The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. ― G.K. Chesterton
Each day I have woken up planning, thinking, and scheduling my time to get done the things I want to do, or least get to the places I want to get to. More often than not, it has required some serious map reading (sometimes more successfully than others) and depending on other people or modes of transportation to get me from here to there. Not today. Today was just a photocopy of a hand-drawn map of the area, given to me by the woman who owns the place I’m staying (a few marked roads and sights), and a bike.
I got on the bike and headed uphill to a small temple perched on the side of the mountain. Once at the entrance, it was “only” 510 steps to the top. At places like this there are often signs, both in English and Thai with Buddhist sayings. Now it may sound new agey or even kitschy, but after 400 steps, they have worn you down and you start to really take these things more seriously. At about step number 412 (to be exact) there was a sign that said, “Do not grumble, just persevere.” Ok, point taken.
I persevered and made it to the top. On my ascent, I saw only two other people, besides the resident monks. The temple was quiet and cool. The view from the chedi on the mountain was one of “those moments.” I felt small as looked out across the valley, a bit alone - not in a bad way; and fortunate - I realize not many people get to do what I am doing. I was not thinking about the climb down and what was next, I was here.
I biked down the mountain a ways, turned down a dirt road and headed past a monastery. There was nothing special about this place from the outside, no well-known statues of the Buddha or other landmarks, just small huts along the mountain side for the monks and the monk’s laundry - the orange robes they wear - strung between the buildings, but it was beautiful - the view and the absolute stillness of the place.
Finally Myrtle (at this point I had named my bike - she was a bit old and decrepit) and I made it down to the Chiang Dao cave, where Buddhist hermits once lived. There is a temple complex at the entrance, along with sellers of medicinal herbs, and few food stalls. Everywhere I looked there were monks, coming and going, and few tourists. Ignoring my own claustrophobia - and the bats, I climbed down into the cave. There are several miles of tunnels created by the water flowing under the mountain. With the help of a local guide, you can see a small portion. While, I appreciate the solitude that living in a cave underground may provide, I think I will choose the hut with a view.
Myrtle and I eventually biked back up the mountain road to my own bamboo hut and sat on the porch, listening to the birds sing, watching the sun set behind the mountain and trying hard not to think about what’s next.