Our homestay started bright and early on the Wednesday of my second week in Thailand. When I first saw that a home stay was a part of our trip, I was very excited for the chance to get an in-depth and up close and personal view of what Thai life is really like. However, in my head, I had more than a week and a half to prepare for such an experience. We definitely hit the ground running from the moment we touched down in Bangkok and I found myself wanting more time to adjust as well as more time to learn the language and the culture before embarking on yet another journey even deeper into Thailand. But there I was at 6am riding in a caravan of three busses on the way to….. well, I wasn’t quite sure where. The day before, I was given a map and nice power point presentation on where we would be going but what did that mean? I have never been anywhere even close to this in my whole life so there weren’t any comforting and familiar mental images coming to mind or experiences to draw on, just the unknown.
Our first major stop along the way was the ‘White Temple’ which really lived up to its name!
Its official name is the Wat Rong Khun Temple which is located in Chiang Rai. If you would like to read more about it you can go here: http://www.visit-chiang-mai-online.com/wat-rong-khun.html but I’ll give you the short version. The White Temple is a new Buddhist temple that is also part art. It was started in 1997 by the famous Thai painter Chalermchai Kositpipat and parts of the complex are still under construction. From afar, it just looks like a really fancy, huge, white temple. However, as you get closer, you realize it’s unlike any temple you’ve ever seen before. There is a large variety of sculptures all around that resemble everything from aliens to voodoo and mythical creatures.
As I got closer to the bridge leading to the temple, I realized that the sea of white pointy things surrounding the temple like a moat was actually a sea of arms (and some skulls) reaching out of the depths in, what appeared to be, pain and agony. This, I learned, represents the human world of suffering which is a part of what must be overcome to reach enlightenment. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside of the temple. There were the most amazing and thought provoking paintings on the wall which you can probably Google.
Our next stop was near the Burmese border in the town of Mae Sai where the Thai students could cross the border much cheaper than us Americans (so I stayed put). Then, we drove on to the Phu Sang waterfall for those who wanted to take a dip! I chose to simply enjoy the scenery.
Not long after that, we were heading into the small village of Baan Huak which would be our home for the next couple of days.
Upon arrival, we were asked to leave our things in the van and come upstairs to, what seemed to be, a community meeting area. We were greeted with the customary warm smiles and some beautiful yellow flowers nestled in a cone shaped banana leaf.
We quickly took off our shoes and filed upstairs and sat on the floor (as is often the way in Thailand). Before long there was music, played by the locals, cool water and a group of villagers there to welcome us.
They fed us a huge meal (since by then it was 6pm), complete with sticky rice which you roll between your fingers and dip into whatever bowl beckons you! The bamboo soup was my favorite! That is the sticky rice on the left wrapped in the banana leaf.
As we were eating, one of the elder ladies came around with a water bottle and a shot glass. The water bottle, we learned, was filled with a sort of rice grain alcohol that she makes in her kitchen! She was so excited for us to be there and very generous with her ‘spirits’, which were quite good! She earned the name ‘mamma whiskey’ and became my favorite Thai person yet! The Thai people are so warm, inviting and happy! We were instantly treated like family.
After we had filled our bellies, the local villagers who were there representing gathered around and discussed our living arrangements. We were then appointed a family (pause for applause and hollering) which we followed to their home. There were 4 of us, 2 Americans (including myself) and our Thai partners, staying in our home which ended up being 2 houses away from where we were (the closest house belonged to mamma whiskey).
The house we stayed in was owned by Mr. Keaw Tudsanapunped and his wife and was quite large and very nice. Again, we removed our shoes, and Mr. Keaw led us upstairs to our room where his granddaughter was putting clean sheets and blankets onto thin mattress pads on the floor.
I was anxious to take a shower and wash away the day’s sweat but I was a little confused about the bathroom at first. Can you spot the shower?
Well, in front of the traditional squat toilet is a spigot, a bucket of water, and a bowl. In other words, all the fixins’ needed for a shower! After a few pointers from my Thai partner, Nok, I was showered and ready for bed…..or so I thought. Apparently the Thai students had other plans for us! So, we all walked down to a pond with a large deck that housed chairs, a low table, and basically a place for us to kick back, relax, play cards, and have a beer. The Thai culture is all about ‘sanuk’, or fun!
By the time we got back to our home, I was exhausted and ready for some shut eye before our 5am wake up call. Well, unfortunately I had no such luck! Most homes in Thailand have a very open floor plan with lots of windows because they don’t have A/C and it gets hot! So, our bedroom windows were open and, though there was a nice breeze and a fan blowing on us, I could not get to sleep because of how loud it was outside! Now, if it was just the crickets, frogs, and cicadas (which are HUGE!) I would have been fine; after all, I did grow up on a farm. I think I would have even been able to fall asleep with the very loud sound of the gecko. What I could not get past was the roosters crowing all night right outside of our window! They were like dogs howling across the neighborhood. First one crows, then another, and another and so on …. ALL NIGHT! And one was literally right outside of our window. From about midnight until sun rise they crowed non-stop! By 3am I had given up hope of ever falling asleep and the 5am wakeup call couldn’t come soon enough. More to come !!!