Getting Lost, Wax Monks and the Philosophy of Travel

    Why do we Travel?  —  For me personally there are two main reasons why the thoughts of adventuring to faraway, exotic lands occupies an unreasonable amount of my time. The first one is the idea that simple routine tasks when performed in a different culture/language become adventures in themselves. One of my top inspirations, the legendary Bill Bryson understands this: “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” The second reason is because I think traveling is hands down the best education out there. Put yourself alone in a foreign city with no understanding of the language, culture or where to go and see how much you will learn about the world and yourself! From the wise words of Mohammed, “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled.” The following story is just the introduction to one of the most raw, incredible, spur of the moment adventures that defines why I love to travel. Here’s the tale…

The northern most province in Thailand and bordering the intriguing country of Burma, the city of Chang Rai was the destination of a long weekend holiday for “Teacher’s Day.” After another bus ride similar to spending 3 hours riding the tea-cup ride at Disneyland with a hangover, Jessy and I arrived in the heart of a night Bazaar. No accommodation booked yet, but we decided to sit down for some food and beers to warm-up as it was actually quite chilly up in the mountains of Chang Rai. As we sat down to watch some traditional Thai dance moves on stage, a couple at the picnic table next to ours asked us to join them. It was a 30 something aged Swedish dude with his Thai girlfriend of a couple months. She was quite intoxicated and couldn’t stop telling Jessy how beautiful she was while constantly stroking her hair. The Swede spoke decent English and I knew one word in Swedish “Skal” which meant cheers, so we got along drinking beers and chatting about travels. I felt like I was doing sit-ups throughout the entire conversation as the Thai girl was absolutely hilarious making me laugh to the point of almost obtaining a six pack. She was telling us that she was the “runt of the litter” in her family, because she was born very premature and the youngest of 8 sisters and a brother. I thought she was just joking around until she stood up and was literally 4′ 6″ at best. This was funny because her Swedish boyfriend was clearly of massive Nordic Viking heritage. We called a guesthouse around midnight, which they weren’t particularly happy about, and grabbed a tuk-tuk to the room.

After a pretty solid nights rest in a gorgeous teak, wooden house, we rented a motorbike to explore the area. We heard about a fabled all white temple that resembled something out of a fairytale and set out to discover it. Despite this temple being one of the most popular things to see in the area, we had quite a time trying to find it. No signs pointing to the temple’s location, so our primary strategy was to just pull over and ask random Thai farmers, construction workers and shop owners how to get there. Unfortunately none of them really spoke a word of English and I didn’t know the name of the temple so it was quite challenging. I knew the words Wat (temple) and Si Kow (White) in Thai and saying this while pointing in random directions with a shoulder shrug was how I hoped to gain some direction. At one point we pulled over to an older boy walking on the side of the road and asked him for help. I don’t know if it was our white skin or my shiny golden hair, but when he looked at us his eyes penetrated my soul with a look of deranged fear and no words were spoken for an uncomfortably long amount of time. We decided to leave him be and thought that he may have been autistic. Eventually a shop owner’s eyes lit up when we spoke English to him and he said “my baby speak English” with a look of pride comparable to having your son win the Superbowl and be elected president in the same moment. Confused as to how a baby would help us, he took us to his house where his 14 year old son gave us good directions.

Bleach white dotted with silver reflective mirrors, this temple was truly incredible. In front of this heavenly looking temple curved two massive elephant tusks forming an entrance. Two pits on either side depicted some sort of hell with arms, skulls and other body parts reaching towards you. Inside the temple was a monk sitting on a cushion meditating. We literally spent 15 minutes or so trying to determine whether this monk was real or a wax sculpture. He was freakishly still and not once during our uninterrupted jaw dropped staring did he so much as flinch or show any signs of breathing. Hearing other tourists say they heard he was real was the only evidence we saw of that being true. To this day I will never be sure whether it was a real monk in the deepest state of meditation imaginable or not. Near the exit to the temple were large colorful murals depicting the apocalypse. However these paintings were clearly made with tourists in mind as they showed ridiculous scenes of Superman and “Neo” from the Matrix intermingled with Armageddon style situations. One section was a monster whose arms were gas pumps smashing into the twin towers with a plane also heading towards them. As we departed my mind was consumed with wondering whether this temple was constructed purely for tourism, or if it ever truly served as a religious monument at some point in time. We hopped on the motorbike and headed north towards Burma, not knowing that the next few days would become one of the best adventures we’d ever had….

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