Religion and commerce mix in Thailand |

Religion and commerce mix in Thailand

The Buddhist wat, or temple, at Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is typical of the 27,000 wats found in the country. Most are richly adorned with gold, statues and ornate architecture.
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We lost a day and passed through nine time zones to get from Grass Valley to Thailand, but it was worth the effort.

Bangkok is a fascinating city of 7.5 million people, and it seems everyone is trying to use the sidewalks and streets at the same time. A red traffic signal light can last up to six minutes. Scooters and motorcycles maneuver between lanes of traffic for a head start when the light turns green.

We missed the old-style tuk tuk three-wheel motorcycle taxis, which were cute but very polluting. The new ones are efficient, less polluting and mostly in tourist areas.

Thailand is a Buddhist country, and Bangkok has wats (temples) at every turn. Most are richly adorned with gold, many statues and ornate architecture.

The Grand Palace especially fits this description. It was the setting for “The King and I” and is used only for ceremonies – the king doesn’t live there.

Bangkok has many klongs (canals) and long-tail boats. These long, narrow motorboats are so named because their propellers extend on a shaft several feet behind the boat. We went by a long-tail boat down the river and through canals to a private home for a Thai cooking demonstration.

The hostess was assisted by her three teen-age children as she prepared our delicious lunch. The opportunity to meet this charming Buddhist family, be entertained in their home, and learn about their lives was one of the high points of our time in Thailand.

The next evening, our bus driver made the nine-hour drive north to Chiang Mai alone. We flew there the next day, and he was waiting for us.

Bangkok has three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest. It was about 90 degrees in Bangkok, but about 70 degrees in the north. They told us it was unusually cold, and the people were bundled up in coats. Their homes have no provision for heating, and the cooking is usually done outside. Heat in our hotel room would have felt good.

The northern part of Thailand borders Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Laos, with Vietnam very near. This is the Golden Triangle and home to various hill tribes, including Humong, Yao and Akha. We visited two of their villages and found them, their way of life, dress and crafts most interesting.

Later we visited an elephant camp to watch morning baths and training. In the last 10 years, the number of elephants has decreased from 50,000 to 5,000, so each is more valuable. Of course we rode one. This was followed by a trip down the river on a narrow bamboo raft poled over the rapids.

The Thai government encourages farmers to grow rice instead of opium poppies. Regardless of the size of the field, almost nothing is mechanized. Plows are pulled by water buffalo and seed is hand sown or individual seedlings set. Rice is harvested with a hand sickle and collected into bundles. After drying, the bundles are beaten in a large basket or on a tarp to release the grains of rice.

We crossed into Myanmar for a rickshaw ride to another golden wat. Later we crossed the river into Laos to at least be able to say we had been there. In the border area, all three countries appear much the same.

Working our way back to Bangkok by bus, we visited a water buffalo farm and saw many thousands of storks. There were also more of Thailand’s 27,000 wats. One seemed to be covered with white powdered-sugar frosting.

Another wat was a huge hall with many pillars, walls and ceiling covered by small pieces of mirror. These sparkled like uncounted numbers of diamonds. The monks had just finished lunch, mostly rice, and were washing their bowls in the river. Many huge catfish climbed over each other for a grain or two. One monk hand-fed several fish with a ceramic spoon. Amazing.

The indigo plant grows in Thailand. We visited a home where a little woman made her own dye, sewed and dyed clothing, and offered them for sale. The quality was very good, and the price of her garments made them irresistible.

Thailand has never been involved in war. During World War II, it immediately surrendered to the Japanese, who proceeded to build the Death Railway from Bangkok into Burma. This is the story we know from “The Bridge Over the River Kwai.” At Hell Fire Pass, the rail bed was cut through hills, and it reminded us of building our own railroad across the Sierra.

More than 30,000 prisoners of war worked, suffered, and died in the 16 months it took to build the railway, which then was used for about 18 months. Large sections of rail have been removed because there is no longer a need for a railroad into Burma.

Damnern Saduak is the floating market near Bangkok. We again went by long-tail boat, this time through villages. People use the klong to wash dishes, laundry, teeth, food and themselves. No wonder there is a high rate of illness.

At the floating market, women in conical hats pole narrow boats with crafts, produce and food along the waterway. Buyers are on the wooden sidewalks above so merchandise and money are often exchanged on a long pole. Some boats are outfitted with a burner, pots and pans to cook and serve food. Dishes and utensils are washed in the klong, but glasses often are not washed at all before the next customer. Food smelled and looked good.

Thailand is a lovely, peaceful country where we had many memorable and varied experiences. This would rate as one of our best trips.

Dorothy Peavy lives in Grass Valley.

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