Part Two- Pray: Chasing Monks Like Pokémon in Thailand
Thailand has everything I want in a vacation destination, especially now that I like Thai food. It is rich in culture, filled with beautiful beaches and dirt-cheap. So it’s hard to justify why I found myself utterly miserable in this beautiful destination and praying for a breakthrough?
It wasn’t as if I was lonely or hated being in Thailand. Yet, I was caught in a funk that I couldn’t shake nor explain. It made me feel guilty for not fully enjoying everything Thailand had to offer and circled back into anger for wasting my money.
This cycle of misery killed all my hopes for some Julia Robert’s in Eat, Pray, Love kind of enlightenment or love. But then it hit me in the midst of a rare case of jet lag, that maybe this was my Eat, Pray, Love moment in Thailand? Maybe this cycle of misery was meant to push me out of my comfort zone and closer to enlightenment?
That’s when my real ah-ha moment happened. Who’s better than a monk to help enlighten you while in Thailand? Thankfully I had already discovered from Trip Advisor that, here in Chiang Mai, monks were everywhere.
Looking back on the day I went chasing monks like they were Pokémon, I can only laugh. I wish I had a camera crew there to capture what could only be described as an Emmy-award winning comedy unwillingly staring me.
I thought with monks supposedly popping up like 7-Elevens on the streets, I would stroll down to the nearest temple, chat it up with a monk for 30 minutes, and then spend the rest of the day writing. That was until the receptionist at my hotel told me about watching monks chanting and receiving gifts from locals at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep) at 7 AM.
Doi Suthep, a popular temple located outside the city center of Chiang Mai, also had talks with monks. This was turning out to be a win-win situation, so I left immediately for the temple. Sadly, I did not expect fighting taxi drivers from trying to rob me for 45 minutes.
It’s hard to stay zen-like after arguing and lying to taxi drivers to pay less, but I was determined. I was about to experience a groundbreaking conversation with a monk in a beautiful temple.
The first thing I noticed when I got out of the taxi is that there were no monks in site. On the way up, I had seen several monks riding on the back of a pick-up truck going towards Chiang Mai, but none were left at the temple. I did, however, see the crazy high staircase to the real temple entrance.
Refusing to let a lot of stairs stand in the way of my magical moment here in Thailand, I started my way uphill. It only took 15 minutes of me walking, running and catching my breath to remind me that I need to look into a gym membership when I got back to San Francisco.
Once I got to the top and caught my breath, I looked around and again didn’t see any monks. I asked the guy at the ticket booth, who didn’t speak much English, where to go. He told me to follow the signs for the meditation center, which I did.
My intuition told me something wasn’t right, but I was so hell-bent on seeing chanting monks, I ignored the fact that no one else was on this trail with me. I guess I should have followed my instincts because the trail abruptly ended leaving me two options. Turn back or go off the trail and see where the signs lead me. I opted to go off the path and nearly fell downhill. Luckily (I guess) a tree broke my fall. That’s when I gave up trying to hear some monks chant and went back to the central area.
Feeling disappointed, bruised and slightly defeated, I opted to walk around the grounds until it was time to talk to a monk. The pure beauty of this temple was mesmerizing until I turned the corner and saw an American couple speaking to a monk in one of the side rooms. For sure this was about to be my moment. This monk in front of me was about to change my world! I just needed to wait my turn.
When it was my turn, I sat in front of the monk, like the couple before me. The monk slightly chuckled and then went back to making his bracelets. I sat there for a bit wondering if I was supposed to say something or wait. He eventually looked up again and asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “San Francisco.” He nodded and went back to making his bracelet as if I wasn’t there. Confused, I started to feel like my life changing moment with a monk felt more like a bad first date.
Feeling even more defeated, I got up to leave, and that’s when the monk stopped me. Was this monk finally ready to have this earth-shattering moment with me? No, instead he gifted me a bracelet for protection, blessed me and sent me on my way.
As I walked around reflecting on my misfortune, I saw another room with another monk. I went in and performed the same ritual as before and waited for some enlightened moment. That’s when the second monk asked me, “Where are you from?” and said nothing else to me.
I thought, “Seriously, is this the only phrase I will hear out of a monk’s mouth?” How did Julia Roberts or the real version of her character get to be so lucky? Talking to a monk and hearing them chant had been an epic fail!
I decided to give up and make my way down the long crazy staircase. As I painfully made my way down the stairs, I saw an older monk assisted up the stairs by a younger guy. He smiles at me as I’m passing him and asks, “Where are you from?” Internally, I’m rolling my eyes, but externally I politely respond. I start to walk away, but then he asked, “What brings you to Chiang Mai?” and begins a short dialogue.
What was said during my chat with the monk is not going to change my life. The lesson that things happen not when you want them to happen, but when they are meant to happen, is one I guess I needed to come to Thailand to remember.
Message received loud and clear.