The Kingdom of Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia rich in culture and history, made up of 5 main regions. As a business traveler on a tight schedule, I was limited in what I could see and do within the constraints of my job, but I did find a few hours here and there to get to know the area I was staying and to see some local attractions. I tend to prefer quiet out-of-hustle-and-bustle destinations, so my time in Bangkok was kept to a bare minimum. My job took me to the rural city of Ratchaburi in the Central Plains region, where I worked and toured for 2 weeks. My driver (Mr. Vitaya) was from Bangkok, but was quite familiar with Ratchaburi, and he had several suggestions for touring. I found the various and numerous Buddhist temples to be particularly interesting, so I focused on seeing as many as I could. As I understand it, when one chooses to be a monk in Thailand, they give up all worldly possessions and devote their life in its entirety to prayer and peacefulness. Coming from a western background, I found this amazing and inspiring.
The first temple I visited was Wat Nong Hoy – Temple of the Area where there is Much Water. Western Thailand is near the border of Myanmar and it’s a land of ancient Thai traditions and numerous Buddha temples. Most of the temples sit atop small hills or on the side of mountains. This temple features a 60 ft Buddha statue, with structure beneath that holds likenesses of various other gods to worship. The temples are living working temples where monks live out their life in prayers and meditation. Monks are not allowed to work or use any modern conveniences. Each morning they tour the surrounding villages where villagers donate food and other items of sustenance. They are allowed a morning meal and a noontime large meal, but then nothing at night.
The second temple I visited was called Wat Kao Wang – Temple on the Mountain of Snakes. As might be expected, the monks are humble, reserved, and welcoming of visitors. This monk seemed a bit uncomfortable having his photo taken, but he was pleasant and conversant through my driver as interpreter. Though I didn’t see any snakes, the temples were swarming with dogs, chickens, and monkeys. This particular monkey seemed curious and particularly photogenic.
My third and last temple was called Tiger Temple. The Tiger Temple is a rather famous (albeit a bit touristy for my liking) temple in northwest
Thailand. The monks at this temple keep about 15 full grown Bengal tigers and allow visitors to visit the tigers and have their photo taken with each tiger. This temple is a must-see for Thailand visitors. I overheard lots of speculation regarding how exactly the monks keep these beasts from eating the visitors, but from my perspective, they seemed quite content and frankly bored, so although my local driver flat-out refused to get close to the tigers, I felt very much at ease. This experience was surely one I’ll never forget.
The more I got to know the locals, the more I became fascinated and respectful of the monk existence. On my last day in Ratchaburi, as I was
leaving the power plant, I could hear a party with music. Mr. Vitaya was able to find the source and it was a celebration of passage for one of the local boys going on to become a monk. The village was marching through the streets with music and celebration. It looked to be great fun for all.
All in all, although I only got to see a very small fraction of the country, and I never got to any of the famous beautiful beaches, I found Thailand fascinating and friendly. I made good friends with the other engineers at the plant, and I’m hoping to make at least 1 more return trip in the near future. The challenge for my next trip…to ride an elephant.