My next adventure involves a temple. My mission was to find a girl named Candy at a temple named Sue Tong Pai in Mae Hong Son. Candy volunteers with monks, so I had a feeling I was going to be too. This involved a flight. I hop on a plane to Mae Hong Son. Now, you know this is a documentary, so obviously my flights are set up, but once I land it’s on me to figure out where to go next, just so you know. This keeps things interesting. So I take off for my first domestic flight in Thailand. We take one plane to Chang Mai and then get on another plane which was smaller with propellers!! It was painted as if it were a rainbow too. I’m thinking - WHERE AM I GOING? I didn’t have much service the whole time I’m there. I’m doing my best to research, but there’s not much information for me to go off of. After about an hour on this propeller plane, I’m looking down and I see green hills and mountains. I knew we were up north, but these were so tall that I felt like I could touch them out of our plane. It was crazy going from a rushing city one day, and now in a region that all I saw were trees, and maybe a wooden house or two.
I land, and walk out onto the tarmac to see this airport can only hold one plane! It’s the only one. And side note - the only Americans on board were our crew. Have you ever been in a place where you’re basically the only person that can speak your language in an area that you’re unfamiliar of? If you have, you know that feeling of vulnerability. You just want to either smile at everyone or not make eye-contact with anyone.
Everyone seemed to have driven themselves to this airport because there wasn’t one taxi, bus, or train in sight. I wait and try to see if someone drives up, but as I wait I notice that the airport CLOSES and turns into this community park in the evening! I see runners, kids playing outside, and all these women gathering together. Then I hear music subtly getting louder and louder from that same direction and all of a sudden - BOOM - a flash mob zumba class just pops up! AT AN AIRPORT?! Okay… I’m don’t hate this one bit. I was needing to move my legs, and though these women seemed to look like the dance team of Mae Hong Son, I smiled and politely signaled my best “can I join you?” hand gestures. I’ll let you wait for the documentary to see how that ended up ;)
I see one random tuk-tuk waiting, and left to ask him if he heard of the temple I was told Candy works in. He didn’t quite understand, but luckily I knew how to say “Where is …” Once I expressed a complete sentence he nodded his head and helped me get into his cart. I never went anywhere alone. I always had my crew. They never let me go too far from where my suggestions were, but this time they weren’t there and they didn’t have the chance to stop me from getting creative.
I totally felt off the grid riding down these windy roads further from civilization as the sun was going down. It eventually got pitch black and all I saw was a glow from a few spotlights. The Tuk-Tuk pulls into a dark vacant lot. The dark shadows of temples and a decent size statue of Budha were all that I could see. I said thank you in Thai, paid him, and he rode off into the distance, leaving me to wander around the “temple” alone in the dark.
I am wandering around this, peaking around corners, but no one in site. I was honestly really nervous and scared. I didn’t want to disrespect anyone in this temple. My heart was beating so hard, it was so quiet and then out of no where I began to hear these chants on a microphone, but couldn’t see where they were coming from. I tried to follow the voice and the glow in the distance, and once I finally got to it, I see 30-50 monks worshiping in a circle under a tree - one leading the chants - a few others walking around the area. I subtly hear something like “foreigner” “look foreigner” and my heart drops! They might as well be screaming “INTRUDER!” I was petrified. I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries - inside I’m thinking “Where the heck is my crew and WHY AM I HERE?! THIS IS FOR SURE NOT RIGHT!” …I’m still holding these orchids I had purchased in Bangkok keeping them close at hand to use as worship ammunition. If anything, I’ll give them my flowers. At least I can make an effort to receive good karma.
I decide to turn back around and wander in the vacated area to see if there’s a different path I could take. I see a bridge - a really cool bridge - and that gave me a really exciting option. It’s like a button that says “DO NOT PRESS” obviously you press it. This was that case …
I took the bridge all the way down, and this time it wasn’t a fire alarm sound… this was a “WE HAVE A WINNER” sound!
As I near the end of the bridge, I begin to see mini temples sitting atop pillars and as I stepped further along the path the temples were getting larger and larger until I see … an enormous GOLDEN Buddha inside this gorgeous temple with candles and monk statues and wooden sticks and colors - COLORS everywhere! This was such a glorious introduction to a tradition Thai temple. It brought me to tears at first sight! And as I was staring with my mouth opened wide, there she was, Candy, sweeping around the statue barefoot humming a lovely tune as happy as she could be. A sigh of relief exhaled from my nervous breath as her friendly smile greeted me. I took off my shoes, stepped up to the inside of the temple and gave her the biggest American hug!
I can’t wait for you to see this temple, y’all!! It was incredible!
Candy and I caught up, and I told her all about my experience getting there! She taught me how to bow properly to the Budha and shared with me all of the gifts and their meanings inside the that "wat". She also explained how we were going to stay up that night and make “drunken noodles” a favorite dish among the Thais, to bring as alms for the monks in the morning. We also had some really special volunteer work planned for later that day with the younger monks!
It was like my day had just restarted once I met her, and I was totally okay with it! How exciting right? We headed to the home and family I’d be staying with that night, and began cooking this very traditional dish in their very traditional outdoor Thai kitchen, and prepared ourselves for the busy day ahead!
TO BE CONTINUED…