Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Heading south in Thailand

January 28, 2014 – Heading south in Thailand                    
Thailand border with Malaysia
Day 12 - Distance biked so far: (1,092 km)
I picked a good time to head south in Thailand as this time of year the winds come from the northeast and I am cycling south. That combined with the flat roads has meant a good introduction to cycling after a year off the bike.
As you enter most cities in Thailand large photos of the King greet you. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is now 86 years old and is the world’s longest serving head of state, having ascended to the throne in 1946 at the tender age of 19. The King has a residence in the City of Hua Hin, and this is the scene as you enter.
Entering town
I am travelling down the east coast of the narrow strip of Thailand and that means I am never far from the Gulf of Thailand. One of nice little towns on the way is Phetchaburi. Here is the view of the Buddhist Wat on the small hill as you cross the bridge. I think of it as the Buddhist version of the Temple on the Mount.

Temple on the Mount

Here is a view of the riverfront on the Gulf of Thailand.
Waterfront in Phetchaburi
One of the things I do every evening when I get the chance in Thailand is go out to eat at the night markets. They have an incredible variety of food and drinks that are both delicious and cheap. In every town you can see stalls set up with plastic tables and chairs nearby for people to eat. Most people in Thailand eat out every night so the markets are often bustling with activity. In Phetchaburi, I went out to the market and strolled around while a band was playing nearby and the Oceanside promenade was full of people sitting in small groups enjoying the evening. The atmosphere is similar to a fair but occurs every night. Here is the night market.
Night market
The serving sizes are small so to get a full meal after a long day of biking, I ordered 4 different dinners and some vegetables.

Dinner time

As I continued south I ran into a travelling Monk on the side of the road. The Monk was foreign (he is from England) and was in the midst of an 8-month walk to the north of Thailand. He explained to me that 2,500 years ago Monks did not sit in the local Wat and smoke cigarettes all day but would travel around the country and meeting people. It’s interesting to note that in the Christian world, Jesus and the disciples did the same, walking to the people instead of waiting for the people to come to them in our present day churches. The Monk was pushing a cart and most of the contents were books. He explained that Christians have the bible, Muslims have the Koran and Theravada Buddhists (the form of Buddhism in Thailand) have 45 books making up the Pali Canon. Pali is the original language the books are written in so he also carries 2 dictionaries allowing him to translate between Pali and English. He is carrying 47 large books in his cart so I was going to suggest that he buys a Kindle to cut down on his weight but thought it inappropriate. Besides, it is unlikely there are Kindle versions yet.
He stops when he is tired and carries a western style tent to sleep in or just enters a Temple or Wat. Monks in Thailand do not carry money and receive food from the public on their morning alms walks and he is no exception. He receives food from the public as he walks. He has been walking since October and will end in May and will be barefoot the entire way. Those Monks are tough.
Marching Monk
There was a few times while cycling that I could swear someone was watching me. Here were 2 large statues staring down on me for miles.
Someone is watching me
Someone else is watching me
I often take pictures of signs that have been loosely translated from the native language into English. In most cases I can make them out but this one was a little tougher. The funny thing about this sign is that the first 9 Rules were well written and easy to understand but Rule 10 had me a little confused. It reads, “Prohibit lead the thing departs a waiting room by break off to torn, if, arrest 3 times of thing that price.” I just made sure I didn’t break or tear anything.
Reading between the lines
I stopped my bike one day to eat a snack at a roadside stall. Here is a typical lunch and they always come with a side helping of vegetables, particularly cucumbers and limes. Delicious.
Snack time on the road
I pulled up to a small truck on the side of the road and nearly had my head slapped. I hadn’t noticed these 2 guys who were waiting to inflict damage on anyone keeping their head down.  The owner talked to me and said to be careful they will bite and to prove it rolled up his pant leg to show me a series of large bite marks that had been repaired by surgery. There is a Monkey Training School nearby so maybe they failed out and now have to be sent home. I told them both that they should be in school but they just hissed at me.
Monkeys on board
In 2012, I spent 10 days at the Suan Mokkh Buddhist retreat to learn a little about their beliefs. It was a silent retreat where we could not speak for the entire period. The 4:30 am wake up calls, sleeping on cement with a wooden pillow, eating 2 vegetarian meals per day and absolutely no contact with the outside world took some getting used to but the experience was wonderful. The retreat is located in a beautiful and peaceful setting and they allow people who are not part of the retreat to visit and stay overnight. I stayed for 2 nights and set up my tent beside a small pond.
Camping at the Monastery
The founder of the retreat is Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, who died in 1993 at the age of 87. He is revered in Thailand for his wisdom and his teachings are the cornerstone of the retreats.  When I was at the retreat a recurring theme appeared to be the potential dangers the world was facing in terms of its constant chasing of material goods. He felt that the attempts to seek happiness through the acquisition of material wealth are going to lead to many problems in the world. In Thailand, if you spend time in the flashy malls of Bangkok or witness the constant chasing of the latest i-phones and i-pads you can see Buddhadasa’s message falling on deaf ears. In America, the prosperity preachers that are so popular today are also teaching against the bibles clear commands. The idea that God wants you to be rich is certainly a stretch and requires more than a little tweaking of the bible but it is a message people want to hear because it fits in with their desires. I think that in terms of materialism, both Buddhadasa and Jesus would be disappointed in the direction the world is heading.
Here is a sign at the front gates that summarize his teachings and give a small insight into his thinking.
Buddhist retreat
The first resolution is to understand the heart of your own religion. By this he means the substance and not the form. Going to church, bowing before statues or crossing yourself are the outward signs that have nothing to do with the heart of religion. The outward signs of religion are easy to follow and look good but if you don’t understand the heart of your religion it is of no use.
The second resolution is to try and understand the main principles of other religions. Buddhadasa clearly understood that if people understood the true meaning of their own religion and the basics of others, it would lead to less conflict and more acceptance of others. He then places the warning about materialism and rates that as one of his 3 most important resolutions.
The Suan Mokkh retreat is an active Wat with many Monks living on the grounds. In the morning I would hear the bells ringing at 4:30 which for them was a time to get up and for me, a time to roll over, go back to sleep and be thankful I was just a guest. The Monks have daily chores like everyone else and here is one picking up his dry laundry.
Monk hanging clothes
Near my campsite was a Suan Mokkh style toilet. It was just a round building with a toilet inside but it had an interesting sign in front. The toilet was large enough to allow Monks to spend some time in there “meditating on the abhorrent.”
Toilet at Suan Mokkh
Sign in front of toilet
The grounds are beautiful at the retreat and there are different meditation halls surrounded by forest that make for a very peaceful setting. Here is a typical building.
Meditation Hall
On Saturday January 25th, the 11th day of my trip, I passed the 1,000 km mark when I was in southern Thailand about 100 km from the Malaysia border. I hope to take a photo and state my location every 1,000 kms.
1,000 km
The Angel House orphanage in the Philippines received a new child a short while ago. This baby boy was abandoned at birth and sent to the orphanage. Boy A is a temporary placement right now as David and his team is required to search for one or both of the parents. If they cannot be found or do not want the child, he will be put up for adoption. In the interim, Angel House will ensure the boy gets medicine, food and a lot of love and attention. As we go about our busy days it is easy to lose sight of the kind of work places like Angel House accomplish every single day. David and his staff care for the children every single day.
If we can reach out and raise awareness of the Orphanage, we can help to ensure this little boy gets a chance at life where no chance existed before.  If any of you belong to a church or know of anyone who might be interested in adopting a child from the Philippines, please forward the link to Angel House Orphanage and get in touch with David. You can also help by just spreading the word to as many people as you can because someone out there would love to care for him or one of the other children desperately looking for a home.
Boy A

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