The Land of Smiles

Reclining Buddha – Wat Chedi Luang

At the end of my short trip to Thailand with my family, I longed to linger around a little more. We spent an eventful eight days spread out between the capital city of Bangkok and the quaint northern town of Chiang Mai. We had to reluctantly let go of the golden southern beach islands due to lack of time. This however leaves me with an excuse to head back to the Land of Smiles sometime in the future.

Between tramping through the charming Buddha temples, savoring street food and Chang beer at the makeshift restaurants that spring out of nowhere in the evenings, taking in the local life on the metro trains and shopping at the glitzy malls, Bangkok was a sensory overload.

My Curious Friends

After long days that involved significant walking, we would relax at one of the innumerable massage shops getting foot massages. You can’t set your eyes on a spot in Thailand without spotting a massage shop lurking in a corner. A Thai massage is a confounding mix of soothing rubs and getting pounded with elbows and knees. An hour of foot massage and you’d be wobbling out like a formless shapeless alien because your bones are all pulverized. Russel Peters wasn’t kidding!

Buddha Lineup at Wat Phrathat

A few words of Thai that I had memorized before setting foot into the country turned out to be a hilarious source of entertainment to the employees at one of the massage parlors. As I lay on my back one evening getting foot rubs, I greeted my masseuse with the customary “sawadee ka”. It appeared that I probably got the gender wrong and the masseuse giggled and corrected me. I then hesitantly uttered “Pood thai mai dai” which meant I’m not much of a Thai speaker. I was stunned when my masseuse and a couple of her other coworkers burst into laughter. I’ll never know what set them off. It could have been my accent, awkward dialog delivery or maybe the delightful novelty of a foreigner attempting to speak their native language. For the rest of my session, my masseuse had me repeating “Pood thai mai dai” every few minutes and giggled away heartily. “You come tomorrow I give foot massage again” said my masseuse, as I walked out in a state of puzzled amusement.

Monks Offer Their Evening Prayers

After four days of traversing the typical tourist trail that involved visiting the Grand Palace and the renowned temples that line up along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, we bid goodbye to bustling Bangkok and flew north. After an hour on the Thai domestic charter, we found ourselves in a place with a very different vibe, Chiang Mai. Nicknamed ‘The Rose of the North”, Chiang Mai is a lovely little valley town nestled within lush green mountains. The city streets are lined with trendy cafes, lounges and restaurants. Buddha temples abound everywhere.

Chiang Mai Valley

Our temple tramping continued unabated in Chiang Mai. After days filled with visits to Buddha temples, relaxing in the evening breeze with beer was pure bliss. Chiang Mai has a very lively music scene and western classic rock gets a lot of attention here. Most bars, cafes and lounges either have local bands playing live music or popular rock videos playing on big screens. We had a good time watching a local amateur rock band putting up a decent live show at the Riverside bar and restaurant.

Dad and Sister on the Trail

We spent a forgettable day going on a trekking expedition with one of the local companies. I furiously despise the idea of going on guided expeditions with a bunch of random strangers while being on a tight schedule that someone else sets. However, we didn’t have a choice here being in an unfamiliar town without personal transportation. While the misty mountainous forests where we went trekking was very scenic, the prospect of having to hike without the luxury to pause at points of interest took away the fun. To make matters worse, one of the guys in the group turned out to be a weirdo that pestered everyone with questions on religion, life and death and other “deep” topics. The entire experience of the guided excursion was nothing more than a check mark in your Chiang Mai to-do list.

With the Temple Guardian ‘George’

Our last day at Chiang Mai made up for the mediocre day that we had the day before. Having hopped aboard one of the adorable red pickups that cruise the streets of Chiang Mai, we snaked up the winding roads to get to Wat Prathat, a Buddha temple that sits on top of the majestic mountain Doi Suthep, protectively overlooking the town of Chiang Mai in the valley below. One of the many praying rooms at the temple seated a Buddhist monk that was sprinkling holy water onto the kneeling tourists in front of him. I and my sister joined the kneeling crowd as he chanted his mantras and said in the end “Happy happy happy everybody be happy happy happy”. We all nodded and agreed to be happy from then on.

Four days of Bangkok and four more days of Chiang Mai later, it was time to leave the warm hospitality, the smiles and the heavenly mango sticky rice and dragon fruit smoothies behind. I can’t wait to go back to my newfound eastern happy place where the language sounds like everyone’s singing.