We spent the last few days of our tour in this small village north of Chiang Mai, resting and getting ready to transition back to our “normal” lives. We got massages, walked to temples, explored caves, and attended closing circles. It was the perfect way to wrap up an amazing journey.
19 December, 2019 – from elephants to mountains
We left TECC after lunch and made several stops on the way north. Val found a drum like the one she played with the mahouts, Shar purchased a record number of scarves at the silk store, and we all bought cases for our Yaks. After hearing Katherine’s story about how a Yak protected her home, we all wanted one. While we were walking with elephants, Khack found us some Yak pendants that had been blessed by monks. Our last stop was along the Ping River where we sent wishes on beautiful bouquets downstream, as is done during the Loi Krathong festival which occurred in early November this year.
Running late due to all our stops, we went right to dinner before checking into our rooms at the Nest, perfectly timed for the weekly barbeque buffet. The chicken satay and grilled pineapple were especially yummy. Our lodging is the most luxurious of my trip, little cottages with two bedrooms, separate bathrooms, and a living room. I shared one with Judith-Kate. They are nestled not far from the base of Doi Luang Chiang Dao, one of the highest mountains in Thailand.
20 December – hot springs, temples, and massages
We met a 7:30 and got a ride to the hot springs, a series of round cement pools of varying temperatures. After breakfast, Val and I walked to a nearby temple and admired the Buddhas carved into the limestone hillside. In the afternoon most of us met in a square gazebo to talk about our experiences on this tour. I thanked Jami for adding time to the end of the trip in this relaxing place to process my experience before reentry into the rest of my life. And I’m grateful for all the people we met who are dedicating their lives to saving elephants. Though they have much less than we do in a material sense, they have much more in terms of acceptance. Overall, they seem happier than most Americans and have not lost their ability to experience wonder and joy. They certainly smile more.
I then went for my last massage, the only options being two hours with oil or balm, I chose oil. Val and I both had to get up about three-quarters of the way through to run to the restroom; my bladder was not ready for a tummy massage. This brought my trip total to 18 massages, about one every other day!
We all gathered in Judith-Kate’s and my cottage before dinner for show and tell, so we could see some of the goodies we had each purchased along the way. I had the least amount of clothes, and possibly the greatest number of elephant-related souvenirs, though we all had some of those. Trunk up, good luck, trunk down, long life. I have some of each.
21 December – more temples and caves
We met at 7:00 and walked in silence to Wat Tam Pha Plong, a small forest temple reached by ascending a rolling 510 steps. Along the way were many signs with Buddhist wisdom in both English and Thai. The gold-topped chedi was closed for renovation, but we were able to see the monks chanting and being fed breakfast on a set a rolling trays. We were invited to eat in the kitchen, but declined.
On our way back, Val and I detoured to Wat Tham Pak Piang, a temple dedicated to Quan Yin. The nuns were busy with the construction of a new Buddha and we were welcomed into a cave filled with statues. We could easily have lingered longer, there was another cave to explore, but we were hungry and didn’t want to miss breakfast. We got back just before the dining area closed at 10:30. I had crepes with fruit and a glass of lime “drinking yogurt”.
We packed a bit, then headed back to the Chiang Dao Cave which we ran out of time to enter yesterday. There are two routes through this cave, one is well-lit and easy to walk through, the other requires lanterns, a guide, and a bit of scrambling. We only did the former. Both the stalactites and the Buddhas were fascinating. Afterwards, I picked up a Thai ice tea (waan noi, “little sweet”), skipped lunch, and finished packing.
We met in the late afternoon for a closing circle. I was overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes filled with tears as I walked through the door of Shar and Suzette’s cottage where we were meeting. After spending two weeks with these women, it was sad to say goodbye. Kupkumkaa (thank you) to each of you for your beautiful presence. We were thrilled to see Jami surprised by her farewell gift, a panel with elephants that we all loved at the silk store.
Our final dinner included a yummy dish I hadn’t had before: Meung pla tuna. The vegetarians had it with tofu. We also had fried morning glory salad, two types of fish, soup, and vegetables. Aroy mak mak (very delicious)! I have eaten Thai food every day for a month and I am not tired of it. I definitely have to learn to cook some at home.
22 December – a rough trip home
We ate a light breakfast and headed to the airport. Three of us were on the same flight to Taipei, the other two leaving later in the day or the next. Jami is staying in Thailand with a three-week break between tours. I started feeling worse on my first flight and by the time we landed, needed to run quickly to the restroom. We found some couches and during the four-hour layover, I lay shivering under a blanket, getting up only for the bathroom. Worried about my ability to survive the upcoming flight, I tried every herbal and mild remedy in my medicine bag before taking one of the Azithromycin I carry with me for travelers’ diarrhea. I was miserable but made it home with only one urgent trip to bathroom. I didn’t eat a single bite on the ten-hour flight. Eva has more leg room than China Airlines, so I was able to sleep a bit.
I later learned that three of my fellow travelers got sick, at different times, on different flights. I don’t think the cause was our last dinner together, most of us would have gotten sick sooner than we did. The only common denominator we can find is beverages at the Chiang Mai airport, or perhaps special meals on the plane. I’m glad I didn’t mention that I wasn’t feeling well; Judith-Kate was banned from her second flight and needed to get a doctor’s release to continue. She got home a couple days later than planned.
Sage and Timbre, my dog and cat, greeted me at the door. It was good to see them. After a shower, nap, and a cup of peppermint tea, I felt a bit better. Out of new habit, I threw my toilet tissue in the trash. Alex, my son, delivered ginger ale and crackers. Fortunately, I fully recovered in time to host Christmas dinner. I love to travel and I love to get home, though I’m already missing elephants and temples, and craving a massage.
Sawasdee Pii Mai Ka! Happy New Year! (The ending of many phrases in Thai varies depending on the gender of the speaker, so if you are a man, you would say Sawasdee Pii Mai Krab). May we all find all Peace, Health, and Happiness in 2020.