We awake in the town of Sukothai. Sleepily, the group packs their bags and gathers around the table where we are served either yogurt or eggs. Some slept better than others, all are excited for the travel to come in the next few days.
Before long, we pack ourselves like sardines into a pair of vans and hit the road to Chiang Mai.
The drive is long and uneventful, punctuated with the occasional stop at a gas station to buy snacks and use the restroom. Two hours in, we arrive at Wat Lampang Luang. The girls all don sarongs as we prepare to enter the temple. The steps that lead into the temple are flanked by the impressive statues of two fierce naga, a type of mythical serpent which guard the ornate stone and gilt entrance.
Within the walls of the temple, sand covers the ground and several structures of various size are dispersed throughout the space like islands in a tan sea. Our group disperses, wandering around the temple in solitude. I observe the beautifully ornate wooden buildings and the numerous shrines and stupas that litter the temple. Nuns and visitors alike can be seen lighting incense and candles to a backdrop of waving prayer flags and a man's voice speaking Thai over a PA system.
In the back of the temple, there is a small building with a plaque that says only men are allowed inside. I enter the small dark room - a hole in the wall allows an upside down image of the temple to be projected onto a white sheet.
We reconvene on the other side of the road from the temple for lunch. Many of us fawn over ponies that are attached to small carriages on the side of the road. Avery gently pets and whispers to one as we eat.
We pile back into the vans and continue on the road to Chiang Mai.
Six hours after leaving Sukothai, we reach the Mandala guesthouse in Chiang Mai and promptly set off to explore the city.
Though dwarfed by the massive montropolis of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is still quite a large city. Attempting to find a market that one of our instructors mentioned, we wander off into the wild streets of the vast city. It did not take long for us to become thoroughly lost (to be fair, our navigator, Vishaal, might say otherwise). Instead of the market, we find ourselves in a rather touristy part of town, evidenced by the increasing number of signs in English and Chinese, and the rising prices of goods and services. We soldier on, pressing further into the city.
Poking just above the tops of the buildings is some sort of cliff or mountain. Intrigued by this out of place feature, we decide to investigate. As we draw near, we realize it isn't a mountain, but part of a giant temple. What we thought could have only been a mountain is in fact the royal stupa, an immense stone structure built to house the ashes of a long dead Thai King. We enter Wat Chedi Luang and are greeted by the sight of one of four enormous trees that tower what seems like two-hundred feet in the air.
Inside the main building of the temple is a cavernous hall of golden pillars and shrines that leaves each of us struck with awe.
Our excitement does not end there...we sit and talk with a monk named Bank. He tells us all about life as a monk, and the sacrifices he has made.
As the sky begins to darked, we head back to the guest house and rendezvous with several other members of our group. Together, we go out in search of dinner, ending up in a much newer part of town. In search of a specific Mexican restaurant, we accidentally set off in the wrong direction and it takes a significant amount of time for us to realize the mistake. Once we correct our course, chance had us run into the other half of our program members who were going to the same restaurant. We share stories and photos of the day over dinner and eventually return to the guesthouse together.
What began as a sleepy morning Sukothai ended with a busy evening in the bustling streets of Chiang Mai. With long rides and temples in between, that's a day in the life with PD.