Sometimes when you search for something specific, you miss what you have already found. I am grounding again! I must admit, travel through Thailand has been challenging at times. Being guided by others creates expectations that have confused my experiences. I’ve been searching what, for me, isn’t even there.
“You’ll just love Chiang Mai”, said so many of our friends. The city was a bustling, busy, polluted, crowded (mostly with tourists) city. Hundreds of massage places, bars, restaurants, and advertising for adventure excursions crowd the streets of the city. Beautiful, ornate temples abound, and, there are very few people inside praying. There are considerably more tourists in the city than Thai so the culture seems to be overtaken by tourism. And the Thais serve. I continue to be uncomfortable with the idea of guests overtaking a city.
The southern islands of Thailand are, undoubtedly beautiful and we had fantastic, chill time in various locations there. We snorkelled and scuba dived and kayaked. We rode motor scooters and bicycles. We ate delicious Thai food and enjoyed the beautiful warmth, spectacular sunsets and inspiring hikes on the sand and in the woods. The Thai islands are a unique and spectacular sight to be seen! And it is still definitely a resort town populated and culturally driven by tourists and travellers. Again, the Thai people serve.
That’s why going off the grid has been so fulfilling for me, away from tourism and surrounded by nature and real life.
We eat many meals with families of the Lahu tribe. Pork is a staple and, at this point I pretend to be vegetarian. I can’t eat one more piece of pork! Sometimes I even pass on the meal completely and sit outside to play with the many children who live there. I watch the chickens leading their baby chicks, and observe the pigs wandering around the village unaware that this might be their last walk.
I observe the richness of culture. Sometimes while here, I am amazed at the differences of the ways we behave.
It is the New Year and the festivities continue all day and night. The firecrackers resound in the mountains constantly, some just crackling. Some burst with explosive power and enormous sound. The children are the ones who light them. I am regularly alarmed at the danger of children, as young as 7 years old lighting firecrackers. But the adults don’t mind. In fact, there are few adults in the streets. They are all somewhere else, either in their homes, or preparing for the festive dancing that happens sporadically throughout the day and night.
We spend several hours every day in the villages sharing in the New Year’s festivities. I have grown to know many of the children and we enjoy playing. They love candy and being carried around on our shoulders and playing chicken. Sometimes they graciously accept candy or ice cream from the local shop in the village. Most children don’t attend school. Very few speak English. I rely, (usually successfully) on body language, gentle touch and smiles.
I am overwhelmed with emotion as I watch the slow, precise steps of the dancing that happen in along with the music from the pipes played softly as they move. It is spiritual, meditative, inclusive and joyful, without any mention or reference to God. I watch them move and I smile at the same time that my tears form in my eyes. It is very beautiful! They dance, not for us, although we are welcome to observe. Occasionally a hand reaches out to invite me in the trance-like march. It is their ceremony and we are merely welcomed visitors.
The costumes, each indicative of the village from which they have come, are colourful and bright and decorative. Ornate headdresses sit atop some of the womens’ heads, some with dangling jewels and tassels. Carefully applied make-up accentuates beautiful eyes and the smooth skin of the various aged girls. Gentle lip-sticked smiles display a quiet joy of celebration and reverence.
During the ceremonies I regularly revel in the amazing experience! I feel so fortunate to have given up the search and have found what is right here in front of me. I am so happy to be in this wonderful place with such amazing people!