Chatting up a monk

When I saw the sign, I couldn’t resist –

I’ve always wanted to chat a monk up, so I dashed over to the monk assignation area.

My monk was called Claim, and he told me all about his life in the monastery and at the university attached to the monastery, where he studies Pali, which is a language similar to Sanskrit.

He’s an urban monk, and so he wears orange robes.  Urban monks get up at 5 am, pray and then meditate for an hour, before going out into town to collect donations of food in exchange for blessings.  He explained that the brown-robed monks are the rural monks, who get up at 4 am and meditate for 5 hours a day …  so they’ve definitely drawn the short straw.  Although, thinking about it, there’s probably not much else to do out in rural Thailand.

Rather endearingly he told me that he wanted to learn English because he’d enjoyed Harry Potter so much.  I can’t imagine many Christian monks embracing witchcraft and wizardry with such enthusiasm.

After the monk chat session, I went to look around the temple, where the urban monks seemed to be having a jolly game of musical chairs.

Presumably the rural monks had all gone back to the jungle for some more meditation.

The monks’ garden was full of words of wisdom, hanging from trees, and I was rather taken with this one –

I imagine some poor, homely-looking monk painstakingly writing it out, whilst looking enviously over his shoulder at the monastery pin-up boys, flexing their biceps as they stride confidently across the courtyard for a bit of monk chat.

I didn’t just visit monks while I was in Chiang Mai, I also went on a trip to the Karen tribe, who live up in the hills outside the town.

This poor woman was having a lot of problems with her itchy woollen stockings

She was rubbing half a lime up and down her legs – I wasn’t sure if it was a tradional cure, or whether she was just a little strange.

The Karen grow coffee, and I tasted my first fresh coffee berry

I was surprised that it was really sweet and I suppose that’s why the weasels like them so much.  But I decided against making my own version of weasel coffee, and spat my coffee bean out –

The flowers in Northern Thailand are beautiful.  There are lots of cherry trees, which were a gift from Japan –

and they look stunning against the brilliant blue sky.

I also saw rhododendrons in their native habitat –

– they are apparently native to the Himalayas, and the highest mountain in Thailand is the easternmost peak of the Himalayas.

Bizarrely, there is a huge garden halfway up the mountain which is full of dahlias, snapdragons, delphiniums and all sorts of other plants that I have in my garden in England.  It’s a temperate garden project which was started by the last king to encourage the locals to grow something other than opium.

I did spot a few poppies –

but presumably they are not of the hallucinogenic variety.  And with the drug penalty being what it is in Thailand, I didn’t much fancy giving them a try.