03 June 2012

Andrew’s Birthday!
Trip to temple
Hmong Village

Yeah! It is Andrew’s birthday!
We were planning to take it easy today, but since we got a free half day tour, we do have to get up early.

8.30 the mini bus picked us up, with Eddie the driver and Joy our tourguide.
First on the list is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. One of the north’s most sacred temples on the peak of mount Doi Suthep. Joy explained that it might be busy there today, as tomorrow is Buddha’s birthday. Of course a very important day here. Thailand is in the year 2555 of the buddhist calendar and as Buddha died at 45, tomorrow is 2600 years ago that he was born.

Driving up the mountain people were preparing for the next day. Stalls and decorations along the road for all the people walking up. A few people already started, but apparently most people start walking from the bottom at about midnight, to arrive in time at the temple for the monks blessing at 6.00. One hell of a walk, and we are grateful to be in a minivan today.

Our legs are hurting! Our feet are hurting! We are hurting in place we didn’t even know we had muscles! Luckely today we don’t have to walk too much, only the 306 steps up to the temple 🙂 We managed to make it up de naga-flanked staircase with only a few pauses (we are walking like 2 oldies).  We wouldn’t have made it all the way up the mountain.  It is 1600m above sea level, and driving up the hairpin curves it felt more like 3000m  The mountain is all national park, and there are tracks, shrines and small temples scattered through it.

The White Elephant that carried Buddhas’ Relic

The Wat was built here in 1383. According to the story a white elephant carrying an important buddhist relic walked to the top of this mountain. The Elephant walked around 3 times,trumpeted 3 times, and then lay down. and When the relic was taken from his back, the elephant died. The King then decided a temple needed to be built in that exact spot.
Inside it was already getting busy with a lot of worshippers, mixed in with the monks and the tourists. It is a beautiful temple with a huge golden chedi inside. The top is solid gold, donated by the royal family after the chedi was damaged by an earthquake. This temple is close to one of the royal palaces and is under royal protection. You can tell from the umbrellas at the temple.  This is a seven tier royal gold umbrella placed at the top of the chedi.  There is also a pulley system where water can be taken up to the top of the chedi, and tipped over it causing it to become blessed holy water.  The King will be in the temple tomorrow to do this.  Apparently he hasn’t been well, as he is 86 it is not surprising, but he is better enough now to come all the way out here to do this.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

We are trying to stay out of the way of the believers, while asking lots of questions to our guide. Joy was wonderful and willing to take the time to answer them all.  Joy has made this tour actually feel like a tour.  We were not just taken to a place and dropped off.  She walked with us explaining bits and pieces.  About Buddhism, what we were seeing in the temples, and how to pray properly.  The significance of the 3.  The Buddha, The teachings of Buddha, and the Monks.  Perception, Intelligence and Wisdom.

Thai Dancers raising money for their school

Just outside the main area were a few different groups performing traditional Thai dances.
There were two groups outside from different villages.  They are raising money for their villages by dancing at the temple.  This is also to show their skills to Buddha.  The first group had two 6-10 year old girls following the lead of an older woman.  These girls were flexible.  They could bend over backwards ending up with their heads between their legs, looking at you right way up!  If you folded a 20 baht note and placed it on the ground they would then walk over to it, still in this position, pick it up in their mouth and walk it over to their donation box before straightening up again.  The older woman wasn’t quite that flexible, but she could still bend over backwards to pick up the note in her mouth.

On to the Hmong village. This is a hill tribe more commonly know as the Meo. (but they prefer to be called Hmong) It is the second biggest minority group in Thailand, and a lot live around Chiang Mai. Originally they come from south china, but over the years made their way down to Thailand and Burma.
The village is a bit on the touristy side.. We have to make our way through the markets. That doesn’t turn out to be to bad, as a few women are in the stalls making their traditional clothing. Sewing, embroidery and batik. The garments are beautifully decorated and it is good to see that people do still wear them. If sometimes with a few more modern adjustments.

Hmong Woman doing traditional embroidery

Behind the market was a nice flower garden with a typical Hmong house we could visit. Not that different from the Karen houses yesterday. Apparently the garden is best seen in december/January.  However it was vibrantly alive with flowers today.  Each plant had a use from eating, medicine or ceremonial.  There were still a few poppy flowers left, but not the fields you would see in winter.  A lot of bulbs were there.  Andrew had always thought they were the flower pod before it opens, but it is the seed pod after the pettels have fallen off.  All these bulbs have been tapped.  Lines carved vertically down the pod to release the white resin that is opium.  (this turns black as it dries exposed to the air)

There was also a little museum in town, with info about the Hmong and the other minority groups in Thailand. Joy explained all the Hmong customs to us, from farming, to polygamy, to musical instruments and the use of opium.

That wrapped up our half day tour and we headed back to Chiang Mai.
Breakfast/lunch around the corner at a little local place, a quick walk around, and back to the hotel for a few quiet hours.





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