The Summit

On Sunday, June 7, the Sons of Chiang Mai had big plans to really go after the tattoos and were going to attempt getting massages, among other things.
The first thing we did was get a really American breakfast at a diner around the corner from our hostel – bagels and smoked salmon, Egg ‘MoocMiffins,’ and pancakes… This place had it all.

  I got to eat everyone’s leftovers because I’d already eaten some snack foods from the 7 Eleven. Joining the gang was Sonja, a Czech girl with crazy red hair who had just finished a meditation course at one of the temples here.

“How did that happen? Was it expensive?” I asked.
“There’s a specific temple that does it, and you go and do a course for however long you want, but the minimum is ten days. They provide all the food, and everything is on donation so you do it for free. It’s difficult though, so a lot of people give up early.”
“How long were you there for?”
“26 days.”
Gasps from the peanut gallery.
“I wouldn’t have made it. I would have gone stir crazy,” Angie said. 
“What’s a typical day like?” I asked. 
“You wake up at 4 in the morning and do meditation, and then breakfast is 6:30, usually a kind of soup.” I already didn’t like the sound of this. “You meditate more, and then lunch is at 10:30, and then you’re done eating for the day.”
“Well, you can’t eat after noon. And then you’re expected to meditate until 10pm, when you can sleep.”
“Do you think it worked?”
“In the evenings you meet with a monk and you talk. About your day with him, what kind of things you need to work on and what you thought. The goal is to not think.” 
“That’s what I’m doing all the time,” Angie laughed. 
“That sounds really boring,” I said.
“You have to do sitting and walking meditation, and you alternate between them, so it’s not too bad. And at the beginning you do just a little at a time and work up to it.”
After we’d finished breakfast, we went over to get massages. In Chiang Mai, there is an establishment that hires ex-criminal women and teaches them to do massage. If you’ve never had a Thai massage (like me, and I’d never had a professional massage before either), it might not be what you expect, but it’s really pleasant. 
We entered a small waiting room where there were some locals having tea and paid 180 baht (less than $6) each to get in for a massage. First you go back outside to have your feet washed and then put on cloth slippers before going back in. Then you change into very loose-fitting thin-cloth pants and a shirt and make your way back into a room with dim lights and twenty other people being massaged on various beds, while Asian-style music plays softly through speakers in the walls. 

I was taken to a bed in the corner and proceeded to have the shit beat out of me for an hour. 
Not really, but this was definitely not the kind of massage I was expecting. It involves a lot of bone popping, stretching, pulling, hitting, and chopping. But it was actually pretty pleasant and I left feeling better than I had coming in, so I might be back. Hell, at $5 a pop, I might as well do it every day (I won’t, though). Also, I’m not entirely sure this sort of thing is human-trafficking free, since the women are ex-criminals… I’m worried they don’t get paid enough for their work, especially since they’re putting their entire body weight into it all the time. Afterwards, we were served green tea in an air conditioned room.


Next on the agenda was climbing up the mountain again on our bikes to see what we thought was a white temple that was famous amongst the hundreds of the city. There were supposed to be over three hundred steps leading to Wat Doi Suthep, and after some sight-seeing we’d made it to the long snakes guarding the temple and made our way up. 

 It was sort of a let down. Once you’ve seen a couple of temples, the rest are more or less the same; and especially after exploring Wat Palad, this was child’s play. If you ever go, by the way, don’t pay the 30 baht entrance fee. You can just walk right from the entrance, get in that way without paying, and not fall for the tourist trap. I’m lookin’ out for y’all. 

   We signed our names on the scroll meant to be wrapped around the pagoda, watched a monk bless a bunch of tourists, and then headed back to the bikes to find the real gem of the mountain: the summit. 

Somewhere between the temple and the summit, the air cools considerably into something that feels like autumn has come and the feeling of the oppresive heat and smog and humidity of the city leaving all at once is orgasmic. It was all Nick and I could talk about as the most beautiful forest scenery surrounded us.

Near the top, the sound of cicadas became overpowering and meditative, and at long last, we’d reached the summit and one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It looked like a scene straight out of a Miyazaki film (specifically Princess Mononoke, if you’re familiar): emerald trees covering every bit of ground save for the little village set between several peaks from which a plume of smoke curled up and outward. 

       For dinner, we ate in town just next door to Cooking Love and shared a lot of really amazing food for very little money. And for the first time, I got to try mango with sticky rice! My thoughts on the dish: hallelujah, there is a god(dess). 

If ever there were a place I’d like to see the sunset, it would be here. But we were scheduled to go the night market, and I was scheduled for a long rest in bed after a satisfying week of amazing people and sights.


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