Today was our last day with our driver, Pim! She had our day all planned out which was really fun because we got to do things that we would not have known about from basic Internet research. We had so much fun with Pim the past 3 days and could not have asked for a better driver. It was like having a Thai mom; she made sure that we were well fed, hydrated, and having fun. It could have been an entirely different experience if we just had a random man driving us around, so we were very thankful for her.
We started the morning with another long drive to a neighboring providence. Since it was Buddha day, Pim wanted to show us how Buddhists worship at an impressive temple. I really know nothing about Buddhism, but have a feeling that I will know a lot by the time I leave. The temple that Pim brought us to was in Lamphun which is the providence next to Chiang Mai. This temple was so huge! The structures made the massive Buddha in the mountains look like a toy.
It was a beautiful day today and there was even blue sky! At this time of year, the farmers in the mountains are burning their fields to get ready to plant rice, so the sky has been pretty hazy since I got here. It has also really cooled down. It has only been in the low 90s which is actually really tolerable. My body must be assimilating if I think that temperature is cool!
Because this temple is so far from Chiang Mai where most of the tourists are, we were literally the only foreigners in the entire temple. Similar to the temple in the mountains, most people did not even blink an eye when they saw us. They were very into their worshiping.
This temple also had a lot of monks walking around. The monks’ age varied significantly. Some of the monks looked very old where others looked like they were young middle schoolers. Monks can increase their rank or become closer to Buddha, much like the ranking in the Catholic system. Pim knew which ones were important because she would randomly wai to a few of them when we were walking.
Laura and I then went into a very large Bot, or a structure that contains Buddha. Many people were worshiping and offering gifts to Buddha. You are not allowed to wear shoes in this structure or on any surface of worship. You also are not a monks equal, so you cannot sit like they do (cross-legged). Instead, you have to sit on your feet. You also can’t point your feet at a monk. I asked Nuch why feet are such a big deal in Buddhism and she didn’t know. She said that it is just something that they do, so I am not sure why all of these traditions exist.
We then walked around a Chedi, a large pyramid like structure. You first get a bottle of sweet smelling water and a few cups along with some incense. Then Pim had us walk around the Chedi with everyone to watch them splash the water onto the various Buddhas. People would sometimes rub the Buddha and then put the water onto their hair as well. If there was ever a bell nearby, they would ring it. They also do everything in threes. So, Pim said normally she would have walked around the Chedi three times but we only did once. It was so crowded!
She also bought a few traditional Thai treats like rice cakes for us to try. After walking around for a while, we decided to head to our next destination: bamboo rafting!
On the way to rafting, we stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe that was really cute. The funny thing about being foreign here is that when they see you, they instantly bring you to the AC if they have it. We definitely don’t mind! Laura and I still are not super adventurous when ordering food at restaurants, so it was nice for us to be able to try Pim’s food to see what a more traditional meal besides fried rice tastes like. It is hard to know what to order because we never know what we are eating at Randy’s house.
We then had another drive back to the mountains (yay!). Pim wasn’t sure if we would be able to do the rafting because the river was so low. The country is currently in a drought, so the river is lower than it has been in a very long time. However, we decided it was worth the risk to drive out there! Driving through the mountains is fun in itself!
When we got to the place that advertised rafting, I was a little bit skeptical. It was literally a roadside restaurant, but Pim assured us that this was where we should be. She then determined that the river was high enough for us to go and told us that we could either go on a raft by ourselves or with a guide. It was more expensive to have a guide, so we had to think about it for a while. With Pim’s encouragement, we decided that it couldn’t be that hard, so we decided to go by ourselves. She then gave us a phone number to call when we were done and called an employee to pick us up and bring us to the rafts. Along came a rusty old pick-up! At that point, we both were just thinking, “Well, I am not really sure what we are getting ourselves into, but let’s just go with it!”
We drove a few miles down the road to a large area that had many bamboo rafts. After we got out of the truck, the man gave us our bamboo poles and brought us right to the rafts and had us push one off of a large pile into the water. He then shooed us away with his hands told us to “Go! Go!” and climb down the ladder into the river before our raft floated away. That was literally it! Laura and I could not stop laughing at the ridiculousness. We were literally picked up on the side of the road, driven to the river, and thrown onto a bamboo raft with zero instructions and it was no big deal. I couldn’t stop thinking about when you do any sort of activity in America you have to sign waivers, watch safety videos, and be liability free before you can even touch anything. To top it all off, it started raining as soon as we got onto the raft but only lasted for a few minutes.It was one of the most hilarious things I have done in a very long time.
The bamboo raft was very, very long. Probably about 30 feet or the length of two canoes, so maneuvering it was like driving a bus! Plus the river was really low, so when we went down any sort of little drop, it would bottom out very easily. About 100 feet in we had one of those drops and it took about 10 minutes and both Laura and I getting off the raft, into the water, and literally pushing it over the drop to get past it. We could not stop laughing, it was so fun. After the first time, we got the hang of it and were able to get through most of the rest without too many problems.
When we finally calmed down, we were able to appreciate the fact that we were literally floating down a river in the mountains on a bamboo raft! It was so beautiful and lush. At one point we even saw an elephant on the side of the river just munching on some brush. These are memories for the books!
The funniest part of the day was the fact that there were many, many Thai people just hanging out on bamboo rafts along the river. I would compare it to people going tubing or canoeing down a river in Minnesota. Most were eating or drinking and just hanging out. So, when us two white Americans would turn the corner, they all thought it was hilarious. Almost every group asked us “Where your guide?!” Apparently, most people don’t just decide to take on the river alone. I think most of the people were drunk because we heard a lot of “Where you from?!” And “Beautiful girls!” We just would say hi and keep going. Pretending you don’t know the language really works, especially when they are offering you beer. We just smiled and said bye before pushing past them. I guarantee we are on Thai social media today- many people thought the moment needed to be documented. I would compare us being on the river alone to seeing two Asians trying to portage by themselves in the Boundary Waters with no experience, but doing a good enough job to get by. It would look so funny, but you would say, “Good for them for figuring it out!” Or maybe they just thought we were crazy! (Mom, before you get worried we are making bad decisions, we were safe the whole time! Pim was a phone call away and we had long sticks as weapons!)
When we got to the end, we called the phone number and were picked up by the same old rusty truck and brought back to Pim. Even though I trusted her, I was a little bit amazed that we got back with nothing bad happening. She then treated us to some ice cream and a Thai noodle salad and we enjoyed it on a Thai style deck above the river.
When Laura and I got back, all we could do was laugh about our day. These memories will be so fun to reminisce! Our experience wasn’t perfect, but that is what made it memorable. What a great three days spent with Pim! We will miss her, but are excited for our days ahead. Tomorrow I get to spend the day at the local hospital and Beth and Paige will be getting here on Sunday, so we have lots of fun ahead!