Photo of the day: Wat Suan Dok.

So last evening, I was looking up meditation retreats and only found one, which offered a one-day retreat. Apparently, a proper retreat should be at least 10 days and some were offered up to 26 days! I was just looking for an introduction to meditation so I thought this was perfect. The bad news was their only class is on Friday, which was today. It was already 6-7pm when I emailed them last night but luckily they said they would love to welcome us to their class! I was really excited!

We got up earlier this morning, ate a simple breakfast at the condo while watching some Thai drama. I had no idea what was going on but it looked like some intense cat fighting. We then took a nice walk to Wat Suan Dok, the location of the retreat/class. It was so nice to be out at this time of the day as the weather is so pleasant. 

During our walk, we stopped at Jang Kub Coffee and this is the first thing I saw! I thought he was real!
During our walk, we stopped at Jang Kub Coffee and this is the first thing I saw! I thought he was real!

This course was presented by the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (or MCU) by Monk Chat. This office also runs two other programs. One is the Monk Chat program, where you get to chat informally with a monk about anything and it gives these young monks an opportunity to practice their English. They also have a 2-day retreat in their meditation centre outside of the city. Unfortunately, that retreat only runs Tuesday-Wednesday and we will be leaving Chiang Mai by then.

Simple, yet so true. Photo credit: Aaron.
Simple, yet so true. Photo credit: Aaron.

The course started with an introduction to Buddhism and meditation by a Buddhist Monk, Phra KK. He was actually the one who founded this 1 day course, 8 months ago. It all started with 4 Canadians and it’s been running every Friday since. Today, our class had around 30 people in attendance. I appreciated that most people adhered to the strict dress codes of being in a temple. It was funny though, the number of people who were wearing “tourist pants”, myself included. They are perfect to be respectful, yet light enough not to cause heat exhaustion! I was a bit worried about attending this session while being sick because I was afraid my sniffling and coughs would be distracting. Fortunately, there was a lot of discussion in addition to meditation practice, so it gave me the opportunity to blow my nose etc. Phra KK explained to us that Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life. He discussed concepts in a very animated fashion so it was not difficult to stay focused. Before lunch, we were given the opportunity to practice some sitting meditation. He originally said he would give us 10 minutes but it turns out he allowed us to meditate for a total of 17 minutes before stopping us. It was not easy, especially because I felt like I couldn’t breathe out of my congested nasal passages.

Dress code inside temples.
Dress code inside temples.

Then we had a break for lunch. There were many restaurants along the Main Street of the temple, and we just stopped at the first restaurant we saw (กวงราดหน้า) because it looked too good to keep going. They were serving crispy pork with rice as well as different noodle soups. We originally wanted the rice but they were out, so we ordered to noodle soups. Aaron had the beef and I had the pork. Aaron’s came first and that broth was rich and so tasty. My pork noodle soup was still really delicious with some slices of pork, meatballs and crispy chips, but if you are looking for a rich taste, you should choose the beef. We only realized after our delicious meal that we should probably have had a vegetarian meal, to be in the spirit of today’s course; however, our natural tendencies towards tasty meat cannot be ignored. We still had some time, so we walked around and finally got to try the little taco-like treats from a street stall. Surprisingly, these treats are actually sweet! It was a thin, crunchy crepe-like shell with a cream in the centre along with strands of unknown stuff! We wanted one of each type but it turns out one order is a whole bag of them! I preferred the dark orange one as it had more flavour, indeed a bit savoury. The yellow strands were a bit bland.

Beef noodle soup @ restaurant right in front of Wat Suan Dok. Photo credit: Aaron.
Beef noodle soup @ restaurant right in front of Wat Suan Dok. Photo credit: Aaron.

Pork noodle soup at the same restaurant.
Pork noodle soup at the same restaurant.
The restaurants here always have an array of condiments to go with your meal.
The restaurants here always have an array of condiments to go with your meal.
Mini taco-looking desserts from a street stall outside Wat Suan Dok.
Mini taco-looking desserts from a street stall outside Wat Suan Dok.
 

Phra KK obviously appreciated the concept of itis. After lunch, we did not go straight to meditation, but were given a walking tour of the temple and learnt a little about the history of the temple, as well as the practices of the monks and the people visiting the temples. We proceeded to practice some walking meditation and hand movement meditation. I came to really enjoy the walking meditation, as I found it easier to stay focused with a task at hand. Finally, we were given time to freestyle and practice meditation however way we liked based on the principles and methods taught today. The course ended with some treats provided by Phra KK and a short Monk Chat session, where we were able to ask him any questions we had. It was quite random, but he ended with showing us the different ways a monk would wrap his robe depending on what he was doing and where he was. Before we left, he gave us his blessings and gifted us with a book called “Karma for today’s traveller”. It was a nice way to spend a day! I am very interested in doing a longer retreat now. Hopefully I will get the chance to in the future.

The exit of Wat Suan Dok.
The exit of Wat Suan Dok.
 

On our walk home, we walked by a really nice McDonald’s and was lured into it by the fried chicken advertisements. We shared a fried chicken meal and it was not bad. Probably not as good as Popeyes or Church’s Chicken, but still pretty good. We also really appreciated the different sauces available for dipping. We particularly liked the chilli sauce option.

What a fancy McDonald's!
What a fancy McDonald’s!
Even Ronald is doing the Wai!
Even Ronald is doing the Wai!
 
Fried chicken meal @ McDonald's. Photo credit: Aaron.
Fried chicken meal @ McDonald’s. Photo credit: Aaron.
 

We got home and rested for a bit before heading out for dinner. I am loving the location of our condo because the restaurant was only another 7 minutes walk away. Tong Tem Toh, was another restaurant recommended by Mark Wiens for its good selection of authentic Northern Thai food. Again, there was a huge line up. I was quite discouraged when I saw we were given the number 86 and they were just at 68. The wait wasn’t that bad though, and we got to order while we were waiting in line, so it wasn’t long before our food arrived once we got a table. First, we had the Burmese-style pork curry. It was very thick and had a strong taste of ginger. It reminded me of the ginger vinegar you would drink, as a Chinese tradition, to celebrate when someone has a baby. I usually do not like the taste of ginger but this was tasty. I was impressed our rice came on time at this restaurant, so we got to enjoy our curry with it. Apparently, in Northern Thailand, it is more customary to eat your food with sticky rice but we still like jasmine rice more. Next, we had the stir-fried egg with sweet leaves. To our surprise, the sweet leaves were actually not sweet, but a bit bitter. It was still a nice, simple dish though. Lastly, was the omelette with Northern Thai sausages, which was actually our favourite. The fluffy egg and the sausages, which was not hard when mixed with the egg, worked so well together. It was definitely a more upscale place, because they had a small side table for them to place our water and beer bottles, so they can refill our glasses for us if needed. 

 Burmese-style pork curry @ Tom Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
Burmese-style pork curry @ Tom Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
Stir-fried eggs with sweet leaves @ Tong Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
Stir-fried eggs with sweet leaves @ Tong Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
 Omelette with Northern Thai sausages @ Tong Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
Omelette with Northern Thai sausages @ Tong Tem Toh. Photo credit: Aaron.
 

I was still feeling crummy and dinner took longer than expected given the wait, so it was a stay at home to watch TV and do laundry kind of night.

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