The first was more of a complex in the woods outside of town, and quite amazing. We rode our first songthaew out there, and a tuk tuk back – and I happily discovered my stomach can handle both! Riding in both are great experiences – in the songthaew the back is open so you can watch the traffic coming upon you with zero regard to the lanes or lights. (Traffic here is nothing like the rumors about asian traffic, but it is certainly different than American traffic! As best I can tell, the lane markers are indicators for how to cue up at a stoplight – the rest of the time they are unobserved. The lights themselves are observed in large intersections but not small. There aren't rules but everyone is aware of the flow of traffic and it works – as long as you look out for you, and I look out for me, we won't crash!). In the tuk tuk, you can see more of what is passing by on the sides. And it’s just fun to be the smallest, slowest, huff-puffingest vehicle on a busy street!
(view from the back of a songthaew - sans traffic)
(the experience of riding in a tuk tuk)
The first temple, Wat Umong, was surreal – set in the tropical forest, away from town, with the only noises being the crickets, chickens, sweeping brooms (apparently it was sweep-the-complex day) and later some broadcast soothing wisdom for the monks in thai (although strangly in a woman’s voice).
We decided sweeping an outdoor complex set under a forest was more of a spiritual discipline than anything productive. No sooner had the beautiful and tidy little piles of swept leaves been picked up, then the walkways were speckled with little orange leaves again.
(a rare leaf-free moment at the forest wat. good job monks!)
The site of monks in orange robes methodically sweeping was almost like a dance – and the rhythmic shhh-shhh of the brooms was very soothing – especially after days of airports and cities.
(in the back of this picture is a tuk tuk)
The trees were beautiful, and many were wrapped in the monks' orange cloth, with bits of wisdom painted in thai on the cloth. Some were translated into English as well – buddhist proverbs like “the rich man is regarded and the wise man is revered” and “the mad dog hates water and the sex craved man hates dharma”.
(pathway through the peaceful monastery)
(a good Thai proverb for Ty)
The complex includes a large old stupa (monument), a beautiful staircase lined with dragons, a library and monks quarters.
There is also a series of caves – while inside you can visit a buddha (american-looking pilgrims were there all in white with a thai religious guide, praying), and we also heard monks singing somewhere deeper inside the caves while we were inside. There is always light as they are open on both ends, so it was more secluded than scary.
We encountered at least 8 species of butterflies, including a pair doing a long and beautiful (although apparently unsuccessful) mating dance. We found a large pond full of carp, catfish, turtles, and some new species of fish. Thais come here to rest, visit, and feed the fish - which means there are also a lot of pigeons and stray dogs lingering around. It all sounds very urban but was quite beautiful and appropriate where we were. Of course, other people's vermin look quaint when you are traveling!
(the pond at the wat is large, and the aeration system is run by pedaling bikes!)
(pigeons and carp being fed at the wat's pond)
We spent several hours here, it was so calm and peaceful. I realized one of the culture shocks I was struggling with is the lack of a break from the visual 'noise.' There is no where empty to rest your eyes here – every inch of space is in use, and usually in multiple ways! It was restorative to me to be somewhere natural and serene and with a more limited color palette!