The sun hadn’t even peeked over the horizon when the soft “pam pam paaam” of the temple gong gently awoke me. What time is it? 5:30. I stepped out of my tent and into the crisp morning air. Where is everybody? Looking around I could only see the monks begin the first prayers of the day. Thinking I overslept I quickly began down the path to the temple. I came across a teacher, asking where I was going, then instructing me to go back to bed because the students didn’t need to be awake yet. Relieved to get another hour of rest I gratefully went back to my tent.
I got up around 7:30. This time I was convinced I slept in too much. I went to the kitchen where I found a classmate and some nuns. Nuns are the female monks, they where all white and keep their hair short. They gave me a choice of a cup of mama noodles or Ovaltine. I wasn’t very hungry so I chose the Ovaltine. Of course two hours later I thought that was the silliest decision ever when the hunger kicked in.
Lunch! A very important part of the day, in my opinion. Some volunteers dropped by with some food. The monks were served first. Every time the first monk picked up a new dish we had to “wai” and bow to the ground. After the monks had what they needed, we said a prayer and were excused to the kitchen. Originally, I thought we would only get a very little amount to eat, but actually they gave each of us at least two boxes of rice. I believe we had “pad-gap-pow,” a very popular Thai meal. We also got dessert, a Thai coconut jelly with a sweet and salty taste. After everyone had finished lunch we boarded the truck, and began the next adventure walk.
After a long ride (nap) in the back of the truck, we were dropped off at the base of a popular “nam-tok” waterfall. The monks led us up an improvised path cutting through the falls. I was impressed that nobody slipped. I wish I could remember the name of the falls, because I strongly recommend them. They are perfect for people looking to get away from the main tourist attractions. This place is known to the Thais and I was the only “farang” there which was an amazing feeling. If only I had brought my camera! We followed through the muddy banks, and crossed over a dam. This involved wading through half a foot of water on an equally wide cement divider, separating a deep pool from a 10ft drop. It wasn’t slippery, and we all crossed with ease, although everyone’s shoes were soaking wet. I didn’t mind, figuring they’d be dry in the next five minutes. My prediction probably would have been accurate had we taken a clearer path. Instead we bush-wacked our way through a bamboo maze, constantly trotting through mud. At one point we had to wait a few minutes while the monks made a make-shift bridge out of dead bamboo reeds in order to cross a long mud puddle. Unfortunately it wasn’t the most sturdy creation, in fact once a friend had almost finished crossing when her friend stepped on one of the reeds, which sprung up to the bottom of the girl on the other end, causing her to fall over. Oh dear!
We walked for over 6 hours, stopping only a few times to meditate. We each had our own water bottle which was to last us for the entire trek. Some people had finished theirs within the first two hours, but I don’t remember seeing the monks take a single sip of water.
The forest was incredibly peaceful; occasionally we would hear a bird call out. There weren’t any monkeys in this region, and they mentioned elephants and tigers as habitants of the area, but we didn’t stumble upon any. We didn’t talk, I’m not sure we were supposed to, although once a monk asked me some questions. In fact the leader of the monks would speak a lot, I think he might have been telling a story to those around him. If only I could understand Thai fluently, instead I had to be satisfied by the occasional words that I could recognize.
The sun had already begun to set when we arrived at the waterfall. The sky was painted in rich oranges and pinks with the first stars of the night already beginning to glint. I imagined how beautiful the mighty falls would be in the morning. However, we didn’t spend the night at the falls. Rather, we climbed up a series of steps and ladders until reaching the base of the tallest fall. Some of my friends washed their faces while others filled up the empty water bottles. A girl offered me a sip “Namwan, try it! This is paradise water!” Hesitantly I eyed the bottle before raising it to my lips. Here goes nothing. This better be clean…Well, we ARE in the middle of a forest with no civilization for kilometers and kilometers around after all. I swallowed…I feel fine!
We were instructed to find somewhere to sit, and begin “samatid” meditation. I’m not sure how long we were there, all I know is that together we were sitting, eyes closed, being showered with a light spray from a waterfall, deep in the forest of Thailand, in the middle of the night. Slow breath in, slow breath out. I didn’t know any Buddhist prayers, but I figured I could use my own prayers.
A bright light broke the darkness, stirring me from my peaceful state. Time to go. Then the inconvenient truth hit me, I forgot my phone, therefore I had no means of lighting my path. Great. Fortunately, my friends shared their lights from in front and behind. This worked ok, until as I was attempting to climb down a slope and slipped on some wet leaves skidding on my bottom the rest of the way. Actually, I wasn’t hurt at all. In fact, I thought it was rather funny. My friends on the other hand were worried and kept asking me if I was hurt. It was only after that incident when somebody conveniently found a spare flashlight.
The way back to longer, much longer. We stopped at least 4 times to meditate. One time, we had to wait for a part of our group which walked slower and lost the trail. What a scary thought, getting lost in the forest. Although for a while we did take a dirt road which made it easy to track down the others.
We arrived back at the trail head at around 3 in the morning. I sat with some friends and we took off our shoes. Of course it smelled awful, but our feet were soooo relieved. Anybody who has done some serious hiking knows the feeling. We also took off our socks, which were soaking wet because of the return cross over the dam. A brave soul collected all the socks and carried them to the trash. I am certain that the socks weren’t worth keeping; nothing could cure them of their filthiness.
Before I left for Thailand my mom had offered to buy me a new pair of running shoes, I turned down her offer because I thought that I wouldn’t be doing much exercise. Now, I wish that I had taken her back on her offer. Not just because of this weekend, but usually when I have a day off I run to the park. As I sadly inspected my tattered shoes, I wondered if they would ever accompany me on another run again .
Everyone slept during the ride home. Well, eventually slept. The youngest girl sat at the very edge of the truck bed, out of the covering, so she could see the stars. Pathumtani is an industrial city close to Bangkok, the capital; seeing any stars is impossible. The young girl was so excited to look up at the black sky with constellations of diamonds twinkling like nowhere else in the world. However, as we drove closer and closer to civilization the dimmer the stars shined, until eventually they were hidden behind the haze from the light pollution caused from the resorts and neighboring villages.
We awoke when the truck pulled up next to the brightly lit kitchen. We hobbled out of the truck-bed and painfully made our way inside where we plopped down on the floor. Woah, what a work-out! Some of us compared blisters while waiting for a nice hot cup of chocolate. Then we washed up, and retired to our tents.
Good night… or should I say “good morning” !