Bad plans sometimes lead to wonderful outcomes, I write in my notebook, as I pause from the task of savoring a glorious red curry on the upper part of Suthep Road.
This is Chiang Mai and, if there is one thing to do, that is visit Doi Suthep, the beautiful golden temple perched on the mountains. So follow the guidebook’s advice and take a songthaew to the zoo area, where you’ll be able to hop onto another one and be up on Suthep after a 20 minute ride – says any guidebook or travel website.
No way, I thought: Let’s walk. Admittedly, I had read about a hiking path leading up to Suthep. It was supposed to be beautiful, even if the thought of encountering unleashed aggressive dogs at some point on the trail discouraged me a bit. But still, I packed some water and snacks and got on my bike hoping to make it to the trailhead in a few minutes…
That turned into almost two hours. First I got lost in the maze of streets and alleyways that on the map should have easily allowed me to go around Chiang Mai Uni. Then I decided to return to the busy Huaykaew road and make it up to the zoo – a steep bike ride in heavy traffic. According to Google maps, there was a road I could take it from there to the trailhead.
“Sorry na”, said the official at the zoo gate. “That load goes through the zoo, so you have to pay admission fee”.
Oh well. “Kob khun krap!”, I call, as I hop on my bike and turn back.
Eventually, I figured a way to get to the trailhead. The last stretch had me twisting on my bike as if I were climbing the strenuous Tourmalet. I had broken into intense sweating, but there I was!
After spraying a generous dose of bug repellent on me and my clothes, I started walking uphill. It sure felt good to be back on a trail, and a nice one at that.
Sooner than I had expected, I enter the premises of Wat Pha Lat. Through the back door, as it were, with no one asking for an admission fee.
There are statues and chapels here and there, scattered in the deep forest, and with partial views of the city below. A truly tranquil place where, amazingly, I am able to count more monks than tourists. Oh, and not a single cooked food stall or snack bar. Not even a vending machine.
I notice that, in one of the chapels, there is young couple listening to a monk, the three of them sitting on the floor. Maybe it’s Buddhist training for marriage, I wonder.
I sit, I stroll, I try to take it all in. My mind is full of thoughts, but my heart is even fuller of the simple joy of being alive. Acknowledging the plethora of thoughts about home, family, friends, destinations, sex….then smoothly letting them go. That’s what the lady in the youtube tutorial said meditation was about.
Time flies, and I realize that it is too late to keep walking toward Doi Suthep. Still, elated, I start runing back to the trailhead. I am absorbed in my thoughts when two Western students interrupt my run. They are sweaty and look lost.
“Does this go anywhere?” they ask.
“Sure does” I smile. “It’s beautiful. You won’t regret the hike! Do you need some bug repellant?”
Shortly after I reach my bike. The way down toward town is, of course, not quite the same as the way up, and when I spot the quiet roadside restaurant I just have to stop to celebrate that I was not able to make it to Suthep on foot!