Last day in Bangkok

Before heading to Nepal, I have one more day and two nights in Bangkok, Thailand. Having come down with a bit of a cold over the last couple days, I want to take it easy to try to increase my chances of being as healthy as possible for the start of my Himalayan trek only a couple days away. I return to the hostel where I spent one night at the beginning of my Thailand adventure called WE Bangkok. Amazingly, they remember me and are very friendly when I enter. It’s already relatively late so after a quick snack and some small talk with my dormmate Heather, it’s time for bed.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

The next day, Heather, a couple other backpackers from WE Bangkok, and I head off to explore the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace was home to Thai Kings from the 18th century onwards; however, the present King of Thailand, King Bhumibol resides elsewhere at the Chitralada Palace. At the Grand Palace, the architecture was stunning, the guards were numerous, and the colors were vibrant and varied. After lunch, I eventually split with the group so that I could prepare for my trek including getting a few essentials along with a new haircut. On my way to MBK, the central mall in Bangkok, the Tuk Tuk driver explained the journey would be free if I would be willing to stop for 10 minutes in a tailor shop, which would then supplement the driver with gasoline tickets. I wasn’t in a rush and decided it could be fun to learn more about the many tailor shops scattered around Bangkok. With no intention to buy anything, I look through their catalog, feel their many fabrics, and ask several questions. After ten minutes, I leave not having purchased anything and having saved myself one Tuk Tuk ride fare.

One Morning in Bangkok

I have a long layover in Bangkok between arriving on the overnight bus and departing on a plane to Vietnam later in the day. I realize that college classmate Nithya and her cousin Sangita are in Bangkok, coordinate a plan to meet up, and we make the most of the morning. In a short time, we wander through the Bangkok Flower Market, see the largest golden Buddha in the world at Wat Traimit, and window shop at the several story MBK in the center of town, all before settling down to a Thai lunch.

Bangkok market
The Flower Market had more to offer than just flowers
largest golden buddha
This 3 meter tall Buddha is made of solid gold

Best Laid Schemes

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft aglay.  -Robert Burns

This quote as written by Robert Burns and later quoted by John Steinbeck, describes how I felt when rainy season hit Thailand early. I knew the rainy season wasn’t normally for another month and thus the risk of flooding and excessive rains was minimal. The Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat, which was to take place starting on April 1 near Chaiya in Southern Thailand was canceled on account of severe flooding. The story of how my plans shifted goes as follows.

After my train is canceled Monday night, I wake up at WE Bangkok Hostel and start planning how I am going to make my way towards Suan Mokkh Monastery. I first check the Monastery’s website in the morning, and they have a notice on the home page indicating that they are unaffected by the flooding. Unfortunately, trains, planes and some buses have been stopped that would have otherwise ventured southwards. Only the tourist buses are stopped because it’s not economical to charter a bus that tourists won’t want to take because laying on the beach sounds less glamorous when the beach is already underwater. I go to the Bangkok South Bus Terminal and purchase my bus ticket that is scheduled to leave in the evening.

Around 3pm, I’m double checking that the bus is still leaving, that the weather hasn’t worsened too much, and that the monastery is still unaffected. Now, on the monastery’s home page, I read, “The April 2011 Retreat may get canceled.” This felt like getting wait-listed in that I wasn’t sure if I should keep pursuing it or if I should already start moving on. Because of the word “may” in the sentence on the monastery’s website, and because I feel I am a relatively optimistic person, I took my chances and made my way to the bus station, all the while checking the website to make sure the update hadn’t changed.

Fast forwarding to 6pm, I get to the bus station early because I do not know exactly where to go and don’t want to miss my bus. Immediately at 6pm, everything stops, people stand up, and the national anthem is played on the loud speaker. I also stood up, but at the time I had little idea of what was transpiring. I grab some dinner, meet a couple Thais also waiting for the same bus, and make myself comfortable for the 10-hour journey when I get to my seat. I have not always been so lucky, but the bus I picked for this journey had a great chair that reclined almost 70-degrees. However, about 10 minutes into the trip, before I try falling asleep, I check my phone one last time to see if anything new was posted on the monastery’s website, and I read that the meditation retreat has been canceled.

suan mokkh screenshot

I spend a minute or two frustrated and disappointed, and then remember I’m en route to the middle of a terrible tropical storm and it might be 24 hours before I could get back to Bangkok, assuming everything went relatively smoothly. I consider my options. The cost I paid for the bus is now a sunk cost and there’s no reason to pay for a return bus if I don’t have to. I decide to make a fool of myself by roaming the moving bus tripping over seats and bags until I get to the driver. Eventually, I communicate that I want off the bus, and I trip my way back to my seat to get my backpack as the diver pulls over on the side of the highway. I get my things, get off the bus, and am now somewhere near Bangkok in the middle of a highway. Considering the situation, I don’t feel I’m doing too badly.

Within an hour, I get to the Northern Bangkok Bus Station, which I learn is called Mo Chit, find a bus to Chiang Mai, and board another bus, which is slightly less comfortable and heading North. After sleeping decently on the ten hour bus ride, I arrive in Chiang Mai about the time I would’ve arrived at the monastery, get my barrings, find a place to stay, and figure out what there is to do. As any feel-good story should end, I find that there are a couple monasteries near Chiang Mai, research them online, and learn that one has meditation courses. I try emailing and calling with little success. I get over there, ask around, and eventually sign myself up for a week long retreat starting on Monday, April 4th.

I now will experience Northern Thailand for several days, not be torrentially rained on, and will still learn Vipassana Meditation. Sometimes initial plans are not the best laid schemes.

Flooding in Southern Thailand

It’s decision time here in Thailand.  The monastery with the best dates and a meditation program that best fit to my level of practice has now been affected by the flooding.  The rain is supposed to start letting up tomorrow, but the question remains if I try to get down there and take my chances.  Flights are cancelled, trains are cancelled, and now all that remain are buses.

I tried taking a sleeper train last night, but it was cancelled at the last moment.  Apparently, other trains took off this morning, so I am not sure if my train was cancelled for purely weather-related reasons.  Trains, now, however have all been cancelled today that originate in Bangkok and head southwards.  Upon learning my train was cancelled last night at 11pm, I found some other people wearing over-sized backpacks looking as lost as I was, and we rallied to find a good hostel and spend the night in Bangkok.  The Hostel we stayed at is called WE Bangkok and the people were very friendly and the accommodations very clean.

I have considered my other options, which if I am unable to attend this meditation retreat, will probably consist of going to northern Thailand and into Laos for a couple days.  I have to make sure there are no travel visa issues.  Both areas are supposed to be spectacular as I’ve heard from all the people I’ve run into during my trip.

My current plan is to try to get on an overnight bus tonight to the monastery.  I already have my ticket, and I feel I am so close that it is worth a try because I do not know when else I might have the opportunity to take a 10-day mediation retreat.  If the bus is cancelled, can’t make it to the monastery, or the retreat itself is cancelled, which is now also an option as indicated on their website, I will turn around, and do my plan B, which really doesn’t sound too bad.  In the meantime, I would only burn about 24 hours on this adventure to see if I can get down to the Suan Mokkh Monastery before having to restart in Bangkok.

Today I spent playing in Bangkok.  After meeting Joel from British Columbia on Khaosan Road, we shared stories, took a Long Tail Boat Ride through the canals of Bangkok, and later grabbed some delicious Thai food washed down by fresh Coconut water.

Bangkok Long Tail Boat
Bangkok Long Tail Boat