Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hike to Wat Doi Suthep

This was one of the coolest things I've ever done. Last Sunday night was Buddha's birthday, the anniversary of his enlightenment, and the anniversary of his death. Starting at 7:39pm (9 is a number of good fortune) thousands of people began climbing a winding mountain road up to the Wat Doi Suthep (a 17-mile hike). We started at 9pm and I guess my adrenaline kicked in because I had tons of energy going up, but it still took me 3 hours. Vendors lined the road selling rice, noodles, water, candy, corn, fruit, and marajuna (even though there were tons of signs with an anime characters giving 'thumbs up' saying "No Smoking Alcohol"). Old women dressed in white, children, teenagers, adults, monks, g'toies (transvestites--very popular in Thailand), rich people, poor people--the crowd was very diverse in age, social status, and cultural beliefs. However, everyone was Asian...that is, of course, except for us. We stuck out like sore thumbs.

I was pretty proud of myself when I finally made it to the top of the mountain. I thought the hard part was done; now all I had to do was ascend the stairs...turns out there were 300 stairs up to the top of Wat Doi Suthep, and to make matters worse thousands and thousands of people were trying to go up to the Wat. I have never seen anything like it in my entire life. People were squished right up to each other trying to push through the crowd to worship in the Wat. Half way up I couldn't handle it any more. I jumped over the side of the stairs into the jungle and climbed up the steep hill leading to the Wat. I grabbed on to vines, branches, and anything else I could get a hold of to keep me from falling to my death. I wasn't the only person hiking up this way, but I was definitely the only white girl--everyone was laughing at me. It took about an hour to get up the steps.

So I made it to the top. Wahoo! Once I walked into the Wat I joined a procession of people circling around the sacred pagoda in complete silence. Old women were asleep under sacred statues. It was a once in a life time experience.