I’m still finishing up some things in Bangkok, but am preparing to head out to southern Thailand, for the meditation course at Wat Suon Mok, 53 km north of Surat Thani. (If you look at a map of Thailand, Wat Suon Mok is on the east coast of Thailand, almost directly across from the southernmost tip of Myanmar (Burma).) Ben’s cousin Siri strongly recommended it. The guidebook says the daily routine consists of a 4am wakeup call and meditation session, then morning lectures on Buddhism, private study, evening lecture, and a soak in the mineral baths. Cost is roughly $2/day to cover expenses–at Thai temples, instruction in Buddhism/meditation is considered a (literally) priceless gift, and thus offered free.
I haven’t mentioned the monks yet, have I? All Thai men are expected to serve as monks at some point in their lives, usually for three months but anything from weeks to years. Monks live by a set of codes which vary from temple to temple, but basically involve owning nothing but a robe and begging-bowl; people give food to the monks each morning. There is at least one group that eats only one meal a day, before 10am, and can eat only what is directly in their begging-bowl; more liberal sects allow two meals before noon and allow the consumption of side dishes. I’m not sure exactly what the other rules are, I’ll probably ask once I’m at Wat Suon Mok. I was going to ask at the Golden Mount in Bangkok, but it seems unlikely I’ll get there, given the rest of my schedule.
At any rate, monks are highly respected in Thailand, and travel free on most forms of public transport. They don’t have to stand on buses, as people will get up to offer their seats. They’re quite distinctive and also very photogenic in their gold/orange robes, I’ve had to suppress the urge to take lots of photos. Yesterday I was in Panthip Plaza (which is a five-story madhouse of tiny stalls where you can buy almost anything computer-related) and saw a monk bringing in a computer for repair–that looked so weird I almost took a photo, but decided not to. It’s one thing to take photos in tourist spots, but taking photos of people in their day to day life feels intrusive. Nonetheless, it was quite a sight.
At any rate, given that I have to be at Wat Suon Mok by November 1, and probably by Oct 30-31 if I want to be certain of a spot, I’m looking at places in southern Thailand. The most interesting of these is the Similan Islands, which are supposed to be among the best dive sites in Southeast Asia. Coral reefs, sea fans, stingrays, mantas, and a “turtle shelf”, plus more of those fabulous tropical islands (oh, make me suffer 😉 ).
Unfortunately, before I go diving, I’d need to take a PADI course, which takes about four days. So the timing interferes both with my trip to Burma and my Thai tourist visa, which expires Nov 11. I’m seriously torn. I’m thinking I might pop across the Burmese border for a day (on re-entry I get another 30 days in Thailand), postpone the Burma trip until later, and go diving, but haven’t really decided yet.
I may also try visiting the monkey training school in Surat Thani. It turns out that most of the coconuts harvested in Thailand are actually collected by trained monkeys! (I wondered how people got up those coconut palms.) They use the pig-tailed macaque, and apparently a prime, 1-3 year old male costs 1000-3000 baht, with another 1000 for training in the monkey schools. This comes out to about $50-$100, for a fully trained, coconut-picking monkey.
The obvious conclusion here is that at least one, and probably more, of my friends needs a coconut-picking monkey. Maybe I can ship them along with the yak. 😉
I am now considering my philosophy of travel…I’ve been in the area for two weeks, and am starting to get a bit sick of Bangkok. I’ve poked my nose around the expat community and am quite convinced I could get an endless round of dinner invitations if I decided to stay here…but I’m not sure it’s worth the time to network around and meet people, as there’s so much to see in the rest of Thailand (not to mention Asia). I’m torn between wanting to see the rest of Asia and wanting to stay and chat with all the fascinating people I’ve been meeting (a movie producer, a novelist/screenplay writer, the body painter/art director, etc.).
Also, it *is* nice having a social group, and a place to call “home”–as Margaret Meade said, “One of the most basic human needs is having someone to worry when you don’t come home at night.” But really, I’m just passing through; so I think I may pack my bags and start wandering, passing through every so often to pick up the news, and maybe circulate and meet a few more people.
I do find being temporary extremely frustrating; I am not a natural traveler, and my strong tendency is to build (and spread out from) ongoing relationships. I can do this pretty rapidly, but with only days to operate it’s almost impossible to build a real network–I’d really have to be here for a month or more to get much out of the expat scene. So I think I may restrict my socializing to a smaller group, and just pass through from time to time. It’s just incredibly frustrating to meet all these interesting people, and not be able to pursue things further. *sigh* Well, you have to make choices.
Anyway, i’m off to breakfast, and then back off on today’s list of errands–mostly prosaic stuff like trying to buy a laptop and go to the post office, but also going to a silkweaving factory/demo site, where hopefully I’ll be able to get a drop spindle and silk roving. I’m going to try heading south tomorrow–we’ll see if it really happens.