My Buddy the Buddha and the Best Train

Two days in Bangkok I spent learning about and trying to understand religion, which meant a lot of searching for temples and shrines and watching rituals. 

   
Vesak is one of the most important days in Thai Buddhist culture because they believe it to be the day of the year on which the (Supreme) Buddha was born, reached enlightenment, and died (I would imagine the death must have been brought on by heat stroke). He supposedly spread his teachings in Eastern India between the 4-6th centuries BCE. On Vesak, or Buddha Day (which is celebrated a month earlier in Cambodia and some other countries), followers do several things (observing extra virtues, offering things to temples), and I got to witness most of them which was really cool. 

In the morning, I had no idea it was a holiday. I accidentally ended up at Wat Traimit, the temple in Bangkok’s Chinatown district with the world’s largest Golden Buddha. It was really busy, with people circling the statue, kneeling, praying, offering money, and burning incense.

  

  
Something I’ve been surprised by is the sheer multitude of monks everywhere. On Vesak, it is common to give them offerings of food and attend a Dharma speech– the Buddhist version of a sermon. They’re easy to spot all over the city, but I don’t know much about them. Some have cell phones. Most of them look like they’re not doing anything. At one temple, we saw a monk splashing water on a follower and chanting. More research is needed. 

  
  
A Singaporean guy (Alif) and a Taiwanese guy (Micah) from the hostel were touring the temples and other things and let me tag along with them. We took a boat tour of the river heading north (I didn’t understand a single thing the guide said) which ran for baht, and were able to see Wat Pho, home of the world’s largest reclining Buddha (45 meters long! What?!)…
   
  

  

   

   
 And also Wat Arun, or “Temple of Dawn,” which is named after a sun god called Aruna (brother to Garuda {mount of Vishnu and enemy of serpents… I’ll stop there– folklore is fun!}). Supposedly it catches the first light of dawn and lights up the area around it. Unfortunately since it’s off season, a lot of the temple was surrounded in scaffolding.  

   
    
 
At night, I went to one of the temples and observed the celebration. Followers of Buddhism will bring incense and flowers that represent the shortness of life and the Buddha’s teaching that all complex things must deteriorate with time, and they take these things and circle the statue three times to symbolize respect for what Buddhists call the “Holy Triple Gem,” which consists of the Buddha, his teachings, and his followers.

   
        Also on this day, much to the dismay of some people at the hospital, no alcohol is sold. 
I felt really fortunate to have been in Bangkok for such an important religious day, but I also felt very very confused. I’m not very knowledgable about other religions besides Chrisitanity (having been a very devout Christian until I was 18) and since I don’t speak any languages here I feel sort of out of place. Staying in hostels is good, I guess, and comfortable, but I should probably start working on finding couchsurfing hosts again… 
Unfortunately I’ve already booked a entire week at a hostel in Chiang Mai, the most populous city in northern Thailand. 
Booking train tickets in Bangkok is quite easy, if a little strange. As I approached the ticket desk to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai, the attendant looked and me and smiled and said, “Oh, hello hello Mr. Money, lots of money!” 
“Uh…” I scratched my head.
“No no it’s okay, where you going?”
“Chiang Mai, Thursday morning please.”
“Okay… 641 baht, Mr. money! Just kidding. Ha!” Not bad. $19 for a 12-hour ride with free meals and coffee. 
I handed him the money, making sure to bow my head and push it forward with both hands. 
“Kap kun kaaaaaaap,” he said. 
“Kap kun kap.”
And I was all set to leave. 

   
     I can’t imagine, after seeing this train ride, anyone wanting to fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai instead. True, it’s a 12-hour ride, and the AC sometimes breaks, but unless you’re used to seeing this sort of countriside, the 641 baht adventure is worth every damn penny. Or baht, excuse me. 

   
  

  In the south there are beautiful fields and rivers and farms, and as you climb higher and higher while traveling north, you see the jungle and mountains begin to emerge simultaneously until they both explode into full view. All the while, you’re treated to free food and drinks and the romanticism of crossing an entire country by train. 
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves just this once (because they can, and because I’ve been typing up posts for the past seven hours), but I assure you they will not do the grandeur of this country justice, nor the hard and thankless labor of its people justice. 

   
         
My advice: come here, even if just for the train ride. It will change you. 

   
  

      

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