredients that can only be found in Thailand, or at least the local Asian market in the United States. Either way, it takes a little more time to collect these ingredients, and then it takes even more time to prepare them so they are ready to be made. This includes pulling out a mortar and pestle to grind up chilis and other spices to make the paste needed for curries.
But it wasn’t just about learning how to make the perfect Tom Yam Kung, it was also about learning a little bit about the Thai culture and language as well. Gift was great about telling us about how to eat like a real Thai person, and the language that we could use to blend in a little bit more. She even explained to us all about the complicated wai as a greeting, a sign of respect, and a goodbye. I had heard a lot of this before, but I could see how the other people along the trip would have appreciated hearing all about it.
Thai food is not only delicious, but the really good Thai food also knows how to be visually stunning as well. There are numerous stories about why this is the case, but the most popular one comes from one of the ancient kings, Rama IV. One of his servants would craft the food that she made into some of the most intricate art including ships and flowers that when he saw it he became instantly enamored of her talents. He then required that his wife learn this art while she prepared food as well, and the tradition took off in Thailand. Our teacher tried to teach us some of the finer aspects of this art as she would made some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen with what appeared to be the simplest of ease.
I quickly found out that recreating these masterpieces was not as easy as it looked. And even though I could not make it look as pretty, at least, it still tasted delicious. The meals kept on coming as well. After the soup and curry, we made pad thai, and stir-fried basil chicken. We had a papaya salad, and even ended up by making a traditional Thai desert of bananas in coconut milk.
Along the way, I even was able to make one of my dishes appealing enough so a five year old might even want to eat it. There were no five year olds around, so I have to eat it instead. And it was delicious. By the end of the long day, and the five courses that I had consumed, I had created a food baby in my belly, and was verging on a food coma. I had learned a lot about traditional Thai food, and a little bit about their lifestyles. And all along the way, I had a great time. It was a great way to spend the day, and should be placed on anybody’s itinerary who makes it out to Chiang Mai.
I know I have been very lazy ever since I have landed in Chiang Mai, and there is a lot that this city has to offer which I have been missing. So I finally pulled myself away from the pool to go out today and see the sights which is a harder thing to do than you would think. It is not easy to leave the comfort of the pool out here to wander around in the confines of the old city walls because Thailand is hot.
I knew this before I moved out here, but I had no idea how oppressive the heat could be. It is even the official end of the monsoon season out here when the temperature outside should start cooling off a bit, but nobody has told the weather that this is what it is supposed to do. Granted, I have not seen any rain since I have been here, but the sun has continued to beat down on me and this might be up there with the hottest temperatures I have experienced since I have been out here. I didn’t want to leave the pool life and explore, but I knew that if I did that for another day I would have regretted it.
So I went out to explore a couple of the various wats that can be found in the old city. I started early enough in the day so the heat would not drag me down, and I was able to explore both the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. These structures are the ancient temples that house some of the most spectacular buddhas that can be found in Chiang Mai as well as the grounds on which the monks can travel around and meditate. Not only are the gold encased buildings and statues impressive, but so are the well-cared for grounds on which they reside.
Every temple has a series of steps up to the inside of the building where you are supposed to take off your shoes. The steps are guarded on either side by some kind of creature depending on what part of the world you find yourself in. In Thailand, the common statue is of a naga. This mythical creature is said to live in the rivers, lakes, and ocean waters all around the country, and before the monsoon season, the citizens of the country will squirt water to appease these beasts so they will come out and spit water into the air causing for an exceptionally rainy season. Most of the statues I found at the temples had one head, but the ones at the Wat Chedi Luang seemed to be a hybrid of the hydra from ancient Greece. People do come and offer these creatures gifts, and you can see various fruits, and flowers laid at the ground in front of them. Somebody gave the one I saw an apple and placed it in his mouth.
The temples that hold the buddhas are also impressive. The one at the center of the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 13th century, and even though it has seen better days, there are efforts to restore it to the magnificence it once was. The brick building reminded me of the types of buildings that could found at Angor Wat in Cambodia and as I walked around it, I was rewarded with sculptures of not only buddha, and nagas, but also elephants as well. It added to the majesty of this place.
And there are plenty of images of Buddha around. There are many different ways that he is presented from standing, sitting and sleeping, and all of them were present at these temples. The ones that disturbed me the most were on the lifelike wax statues that were created of some of the more celebrated Buddhist monks. At first, I thought they were the actual monks that were waiting to greet visitors as they made there way into these sacred places, but they were just replicas. Why they did that I could not say, but it made for a unique experience as I went into my first temple.
I will admit that I did not last very long before the pool at my hotel called me from across the old city, but it was fun to endure the heat, and go see these ancient and beautiful places. It made me feel like I had earned the refreshing dip in the cool waters, and I know that I have a few more days out here to go out and get some more culture.
I came back to my hotel room last night after a great meal and saw that the staff had come into our room to turn down our bed. They also must have noticed my books on the nightstand next to the bed, so they thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give me a book mark. It had a memorable quote on it that went…
“He was enjoying the pleasant mingling of physical ease and mental alertness which seemed to him, of all sensations, the most truly civilised. So far, the appointments of Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished – certainly more than he could ever have expected.” – James Hilton
At first glance, it might seem that this kind of sentiment should be reserved for the greatest of hotels, a place where relaxation is the appointment of the day, and the greatest need is collect one’s self so they can return to the grind from whence they came. But then it does make sense that the hotel I am staying at takes its name from that mythical place that James Hilton created in his iconic novel, Lost Horizons, the Shangri-La. This is not the typical place that I search for when I look for a place to stay on my vacations. It is considered one of the more luxurious places that a person can stay in, and I don’t usually travel for the hotels, but it is fun to treat one’s self from time to time. It also helped that the room was booked at the last minute so we were able to find a pretty good deal on the room, even though it still was a little bit more of a splurge than what we usually are willing to do.
Because of this, we decided that our first full day of this vacation would be spent not leaving the hotel and getting the most out of the place. Of course, this did not mean spending the day locked in our hotel room, ordering room service and watching bad movies on cable. The Shangri-La has a lot more to offer that we were able to entertain ourselves throughout the day.
And we were in Thailand at the end of the rainy season.
This meant enjoying the pool, and they have a beautiful pool here in Chiang Mai. There are numerous lounge chairs all around the deck with the shade of palm trees allowing for a relaxing spot to watch the ripple play in the calm water. There are many other amenities that the place has to offer, such as a spa, and small shops as well as two restaurants, and a couple of bars, but the things that caught my attention was the pool. There is no better way of spending a day than relaxing by a pool, and jumping in the water to cool off whenever I get too hot. It even featured a waterslide that I thought was for children, but soon found out that it could be enjoyed by all ages. I did have to pay attention to the big barrel of water at the top of the slide that would tip over every ten minutes and drench whoever stood up there at that time, but it was still fun to go down every once in a while. It made for the perfect day.
Some would claim that this is a wasted day of vacationing. The purpose of traveling some place new is to experience new things, and see new cultures. Why would anybody want to spend the day sitting by the pool getting pampered? Because vacation cannot be all about going around and seeing stuff. Yes, I do enjoy being a tourist and experiencing different cultures, but I also need some down time. Some people only get to travel a couple weeks out the year, and part of that time is spent visiting family and friends. I find myself very fortunate to have created a life for myself where I get to take these trips on a regular occasion. Just because I go some place does not mean that I do not wish to have some downtime as well. In my profession, I have found that it is a much needed thing to do every few weeks. And though I like to spend my time seeing different parts of the world, I also like the time that I get to spend recharging my batteries. This one day at the Shangri-La allowed me to do that.
James Hilton understood this completely when he said, “The appointments at the Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished.” I needed that day-long appointment with the pool. I will get back to exploring the world again in a day, and go back to the places that are more speed, but for one day, I enjoy feeling like I deserve the others taking care of me. It makes for the perfect way to start any vacation.