From Chiang Mai to Chumpon

After my time meditating at the forest monastery, I decided to head back to Chiang Mai to complete an advanced therapeutic thai massage course.  Once again I made the Old Medicine Hospital my headquarters and spent two weeks learning more bodywork.

In the therapeutic course we learned the 10 main energy lines of the body, known as sen in thai culture.  Each line originates at the navel, where we obtained all of our energy through the umbilical chord while we were embryos and dependent on our mothers for energy.  They run along the nerves and blood vessels throughout the body, leading to different organs.  By focusing a massage on particular energy lines, you can open up the energy flow to the organs associated with a particular sen.  Combining this with applying pressure to the acupressure points found throughout the body is the basis of a therapeutic massage.

Chopping the ingredients for a thai herbal compress.  The therapeutic effects all come from the heat, the herbs are just for aroma and have little to no added benefit.

Chopping the ingredients for a thai herbal compress. The therapeutic effects all come from the heat, the herbs are just for aroma and have little to no added benefit.

Each morning we spent a couple of hours in the classroom, learning anatomy and philosophy from a portly thai man named Wasang.  He’s quick with a smile, and even quicker with a poop joke.  His facial expressions while acting out being constipated or having diarrhea are priceless.  In the afternoons, we practiced more advanced massage techniques such as using our elbows and knees to apply more pressure.  We also learned how to carefully massage sensitive areas, such as the knees.

These techniques immediately proved useful for our sore muscles after we celebrated the Buddhist holiday of Vesak by making the 17km pilgrimage up Doi Suthep.  Vesak is the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment, and death, and occurs on the full moon of the 5th or 6th lunar month.  A massive crowd gathered at sunset near the Chiang Mai University and we all began the pilgrimage to the holy temple situated on top of a nearby mountain.  The sheer number of thai people joining in the pilgrimage was staggering.  Tens of thousands of people, from small children to old men, completed the trek, including the 300+ steps to the top of the temple grounds.  Locals lined the streets to cheer the walkers on, handing out free water, ice cream, pad thai, rice soup, and some delectable fried pork and sticky rice.  With the prevalence of free food available, the walk took us a solid 5 hours as we stopped frequently to refuel and enjoy the mountain views.

Doi Suthep lit up on Veshak night.

Doi Suthep lit up on Veshak night.

Around 5:00 in the morning, after an hour and a half of sleep on the floor, a large gathering of monks began to meditate and chant.  We left shortly thereafter, deliriously tired enough to fall asleep in the red truck taxi that took us back home.  After walking 17km in the heat, I was ready for a nice cold long neck, and was heartbroken to discover that no alcohol is sold on Buddha’s birthday.  I guess he wasn’t much of a partier.

My time at the Old Medicine Hospital came to a close and we all hit up one of the best buffets I have ever been to.  For 200 baht, you get a seat in a huge open air pavilion stocked with all types of raw and cooked foods.  Each table is set up korean bbq style, allowing you to cook all types of meats and shellfish how you like it.  (Bacon wrapped shrimp, get…in…mah…belly!)

Chowing down with Pad Thai, the aptly named massage instructor.

Chowing down with Pad Thai, the aptly named massage instructor.

Finishing off the marathon meal with an ungodly amount of blueberry pie, my friend Omnia and I rode on top of the taxi back to the Old City for one last night of partying.

Safety standards: these words don't belong together in Thailand.

Safety standards: these words don’t belong together in Thailand.

Leaving Chiang Mai, I put myself and my bike on a train for a pleasant overnight ride to Bangkok.  That morning, I decided to make the 500km drive to Chumpon, where the ferry to Koh Tao departs.  Things certainly got off to a rocky start.  Navigating by the route set by my gps, I quickly found myself on the super highway after some slick maneuvering around the toll booth.  Cruising at full throttle, I started to notice that there was a distinct lack of motorbikes on the road.  Huge trucks passed by and honked, their drivers staring at me incredulously.   Van passengers leaned out the windows, crossing their arms in an X in my direction.  A police officer pulled me over and made me get off at the next exit, as it turns out the highway is indeed for cars only.

It was at this point that I ran out of data on my cellphone, making my gps inaccessible.  I had no idea where the hell I was in the heart of Bangkok and did the only thing I could think of.  I stopped at the first McDonald’s I saw and grabbed an ice cream and some free wifi.  Three hours later, I had finally managed to escape the city and made the long journey to Chumpon.

After carrying me the 500 km to Chumpon, my bike decided enough was enough.  Two km outside of the pier for the night ferry, my bike made a godawful crunching sound, the chain shot off the gears, and all the electronics shut off.  A kind local gave me a tow with my bike in neutral to the pier and I boarded the ferry, worried about my girl’s fate as we cruised to my favorite island of Koh Tao to start my scuba divemaster training.