Most people when their VISA is coming up to expiration, they jump in a little, crazy, capsule of claustrophobic’ness and shoot up to the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sai. Pick up circa 7am, drop off circa 7pm.
Most of the day is spent in a poorly window’d, much smaller than big minivan, driving as if, both the van and the driver were spiked with Yabaa (mad drug). Once there, you say, “Hey!” to Burma, buy some cheap spirits or Chinese imitation electricals, and then solemnly return to Chiang Mai an an equally uncomfortable and depressing atmosphere of smallness.
This ain’t my cuppa tea.
Just the words;VISA run kinda sounds exciting. Well, the word ‘run’ gives this sense of freedom and experience; ask the chickens, they know! It is only VISA that has necessity and bureaucracy embedded within it making it sound like a boring chore of an expat in Thailand. You want advice on how to get a VISA from Mae Sai?
Ensure the stamp has an experience embedded within.
What better experience than taking my motorbike. I am a chicken out on the run. Prior to leaving, I was debating on whether to take Nong-B, my beloved ridiculous ‘bat bike’ of a bike, or my rented 110cc Honda Wave. The reasons being that Nong-B isnt that mechanically sound right now. As I am driving 300km into the thick of Northern Thailand then I don’t fancy it going pear-shaped (for Adam, that means wrong). On a long drive like this, I feel like a want a proper bike.
If you read my previous post (motorbikes and mindfulness), I mentioned the alive’ness I felt being this vulnerable, mortal being cruising along at 80km/ph with the fear of sudden death perched on my shoulders constantly reminding me that my soft-tissued skin was nothing compared to the hard, concrete skin of the road.
How can I feel more alive? Kick, rev, bite and go faster!!!
So, I chose Nong-B, my 19 year old Honda NS150 that I purchased for 7,500THB (that’s around 130quid and Adam, quid is not a fish). This was a NTNK (never try never know) decision. Stupidly thinking if it breaks down along the way, then at least I will know the 7500THB was worth it or what needs to be done to make it more reliable.
This was however, until I drove past Bikky Chiang Mai motorbike rental shop on Huay Kaew as I was leaving the city. The compulsion to stop and look lead me to rent a Honda CBR 150R. Hahaha….. I left Nong-B, 4000THB deposit (that wasn’t mine) and my license as deposit.
Kick. Rev. Bite. Go.
I was on my way from Chiang Mai – Mae Sai with the newly rented CBR, my nutshell, and my camel shorts habitually stuffed with unnecessary items. A post will be coming soon regarding these camel shorts.
Now, let me digress for a few lines. The last 5ish weeks I have very rarely drunk alcohol. The last 3ish weeks I have been meditating 2 hours a day. This has seen my mind change. It is beginning to flower.
I was aware.
I was mindful.
I was sharp.
With this and the teachings from Eckhart Tolle’s amazing book, ‘The Power of Now‘, my ability to stay present and conscious now came more easily and less likely to be distracted by the mind. My senses were more aware. All 6 of them were alive as I snaked my way through the countless mountains and provincial towns of Northern Thailand. The focus was my respiration. I did not alter my breathing, I simply watched and observed it. How fast was I breathing? Was the breath cold or warm? What smell was being channelled through my nostrils and hitting my olfactory system? Was the smell pleasant or unpleasant? I know what you’re thinking and it was not a distraction. This focus on my breathing kept me exactly in the present moment. This presence opens up your consciousness and you become so much more aware of your surroundings. You begin to appreciate the blossoming trees, the passing Buddhist temples, the blueness of the sky and the shadows on the ground creeping across the road with every minute of the day.
“The present moment is all we ever have” – Eckhart Tolle
I finally arrived in Mae Sai with only a few stops to refresh my contact lenses and take a shot with my rented Honda CBR with a temple as my wallpaper. I arrived, tired and back-broken, but alive. Not only was I alive, but I arrived feeling alive. The stamp now had an amazing experienced embedded within in it rather than a choreful, crazily cramped and claustrophobic car ride (Wow! Try saying that with a lollipop in your mouth).
The return to Chiang Mai I shall leave to your imaginations.
From the beginning of December, I witnessed many people planning and stressing in order to organise a big celebration or event to welcome 2012. This hasn’t been my style for a few years now and I have learnt to relax and not expect too much on the new year front. With this and a new found perspective, the new year was welcomed in a very different and unique way.
Generally, it’s often been a drunken one. Entering into the new year happy, dancing, smiling and being intoxicated to varying degrees. For me now, I have learnt that distraction from ourselves is one of the worst things, as humans, we can do. It was inevitable I was going to miss Krissi, so distraction seemed the easiest option (check out my story to understand more). However, I wanted the transition between 2011 and 2012 to be real, and consist of truth, conciousness and peace. From 11.30am, me and two close friends, Adam and Nicole, peacefully meditated.
3 was the magic number of the night. 3 friends, 3 minds, 3 candles and 3 worlds, feeling the transition from one year to the next.
There was no countdown. There were no party poppers or drinks. There was no music apart form the murmur outside our four walls. There was only calm. A calm that placed us a million miles away from the storm of fireworks brewing outside around Chiang Mai and Thailand. We were poles apart from the people of Chiang Mai. A distance that was accentuated the moment the hands of Southeast Asia ticked into the new year. We didn’t witness it. We felt it. Intense fireworks resonated across Chiang Mai and through each of our bodies. The storm remained for what seemed several minutes, yet we remained calm and focused within our worlds.
This was a perfect way to start the first moment of the year. And and and, it was going to be hangover free. Yes! Maybe i’ll save the hangover for the Chinese new year. When is the Chinese New Year? Around my birthday. Innit?
After going to bed, feeling open and honest with myself and the world, I decided to stay in this concious state throughout the next day and take an early morning journey upto Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for the sunrise. I loved Doi Suthep mountain and it was one of the first things do in Chiang Mai when I arrived early 2009. Nearly three years on and I still love it. I loved to start the day with a sunrise (as long as me and Krissi could get out of bed), so witnessing the first sunrise of the year seemed beyond perfect.
5am had me battling with my tiredness, but after ten minutes motivation slapped tiredness in the face with a wet fish and I jumped out of bed and began to wear my wardrobe. Yes, my wardrobe. Its going to be cold and for someone living in a tropical climate, I lack warm clothes. It is a case of be cold or ‘onion up’. For the slow ones adjusting to my world, ‘onion up’ is the same as wearing a stupid amount of layers. I begin my journey with kicking Nong-B enough so he gently purrs breaking the early morning silence of Chiang Mai. Off we go.
Nooooooooo! There is traffic everywhere. Rot yert yert!
I very quickly learnt that very early on New Years Day, the foot of Doi Suthep is extremely busy with traffic, people, cones and monks. “Dont worry, mai bpen rai” the positive Anthonee says with a smile. No one is stupid enough to go all the way to the top at this time of the morning and besides, Thai people hate the cold.
I was sooo very wrong.
As I meandered my way to the top noticing the traffic being a little busier than normal at this time of the morning I discovered Doi Suthep, the temple and it’s surrounds were jammed with people. Annoyed at such unexpectedness, as I have always had the sunrise to myself or with a few friends, the positive Anthonee in me once again thinks, “Dont worry, mai bpen rai”. Thai people wont be going all that way to see the orange sunrise, they want men in orange.
Again, I was soo wrong.
At first, after expecting a peaceful and tranquil sunrise, I was disappointed. I had built a mountain of expectations of all the previous times the temple was peaceful and empty. This time, things had changed. There was music, people, rows and rows of cameras taking pictures of the burnt orange sky creeping from beyond the horizon.
I frowned. I sat. I pondered. I accepted. I smiled.
It occurred to me I had stumbled upon a side of Chiang Mai I never knew about. Despite my expectations for a beautiful sunrise (for myself), I experienced not only a beautiful sunrise, but a beautiful morning with Chiang Mai’s locals. I snapped away with people smiling and eager to wish me a happy new year. After asking some people in my best Thai-glish (it’s a language in my world), I realised it’s incredibly lucky to come to a temple on New Years Day, especially Doi Suthep. As 8am approaches, hunger starts to infect my body and I return to Nong-B, give him a kick, and we curled our way back down to a slightly less busy foot of Doi Suthep.
Two lessons were learnt during the several initial hours of 2012:
Number one: Whatever storm is happening within your world, or the outside world, calmness will prevail and allow you to appreciate the storm for what it is and learn from it.
Number Two: Always expect the unexpected and appreciate constant change, in this world, and yours.