Every year, on one particular day, 12,999 monks line up on a closed-off highway at 6.09am (9 = lucky in Thai culture) to receive donations of food from the citizens of Chiang Mai. The event is a big deal and scores of families wake up early to participate. Dressed in white (which represents purity), they line the highway with their offerings, hands clasped and heads bowed, wai’ing as the monks pass by.
We were lucky to be in town for this ceremony and woke up at 4.30am to attend. Rubbing sleep from our tired eyes, we managed to get everyone organized and reached the highway just before 6am. The event was surprisingly well-organized and executed given the number of people attending, and we all managed to give our offerings to the monks. It’s considered lucky to donate to as many monks as your age, so most people in our group donated food to 20-something monks. It’s always interesting for me to attend such religious gatherings, as each time, I find more and more similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism (the religion I know most about due to my Indian roots). This time, I was surprised to hear some of the chants in Sanskrit, which were later translated into Thai for the benefit of the local attendees.
The ceremony ended at around 8am, after which everyone had the day off to do as they pleased. The non-US volunteers decided to have a relaxed day and headed back to our volunteer house to catch up on sleep. The US group wanted to use their 1 free day to do something cultural or exciting. Some opted for a cooking class, some set off to explore the old city. Most went to do zip-lining – a popular outdoor activity here. I wanted to do some kind of fun activity, but had already done zip-lining before and wanted something different. I ended up joining the only group of volunteers that had no plans, and somehow our day turned out to be the most adventurous one.
We started by trying to rent scooters at a place across the street from our guesthouse. They didn’t have any left…so we wandered until we were lost and then finally stopped to ask a welder near us if he knew where we could get scooters. Turns out, this welder’s sister had a scooter shop and before we knew it, we were cruising in his pink side-car to his sister’s shop.
45 minutes later, we all had our scooters…
…and were headed north-west to find a lake I had heard about from a local I met through Couchsurfing a few days ago. It was all of our first times riding scooters…so wandering the streets of Thailand on bikes felt exhilarating and fun.
About half an hour later, we arrived at the lake. We parked our bikes and tried to find the entrance, which turned out to be an adventure in itself, and involved speaking lots of broken Thai to locals who drew maps on the ground for us, climbing walls and wandering through stadiums (don’t ask). It was amusing, but by the end of it, we were hot, tired and frustrated at how close and yet far we were.
And then…when we least expected to… we found it.
It was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. We relaxed in a wooden hut on the water and talked to the only people there – a group of friendly Thai locals who wanted to add us on Facebook and take pictures of our diverse group (actually, I don’t think I elaborated on the composition of our group…there were 4 of us – Mike who was Persian, Steph who was Brazilian, Jason who was African American and myself).
One of Travel to Teach’s Thai coordinators, Jim, and her boyfriend were going to meet us, but a quick conversation with Jim revealed that we were, in fact, at the wrong lake. Our new Thai friends helped show us the right one on the map (there were so many in the area), and so we said our goodbyes, got back on our bikes and headed further north-west towards Mae Rim.
We finally found it, Lake Huai Tung Thao, and yes, it was worth all the trouble 🙂 Dinner in huts on stilts in the water, swimming as the sun set over mountains – it was just perfect.
At about 6pm, we drove the 12km back home. I have to admit, driving in the heart of Chiang Mai at night with Sunday traffic, without any knowledge of the streets and no road rules is not the easiest thing to do (especially when you don’t know how to drive… yeah, embarrassing fact about me), and I doubt I’ll be attempting that again. But we were all very cautious, and despite a couple wrong turns, we arrived at the guesthouse safe and sound.
All in all, it was a great day. Sometimes, the best days really are the ones where you have no plans. We started out with no idea of what to do, no expectations and somehow things just fell into place. From the welder with his sister and her scooter shop, to stumbling upon the wrong lake, then the right one…every part of the day was exciting, just because we had no clue as to how things were going to turn out. The spontaneity of it all and the fun company made this, without a doubt, one of my favorite experiences in Chiang Mai.