Only Death is Real

Chiang Mai
As the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai was actually quiet… compared to Bangkok, at least! It is apparently home to Thailand’s best cuisine, and a favourite place for foreigners to live as expats. It is where we chose to spend xmas and soak in as much food and beer as possible before our next destination, hehehe… (you will see why when you read on!)

A couple of weeks ago, my parents and grandma transferred us some xmas money (thank you!) which was spent wisely on a few things, including… a cooking class! So, on December 24th, all I did was cook from morning to mid-afternoon. I learned how to make coconut soup with chicken, pad thai, papaya salad, green curry paste, coconut green curry with chicken and coconut sticky rice pudding with mango, all of them from scratch. We started the day by going to the market, and choosing ingredients for our meals. Our teacher explained the use and names of many veggies and spices. It was absolutely fascinating!

Three different types of eggplants

Thai coriander and kaffir leaves! Everything was so fragrant!

Long beans or snake beans

Shallots

Rambutans (a fruit that kind of tastes like lychee)

Pig blood and pig feet (ok, we didn’t use those particular ingredients hehe)


We then came back to the class, and started cooking! You all have no idea how much I am CRAVING to cook these days, I haven’t touched a kitchen or anything for months. It was absolutely blissful to start chopping up veggies and cooking ‘em up!

Myself with my big-ass knife. Not as metal as the Hellbent for Cooking cover, I know...

Making pad thai

The finished pad thai!

Green curry paste ingredients

Crushing the enemies

Adding ingredients and coconut milk

The result! Green curry! And I think it was the best I’ve had so far haha, it was so fresh tasting!

Myself with the two other Danish students

Cooking sticky rice

Coconut sticky rice pudding with mango, one of the best thai sweets around

And at the end of the class, we each got a certificate as well as a recipe book. Kickass! I can’t wait to try these recipes at home, in Canada!

Recipe book and Thai cooking certificate


The next day (December 25th), François offered me an afternoon at the spa, including some time in a herbal steam sauna and an aromatherapy oil massage. The place itself was very beautiful, and the treatments relaxing, but the massage was not THAT good compared to others I’ve tried. It was nice anyway.

Inside the spa

For xmas dinner, we went to a French-Thai restaurant. We had a charcuterie plate as an appetizer, and for main meals, I had steak tartare and François, cheese fondue. It was quite decent, but the service was weird – the entree arrived with the fries and salad that were supposed to come with the steak tartare, and everything arrived so fast we were finished everything 30 minutes after entering the restaurant. Let’s just say I wasn’t too impressed. We decided to finish the evening in a really cool rock bar, which blasted AC/DC and Black Sabbath. There were a few bikers, which kindly invited us to their table, and bought our beer for the rest of the evening!!! The leader was a tattoo-ed up British who was vegetarian, involved in Buddhism and meditation. He showed me some amulets that protected him from the police and others from falling off his bike. I wish I had my camera, it was just too surreal of an evening!

A few days later, we decided to go to another restaurant called Huen Phen, which was much better than the French-Thai one. They specialize in northern cuisine and are one of the most popular (and affordable) restaurants in Chiang Mai. We had a Khantoke set menu for two, which is usually reserved for weddings and other special events. It was a great introduction to the local cuisine, and everything was tasty as hell. I mean, the food was so yummy that it kind of made our tastebuds explode, haha!

From left to right: bananas in coconut milk, pork curry (Burmese style), chicken curry with veggies, laap (minced pork salad), pork sausage, minced pork with tomatoes, fried crispy pork (this was exactly the same as "oreilles de christ", a French-Canadian speciality!) and sticky rice (everything for 12$!)

Inside Huen Phen. When we left, there was a 3-hour line-up going all the way outside in the street...

We also went to another quite famous restaurant called Aroon Rai, which apparently has some of the best curries of Thailand. I am not a huge expert in Thai curries, but I have to admit the ones they had were to die for! (Although my very own green curry was superior hahaha)

The curries of Aroon Rai

Since we were there for the weekend, we went to the Saturday market. It was really really busy and completely packed with people! Vendors and merchants were selling everything from slippers to sushi, sweets, bbq’ed skewers, etc…

The Saturday market, in the evening

Home-made noodles

A guy holding his dog as a purse!

A cute lady-street musician

Beautiful rolls of sushi (16 cents each!)

The problem with these markets is that they are a few kilometres long, packed and equipped with very few toilets. Luckily, I found some but they were quite something!

Rural-style Thai toilet with a manual flush. You’re supposed to put your feet where the marks are. I was shaking up there, I was so scared to slip off the thing haha... if you look closer, the brand of the toilet is “American Standard”... yeah right!

Oh yeah, there was  bunch of hot Thai chicks dressed in Santa costumes, since it was Christmas day. I took this photo especially for the guys!

Hot Thai chicks dressed in Santa costumes

While walking, we saw quite a few random, interesting and funny things, which I wanted to share…

“Mr. Beer” car rental! Free 6-pack when you rent a car! Haha

Baked bacon cheese with seaweed Lays chips. We’re pretty sure a stoner invented this one.

A weirdly shaped temple. Actually, quite a few temples in the north were shaped like this.

On a more serious note... sex slavery is a huge problem in Thailand!

Anyway, we didn’t do too many touristic things in Chiang Mai, but it was a really nice week to relax before we spend a week up north in the town of Fang, more precisely at Wat Sri Boen-Ruang, a Buddhist monastery. We also spent about six hours rehearsing and writing in a local studio (3.50$ an hour, including instruments!). I snapped a photo of François, which I thought looked totally 70’s haha

François with his xmas present shirt that he got from me!

Fang
From the Chiang Mai bus station, we took a local bus to Fang, which is located 3-4 hours away, and is only 20km or so from the Burmese border. Hill tribes live in the area, as well as the famous Giraffe ladies (the women with a million rings around their necks that fascinated all of us as kids). We didn’t visit any of these unfortunately, but perhaps we will next time! Anyway, when we got on the bus to Fang, we were a bit surprised; the seats that would normally be for two were for three! I thought it was made like this if there were families with small children, but no, people actually crammed themselves three per seat. But I guess people were shy around us and they take the third place on our seat, haha!

Inside the bus to Fang

We showed the name of the monastery we were going at to the bus driver and so he dropped us in front of it. When we entered the gates, our initial reaction was that it looked very calm and kind of ghostly – there was hardly anybody on the grounds! Only two guys were sweeping, and luckily one of them spoke English and brought me to the hut of one of our monk/teachers, Phra Greg.

We came to stay in Wat Sri Boen-Ruang especially to learn about Theravada Buddhism (the “purest” branch of Buddhism – practiced mostly in Burma, Lao and Thailand) and to learn how to meditate.

Basically what we’ve learned is that Buddhism is the philosophy of following the Dhamma (the teachings of professor Buddha). Phra Fred taught us that Buddha was actually a prince who lived around 2600 years ago, and who was born in what is now known as Nepal. He intensely meditated and attained Nirvana (enlightment) under a tree, then lived the rest of his life teaching his findings (the Dhamma). What is enlightment? Essentially, it is total, pure, blissful joy by doing good (and getting the results of it), as well as stopping all internal suffering. It is a state that can only be attained by yourself.

In the monastery, we learned from Phra Greg about the Dhamma and how to meditate with mindfulness (visspassana meditation). By concentrating on ONLY one thing at the time during meditation (breathing, for example), you get to control much more what you are thinking, and therefore are able to stop any thoughts or actions that are getting in our way.

And how to stop all internal suffering? What I understand of it is being able to keeping a balance; not to be to be extremely sad/negative or be extremely happy/positive. It’s what is called “the middle path”. Talking about happiness; I actually get stressed when I talk about some dish that I like so much. I get huge skin rashes!! And a similar thing happens when I get really, really angry. By staying focused and not feeling about anything too strongly, I’d stay on the middle path. I’d suffer enormously if a fire wiped out my entire LP and CD collection… but if I wouldn’t get attached to my records too strongly, I’d say “Whatever! I can live without ‘em!” But obviously, I know that this would not happen as music is my very own religion hehe

In order to stay in this particularly monastery, we have to go through eight rules, or eight precepts:

  1. No killing or harming living beings
  2. No stealing
  3. No sexual or romantic activity (not even if I’m married, snif! Can’t even sleep in the same room!)
  4. No improper speech
  5. No drugs or alcohol
  6. No eating from noon to 6AM (very very hard for me!!)
  7. No entertainment, singing and beautification (cosmetics) – and wearing white clothing only… this one is extremely difficult as I’m not allowed to listen to ANY music for a week! I will make it up afterwards, arghhh
  8. No luxurious beds (it makes you want to sleep too much)

We thus went through the precept ceremony (atasilani). Conducted by Phra Greg, we took the temporary oath of keeping the eight precepts by reading them out loud in Pali, the ancient language spoken by Buddha himself. We also had to an offering of flowers, incense and candles.

Our offering!

Phra Greg! He’s originally from New Zealand.

François and myself taking the oath in front of Phra Greg

After taking the oath

And, here is our modest bed hehe:

It’s actually quite comfortable! Better than something too soft with too many springs! We also had our own private bathroom. How luxurious!

We lived on the second floor of this building

And we bought dark chocolate (it doesn’t count as a food, according to our teacher, Phra Greg, as it melts in the mouth like a liquid) so we could survive. It actually helped alot!

Chocolate removes the suffering

Every morning (except for Buddha days), monks and novice monks leave the monastery at 6:15AM to collect food offerings from the locals. (Monks cannot buy, or prepare their own food to be able to fully concentrate on their practice. The community relies on the normal people for material needs, and in return, the monks provide spiritual guidance and moral support.) We, of course, had to follow them on their rounds. Sometimes the mornings were chilly and misty, and it was super awesome!

Around 6:30 in the morning... misty morning, clouds in the sky!

Waiting for people to come for their offerings

Placing sticky rice in one of the alms bowls

When the offering is done, the monks do chanting

People during the chanting. Notice the snazzy dinosaur hat!

Phra Fred and Phra Greg (our two foreign monk teachers) coming back to the monastery

And here is a video of it. Sorry for the dog barking, it’s the only decent video my camera could take… you get the point though!

When we arrive, we can finally feast! I can say that we are totally starving at this point. And we are able to eat an extremely vast variety of northern Thai food!!!

A table full of food from the alms rounds – we have to wait until after the monks and the novices eat to be able to eat. There are tons of stuff; curries, coconut desserts, rice, noodle dishes, spicy pastes, steamed peanuts, vegetables, fish, etc... Some stuff is extremely spicy!

Examples of offered food

Sticky rice cooked in bamboo (SO GOOD!!!!!!)

A super healthy lunch (the sticky rice in bamboo is the white thing in the bottom) I totally fell in love with those little packages wrapped in banana leaves. They include all sorts of things, but my favourite were coconut sticky rice covered with a coconut egg pudding. So good, I really want to make my own now!

Closed package

Opened package, with sticky rice, coconut milk and pudding.

The monastery is also home to about twenty dogs. People drop them there and others adopt some… they are absolutely adorable and each has a personality of their own:

My favourite dog, Chickenkiller! Beside her name (which was given to her as she used to kill chickens obviously), she is such a nice little girl. She waggled her tail everytime we’d come back to the monastery, and she’d wait for us outside of each building

The resident fattie. This one used to be the head dog, and always ate first... which led to her total overweight. Phra Greg has tried making her run, but she’d give up after a few steps, the poor thing

Falling and trying to get back up. When you poked her, the flesh would wobble for a while. Poor doggie. Haha

One of two puppies and an older dog. The puppy always get chewed on!

Don’t know this one too well, but he’s cute anyway

The Abbot of the monastery and a puppy

Sometimes, in the evenings around 6PM, there would be chantings in pali. The whole monastery would group up and sing the teachings of Buddha. It’s hard because you have to sit on the floor the whole time, but when you get a good position, it gets very soothing and frankly, it sounds really cool!

The wihan, where the chanting takes place

Naga eating a Naga (details of the epic staircase)

So, we spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in the monastery… for New Year’s Eve, the abbot of the temple decided to organize evening chants and Dhamma talks that would lead the local devotees into the new year by doing good. It started around 7PM and lasted to probably around 1AM. There were also fireworks and firecrackers going off in the air!

New Year’s Eve chanting

For New Year’s Day, it happened to be a Buddha day (one of the 4 phases of the moon). Instead of the monks going on their alms round, the locals come to the temple and do offerings there directly. They lay out food on the table, and offer chunks of sticky rice to the novices, which they place directly in their bowl. A bit like in Luang Prabang.

Locals putting some food offerings on a table

Putting sticky rice balls into bowls

We also experienced more events during our short stay – such as…

…an ordination into monkhood:

Ordination of a novice to a monk. This man has 227 precepts to follow from now on!

The monk with his family, doing offerings to the monastery

…and a funeral! Funerals here are seen as an important day, like births and weddings. It’s part of the cycle of rebirth. People must talk good about the deceased in order for him to reach a higher realm. Or something… thus, funerals here are not all about crying and mourning… although I did see a couple of people cry!

A “bus” picking up monks and novices from the monastery

Inside the monk bus

The casket and funeral

The ceremony with monks chanting

Once the ceremony is done, monks symbolically carry the funeral casket to the crematorium. It results in some sort of really cool funeral march. The first guy in front flies a ghost to scare away bad spirits, and the monks (and family of the deceased) pull on a rope.

Thai ghost

Photo of the deceased

Pulling on the rope at the funeral march

Novices pulling on the rope! Notice the novice with the sun glasses!!

A little further away in the march, the family of the deceased

The men carrying the casket to the crematorium

The crematorium! About 30 minutes after, it smelled like the burnt body of the deceased everywhere around!

I took yet another video so you guys can listen to the music and soak in the atmosphere. The music is supposed to be loud and “annoying” to, again, scare the bad spirits away, but I actually quite enjoyed it!

After all of this, we went through another ceremony to downgrade ourselves to the basic five precepts (or whatever we want to follow). We had to do another offering:

Offering to professor Buddha and the monastery

And that’s pretty much it for our temple stay! Our experience was absolute gold and we really enjoyed our time there. We discovered not only what Buddhism is about, but we learned about Thai culture, how to meditate and how to include it in our daily lives. We totally recommend and urge people to come and stay this monastery! You can learn more about the program HERE.

Anyway, the last evening, I celebrated by undergoing a traditional Thai massage, which was offered in the home of a small family near the temple. It cost US$ 4,50 for two hours and it was the best massage I’ve even gotten!!! I was the last client of the day, so the owner also massaged me for quite a while, which made it a four hand massage! It was absolutely mind-blowing. I came out of there feeling totally high and had trouble walking!

The wonderful massage therapist, Fon

The owner and her little princess daughter

The next day, we got very lucky and a generous Thai man gave us a ride all the way to Chiang Mai, where we are taking the train to reach the south of Thailand. It was a tiny bit awkward because he knew maybe 10 English words, and us about 5 words of Thai, but we kept on laughing at our mediocrity the whole way hahaha!

Now we are on the train, riding for two days, going to the hot and tropical beaches of Thailand…

Koh Phi Phi
One car, two trains, 3 buses and two boat rides later… we arrived on Koh Phi Phi Island! Known as having some of the world’s best beaches, Koh Phi Phi was hugely stuck by the tsunami in 2004, killing something like 1000 people… but of course everything has been rebuilt since, and they did one hell of a good job!

Arriving on Koh Phi Phi island. This part of the island is considered the “town”, and no way in hell would we stay there as they blast super loud dance music until the small hours of the morning!

We booked 5 nights in a bungalow on Long Beach, located about 45 minutes walk from the town. Since we were tired as hell from our traveling, and we had all our bags with us, we decided to take a taxi boat to reach our destination on the island. The color of the water really blew me away, it looked so clear and had beautiful emerald colors!

Our bungalows viewed from the taxi boat

The taxi boat stop

The beach itself was surprisingly quiet and really well organized. There were no sellers trying to sell you sunglasses, bracelets or fruits… and they had fresh fruit shakes for 1.25$! I bought a small bottle of rum, and made my own frozen margaritas hehe! (The real ones were going for 4.50$ a glass, screw that!)

Drinking huge lime shakes spiked with extremely cheap rum

Relaxing on the side of the beach while reading INFERNAL DEMON zine and listening to VULCAIN/SCORPIONS/V8... paradise!

Check out the colors of the sea!!!

You can relax on a hammock while the sun sets in...

François enjoying Singha beer at one of the beach’s restaurants

What surprised me the most was when you enter the water, there are tons of multicoloured fishes that come and meet you! At one point, I think I had around 50 around me, it was kind of intimidating haha! Some were tickling my feet. It really felt like we were in an aquarium or something…

Fishes in the water!! There were also some weird 80’s looking fish that looked like they played in MOTLEY CRUE or something

Myself surrounded by 80’s glam fishes

The highlight of Long Beach though, were three Maltese dog puppies that were owned by some lady working at our hotel. They are so cute, oh man, I couldn’t resist hugging them haha… I wish I could have held all three at the same time, but only two fit in my arms.

Maltese dog barrkmageddon

And so that is it for our trip to Thailand. I think I’m seriously going to miss this country and its people… but we must move on. Tomorrow we are entering our first Islamic country; MALAYSIA! See you soon!

Hole in the skyyyyyy.... take me to Malaysiaaaa

 

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7 responses to “Only Death is Real

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