26.05.2015 - 28.05.2015 35 °C
Day 40-42 - May 26-28
A historic respite from the southern heat of the Kingdom of Siam, Chiang Mai proved to be just this - a modern refuge from the madness of Bangkok. While Bangkok may appear sharp to the unwary, with taxi and vendors shouting at every visible foreigner within their eye-line, the unofficial northern capital of Thailand has a slower, more spiritual, and softer shape.
The streets are void of horns and the din of peddlers, the locals are unconditionally warm and friendly, almost embarassed by the necessary commercialism of their lives. The densely packed temples in the old city
the loudest reminder of the local's focused spirituality.
The road was paved but full of dusty holes. The driver calmly lumbered our oversized SUV along the jungle switchbacks at a clip one would have thought reserved for outpacing hijackers.
My local guide Mon had already given the day's first lesson in jungle survival and advanced horticulture - what to eat when you're dying, what not to eat unless you would like to hasten your departure.
Also oblivious to the reckless speed, Mon was turned towards the driver while laying out the planned morning trekking route. At that moment the car abruptly cornered, and with only the slightest flicker of his eyes forward, Mon was bent over with his hands pressed in front of him, eyes tightly shut, murmuring a quiet prayer.
I was not alarmed.
In fact this had become such a routine over the last 30 minutes I hardly looked out the window to confirm we hadn't careened carelessly myself. Mon was a fairly religious man, with a focus all his own - animism and nature. We had simply passed one of his many notable spiritual monuments along the roadside. Perhaps a tree, perhaps a sacred animal, and occasionally a small shrine. Not a word of explanation was ever provided nor requested.
The prior day another guide Dhong had explained the religious nature of the people of Chiang Mai - based on Buddhism and including ideas from Hinduism and animism, and acceptably practiced at any degree desired.
Go to temple, don't go to temple. Pray to every buddhist god, pray to your favourite, pray to Hindu gods, pray to sacred animals, don't pray at all. Try being a monk, don't try, it doesn't matter to anyone else. Although being a monk for even a short time is quite the feather in your cap.
"How can someone else judge my spirituality?" - Dhong
Good question Dhong, good question.
It is perhaps an unfortunate reminder of human tendencies that this open, understanding, and pacifist city of Chiang Mai has been frequently raided, overrun, occupied, and even abandoned since its founding.