the Long's Strange Trip

logo4.jpg (9695 bytes)

Questing into the unknown...
Home | About us |   FAQ's |  Sabbatical 2000 | Itinerary | Journal 2000 | Meandering Thoughts |  Images from the Road | Lasting Impressions | The Adventures of Randy | Just like being there



~  Pai in the Sky ~
December 1 through December 19, 2000
$1 U.S. = 43 Thai Baht
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Chiang Mai, Thailand
December 1 through December 5, 2000

(ccl)  Chiang Mai is a great place to soak up the culture and atmosphere of Thailand, without having to deal with Bangkok's forever snarled traffic.  Accommodation is high quality, affordable, and readily available.  There are several interesting temples to see, and the city abounds with great restaurants and entertainment.  Shopping for both area crafts and traveler's necessities is good, and the Ping River makes a great backdrop for an evening stroll through town.  Chiang Mai is so comfortable, in fact, that you'll see a lot of white faces in town, indicating that lots of foreigners, or farangs, as we are known in Thailand, have come here for a visit and wound up staying for a considerable amount of time.

We got to Chiang Mai in early afternoon, and headed for a guesthouse recommended by a friend back in Atlanta.  The place was nice enough, although the pool and bar areas were packed with vacationing Europeans day and night, prompting me to wonder why these people had come to Thailand to swim and drink when they could just as easily, and more cheaply, done those things in their own countries.  Of course, it is  December...

Our first order of business in Chiang Mai was to get our passports stamped with a ten-day extension to stay in the country.  Thailand grants people from almost any nation a stay of 30 days, visa-free, upon arrival.  You can get that extended as many times as you like for 500 baht, or you can keep leaving and re-entering the country as many times as necessary to get another 30 day stamp.  The immigration office runs like clockwork, and not only did the employees there help us get the necessary paperwork filled out, but our cab driver also got into the act an escorted us through the process.  The entire experience took less than 30 minutes, prompting us to speculate how many days it would have taken to accomplish the same thing in India.  For those who have never been to Asia, I can't imagine a friendlier and easier country to visit than Thailand.  Everyone wants to help you, many people speak English, and road signs and restaurant menus are written in English as well as Thai.  

Why, no, as a matter of fact, my wife LOVES it when I talk to other women!  We went out our first night in Chiang Mai in search of live music - something we hadn't heard in months, probably since the Greek Isles.  We found the house band at a bar down the road playing blues, and settled in for the next set.  Throughout the evening, women from the various hill tribes around Chiang Mai ("hill tribe" is the term used to designate the groups of indigenous people, either from Thailand, Burma, Laos, or China, who have lived in the northern area of Thailand for many years, and who still make their homes there, many of them adhering to centuries-old traditions - more on these people later) approached us and attempted to sell us various pieces of cheap jewelry, roses, cigars, etc.  One adorable little girl came up to Wiley, playfully tugged at his beard, and begged him to buy a rose.  She was so cute we couldn't refuse.

The next day we were standing outside Wat Chedi Luang, a beautiful temple with a chedi (also known as stupa, a monument that houses a relic of the Buddha) that dates from 1441.  Some local teenagers approached us and asked us, amid a cacophony of giggles, if they could interview us for their class project.  We said of course, and they proceeded to ask us questions about how we liked Thailand, how we liked the food, where we'd been so far, etc. while recording our answers.  At one point I looked at Wiley, and the sunlight had caught his beard at just the right angle to allow me to see little white flakes throughout it.  After the kids left, I kidded him about wearing his food on his face, and tried to brush the white stuff away, but it wouldn't go away.  Once home later that day, it wouldn't wash away, either.  Wiley self-diagnosed ("I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV") and decided that the little girl who had touched his beard the night before had given him beard lice.  I was aghast with horror - how could this be?  Only Ruby Fitzgerald in the 7th grade had lice, not my husband!  I cut off all physical contact with him, and he immediately went to the pharmacy and bought the recommended treatment, although he didn't show the pharmacist his beard, so we still had no professional corroboration of his diagnosis.  After four days, nothing had hatched, and the white things still wouldn't come out of his beard.  After searching the Internet until we found actual pictures of lice and their eggs, and realizing that what was in Wiley's beard looked nothing like them, we finally abandoned that diagnosis, and opted for a beard trim instead, which was much more successful.  Are the joys of travel unboundless, or what???

In case you were severely grossed-out by the above story, remember: we don't sugar-coat anything for you on this web site.

Chiang Mai has an interesting Night Market, which takes place every night, rain or shine, on and around a street called Chang Klan.  We found most of the merchandise to be pretty tacky and somewhat over-priced, but we really enjoyed wandering in the food section, where locals were taking the evening meal together or sharing drinks and conversation.  Thais apparently love all types of pickled foods, and they'll pickle anything that doesn't move.  Several of the stalls had beautiful displays of pickled vegetables and fruits and readily offered tastes of their products to anyone brave enough to try them.  Peter Piper was here

Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist.  Just about every boy, around the age of 13 or 14, spends some time serving as a monk.  Usually the period of service is around two weeks, but many of them go on to make it their way of life.  Thais, like other Buddhists, believe in karma, and particularly in the giving of alms to Buddhist monks, who have taken a vow of poverty.  The monks get their food, clothing, and personal items through donations, and a good Buddhist is a generous Buddhist.  Throughout Thailand we saw stores which sold religious items, like statues of the Buddha, plus what I would describe as "monk care packages".  They were gold buckets or baskets filled with toiletries, noodles, socks, and other things that I suppose monks need.  Sometimes early in the morning we would see monks soliciting donations of food at the temples from good Buddhists.

In the countries we have traveled to we have often seen remnants of an ancient religion intermingled with a relatively newer, more "mainstream" religion.  In the Amazon jungle in Peru, when we took part in the ayahuasca ceremony with the shaman, we were interested in how, despite the fact that Catholic rituals and prayers were used, the shaman still did things to protect us from bad spirits and to bring in good spirits.  The belief that spirits inhabit everything around us is called animism, and in Thailand the evidence of this belief is obvious everywhere in the form of the little spirit houses that accompany nearly every building, from post offices to luxury hotels.  Spirit houses are elaborate little wooden houses, often painted or sometimes made out of teak, and resting atop posts that are placed in the ground 20 or 30 feet from the house.  Thais believe that if they make an attractive spirit house, and service it daily with flowers, candles, incense, food, and sometimes whiskey, that the spirits of the house will occupy the little spirit house and NOT the big house.  This is important, because while you want your spirits to be happy and well cared-for, you DON'T want them living in your own house.  We saw hundreds of these little houses all over Thailand, and many times they were occupied by little "spirit people", which represent the spirits of different aspects of the house, like the yard or the roof.  Thai spirit house and spirit people

As many of you know, we are devout lovers of good music, and blues music is probably our favorite.  We haven't seen any live music to speak of since Greece, and no blues music since a rag-tag group of pick-up musicians in Istanbul.  So we were literally starving for tunes when we walked though the door of Le Brasserie in Chiang Mai to hear the house guitarist we had read about in Lonely Planet.  When the band struck up the opening notes of the Allman Brother's "Jessica", we knew we had found nirvana, albeit not the kind most Thai Buddhists are looking for.  Took, the lead guitarist, proceeded to whale on the guitar for three hours, covering the most difficult riffs from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Jimmy Hendrix with equal prowess.  For the last number the crowd joined in for a sing-a-long on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", and we happily headed back to the hotel, having had our blues craving satisfied for at least a couple of weeks.

Chiang Mai is the main city of Thailand's Hill Tribe region.  The Hill Tribes are groups of ethnic minorities that live in the hills of northern Thailand, many of them as they have for centuries.  Many are indigenous to Thailand, but several have also left China and Burma (now Myanmar) to escape persecution and forced labor in those countries.  There are different settlements of several tribes, and each tribe has its own language, customs, religious beliefs, and dress.  Many travel agencies line the boulevards of Chiang Mai offering treks into the wilderness to visit these villages and observe the customs of these tribes.  We had gotten a recommendation from a friend in Atlanta about a guide at an agency just across the street from our hotel, so we visited them and listened to the particulars of their three day trek.  We also checked with a few other agencies, and each one told the same story: some walking, some bamboo rafting, and an elephant ride.  After our elephant ride in Nepal, the novelty of that activity had pretty much worn off for us, and as each agency seemed to follow the same route we began to suspect that the trails around the hill country might resemble Times Square at New Year's Eve.  

After some research, we decided to head north to a small town called Pai.  We felt like we might have a better trekking experience as there should be less people there.  Lonely Planet described Pai as "a peaceful crossroads town" and doesn't say much more, except that "if you stick around a few days and talk to some of the locals, you may discover some beautiful out-of-town spots in the surrounding hills."  We didn't expect too much, but figured at the very least we might hook up with a good trekking company and visit some of the hill tribe villages that see fewer tourists.  

Pai, Thailand
December 5 through December 15, 2000

We had little reason to suspect that a bus ticket for the four hour bus ride to Pai was a hot commodity, so we had a leisurely breakfast before sauntering in to the bus station one morning.  The 11:00 air conditioned bus was full, so we bought tickets for the 12:30 bus and sat down to wait.

Sometimes I think about the stories I tell myself about "how things are gonna be".  We all do it - we have expectations about life based on past experiences, what we've heard from others, etc.  Our last bus ride in Thailand had been extremely comfortable, with beverage service and fully reclining seats.  Everyone had a ticket and a seat number, and the ride was fast, efficient, and quiet.  While waiting for our bus to arrive, I busied myself by buying some Pad Thai for our lunch, some fresh pineapple and watermelon, and a couple of newspapers for our reading enjoyment.   

At 12:20, a small, dilapidated bus pulled into the bay that our bus was supposed to leave from.  I watched in dawning horror as hoards of tourists and Thais rushed the tiny bus, jockeying for position and packing into the few seats.  By the time we loaded up with our backpacks and the huge bag of souvenirs we had bought in Chiang Mai, it was obvious we weren't going to get a seat.  Grumbling, I took position in the aisle, Wiley occupying the space directly in front on me and a Thai woman that in back of me.  

The ride to Pai was four hours of hairpin turns, squealing brakes, and undulating road.  Were it not for being able to desperately clutch the metal bars running along the ceiling of the bus, I would have landed repeatedly in the laps and on the heads of those sitting around me.  Incredibly, the bus driver stopped the bus several times to take on more passengers, packing the bus to the rafters.  I looked longingly at my lunch in the bag at my feet, and thought how ironic it was that I had once thought I might enjoy it while viewing the beautiful scenery from my seat on the bus.  When we stopped for a break and several young backpackers climbed to the top of the bus, preferring to ride on the luggage rack instead of enduring the environment inside the bus, the driver made them get down, saying it was unsafe.  How much more unsafe than packing a small bus with shoddy brakes full of people and cargo, we'll never know...

Enjoying sunset above the rice fields of Pai  Finally, we pulled into the small town of Pai.  By this time a little boy in the front of the bag had broken the silence three times by hurling his lunch into the plastic bags held by his mother.  Wiley was a three shades of green, and when the bus stopped in the parking lot of the bus station, its passengers exploded out of it as if shot from a cannon.  Gulping fresh air, be shouldered our burdens and went in search of lodgings.  

The skies over Pai  We both felt comfortable almost from the start in Pai.  There was a definite energy in the air, what might have been described as a "good vibe" in the 70's.  Because the tiny town is surrounded by hills, the sun disappears relatively early, but the late afternoon skies are filled with a golden glow and the clouds dazzle onlookers with their fluffy, puffy pinkness.  Every day I found myself commenting that I had never seen the sky so blue and so clear.  After a couple of days in town, shop and restaurant owners wave in recognition.  Travelers meet each other's gazes in the streets with a knowing smile and a nod, as if to say, "Yeah, we've found a special place.  Now don't tell anyone!".  

After a few days of enjoying the great restaurants, coffee houses, and blues bars of Pai, we decided it was time to look into taking a trek.  In contrast to Chiang Mai, there are only three or four trekking companies, and we had heard of a couple of recommendations.  But when we saw the sign advertising Permchai's Trekking claiming, "50% of your money back if you see another tourist!", we knew we had to check them out.  We met Chart (pronounced like "chat"), who was to be our guide, and were impressed with his explanation of how their company treks in a completely different area than the other companies.  We signed up and on Friday morning reported for our four day trek in what's known as the Golden Triangle region.

The Golden Triangle region comprises the northern portion of Thailand and the southern portions of Burma and Laos.  The name arises from the fortunes amassed by local "opium war lords" shortly after the Vietnam War.  Prior to that time, the hill tribes of southern China had cultivated opium for its medicinal properties (As you probably know, opium is used to make morphine, the most effective pain-killer known to man.  It is also refined into heroin, one of the most addictive substances there is, which is quickly becoming the number one drug problem in America and the rest of first world.)  Introduced to the Chinese by Arab traders in the 13th century during the reign of Kublai Khan, the cultivation of the poppy was an economic godsend for the poor hill tribes.  The poppy itself grows well on hillsides and in poor soil, and the money obtained from the sale of the opium was used to pay taxes and in transactions with the outside world.  

When America entered the Vietnam War, what had been a relatively small trade confined to the local area became an extraordinarily lucrative business involving governments and guerilla groups.  With American GI's providing outlets to the rest of the world, and the eventual involvement of the CIA, which used profits from heroin runs aboard U.S. aircraft to finance covert operations throughout Indochina, the simple people of the hill tribes were quickly out of their league.  Ultimately, when skirmishes and fighting began breaking out between rival drug lords, the Thai government began taking steps to eradicate the region of poppy cultivation.  The Thai royal family has undertaken projects to replace opium cultivation with the cultivation of such crops as tea, coffee, and Chinese herbs, and the result has been that most of the poppy cultivation has moved and continues unmolested in Laos and Myanmar.  However, it is still estimated that two tons of heroin is smuggled out of Thailand every year, and despite funding from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, only 2% of the world's opium crop is intercepted by authorities each year.

We have been blessed throughout our trip to share our adventures with really wonderful and interesting people from all over the world, and the hill tribe trek from Pai was no exception.  Our group consisted of:

Regis and Marie-Eve, a French couple at the start of a four-month trip that will take them from Thailand to Australia, French Polynesia and South America.  Regis recently got his university degree in physics and Marie-Eve is an air traffic controller at the Toulouse Airport.

Dylan and Lisa, a recently married British couple from London, who are two months into a Pacific tour that started and will end with them attending the weddings of friends in Australia.  Dylan is a software consultant and Lisa worked for Deutsche Bank .  

Tanate, or Nate as we called him, an accountant with KPMG in Bangkok.  Nate, the only Thai in the group besides Chart, has been accepted to the MBA program at the Columbia School of Business in New York for next fall's term.

Henrick, a 21-year-old Swede who just finished his tour of duty in Kosovo and is spending some vacation time in Thailand before heading back to Sweden to start studying journalism.

 Daphna, a 21-year-old Israeli who lives just south of Los Angeles with her family.  Daphna is traveling in Asia with her boyfriend and will return to the States to go back to college after several more months.

Wow, they eat just like we do!!  Dylan, Lisa, Nate and Daphna could only stay on the trail for three days, and the rest of us wanted to spend an extra night in the jungle (looking back on it, I'm not sure why...), so it was planned that we would part with them on the third day and they would be led out of the jungle by one of Chart's friends from one of the villages we would visit.  From the start is was fairly obvious that we wouldn't be running into any other tourists on the circuit that Chart had chosen for us.  We stopped for lunch in a village of people from the Lahu tribe, and once we sat down to eat we realized that the entire school had stopped work so that the children could come out to stare at us.  They were friendly and curious kids, and were especially interested in Daphna's dreadlocks.  Many of the tribes consider the snake to be a sacred animal, and I imagine that to the kids she looked a lot like Medusa.  Lahu kids marvel at Daphna's hair

Beautiful jungle scenery  Perspective is important in trekking.  Chart had told us that the afternoon's hike would be "quite difficult", and it was.  We hiked through beautiful, shady jungle growth, alongside a clear and cold stream.  Oftentimes we found ourselves having to scramble up steep embankments, helping each other along the way.  By the time we arrived at the Lisu village in which we were to spend the night, we were all pretty tired, sweaty, and somewhat dirty, but glad to be there.  The village was perched on a ridge overlooking the valley that Pai sits in, and the view as the sun was setting was glorious.  We settled in at the home of one of the villagers for the night, and Chart made a great stir-fry dish with steamed rice over the open fire in the middle of the floor of the one-room house.  He looked like some kind of jungle combat hero gone awry, wearing his knife harness, a head lamp and a frilly pink apron while incessantly crying, "More rice whiskey!".  That night all nine of us trekkers slept side-by-side on mats on the floor.  It was the warmest night of sleep for me, as I had Wiley on one side and Nate on the other.  Wiley takes a refreshing dip 

 A Lisu woman picks coffee beans  The people in the tribes we visited seemed curious, but not overly so, about us.  Typically it was the children who watched us closely, smiling shyly when we looked back at them.  The women usually were the ones wearing the traditional clothing, and sometimes a baby would be adorned in a decorative hat that was indicative of that tribe.  Families lived in simple huts made of bamboo, with several chickens and chicks, a rooster, a pig or two and maybe some piglets, and a few geese or ducks.  Most of these people farmed the land, and some appeared to be rather financially successful as they motored around the village on small motorbikes.  We saw school buildings at two of the villages we visited; as for the other two, I'm not sure whether the children were able to attend school or not.  Life for these people is hard by our standards, but they are close-knit and proud of their traditions.  One village we visited had electricity - it was the largest town in the region - but the others didn't, meaning those people had no access to television, a major corrupting factor in these types of settlements.  At night people sat around the fire together, eating, sharing homemade rice or corn whiskey and laughing and talking.  Children under two spent most of their time slung onto their mothers backs in colorful woven slings, and the women kept busy with their chores despite their burdens.  Visiting places like these villages always makes me reevaluate what I have versus what I need.  They get by with so little, and while they struggle, life seems generally tranquil and happy for them.  Lahu man

For all of these tribes, life is dependent on the land.  While many of them practice slash and burn agriculture, where a plot of land is cleared for farming by clear cutting the trees and burning the brush, and is typically abandoned for a new plot when the soil is exhausted, others seemed to be aware of the need to protect the land.  On the first day we had lunch in the house of the village leader in a Lahu village.  The rules of the village were posted on the wall of the house.  Nate and Chart translated, as they were written in Thai (I don't know for sure but my guess is that many of the languages these tribes speak have no written form).  One of them prescribed a fine of 50 baht for missing a town meeting.  The most interesting was a rule that specified a fine of 1000 baht (a huge sum of money for these people) for anyone that didn't obey the seven year crop rotation schedule.  This tribe was apparently concerned about exhausting the valuable minerals in the soil, and had devised a method for ensuring that the soil stayed fertile.

On the second night we were all sound asleep at 5:00 A.M. when Chart came into the house (he had been up all night with the villagers) and announced, "Who wants to see deer?  BIG deer??".  I thought, hey, we've got deer in Georgia, and I certainly am not about to leave my cocoon to see one.  No one spoke up, and Chart said, "Henrick!  Want to see deer?".  Secretly, I think we were all glad when Henrick reluctantly climbed out of his sleeping bag and went with Chart to see the deer that someone had killed that night, since it meant that none of us would have to go.  Henrick said that it was pretty interesting to watch them clean the carcass and divide the meat amongst the houses in the village.  This is traditional of tribal peoples around the world, I suppose.

After a quick breakfast we headed out on the third morning, and after about an hour and a half of hiking said goodbye to Dylan, Lisa, Nate, and Daphna.  Chart had warned us that our hike would be "quite difficult" in the afternoon, but while lounging dreamily in a field of opium poppies (no kidding) after a lunch of friend rice and bananas, I was too comfortable to be concerned about his talk of the need to slash our way through the jungle.  It turned out to be the toughest hiking of the trek, and we had had two brutal days before that.  Chart and another man from the Lahu village led the way, hacking at branches, bamboo, and brush to clear a path for us, and we slogged along behind them.  At one point I followed Marie-Eve's lead and sat down to slide down what appeared to a huge tunnel of grass.  The last 15 minutes or so were straight downhill, and we all stumbled and fell over vines and tall grass before finally emerging at the bottom at a beautiful waterfall.  Everyone had a brief, icy shower under the pounding water to wash off the bugs, dirt, and plants that had hitched a ride down the hill, and we settled into a little bamboo shelter that one of the Lahu men had built to use when he was growing rice on that hillside.   Love shack?  I don't think so...

Chart uses his makeshift mortar and pestle to crush garlic  Since we were carrying everything with us, we didn't have much in the way of kitchen gear, but that didn't stop Chart from serving up a gourmet dinner that was the best food we'd had on the trip.  He fashioned cups, chopsticks, bowls, and spoons out of bamboo, and even used a piece of bamboo as a pot in which he made a delicious sardine soup.  He had bought a big bottle of rice whiskey from the people at the Lahu village, and we had that with a fish that he had cooked over the fire as an appetizer.  For dinner we had the soup, plus stir-fried Chinese cabbage and cauliflower over rice.  Everything was delicious, and we all ate hungrily to replace the calories burned on the trail.  Mouth nirvana

Marie-eve and Regis toast "le pan"  On the last morning we lounged around our camp until after 11:00, despite the fact that Chart had told us the day would be "quite difficult".  I guess I had heard that so many times that I didn't imagine it would be that much worse that what we had already been through, but it was.  He told us that we would be walking in water, so we might want to put on sandals.  I was the only one who did this, and I was glad, because we were hiking in a river for over two hours that morning.  The rest of the group tried to skip over the slippery rocks to avoid getting their boots wet, but eventually everyone succumbed.  Chart said that no one was using this part of the trail much this time of the year, and that was why we had to hike up the river.  I was convinced that we were going to discover a Vietnam-era POW camp and be international heroes, we were so far off the beaten path.  We were exhausted by the time we finally reached the end of the trail where a man from the agency was waiting with cold water and fresh papaya to take us back to Pai.  I asked Henrick as we came off the trail if this was what the army was like, and he said, "No.  This is worse.".  So I can now say that I have taken a trek that is comparable to serving in the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Kosovo.

On the way back to Pai we began to contemplate what we had coming up for the next three days.  Before leaving Pai we had signed up for a three day meditation and cleansing course.  So now we were going without a break from the trail to the temple.  What would the next experience be like?  We were about to find out...

Wiley had wanted to take a meditation class at a couple of different places along the trip.  I was pretty indifferent, but willing to go along.  We had taken a class together in Atlanta from a woman who taught out of her home, and while I'd never reached enlightenment, I did find it relaxing.  Wiley has kept up a fairly regular routine since then, and is interested in how he might use it to help people in his practice one day.  So when we got the opportunity to do it while in Pai, we figured it would be a really beautiful setting and a great place to do it.

Have I told you about my friend, the Reverend Moon??  We reported to Herbal House after saying goodbye to our friends.  Tiger, the owner and meditation teacher, met us and gave us our clothes, flowing white smocks and pants, for the next three days.  We were shown to a room with a mattress on the floor, a mosquito net, and perpetually open windows which offered no protection against the cold night air of Pai.  The toilets were downstairs, along with the cold water shower.  For three days we would eat and drink only what Tiger gave us, and there was to be no sex, no alcohol, and no contact with the outside world.  Each day, our schedule went as follows:

6:00 One of Tiger's assistants bangs on our door to wake us up.

6:30 We report to Herbal House for a couple of cups of herbal tea, then walk to a local Buddhist temple for meditation until 8:00.

8:00 We have breakfast at Herbal House.

10:30 We have to drink a really strange tasting concoction called an "herbs drink" by Tiger.

12:30 Lunch is served at Herbal House.

5:00 Participate in meditation at the temple until 6:30.

6:30 We eat a fruit salad at Herbal House, then have a massage or sauna.

You're probably thinking to yourself that this all sounds pretty good, and you're right, I suppose.  The food, prepared fresh and made from organic foods by Tiger's wife, was outstanding.  The massages were wonderful and we had plenty of time for thoughtful contemplation in the afternoon.  The meditation was deeply relaxing, although after our initial instruction Tiger didn't really give us too much help.  We usually took a nap in the morning and a nap in the afternoon, followed by at least nine hours of sleep at night.  I began to suspect that my herbal water contained Sominex.  This is pretty much what I did for three days

The meditation itself was calming and pretty powerful, at times.  We entered the area around a small chedi, and lit candles and incense.  Tiger led a chant that asked Buddha for guidance in seeking enlightenment.  We started out our first couple of sessions by doing some walking meditation, in which we tried to concentrate intently on walking, how our feet were placed on the ground, what it felt like, how we moved our muscles, etc.  The purpose was to get used to concentrating at that level for an extended period of time.  After a while, Tiger had us sit very slowly on a mat, and eventually we were sitting, eyes closed in contemplation, concentrating on our breathing, for an hour.  We both had some moments when we felt that we were "there", but achieving real concentration in meditation takes some practice.  We both need more of that, but I think that the opportunity to meditate and think about little, if anything, for three days helps to clear the mind and makes it somewhat easier to sweep away the clutter while meditating.

But deprivation always, eventually, takes it toll.  On the afternoon of Day 2 I began to think about food.  That night, I dreamed about food.  At night, after leaving the temple, we looked longingly into some of the many great watering holes of Pai and wished we were sitting with folks, chatting and having a beer.  By Day 3 we were in full fantasy mode, planning what we would eat and do that night.  After our final massage, we gladly donned our normal clothes and gave our cult-like uniforms back to Tiger.  We said goodbye and walked out, feeling peaceful but happy that our three days of restriction was over.  With Tiger and Lek on our last night - don't we look calm?

After a great meal and some tunes at the local blues joint, we headed back to our "cell" and spent one final night there.  We managed to get a seat on the bus back to Chiang Mai the next morning, and the ride was ultimately much more pleasant than the one we had taken to get there.  We transferred to the airport and got a flight into Bangkok, and now are ensconced in a lovely hotel room with a big bathtub, all the hot water we want, a mini bar, and room service.  Deprivation is good for the soul, I suppose, but nothing beats a nice soft bed, clean white sheets, and a little CNN.

And speaking of CNN, I should mention this: an interesting and surreal backdrop to our entire time in Thailand has been the U.S. presidential election.  The election took place the day after we arrived in Thailand.  We had thought about trying to vote absentee from the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, but never got that done.  When the election results started coming in, we checked in whenever we saw a TV with CNN playing.  Then the thing began to drag on and on.  Whenever we were in a hotel room with a TV, we'd find ourselves glued to Larry King every morning (remember, we're 12 hours ahead of the east coast).  People asked us, "Hey, what's up with this crazy electoral college thing you've got in America?!".  Now that it all seems to finally be over, I can only imagine what it must have been like living through it in America.  Add this to the college football season and I now have TWO great reasons for being out of the country this year!

So in a couple of days we say goodbye to Thailand and fly to the final foreign destination on the Long's Strange Trip itinerary, Bali.  Chores are being done, like mailing souvenirs home, trying to get the digital camera fixed, and of course, dear readers, updating the web site.  We both agree that Thailand is a country we will definitely come back to one day.  There is much more to see here, and in six weeks it feels like we didn't even scratch the surface.

We often say that we can't believe this odyssey is coming to an end soon.  In late January we'll fly to Hawaii for a couple of weeks, stepping on U.S. soil for the first time since early 2000.  Then we'll hit the continent for a couple of weeks of seeing family and friends in and around San Francisco.  After that, it's back to Atlanta in the last week of February to reclaim our cats and our stuff and figure our "what comes next".  After ten months of travel we are both different people, but I think the changes are pretty positive.  If I could get one point across to those of you reading out there it would be that if at all possible, you should do something like this in your lifetime.  You just can't understand the world without seeing it and its people firsthand.  Not that I claim to; I suppose I just have a different perspective than before.  But I think, for me, it will be impossible to view the rest of the world as "those people" and "their problems" after I have looked so many of them in the eyes and seen them smile back at me.  After this, the world will forever be a smaller place to me.  And I'm glad.

Click here to continue in Bali with "Christmas Island"





© 2013 - All Rights Reserved -