Sunday, August 8
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Some people go bar hopping, but I go temple hopping. After fueling up at May Kaidee's Chiang Mai location, I stopped by a small Buddhist temple that was under renovation, featuring one gold Buddha in front backed up by three big white ones. There were no Roman characters on the temple's sign, so I have no idea what it was called. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai, roughly the same number as in Bangkok, which is a far bigger city, so it was no big surprise when I bumped into another one just down the street. Called Wat Phabong, it featured an amazing gold chedi and a small but very intricate temple.
Next and most spectacular was Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai's most visited Buddhist temple, the main building of which is dominated by a huge golden Lion Buddha situated behind other smaller ones. Several additional buildings encase more shrines, including a quad version with one Buddha on each of the four sides, and a funny small reclining Buddha about 30 feet long. As I wrapped up my photo session and got ready to leave, I heard some amazing group singing emanating from the main temple. I stepped back inside and witnessed a small ocean of young, orange-robed, novice Buddhist monks engaged in a prayer ceremony. I recorded a few minutes of it on my iPod touch, then shot some photos. When an old monk launched into a long lecture, I made my way out for some more sightseeing around town.
I happened upon another temple near my room called Wat Lam Chang, where I noticed a group of teenage boys setting up some instruments, including two xylophones, two horns, a hand drum and a circular Burmese gong instrument. I whipped out my iPod and earbud mic as fast as I could and pressed record a few seconds after they launched into a 15-minute-long traditional Thai music jam. The hand drum supplied the main pound as the xylophones pecked out intricate melodies and the horns wailed a delicious, raspy icing all over the top. The name of the group is Wat Lam Chang Vieng Phing, and they get together a few times a week to practice for performances at temples, street fairs and other venues.
I was hella impressed by their music, which was very vivid and full of life. I was bummed that a few minutes into recording, I got an itch on my eye and had to wipe sweat off of my face. If I moved around too much, it would make a rustling sound on the little earbud mic. I managed to ignore those discomforts until the 10-minute mark, then I stopped to take care of them. Now I'm kicking myself for not recording the whole jam. When the band took a break, I started talking to a young, 22-year-old Buddhist monk named Nawa from Vientiane, Laos, who is living at the temple and attending university.
We chatted for at least an hour while the band played another jam or two. I wish I could have recorded more of the music, but I didn't want to be rude to Nawa. We had a really nice talk; he was happy to answer all of my questions about the Buddhist lifestyle and he asked me about my own life, as well. He was super nice. After a while, it was time to head back to May Kaidee's, so I threw on my rain jacket and pedaled through a fierce downpour for dinner. This was one of my favorite days in Thailand so far!