• Tara B. Vasi

January 18th: The Monks Trail

I wake up around 7 am. I usually don’t eat first thing in the morning, but today I opt for some eggs for breakfast.

I need to prepare my body for the hike up the Monks Trail in the Doh Suthep National Park.

The night before, I read many reviews on the hike, including how to get there, other tips, etc.. Everyone said the first portion of the hike up to the Wat Pha Lat Temple is lovely and moderately challenging, but the second portion is expert level challenging and downright treacherous. They say to pack a ton of water because there is no water or fill up stations at the top. They made it sound so grueling!

I filled up two large water bottles and came equipped with a few bananas and a portion of cashews. I skipped sunscreen knowing I’d just sweat it off.

I haven’t done anything super active in months, so I welcomed the challenge. Sun's outs, stitches out, BRO!

A GRAB motorbike dropped me at the trailhead, which was located by Chiang Mai University and the Chiang Mai Zoo. I got there around 9:00 am on Saturday. I was expecting a crowd because that’s what many of the reviews suggested, but to my surprise, I was the only one there.

There was a brief moment when I considered that going up the mountain alone was not a good idea, but I went anyway. I didn't think there would be any low hanging metal door frames to worry about…

The trail was marked with torn orange strands of cloth tied to the trees. In case you didn't know, the majority of Buddhist Monks in South East Asia wear saffron-colored robes, though some wear the color maroon.

The monks walk the trail every morning to the temple to pray, which is why it’s called the monk's trail. There is no way to say that without sounding condescending…

The monks are early risers, so I didn't see any the entire day. I love being around monks.

My favorite hiking ritual is chanting, “Loka Samastha Sukhino bhavantu,” which in my world, translates to, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free. And may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and that freedom for all.” Other people have different translations, but this is the one I choose to relate to. Hiking and chanting go very well together, you should give it a try.

As I hike higher up the mountain I start to see more people. They are mainly foreigners and some have local guides. I see a few little girls huffing it in head to toe Hello Kitty, and their dad tells me that they have don’t this hike many times.

There are viewpoints every once and a while when the trees clear, but you can barely see the city of Chiang Mai because of the pollution.

The first part of the hike, I feel just slightly winded, but as I continue along, I start to get in my groove. I love the feeling of my heart beating quickly in my chest. Then I kept seeing human turds and poopy wads of toilet paper. Gross. How can you leave your house for a hike without pooping?

I arrive at the Wat Pha Lat temple, which a bunch of little temples and one larger temple with a waterfall in the running down the middle. I cross a bridge, take off my shoes, and kneel in front of the buddha to continue my chant.

I notice a sign hanging on the wall.

“To all, who aim to visit and pray at this holy place. Firstly, one must learn how to hold your breath as part of this making merit. Secondly, open your vision as far as your imagination. Open your mind and breathe softly with your mind calmly at ease. Thirdly to concentrate to deliver love, compassion, and willingness to all living creatures which live in this vicinity, to your loved ones for everlasting happiness and harmony. Last but not least, pray for yourself by closing your eyes slowly and open your heart and mind to accept the power of nature. This would take one minute. Finally, open your eyes slowly and send your love compassion and willingness to your loved ones, simultaneously with the bell strike three times.”

I followed the directions and then rang the bell three times. The first time scared me. It vibrated through my core and was SO loud, that it felt like I had done something wrong. I looked around. No one was coming to yell at me.

I rang it again, even louder, thinking, I didn't do anything wrong! And then, again, even louder, thinking, I didn't do anything wrong! Then I placed my hands on the bell to absorb all of the vibrations of everlasting happiness and harmony…and I had never felt more, on top of a mountain.

I moseyed around the temple. It was beautiful.

The next bit was steep and uphill. At one point the mountain was all sand. There hasn’t been much rain lately. Two options presented themselves, switchback and forth, or straight up. I went straight up, yo. It probably would have been better to have the ankle support of hiking boots, but I was fine in my Nike runners. It was hot and sweaty and amazing.

The trail ends and I happen upon a village. They are selling everything imaginable. Water, food, clothes, etc… I thought I was hiking up this treacherous secluded mountain top? Was that it? I am confused.

Apparently, it was the end of the hike. I was at Bhuding Palace. The hike was a good time. I definitely wouldn’t call it treacherous, but then again, maybe I am not as out of shape as I feel. If you are ever in the Chiang Mai area, give it a try.

I don’t know what to do, so I get an iced coffee.

I ask the coffee guy if this is the top. The coffee guy tells me I can walk up the road another 8 KM if I want to reach the summit, but people usually take cabs.

I start walking. I don’t really have anywhere to be… so may as well walk up a mountain. I get about three-quarters of a mile from the village and the coffee is making me so nauseous that I decide to stop and lean against the guard rail. I check my phone. Oh snap, in the Danger Zone.

I hear a scooter honk and a guy pulls over and asks me if I need a ride. He’s American and his name is AJ. He hands me a helmet. Did I just unintentionally hitchhike?

Eh, fuck it. I get on the bike. I tell him he’s a savior because my phone was about to die. He lets me use his external charger and then takes me up the mountain to the village at the top. I definitely was not going to make that walk and heroes definitely don’t all wear capes.

We talk on the ride about our travels and our life back in the states. He lives in Austin, TX and works as a director/film maker.

We end up spending the majority of the day together, shopping around, checking out the garden and the “waterfall” (it was just a trickle). He had a drone, so he flew that around the area. A handful of Thai kids were fascinated by the toy and I have to admit, I love watching someone land their drone in their own hand!

Some of the flowers in the garden were fake. I could not believe it.

Also, we smelled weed at some point and low and behold...

We had some Pad Thai noodles for lunch. He told me about his son and his ex-wife (who was both Russian and rushing). We bonded over our apathy for relationships.

When I stood to get up from the table, a Chinese lady sitting behind me began rubbing my butt, and calling me sexy. I suppose it was a compliment, but also completely inappropriate.

Those damn Athleta yoga pants, what can I say?

It reminded me of the time I was somewhere in Vietnam (I think) and I took a photo for a mother and daughter at a fountain. I was wearing a fitted gray dress and the mother bounced my ass she walked away.

AJ took me back down the mountain and we parted ways at the University’s Clock Tower. He wanted to go to the Royal Park for sunset, but I had been the previous day, and all I wanted was check to see if the massage parlor had my earring before it closed! (And get another massage, aaaand die from exhaustion) We hug and exchange numbers. Great guy!

I got a GRAB bike back to the city. I went to where I thought the massage parlor was, but it was closed. Sad Face. But, was that actually where it was located?

I had a Kho Samoi soup for dinner and a few bites of a Nutella banana crepe for desert. I stuck the remainder of the crepe in the side pocket of my backpack and got a ride back to the hotel. I realized that was the first time I had got a ride back this whole week. When I got back to the hotel, I realized the crepe had fallen out of my bag. The universe was telling me and my bouncy ass that I should have walked?? Haha

I remembered a childhood vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. We had rented bikes and rode to Edgartown. We did this many summers as a family. They had the best candy store in Edgartown. It was always a treat when my parents allowed us to get a bag.

One time, I had this brilliant idea. I wanted to be able to ride my bike back to Oaks Bluff and eat my candy at the same time, so I fastened the plastic bag to the rack behind my seat. I opened the bag enough for my little girl hand to fit in and be able to smoothly pull out a gummy frog. Halfway back to Oaks Bluff or so, I reached for some gummy goodness and the bag was gone. GONE! I had the entire family stop and look for my candy, but we didn't find it. I was so sad. I probably cried. And my siblings probably didn't share.

I was so tired and dirty from the day's hike. I was sadder by the fact that I unintentionally littered, but hoped a hungry stray dog found the crepe that I didn't get to enjoy. I was grateful for the few bites, anyway.

I showered, downsized my belongings, packed (I am NOT one to leave packing for the last minute), and fell asleep easily.

Moral of the story: Take rides from strangers, women are creepy too, and if you get yourself a treat, just fucking eat it.


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