Videos are courtesy of my friend Dalton’s VLOG and rated PG-13 for organized fighting and crude language. The selected videos show discussed topics, but I strongly recommend checking out all his YouTube Videos for information on Thailand and S.E. Asia. (Thanks Dalton!)
“I write this as we are headed south on a 15 hour day train ending our wonderful 2+ weeks in Chiang Mai and North Thailand. Chiang Mai is a beautiful place and during our time there we were certainly tested, but with a little help from new friends and higher powers we have escaped unscathed with more than a handful of life changing events under our belts.
We started the trip with the typical walk around the city in search for street food and finding cool temples and statues that we marked as important places to hit during the day. Next up was reuniting with my friend Dalton from high school who recently moved to Chiang Mai from Chicago with his girlfriend Molly after they decided that Corporate America wasn’t all that they had dreamed. Now they are equipped with kindergarten and 3rd grade English teaching jobs and enjoying the thrill of a new world. Dalton was able to join us on most of our adventures that we did in and around the city, and although he had only been there one week longer than us, served as a brilliant tour guide and fantastic host. He did the research and found that when we met in Webster City, IA some 11 years ago we were 8,127 miles from the most recent meeting spot. The last time I saw him was 2+ years ago for a weekend in Iowa City and it’s crazy that neither of us could have possibly predicted the next encounter. Great to run in to old friends.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Muay Thai, it is a famous form of organized fighting (somewhere between boxing and UFC) that is practiced in this part of the world. Knowing that it was a Thai right of passage we picked a night and headed off to what legitimately looked like a scene from Fight Club. Very fascinating and great to see first hand, but several things surprised us while we watched. Turns out that we picked a night where all of the fighters were between the ages of 13 and 19, all of the music during the fight is played live so the fighters match the cadence that the flute, drummer and Tambourine are playing, and there is one match solely dedicated to 5 blindfolded fighters. In the end we got to cheer on an American female fighter… though we disagreed strongly with the outcome the judges came to.
We also had the opportunity to trek the mountains nearby and find a temple that is supposedly much less known to tourists, but the most tranquil in all of the city. It is called Wat Pallat and can be found by hiking up the mountain in a specific location, eventually with the help of orange garments that monks have wrapped around trees. We took a short cut, but had a thoroughly peaceful time discovering the temples, sitting by the trickling waterfall, and looking out over the city.
Taking a break from the city life and getting off the grid was something I think we were all looking forward to. We had selected “Wat and Poh’s Jungle Adventure” on the Layou farm to help us achieve this and we met up with a new friend from the Mid-west, Abagail, as she was off on her own adventure. It is a beautiful farm up in the heart of the mountains by a village of people who speak Karen (kuh-ren) which is a completely different language than Thai, so that took some getting used to. When it wasn’t raining days were spent working for roughly 5 hours with the crops (beans, bak choi, passion fruit, yuca, bananas, pumpkin, and others I’m not familiar with), or deconstruction and construction of bungalows. It felt great to be doing some manual labor again and helping to make a difference on this farm. When we weren’t working (a lot of down time even on dry days) we were enjoying 6am sunrises over the mountains, eating 3 gigantic meals per day with most of those being new to us, reading reading reading (I took down 4 books myself – “You are here”, “The Greatest Salesman in The World”, “The $100 Startup”, and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), playing with the cute kids- Saweecha 3 and Weechai 8, and staying up till 8 or 9pm to sing along as one of the family members “Jungle Lek”, played the guitar and joked around. Three particularly special days were Lek’s birthday where we had a fire and tried out some home distilled “Happy Water” while star gazing, the morning we were given off to venture down the mountain in search of the waterfall and cave that lies behind it, and Sunday or “Holiday” where we fought the mudslides to walk to church where we were able to participate in a beautiful Christian service. It was entirely in the village language, except for one verse of “Lamb of God” sung in broken English just for the visitors. Conrad and I slipped up and sat on the female side for half of the service drawing a lot of attention, but seeing the joy in these 50 people who walked from all over the mountain in pouring rain for up to an hour to get together and sing songs for Jesus was amazing.
After 7 days we packed up and said our goodbyes to head back to civilization and warm showers. Back in Chiang Mai I rented a motorbike and met up with Dalton and Molly along with their new friends Brandon and Lee. We rode north in search of a special waterfall as the rest of my group was taking a cooking class. After a few wrong turns we arrived at a waterfall that we believed is calcified due to a combination of minerals in the water and the type of plant that grew on the cliff. This results in over a 300 foot vertical waterfall that we were able to walk up and down, obviously lending the feeling of possessing super powers for an afternoon.
The next evening we were enjoying the Sunday Market which is quite a spectacle of street vendors spanning as far as the eye can see. We bought gifts for ourselves and others, while also finding some new foods to try. After 6 hours we walked back to the hostel with the intention of taking one more drive around the city on my motor bike before returning it first thing in the morning. Excitement quickly turned to panic when the motorbike was no longer parked where I left it. The next 3 hours, from 11pm -1am were spent looking at security footage from down the road, walking across town to the police station, playing charades with the night officers who don’t speak any English, having the motorbike company come to the police station and remind me that they have my passport until they get the bike or money to pay for it, and a trip in a car with a police man (sporting a fanny pack) to investigate the crime scene. This made for an extremely long night and left us exhausted with a romantic date back in the police station the next day which would change the outcome of our entire trip plans and the balance of my bank account significantly. As we unlocked the gate to lay down to a sleepless night there was a shimmer in the corner of the lobby. With a rush of confusion, disbelief, and utter relief it turned out that I hadn’t locked the motorbike correctly so even though I had the key, the steering wheel wasn’t locked and bike had remained in neutral, so the manager of the hostel had rolled it inside the gate out of fear that it would be stolen. With hope renewed we ran down the street to catch the manager of the store and tell her the good news. She could have been annoyed or angry for the late night hassle, instead she was just as thrilled as we were relieved. It was a great sign of the Thai hospitality, and finally we could go to sleep.
With our court appearance cancelled we were able to stick to our plans of spending another day back in the jungle we had grown to love. This time we would be feeding, making medicine, applying a mud spa and eventually rinsing off some Elephant friends in a waterfall. I think we all found a new appreciation and respect for the strength, intelligence and beauty of these gentle giants while enjoying the day at the “Elephant Jungle Paradise Park”.
Finally we had come to our last in Chiang Mai, primarily spent partaking in last minute sight seeing, and saying good bye to friends. Before we could leave this city that had already given us so much, Conrad and I had one more thing to accomplish. In this part of the world there is a traditional style of tattoo that is known as “Bamboo”, where instead of a machine, there is an 18 inch long rod attached to a needle that is repeatedly tapped (stabbed) by the hands of a trained professional. We both had designs that we had picked out with different meanings behind them and planned on paying one of the shops around the corner to replicate the type of work that monks were known for. We had dabbled with the idea of getting a traditional “Sak Yant” tattoo (Sported by many including Angelina Jolie), but after careful research we decided that we wouldn’t be able to adhere to the strict rules like no eating gourds, no eating at weddings, don’t drink alcohol to name a few. With that decided we were walking out of the hostel to go and knock it out when we decided to first check and see if management had any recommendations. Loving that we asked their advice, the managers wife grabbed our hands and walked us down the street to be our translator before deciding that she would give “her monk” who usually performs their tattoos a call. After short travel and making a donation to the children’s temple we were underway getting my first and Conrad’s second tattoo in a manner that we will never forget. There was a short introduction and a time period where our friends were helping translate what and where we would like to get, before jumping in and getting started on writing Conrad’s favorite quote “To realize one’s own destiny is a persons only real obligation” from the book “The Alchemist” in traditional Lanna Thai writing and moving on to draw the cross symbol that our friend Jungle Lek had drawn up (Lek is a Christian who plays in the band at church, but during his time at university studying art he had drawn and painted in the temples of Chiang Mai, I found it to be a perfect combination along with the simple but elegant design). After we had finished and one other person from the hostel got a tattoo, we sat in a circle around the monk as he blessed our tattoos and our travels before tying white string around our wrists and wishing to see us again soon.
That wraps up our adventures in Chiang Mai and I’ve even left a few instances out, but the moral of the story is that we have continued to be blessed with amazing encounters and I can’t wait to make it back Chiang Mai in the near future. Our train is just now arriving in Bangkok for one more day of Thailand before we embark on new terrain and head to Vietnam on Friday.
Happy Halloween and I hope that everyone is having a wonderful fall. Be in touch with you soon!”
-The Scarf Guys