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Published: February 2nd 2010
I have just spent two days in Khon Kaen, in the heart of Northeastern Thailand. The traditional Isaan culture was on full display.
We arrived in a funky little guest house- the oldest of its kind in the whole city. While I was off getting a breakfast of youghurt, my traveling companion made contact with a friendly local who was recommended by an American traveler.
I was a bit scepitcal as I climbed into the man's fancy black upper-class sedan. I did not expect much traditional values from a rich man. My superficial first impression was soon dispelled.
Our local guide (his name sounds like "Chillum") took us to the nearby Phu Kradung national park. There is a large wildnerness reserve on top of a plateau. People can hike to the top and spend a couple of nights in the forest. If I ever have the time I would like to return. We only stopped in the visitor's center.
Next we were off to Suan Hin Pha Ngam- "Thailand's Kunming". There are three hundred million year old sandstone formations. Our hired guide pointed out the shapes of monkeys, elephants, and (of course) naked women in the rock.
Twisting mazes of stone led to a beautiful view. It reminded me much of Hampi. There is a timeless feeling. I expected to see dinosaurs walking about. Indeed, there are many fossils in the area.
Devin, you must come to Thailand!
We got to ride a "tractor tuk-tuk".
During the ride back to town, Chillum had much wisdom to impart to his foreign guests. He talked about the teaching of the Buddha. All humanity is like nature. Trees depend on water and good soil to grow, then they reach their full potential and bear fruit. However, eventually they must fall.
We also spoke of the opportunities in life. Chillum has his own business and is quite successful. Nevertheless, he seeks detachment from material objects ("very difficult" he says). We discussed how all Buddhist men in Thailand must be monks for a period in their life. I think this is a tradition the West could learn from. Self-control, peacefulness and austerity are key to our survival as a species.
Towards the end of the journey, Chillum told us how his father taught him the three rules of driving:
1) Don't hit other cars
2) Don't get
hit by other cars
3) Don't cause other cars to hit each other
This teaching applies wonderfully to the universal moral imperatives of humanity. While I was musing on this connection, a car in front of us changed lanes. Chillum had to slam upon his breaks. Even so, we came within half a meter of a collision. Chillum kept his cool and continued to drive with skill, awareness, and patience.
Chillum then spoke about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. For the exclamation point at the conclusion of the lesson, he played "Hounddog" by Elvis.
The next day we visited the King Cobra village. For hundreds of years, every family in a certain farming settlement has kept a snake in the home. The TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) encouraged the local people to set up a show to bring in much-needed revenue to the local economy. Now there are two mini-zoos in the village (for some reason, a rivarly developed and the one cobra association split into two groups). We saw pythons, cobras, iguanas, alligators, and some very cute toddlers and dogs. Next came the show- a display of skill and courage dancing the dance of
death with the poisonous snakes. In the year 2541, a local man died from wounds sustained on the stage. This inspired mixed emotions. Hopefully the funds earned from the cobra shows are being wisely invested in for the future of the community.
Dad, you must come to Thailand!
Finally, we visited the Upper Huai Nam Man and Huai Krathing Reservoir. The dam was built in the 1960s (Western callendar) for irrigation, electricity, and industry. Luckily, they also built a large white Buddha on a hill overlooking the man-made lake. The 334 steps to the top offer a better experience than driving. You feel just how large the Buddha is, and there it is well worth the beautiful view.
We saw one of the top ten most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed over the reservoir.
My friend wanted to give Chillum some money for driving us around and purchasing delicious meals. I explained that this would be impossible in a traditional culture. Chillum is our thaan
. We must offer him respect and attention, and he must care for us. The rules are unbreakable. We really got lucky to find such a wonderful man.
Mom, you must come to Thailand!
I was wearing my lungi in the heat. I saw some Muslim (male) villagers wearing lungis in Ayuthaya, so I figured it was OK. No one looked twice. However, a friendly local did tell my friend that it is strictly lady's clothing in this part of the country. Thailand is so laid-back, you can walk around like a cross-dressing wierdo and nobody cares.
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