Last weekend was a holiday weekend, as Monday was Maka Bucha Day, a day to honor the Buddha’s teachings on the full moon day of the third lunar month (February). I was missing a meditation retreat at my temple in the village but I could not turn down a vacation with students and teachers from Chumchon Silalang school! Here’s a run down.
It started with karaoke, dancing and that was on the bus! Two tour buses loaded with students and teachers, heading to three destinations over three days, Petchaburi, Cha’am and Supanburi. One bus had all the girls and the other bus had the boys and some girls. The hotel, had about 10 to a room, the girls are small but waiting for the bathroom in the morning was crazy. The girls changed clothes underneath their pasins just like Peace Corps showed us. We went to Petchaburi to see the tallest stupa in the world, a Rama IV palace on a hill top (where the King and I was filmed), Cha’am to swim in the sea, and to a fresh water aquarium in Supanburi. It was wonderful that they asked me to join them.
First stop was to the tallest pagoda in the world located in Nakon Pathom province, Phra Nakon Pahtom temple. There were many fascinating side sights. The golden pagoda loomed in the background. There were caves, Buddha worship relics and from India and China and ceremonial details and altars that just took my breath away.
Then we headed for the Phra Nakhon Khiri royal palace and museum of King Rama IV. This was exciting as we had to take a steep electric tram to get to the top of the mountain, where the palace, royal museum, and gardens were located.
The museum, where you could not take pictures had examples of European art and porcelain ware. Gorgeous wood tables and ornate chairs. The floor of the museum was marble tile and signs asked visitors to walk gently. In some sections, the tiles had broken.
A steep path meandered down and across the hillside to an observatory and another temple on another hill. In general, Thai people do not like to walk far. So, we did not make the journey across to the observatory. They however, love to take photographs, the more the merrier. How exotically beautiful this must have all been when it was alive with royal visitors, guards and wild animals.
Think for a moment, when this palace was built with its stone and marble and incredibly heavy teak. The effort of man and beast to haul it up the mountain must have been astonishing and agonizing.
It’s time for a swim, so we headed to the waters of the Gulf of Thailand and Cha-am. This would be the first trip to the ocean for many students who are hill tribe students, and have never been outside their community. I give the school director a lot of credit for allowing the trip, which does not happen every year. We were so lucky to go. I was lucky to go. It did cost the children 500 baht ($17). They paid for my trip! The beach town was having a Music and Love Festival on the beach and under the full moon at night, the evening was pure chill and joy. When we arrived, it was windy which made the waves churn up enough for a bit of body surfing. God, the water felt good. In case you were wondering, traditional Thais wear teeshirts and shorts to swim, not bathing suits. Or, in case of fashionable women, like my co-teachers, sexy shorts and a pretty top. Only Westerners wear bathing suits. Peace Corps volunteers are expected to play by traditional Thai dress rules at all times.
The next day we went to Supanburi and the 100 year-old market called Sam Chuk dlat. This place had everything from touristy stuff, tee shirts, toys, food, amazing local varieties of food, food wrapped in lotus leaf, smoke pork, fish. I ate coconut ice cream from a coconut shell and drank coconut juice from a carved out bamboo stalk.
I bought a mattress, a traditional hand-woven Thai mattress, on hard side. I love it. I had been looking for one since I dumped my bed for a mat on the floor, in search of better sinus health.
Our last destination, Bueng Chawak Aquarium, located in a beautiful park setting, along a lake. It included a man-made creek, with giant orange carp, a waterfall and grounds that wove several kilometers back to the zoo. My camera had long since died… sorry, no pics. Along the way, we passed resort bungalows hugging the shores, then a zoo, where you could see the tigers, lions and monkeys, ostrich, and many other animals in their small cages, from our bus seats. I am glad we did not go there. I hate to see animals in small exhibits. Many exhibits at the aquarium were very good. Again, it must have been amazing for the students, who had never seen the variety of sea life before. There were gigantic glass-walled tunnels, you could walk through and sharks and giant groupers swam above and around you. I spend about five minutes having a mind meld with one fish who just stared at me, eye-to-eye. Sometimes, you just connect. I always feel joy when I look closely at fish and see the fine detail of their fins, eyes and noses. They seem to have such personalities.
For dinner, we went to Big C, think huge mall with food court, restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dairy Queen, movie theatre, clothes, electronics, everything. It was sensory overload because almost every store had their own blasting music and lights.
On the ride home, girls were given full rein to sing and dance on the bus, in the isle. There had been karaoke before, but as the song says, girls just wanna have fun and that means a dance party. I joined them and it was such fun seeing them having so much fun. There are disco lights too, it is crazy stuff.
The whole tour bus scene is unlike anything in America. These buses are decked out inside and out with colorful decor, and paint jobs with scenes of fairy creatures, kung foo fighters, cartoon characters, dragons, beautiful women, you name it. We had a pink theme going on with swirling flowers on the side of the bus. They are somewhat comfortable to sleep on. Buses stop at gas stations, where there is usually a 7 (7-11). Everyone gets out to use the bathroom. Buses make midnight stops if people boarded the bus in late afternoon, for a bowl of kao tom (rice soup) or quid teow (noodle soup). I use my ear plugs because the music is so loud, my ears crackle. Some of the girls had their hands over their ears. While the teachers I was with did not drink, on the other bus, teachers were drinking. They are not sitting with the students but it is not hidden either. Thai teachers do not police their students but everyone knows their rules.