From what I had heard sleeper trains in Asia are smelly, noisy and generally unpleasant, but the train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai couldn’t have been further from that description. In fact, I had one of my best sleeps of the whole journey – there was something about the gentle rocking and constant engine sounds that lulled me to sleep. The toilet left a fair bit to be desired – like the option to flush for example, or to stand in there without getting ‘water’ on your feet, but generally the ride was enjoyable, especially once I woke up and saw that we were away from the city and immersed in beautiful landscape.
After our first day of exploring temples in Chiang Mai I became a little bit templed out, which was good, because that night we went to visit a … temple! This was no ordinary temple though. We drove for around 30 minutes up a steep winding road to reach Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep a Theravada Buddhist temple. I became concerned at one point when the driver had to switch off the air conditioning so the engine would have enough power to get us up a particularly steep section, fortunately we made it without having to get out a push.
The view of Chiang Mai from the temple was spectacular and we were very fortunate to experience a blessing from a monk and witness the monks chanting. Apparently they chant and meditate for an hour each, both morning and night. I must admit to me it seemed like a spectacular waste of time, but I suppose they don’t spend a lot of time watching TV either, come to think of it, do they sleep much? What I do know is that monks are not allowed to touch women, which makes it very awkward if you happen to be in a lift with them, or walking past them on the street. They accept offerings of food in the early hours of the morning during what is know as ‘alms’, however they do not eat food from westerners and are not allowed to eat after 11am. I also saw a monk in the 7-11 and wondered what he might be buying, presumably not food or condoms.
I’m not a huge fan of cooking although I do a fair bit of it, so the thought of attending a cooking school in Chiang Mai didn’t hugely appeal to me. However, I was so glad that I had chosen to do it in the end, simply because I didn’t want to appear anti-social and everyone was saying such good things about it, as it was a extremely fun and memorable experience. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Thai culture and meet local Thai people… and the food was delicious!