Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The Thai version.
After recently revisiting some memories from the summer of 2004 in Thailand, I must have tapped in to some sort of parallel between my life now and my life at age 24, because there is some therapeutic and natural about replaying those stories out loud (or by typing them out and reading them).
It all started a few days ago when my friend and former college roommate Josh Taylor sent me a text message asking what the best phone number to reach me was. A few texts later, I was jogging his memory (and mine) with a reference to “monk footprints”…
During our week long vacation from teaching at Bangkok’s Global English School (all schools had a mandatory closing for a week due to the International AIDS Conference being held in Bangkok that year), Josh and I decided to take an excursion to Chiang Mai and Koh Samui by overnight train, motorcycle, and plain.
In our overnight train ride to Chiang Mai (Thailand’s 2nd largest city) up in the North, our seats converted into beds for the night. Right across isle from us on the train was a middle-aged Buddhist monk, dressed in his drab orange robe, marked with animal tattoos all over his head (to fend off evil spirits). Despite the loud bangs and rumbles off the tracks throughout the 12 hour ride, the monk’s constant religious chants were a bit distracting (and kinda creepy).
But when in Thailand, you learn just to go with it.
As nighttime approached, the train attendants came through the isles to transform our seats into beds. The monk headed to the restroom. When he returned, he used Josh’s bunk bed (which was on the bottom) as a stepping stone to get up on his top bunk. He wore no shoes. His bare feet, which were caked with dirt, left “monk footprints” on Josh’s white bed sheets. Moist, mud-infused footprints.
Therefore, the phrase “monk footprints” will always be a legendary term between Josh and I.
When we arrived in Chiang Mai early the next morning, we rented “motorcycles” (a loose term in Thailand, as it basically often means a glorified moped) by paying $4 a day and handing over our American driver’s licenses as a security deposit (which does seem a bit risky; turns out, a few weeks later I spent two weeks in South Korea with my sister and my passport was stolen). After a day of exploring (and getting a little lost) the city, getting curious about what the Chiang Dao Cave was as well as what the “live monkey shows” were all about.
Because the school in Bangkok we were teaching at is a Christian school, we were able to have it arranged that we could sleep in a church in Chiang Mai for free. Can’t argue with a free shower and bed for a few nights. Of course, the shower water was ice cold (which isn’t a horrible thing in a country with a climate similar to Miami). And as for the sleeping arrangements: two plastic sleeping bags on a cold, slick cement floor on the second floor in a building with no air conditioning and a garage door as the main entrance.
The best part though, was the fact it was impossible to stay asleep for more than twenty minutes at a time. Not because of the heat alone, but because of the tiny little biting ants from whom we evidently were invading their space.
And yet I count all of these as fond memories. Backpacking through Thailand for me was a rite of passage. An adventure that will always be part of me. Maybe one day when I become a rich, successful author with a book on the New York Times Best Seller List, I can manage to find the money and time off to go back.
Until then, Thailand remains a magical, mysterious place that sometimes I think of as a dream world in a parallel universe that only exists in my mind.