Old Town in the New City

*This post was originally published on October 25th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

After two days of being in Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, I am experiencing a true taste of the authentic culture and history of this lovely country. Chiang Mai means “New City,” and it is located in the foothills of northern Thailand. The feeling of this city is a drastic contrast to Thailand’s most populous Bangkok. Chiang Mai’s current population lingers around 174,000 people (unlike the near 12 million in Bangkok). Of course, this number does not take into account the estimated two million tourists that meander around the city each year. Even the tourists seem different here, though, giving off a much more “earthy” and laid-back vibe. Overall, my observation during my two days here is that Chiang Mai is a slower-paced city in general. People take their time walking, eating, bringing the bill to the table at the end of a meal, etc. This was definitely not my experience in Bangkok, although I’ve developed a certain fondness for the raw brazenness and energy of Bangkok.

If Bangkok is the most exciting place I’ve visited on this journey so far, and Koh Samui the most scenically beautiful, then Chiang Mai wins for being the most culturally enriching. There is a tremendously broad array of activities one can partake in while visiting this relatively small city. For a spiritual journey, one can spend days visiting Buddhist Wats (temples.) There are 300 temples in Chiang Mai. For the food lover, there are literally dozens of cooking schools one may attend, ranging from one-day courses to week long intensives and more. Elephant and Tiger sanctuaries exist both within the city limits and in the surrounding areas, and luxurious spas, wellness centers and Thai massage abound here. Markets are scattered in every corner for shopping, and the textiles and artwork here is the best I’ve seen since my arrival. Experienced Thailand tourists that I’ve met in Bangkok and Samui cautioned me to wait until visiting Chiang Mai before buying too many gifts, and I’m glad I listened. Hillside tribe handicrafts, bead work, soap carvings, and celadon ceramics are everywhere, and I’ve only begun to explore the city.

 

My stay in Chiang Mai will span a month. My primary goal is to attend the Shivagakormapaj School of Traditional Thai Massage, known as the “Old Medicine Hospital.” I will start classes this Saturday, and will continue with classes daily for the following two and a half weeks. Thai Foot Massage will be my first course, followed by classes in traditional Thai massage techniques. I will also be meeting with administrators at the school to organize the student Thai massage travel course, which is being planned for next summer.

I must admit that it was challenging to pull away from the breathtakingly magnificent beaches and inspiring conversations at Samahita Yoga Thailand in south Samui. People from around the globe seek refuge in this glorious gem. One of my favorite aspects, as I’ve mentioned previously, was talking to the people there. We had an opportunity to break away from the retreat center grounds on our final night to converse informally.

I am making good use of my time this week in Chiang Mai. Choosing the right guesthouse for the student trip next summer is a priority to me, and I’ve spent the past few days visiting a total of 16 guesthouses to date. I am currently staying in the simple but quaint Mountain View Guesthouse, which is located in the north end of “old town.” Though it is lovely here, it is far away from the Old Medicine Hospital, so I am exploring options. Far is relative, however. It only takes about a half hour to reach the south end of town on foot, and tuk-tuks and taxis are everywhere. The task of looking at guest houses has been more difficult than expected, though. Finding that perfect balance between economical and comfortable is a challenge.  Four and five star hotels here can be just as expensive as fancy hotels in the states cost, and offer more amenities than necessary. One could easily stay in Chiang Mai on 10 dollars a night, too, but this will likely mean staying in a next-to-bare un-air-conditioned room without hot water, that may not lock well and possibly even have dirty sheets, as I’ve seen in some. As the cliché states, sometimes you do get what you pay for. The search will likely continue for the duration of my stay.

Tomorrow, however, I shall break from my search to attend an all-day cooking course at the Thai Farm Cooking School. This school is located on a farm in Chiang Mai’s countryside, and includes a tour of their garden to pick the herbal ingredients for the dishes.  So, food shall be the topic of my next post. I recommend ordering take-out from your favorite local Thai restaurant to enjoy while reading. Otherwise, expect to be ravenous afterward.

 

Exploring the Basic Concepts of Buddhism

*This post was originally published on October 20th, 2011

My fifth day at Samahita Yoga Thailand has just ended. It was the first rainy day since I’ve been here, and Koh Samui is just as beautiful in a thunderstorm as it is in the sunshine. One of my favorite activities here, other than the amazing yoga classes and lively discussions about Buddhist philosophy, is mealtime. Everything is made fresh daily, and the vegetables are picked from a local garden. Brunch may consist of homemade yogurt and granola, organic scrambled eggs with fresh peppers and Thai herbs, rice noodles with Thai red curry sauce, Thai spiced fish, mixed raw herbal greens with tahini dressing, homemade bread with fresh peanut butter and jam, and warm banana bread. Are you hungry yet? One item that is missing from this list, however, is coffee. Caffeinated items are not served at meals, and much to some yogis dismay, I am an avid coffee-lover. Just one or two cups in the morning will suffice, but still, it is often the first thing I look forward to when I awaken. I recall when a college boyfriend first introduced me to this tempestuously delightful beverage years ago. It was love at first sip, and although I’ve tested giving it up a few times in my life, I have never found it to make me feel more energized or healthy. In fact, I am much more joyful and balanced with my one morning cup. So, fortunately for me, I packed coffee, a French press, and chocolate covered espresso beans in my luggage.

Moving to a more serious discussion, though, I’d like to touch upon some of the Tibetan Buddhist concepts that have been explored in my afternoon lectures. The yoga portion of this class has come easily. I generally practice vinyasa style yoga daily, and Ashtanga yoga has felt very natural to me, given that vinyasa actually stemmed from the Ashtanga tradition. The Buddhist ideas, however, have at times been more challenging. There are many aspects of this philosophy that I embrace, which I will share in a moment. There are, however, concepts that do not entirely resonate with me. For instance, there is the belief that one of the primary pathways to freedom is to be rid one’s life of earthly desires and attachments, which ultimately lead to suffering. I agree that this is true that these things often can cause suffering along the way, because everything is an evolving process, and ultimately, we must learn to let go of them. However, I believe there is much more that happens. Take a child, for instance, who clings tightly to her teddy bear at night. The teddy bear gives her comfort, and she feels nurtured (and gives nurturing) by hugging the stuffed animal. These feelings come from within her. So, perhaps when the day comes when she loses the teddy bear in the grocery store, she suffers greatly from the loss of her beloved stuffed animal. But, did she not also experience great joy, love, and comfort during the process of attachment, too?  Perhaps years later, she may be able to reflect on her childhood with fond memories of this teddy bear she was so attached to, and even smile and laugh. Attachments and desires are often the catalyst in life for experiencing emotional growth and connection to other beings. So, if we always try to shun these things, do we not deprive ourselves from leading a full life? Perhaps it is when these things become obsessions that they can be damaging, but is it not equally damaging to never attach to anything?

There are other theories that challenge me to see reality from a completely different perspective. For instance, there is the Buddhist belief that reality is vacant, that it is ready to receive, and is always open to interpretation. So, let’s take a flower, for example. You may look at it and say “that is a flower,” but in reality, the flower is a creation in your mind, and language (“flower”) is applied to give it a label. Therefore, we confine what the object is through our mental creation and language. To take it one step further…what about language? Does varying linguistics in different cultures effect the interpretation of an object or idea, too? Do meanings of things change in cultures that utilize language differently, say, than the English language? The bigger concept, though, in this belief is that the flower is really a process. It changes every day, until it reaches its inevitable death. It is not a fixed “thing” as we humans label it and perceive it to be. We do this with objects in life every day, but the Buddhist belief is that we are not seeing any of it as it truly is when we add language and labels.

The Four Noble Truths

Many have heard of this concept that is fundamental to Buddhist beliefs. The four noble truths are:

Life is suffering
The origin of suffering is attachment
The cessation of suffering is attainable
The path to freedom is the cessation of suffering
Well, let’s face it. This outlook is rather dismal. Personally, I’d like to think there is much more to life than suffering. I was recently told by a Thai person that Buddhists believe that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already dying, but we are also experiencing life in this present human form for the first time, too. Another Buddhist told me that the four noble truths teach us to “grow up” and look at life realistically. Perhaps I enjoy my rose-colored glasses on occasion (I really do have a pair). I enjoy maintaining the magical spirit of youth and wonderment, even as I age. I don’t necessarily want to grow up…at least not entirely. So, I’ve even had struggles with these basic concepts.

In this week’s course, Dr. Neale presented a contemporary rendition of the concept of the cycle of suffering, as well as and the cycle to freedom. As with anything, ideas and concepts must evolve in their explanations to fit the understanding of current worldviews. This modern interpretation is used as an educational tool for the Dalai Lama when he travels the world to teach his wisdom.  For me personally, any quote or writing authored by the Dalai Lama that I’ve read has been anything but dismal. He has repeatedly been a great teacher and source of inspiration not only to me, but to most people I’ve spoken to who have read his works. I found this contemporary interpretation of the Buddhist concept of suffering to be incredibly helpful, and even inspiring. It completely reversed my prior negative feelings toward the idea.

The belief is that the cycle of suffering begins with something called Avidya, which means “misperception.” It states that we often don’t see reality in a situation clearly because of our pre-disposition to perceive things based on our pasts. This may be related to childhood, upbringing, interaction with peers, etc. Out of Avidya we cycle into something called Klesha, which means “afflictive emotions,” which are the feelings that are generated from our distorted perception. This could generate, depending on the situation, as feelings of anger, abandonment, vulnerability, etc. From Klesha, we cycle into what we call “reactive action,” which is the knee-jerk response we often have to our emotions (e.g. – outburst of anger or defensiveness), which ultimately leads to Samsara, which means “compulsive life,” which states that we become a slave to our condition of the distorted perceptions. So, the cycle of freedom lays in the ability to develop the wisdom (Prajna) to break free from this cycle by recognizing that it makes us a slave to our suffering. We have the ability to change our perception, or at least take a step back and wait before reacting to our perceptions, to gain understanding of the bigger picture. The concept also states that there is not a “you” that is fixed. For example, many of us may hold the belief that “that’s the way I am,” or “that’s the way he is.” This teaching states that such perceptions are not true. We are not “that way,” but rather, we are a collection of habits. Habits can be changed. Buddhism teaches that we are responsible for ourselves to make these changes through wisdom and awareness. Meditation can be used as a tool to heighten our ability to clear our minds, be in the moment, and recognize our full potential, rather than being fixed on a belief that things are a certain way. Just like the flower, we aren’t labels. The Buddhist belief system states that such labels confine us. It is like putting a picture frame around oneself, and only existing within the parameters of the frame. We can break free of the frame.

Personally, I find this to be a much more liberating view of the idea of what suffering means, and how we can come closer to freedom from it. In fact, this interpretation allowed me to break out of my own frame regarding my feelings toward the Buddhist concept of suffering.

What are your thoughts about these concepts?

9 Responses to Exploring the Basic Concepts of Buddhism
Joie says:
October 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm
Amy,

In the past few years I have been learning so much about myself and what I believe is true in life. I have taken religion classes, not that I am close to being religious, but to learn MORE…More about the concepts and realities that people hold so close. I explored into Buddhism, and like you, was a little taken back by their ideas of what suffering is and the “matter of fact” style of conforming to it. I still don’t understand it to be honest. What I do know and agree with is that life IS full of a series of habits and can ALWAYS change. I have been talking to an old friend recently who is going through some tough times. He told me that he regrets never reaching out sooner in life and thanked me for listening. My response to him was not to regret a thing, because we have this moment and every moment after it! (That’s a lot of time!) My point is that there is always room for growth, change, acceptance, empathy, love…That’s the great thing about mistakes, there is always the moments after that you can use to learn from them and move on. I love making mistakes because it makes me more generally aware. And being aware is a beautiful thing. I’m aware of my awareness! And I’m always attempting to break free of my frame as well. It’s not always easy, but I am NOT suffering in my skin. I feel free to see reality however I wish to see it. In the meantime I am trying to positively affect the people in my life and share my perspective. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You continue to have tremendous effects on shaping my worldview and introducing new ways to see things!

Joie

Reply
Amy Warcup says:
October 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm
I love that you wrote your insight and feedback, Joie! Yes, every moment is a new opportunity. If we can remember that even in our darkest moments, then we really are free.
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Jamie says:
October 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm
One of my most treasured quotes from my yoga training comes from the Introduction (written by Juan Mascaro) to the version of the Bhagavad Gita I read: “Every moment of our life can be the beginning of great things.” One of the reasons I love it is that I have a terrible memory for quotes, song lyrics, etc., but these few words have actually resonated strongly enough to stick around in my brain. More importantly, I think it speaks to the positive and uplifting nature of the concept of attachment (or lack thereof). I see great permission and freedom through the lens of these words; that even when we make mistakes, we constantly have new opportunities.

Thank you for thoughtful post and for inviting discussion. I look forward to reading more about your studies! ~ Jamie

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Amy Warcup says:
October 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm
Thanks for sharing, Jamie. I’ll have to find that introduction written by Juan Mascaro. I don’t think I’ve read it yet.

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Carol Hankin says:
October 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm
I so enjoyed reading your thoughts and interpretations!

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Laura Moran says:
October 25, 2011 at 8:23 pm
Amy,
I really like the 4 noble truths you outlined. It makes sense and shows you that although you may be suffering in life, you can attain freedom from it. Very cool message outlined in 4 simple points.
I am also interested in how your cup of coffee tasted made from the chocolate covered coffee beans in the French Press. If your versatility in achieving your cup of morning java is not an example of detachment to avoid suffering I don’t what is!
Miss you deperately, but so enjoying reading about your experiences!
Namaste,
Laura

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Colleen says:
October 28, 2011 at 1:18 am
Enlightening material. I am deep in thought. The concepts here are ones that have really been coming to light for me over the last year.
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The Sects of Buddhism

*This post was originally published on October 17th, 2011

Today, I am going to offer a very brief overview about Buddhism, since I am currently in a predominantly Buddhist country and studying Buddhist theories at Samahita. Included are some images of the Buddha from my recent visit to the Big Buddha Temple in Koh Samui. I will preface this by sharing that I am by no means a scholar of Buddhism or biased toward any particular sect. Rather, I enjoy studying Eastern philosophy, and integrating various Eastern theories into my daily Western lifestyle. I believe there is much to be learned from some of these ancient teachings that may benefit us in a society that is so often disconnected from inner sources of consciousness.

Many people in the West have some familiarity with Buddhism, and a growing number are studying Buddhist teaching. Some refer to themselves as Buddhists.  There are also, however, several misconceptions in the West about Buddhism, such as that Buddhists do not believe in the existence of a material reality, or that they worship statues. Both of these perceptions are untrue. So, what is Buddhism? This is a huge topic, but let’s begin by taking a look at who the Buddha was.

A (brief) story of the life of Buddha

The original Buddha’s name was Siddhartha Gautama. We have documentation that Siddhartha lived around 543 BCE, although the exact span of his life is somewhat elusive. He was born in Lumbini, which is in modern-day Nepal, and he was the son of King Suddhodana. It was customary at the time for royalty to bring in revered “advisors” or teachers who would offer futuristic premonitions to parents after the birth of a child. It is said that Siddhartha’s father brought in 107 advisors, who all claimed that the infant would grow to be a great monarch. However, the 108th advisor that visited said that he would not become a monarch at all, but rather, will be a great spiritual leader. Siddhartha’s father feared his son becoming a spiritual leader, which typically meant that he would live in poverty (as most spiritual people of the time did). In attempt to prevent his son from living this lifestyle, he raised him in a sheltered environment within his kingdom, surrounding him with great riches, baths of beautiful women, and lessons with the greatest teachers. As Siddhartha grew into manhood, however, he became increasingly aware of his sheltered life and craved to see the outside world. At age thirty, he left the palace. In the outside world, he saw much suffering, such as disease, poverty, violence, and destitution. This realization was shocking to him, and he decided to renounce all of his worldly possessions in exchange for a life of simplicity. Along his travels, he saw a sage-like character and decided to live like him and dedicate his life to ending suffering. After six years travelling, Siddhartha concluded that attachment is the root cause of suffering in a life that is ever-changing and impermanent. In the succeeding centuries, his teachings were written in forty-five books of scriptures. Buddha literally means ‘a being that is beyond this body.’ Siddhartha received this prestigious title many decades after his death.

The sects of Buddhism

As with most religious and spiritual practices, there are various sects that developed over time in different cultures. This is the case with Buddhism. Although there are hundreds of varying “styles” of Buddhism, most fall under two primary categories: Theravada and Mahayana.

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is the oldest sect, and began to spread around various areas of Southeast Asia around 200 BCE. Theravada literally means “the way of the elders.” The beliefs were developed based upon the Pali Cannon texts, which were written between 400-100 BCE in Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhism primarily focuses on the life of the original Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) and his teachings. This sect of Buddhism does not worship any deities, nor does it view the Buddha himself as being a god. Some consider this sect to be as much of a philosophy as a religion, because it is an atheistic belief system that honors the Buddha as the greatest and most venerated teacher who has lived. A strong emphasis in this sect is placed on renunciation. To free oneself of suffering, it is believed that one must give up earthly attachments and care for all living beings with respect. Theravada Buddhism is most commonly practiced today in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia.

Mahayana Buddhism

This sect emerged out of Theravada Buddhism around 200 ACE, and is documented in Sanskrit scriptures. Mahayana (meaning “the greater vehicle”) is the most widespread sect that is practiced in the world today. The primary sub-sects of Mahayana are Zen (or Chan in China) and Tantric Buddhism (Vajrayana). Siddhartha Gautama is revered as the original Buddha, but in the Mahayana belief system, many other Buddhas are celebrated as well, such as Amhitabha. Bodhisattvas are also honored. Bodhisattvas are considered enlightened beings who have renounced their Buddhahood to teach the path to freedom to beings on earth. There are dozens of Bodhisattvas that are honored in the Mahayana sect (although the term originated in the Theravada lineage, referring to the original Buddha). Emphasis is placed on wisdom and compassion. From this view, one does not necessarily need to renunciate anything, but should understand suffering and look at it clearly and realistically to break the cycle and find freedom. Mahayana teaches that humans have the ability to be enlightened both in this lifetime, as well as in succeeding lives. A strong emphasis is placed on karma. This sect of Buddhism is primary practiced in China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Bhutan, Singapore, and Mongolia.

Vajrayana Buddhism is a sub-sect of Mahayana that developed later, around the 8th century ACE, and traveled from India to Tibet and areas of Nepal. Many call this Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrayana means “thunderbolt vehicle,’ or “diamond vehicle.” This sub-sect teaches that we do not necessarily need many lifetimes to reach nirvana, but rather, that we have everything we need in one lifetime to break the cycle of suffering and seek the wisdom to the path to freedom. Some call this form of Buddhism the “short path.”

So, this is my very brief overview of the primary sects of Buddhism. In Thailand, there is great importance placed on the day of the week one was born, and there is a different Buddha statue for each day of the week. Given that it is very late Monday evening here in Koh Samui, I am feeling rather like the Tuesday Buddha, which is the reclining Buddha…and, it will be Tuesday very soon. So, until next time, may you have enlightened days and blissfully reclining nights! Sa-wa-dee-ka.

I Love Samahita

*This post was originally published on October 16th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

I’m beginning to realize that paradise may have multiple levels. As soon as I thought I had reached this unworldly destination in Bo Phut, I have found an even greater utopia at Samahita Yoga Thailand, located in the south part of Koh Samui at Laem Sor Beach. Here, not only do I have another perfect view of the gulf, but I also am practicing three hours of yoga every morning, followed by an hour long mediation session, and afternoons of lecture in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. Although the private beach has been lovely and the detoxing Ashtanga yoga classes have been invigorating, perhaps the greatest pleasure about being here is the people. If I may project my personal opinion here, “yoga people” are just friendly. This has always been the case wherever I have traveled. So far, I have met people from England, Denmark, the US, Holland, Australia, France, Morocco, and a number of  other countries.  

During my 8-day stay, I am enrolled in a course titled “Tibetan Buddhism, Yoga, and Psychotherapy,” taught by Dr. Miles Neale and Dr. Emily Wolf. I will share more about this course as the week progresses. Also, on my next post, I will give a brief overview of the major Buddhist sects… I promise!

failed to mention in my last post that almost everyone on the island of Koh Samui travels by motorbike. Although there are cars, they are rare. If local travel is too far of a distance to walk, this may give way for a perfect opportunity to hire a motor taxi. They are plentiful here, as well as inexpensive. Helmets, as you can see, are not in abundant supply, but my driver was cautious (with me on the bike, anyhow). Here, I am on my way to the post office in Chaweng.

Buddhism will be the topic of my next visit. In the meantime, I am contemplating whether or not I will ever get used to living away from the sunshine and the ocean (or a gulf of it) again….

4 Responses to I love Samahita
Elvira says:
October 18, 2011 at 11:12 am
Maybe you may want to add a twitter button to your blog. Just bookmarked the site, but I had to make it by hand. Just my suggestion.

My blog:
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Breeanna V says:
October 19, 2011 at 12:32 am
Amy, Thailand looks beautiful especially those beaches! Hope all is well, I cannot wait for the trip. Any idea of what the first payment would be approximately?
Reply
Amy Warcup says:
October 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm
Hi Breeanna! I don’t know exactly when the first deposit ($500 to secure spot) will be due yet, but most likely, it will be sometime in early February. I’m so glad you are planning to come! You’ll love Thailand! The people are so nice here, and of course, it is sunny and beautiful, too. I’ll be going to the Thai massage school in Chiang Mai next week.
Reply
Karen Taylor says:
October 21, 2011 at 4:03 am
You don’t have to leave the sunshine just move on down to the southern portion of the USA!! I also have been begging Aaron for a pet elephant…even before I saw you riding one from the news story about the one in the US who is best friends with a dog…so amazing! I was in love ever since but Aaron said he wasn’t going to poop scoop if we did happen by a pet elephant.
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Goodbye Bangkok…Hello Koh Samui!

*This post was originally published on October 13th, 2011 on amywarcup.com.

Well, if one night in Bangkok makes the hard man humble, then seven nights in Bangkok will surely make the soft one bold. By my final day in the city I could navigate confidently on both the sky train and the metro, know what a fair bartering price is in Thai baht, swiftly ignore the owners of the girly clubs who tried to trick me into entering their bars, and even cross the streets…all my myself. It has been an interesting week. As a female travelling solo, there have been some challenges. I received dozens of odd stares while dining at restaurants alone. Thai hostesses would sometimes exclaim “just one? All by yourself?” However, I observed hundreds of men in Bangkok alone, so the strangeness viewed by others likely lied more in my gender than my solitude. I made the most of my visit, though. I even tried my first (of what may be several) elephant ride on my last day in Bangkok. I noticed the bond between the elephant and her caretaker, too. They were very playful together. The caretaker shared that he has two baby elephants at his home, and that I was riding “Mama elephant.”

Yesterday evening I arrived on Koh Samui, which is located in Thailand’s beautiful southern gulf coast. “Koh,” meaning island, and “Samui,” meaning safe haven, is a place that may appeal to many types of travelers. For those who love a bustling nightlife, there is the clamorous and touristy Chaweng Beach, but for a quieter experience, one can travel to the south of the island, where the well-known Samahita Yoga Thailand Center resides. The latter is my primary reason for visiting this charming refuge. At the yoga center, I will be attending an eight-day intensive course in Ashtanga yoga and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and meditation. As I’ve stated previously, Thailand’s people are predominantly Theravda Buddhists (not Tibetan). The class at the yoga center will be led by visiting international scholars of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. In my next post, I will share a brief overview of some of the primary schools of Buddhism.
I decided to arrive on Koh Samui a few days early. Currently, I am in the town of Bo Phut in northern Samui, which is referred to by the locals as “fisherman’s village.” Bo Phut is a mix of tourist shops and a variety of ethnic cuisine, and little Thai homes and thatches. Most of the Thais that live here have a Chinese heritage. My sleeping quarters at L’Hacienda is owned by a French gentleman and his Thai wife. There is a strong French influence in the town. So, I have been delighting in eating exquisite croissants and drinking espresso here. The place is lovely..especially the rooftop pool. The gulf coast is lined with white sandy beaches and pristine, warm, clear water. needless to say, I am most thoroughly enjoying my stay. Koh Samui is definitely for lounging.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh…one last thing. I finally tried the fish massage my on last night in Bangkok, and yes, it tickled immensely. I must say, though, that my legs were the softest they have been in years afterward. I highly recommend that you try one, if given the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

Rab says:
October 14, 2011 at 12:41 am
Is that a picture of your room? nice!

Reply
Amy Warcup says:
October 14, 2011 at 3:28 am
Yes, at L’Hacienda. Only $40 USD a night! There are just as many French people as Thai here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boating and Bartering

*This post was originally published on October 11th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

…That is how my day began. At 6:30am, I departed on a bumpy van ride to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak, located in central Thailand in the province Ratchaburi. It is only about 62 miles southwest of Bangkok, but due to the heavy traffic and the cascading downpour, it took about two hours.

Crowds of tourists packed onto small canoe-shaped wooden boats to float amongst boat merchants selling items ranging from cantaloupe to coconut lamps and silk scarves. Several shops aligned the klong (canal), which connects to the nearby Tha Chin River. Fortunately, the downpour of the early morning cleared to a beautiful sunny 82 degree(f) day.

It is customary in Thailand (as well as many other Asian countries) to barter all items for sale in markets, although this does not hold true for department stores. Generally, one should begin the bartering process offering about 50% of the original asking price, and eventually meet in some varying price in the middle. I recall how difficult it was for me to barter the first time I traveled to China, because I feared being selfish and not giving enough. Bartering is an expected aspect of the east Asian market shopping culture, however. Often, the original asking price is considerably higher than the average sales price for the item  in their country, even if it seems low to us. Of course, it is important to be respectful while bartering, too, and not offer an insulting percentage of the asking price, either.
An experienced travel-savvy British couple shared a boat with me. They informed me that the merchants at the floating market do not usually barter as low as the street market vendors. The vendors are savvy businesspeople, too. My British companions informed me that the vendors are accustomed to foreigners from all over the world, and many can distinguish between an American accent versus British, etc., and that they often barter the highest with Americans. They very well may have been correct in claiming this, too. I have only been in Thailand for a week, and even I know that 1800 baht (which I was originally asked to pay) is an outrageous price for a set of place mats. My curious eyes cause me trouble in these markets. Just a glance in an item’s direction meant our boat was going to get “hooked” (literally..the merchants reached out with a big hook and dragged the boat to their stand). My boat companions teased that I need to just “well-shut my eyes for a while.”  Still, bartering is fun. The hardest part is remembering that I cannot do the same when I go home in December.

3 Responses to Boating and Bartering….
Laura Moran says:
October 12, 2011 at 1:10 am
Amy, this is a truly amazing adventure. I love your descriptions of bartering and wonder what it must be like to float and shop! Sometimes I feel like I’m floating while shopping in New York, but you bring it to a new level! Miss you, but happy to see you are soaking up Thailand. Look forward to more! XOXOX, L

Rab says:
October 13, 2011 at 11:34 am
The French-Canadian tourists bartered with me all weekend in Holiday. “No, no. Give me GOOD price.” Some of the stuff I could give some $ off, but some stuff I couldn’t. It was funny, because I thought this one group of women were getting frustrated with me- trying to barter me down on things, and I only ended up giving them 15% off the total – but then they came back 30 minutes later saying “You have been nicest to us. We thought you might tell us where your favorite restaurant is around here so we can go there. And we love your store.” So it’s just a cultural thing, but I was all tense bartering with them- mostly because I wasn’t expecting to do that!

 

My Visit to the Grand Palace

*This post was originally published on October 8th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

On Friday I had the great pleasure to be accompanied by four local Thai people. We visited the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Pho. This has been my favorite day in Bangkok so far, mainly because I had the opportunity to get to know some of the Thai people, and learn about many of their customs. I also practiced speaking some Thai, but my attempts to speak Thai definitely needs refining.

Thailand’s most sacred sight, perhaps, is the famous Wat Phra Kaew, a beautiful and ornate Theravada Buddhist Temple that houses the Emerald Buddha, which sits enshrined atop of a Thai-style throne. 95% of Thailand’s people are Theravada Buddhists. There are various sects of Buddhism that exist (I will share some of these on another post). Theravada Buddhism is the oldest lineage, sometimes referred to as being the “Southern school” or “lesser vehicle.”  It is very important when visiting Thai temples for both men and women to dress modestly (covered to elbows and below knees) and remove shoes. Photographs should not be taken posing in front of the Buddha, and feet should never point toward alters. Photographs are not allowed to be taken of the Emerald Buddha, but I will share that visiting the temple is quite amazing, as the architecture is stunning.

Also located on the grounds is the complex of the Grand Palace, which was established in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I. Thais began integrating contemporary architecture in their buildings during this time, which exemplifies influences from the French, Portuguese, and English. One of my new Thai friends, Ariya, shared with me that the Thais refer to the Grand Palace (shown right) as being a Western building with a Thai crown. She added that the Thais appreciate Western culture, but also hold sacred their traditions, too. This belief is threaded through many aspects of Thai culture, including the architecture.
 Next, we took a tuk-tuk ride to the Wat Pho, which is another of Thailand’s largest and most ornate temples. The Wat Pho also holds the national headquarters for teaching and preserving Traditional Thai massage. The grounds to the Wat Pho are stunning, and include a sculpture garden of figures in various Reusi Dat Ton poses, which is a form of traditional Thai exercises that resemble (though are different from) yoga asanas. The most famed figure at the Wat Pho is the enormous Reclining Buddha statue, which lies 150 feet long and 49 feet high. The statue illustrates the Buddha’s passing into death. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the statue is the bottoms of the Buddha’s feet, which is made of mother-of-pearl and displays 108 positive characteristics of the Buddha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rab says:
October 8, 2011 at 11:27 am
I like to pose like I’m holding up a temple, too- I just don’t get to do it in front of an ACTUAL temple!

Amy Warcup says:
October 9, 2011 at 5:48 am
We’ll have to come back to Bangkok together so you can have the opportunity!

 

Expect the Unexpected…

*This post was originally published on October 7th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

Generally, it is wise to always bear this in mind, especially when traveleing internationally. My plan had been to depart from Bangkok this Sunday, and spend three days in Ayutthaya, which was the Siamese capital from 1350 ACE – 1767 ACE, before the city was destroyed by the Burmese army.  The old city is only about an hour and a half drive north of Bangkok. The prefered mode of site-seeing in Ayutthaya is via Elephant ride. There is a very large non-profit elephant conservation program in Ayutthaya. As you can imagine, I was quite excited about this visit, but…most of the city is several feet beneath water, due to recent flooding, and some of it has even started to reach Bangkok. The owners of the guest house in Ayutthaya actually told me to cancel my reservation. So, just as I was pondering on how I’m feeling ready to leave Bangkok, I discovered I’ll be here an extra three nights. I decided to make reservations at a different hotel in another neighborhood for the three extra nights. This way, it would feel like something new. Lonley Planet recommends Lamphu Tree Hotel in Banglamphu. I promptly made a booking.

I wandered around Bangkok quite a bit, and found some interesting restaurants, such as this one:

I decided to take the sky train (which is public transporation at its finest, and most convenient) to the much-raved about MBK shopping mall, which is packed with thousands of stores and stands selling items such as electronics, clothing, silk, umbrellas, etc. Many stands and stores looked the same, row after row.  The six-story building is so huge that I got lost five times, and it took me over an hour to figure out how to exit this ostentatious monster-mall.  I did, however, meet a very kind Scottish tourist who has visited Bangkok many times. She gave me suggestions of some destinations to explore. So, …some tourists are actually friendly, I learned.

After spending three days solo in Bangkok, I was beginning to feel lonely. I was grateful to have met a young Thai woman in Rochester the week before I departed, and she linked me up with her parents, who live in Bangkok. We made plans to connect on Friday to visit the famous Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho. In the meantime, I decided that I could either sulk in loneliness, or take an evening stroll to explore my neighborhood. I chose the latter. Silom is a very lively area of Bangkok (although…which area isn’t?). My hotel is practically next to the Patpong Night Market, as well as a slew of endless clubs, coffeehouses, outdoor cafes, and massage centers. I went for a stroll. Thailand really is a friendly place, even in the massive Bangkok. I sat and people-watched for an hour at an outdoor cafe. Later, I strolled onto a funky neon-lit street, which I was soon to learn is called “boy town.” Bangkok, incidentally, is a very gay-friendly city. So, here I met my new pal, Chai, who recently authored a candid and heartbreaking autobiography about his early life in the Bangkok prostitution industry. I bought one of his books, titled “Bangkok Boy,” which he personally signed. I would like to add that Chai, despite his unfortunate childhood, is quite a character. He had me laughing for about an hour.

4 Responses to Expect the unexpected……
Rab says:October 8, 2011 at 11:26 am
Loving your blog! Thanks for sharing all the pics, too. I’m so glad you’re meeting friendly people. Wish I could meet Chai, too! He looks fun.
Carol Hankin says:
October 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm
So nice to see you enjoying your trip and making new friends!

Annette says:
October 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm
Amy, I have been thinking of you and spoke with Barron yesterday. He shared some of your adventures. Sounds as though you were having an unforgettable adventure. We can’t wait to hear your tails when you return. Love, Annette