Thai Silk: It's the Best for a Reason

Bridget Connors
When you brush a piece of Thai silk against your face, your senses will purr with the softness of this most unique and popular fabric. Some silk producers rely on heavy machinery and an assembly line to produce the silk products you see today. In Thailand, the tradition of silk production is marked by many years of hard-earned pride, skill and style. Hand woven silk products offer a quality that is much better and of a higher standard to items created through machines.

Silk: The Legend

Legend has it that the Empress Si Ling Chi of China was the first to discover silk. It is said that while she sipped a cup of tea underneath a mulberry tree, a cocoon fell from above and into her teacup. As she tried to extract the cocoon from her cup, a very fine thread began to unravel from the pod. Soon, silk was regarded as a status symbol and kept a secret for many years. It was also a crime to even pass on silkworm eggs or cocoons for fear that their treasured thread would be revealed. Although evidence supports silk cloth production during the ancient times of Thailand, it is still a little hazy on how it came to be.

Thai Silk

The most respected reputation in silk production has been earned by Thailand, which is known for producing the finest silk in the world. Although other countries, such as Italy and China also produce silk, Thai silk is rather distinct and highly impressive. The hand woven silk from Thailand feels fine to the touch, yet still retains an earthy quality. Throughout the years, Thais have perfected a number of weaving techniques and processes, which produce a variety of weights, patterns and designs.

Silk Production Process

The process of hand woven silk production is one that requires patience. A weaver usually has the capacity to create close to only four meters of material in one day of work. With that piece of information, you should definitely value your authentic silk products even more! First, the raw silk yarn is extracted from the silk cocoon. It is then prepared for a dye job. The yarn is then treated, boiled and eventually dyed. Once dying is complete, the silk yarn is then dried before it is spun on wooden spindles. The weaving of the silk yarn is the final step. Depending on where the silk was produced, you will encounter a wide-range of styles and colors, such as the iridescent variety from Korat or Surin.

The Many Uses For Thai Silk

Although silk is often connected to clothing, there are many different uses for Thai silk you probably weren’t even aware of. For starters, it is highly unlikely that you’ve ever tied the material to the clothing worn by astronauts. It is also used to produce carpets, sewing thread, typewriter ribbons, as well as fishing lines. Let’s not forget all of the wonderful places you will encounter silk on the home front. Silk table sheets for the dining room add softness to the room. Many bedrooms display a silk bed spread, blanket, sheets or matching pillows. Silk curtains and other home accessories can really add flair to any room in the home.

How to Care For Your Silk Products

When you want to ensure the life of your silk product, you should know how to properly take care of this type of material. To clean your silk products, they should be hand washed. For a colorful cloth, it is suggested to soak in salt water for the first cleaning. When ironing, the setting should be warm.

Interesting Facts About Silk Production

1) Did you know that the silkworm isn’t really a worm at all, but is actually a caterpillar?
2) Did you know that one cocoon holds a single fiber measuring 500 meters long?
3) Did you know that the natural color of the silk fiber from Thailand silkworms is gold?

Thai silk is something that can be enjoyed by all and if taken care of, it can last more than a hundred years. There's a reason why: its the only silk still hand pressed and its beauty and texture is recognized for this reason.

Where to Take a Padi Open Water Scuba Diving Course in Thailand

Andy Burrows
Ever wonder what it would be like to jump into the water and look around 40m below the surface? The underwater world is mysterious and yet inviting, the experience of diving it provides and addictive sense of zen. There’s no better place to have your first dive experience than Thailand – with good conditions year round.

Most dive shops in Thailand offer PADI certification but it’s also possible to find a few offering NAUI and SSI certifications. Beginners may be more comfortable diving in the calmer and shallower waters off the east coast of Thailand, with destinations such as Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Pattaya, Koh Samet or Koh Chang being the most popular on that side.

More advanced divers and those beginners who are confident in their abilities will have a better time diving around Phuket and the Similan Islands. Hotspots for diving around here include Phuket, Phi Phi and Khao Lak.

Phuket has the most upscale dive operations but if you are watching your budget, you might be more comfortable taking a course at Phi Phi or Khao Lak. Phi Phi is quite popular among the younger crowd but there are hotels catering to older couples and families, which also offer scuba diving courses. Khao Lak offers an excellent choice of dive shops and also has a good range of accommodation to suit most tastes. It is also the closest jumping off point to the Similan Islands.

The Similan Islands, technically located in Phang Nga province, provide some of the best dive sites in the world. Protected within a marine national park, the nine islands are still pristine and rich with wildlife above and below the water. Most dive operators will take you ashore at one of the islands, where you can enjoy the powder-white beaches and see exotic birds and monkeys.

Under the waves, the colourful reefs and boulder formations are teeming with coral and a variety of marine life. Sometimes whale sharks are even spotted in the waters, as well as rays and other sharks. Visibility is good, varying from 30-50m. The best way to see the Similans is by liveaboard, and most dive operators will allow you to do your Open Water dives from the boat if you’ve completed the paper and pool work ashore beforehand.

Much like Phi Phi, Koh Tao is a fun place for backpackers to learn how to scuba dive. This may well be the most affordable place in Thailand to take a PADI Open Water course and to build up your dive log. Unfortunately it’s not the best diving in Thailand – but it’s not yet the worst either. Koh Tao used to offer frequent whale shark sightings but they are relatively rare these days. It’s also conveniently close (2 hours by speed boat) to Samui. In fact you can do diving courses on Samui too.

The number of dive boats on a site is not restricted, so you may find there is too much company around peak dive times. You may find yourself surrounded by 50 to 100 divers at a time, with most of them being Open Water students or day trippers from Samui.

Needless to say, Koh Tao might be great for learning and for progressing to instructor – but it’s not all that great for just recreational diving. Many people come here specifically to advance through courses and proceed with PADI Advanced, Rescue Diver, Dive Master/Master Scuba Diver and Instructor courses.

There are so many choices on Koh Tao that you should look carefully at each dive shop and make sure they offer you the best value for money.

Not all dive instructors are the same, and some are downright scary. Likewise, equipment standards can vary, and you’ll want to make sure any shop you choose has quality equipment and maintains it properly and hygienically. You should also check into the insurance policy of the dive shop and enquire as to if you should purchase your own dive insurance for the hyperbaric chamber if you have an accident.

Most the dive operations in Thailand are run by foreigners, which is just as well since Thais have a rather different approach to safety and responsibility, but you’ll find yourself diving with plenty of Thai staff who are their usual friendly easy-going selves.


The tropical beaches of Phuket

by George
The Beaches of Phuket

Phuket is a tropical Thai holiday island and is one of the premier travel destinations in the world. The beaches of Phuket are well known for their white sandy beaches lined with gracious palm and coconut trees.

Most tourists staying on Phuket during their holiday unfortunately only visit the Phuket beach located closest to their hotel. It is a shame as there are so many beautiful Phuket beaches which the tourists could visit. The best way to see all the beautiful beaches of Phuket is by renting a motorbike or jeep and by simply driving up and down the coast line of Phuket as travelers will encounter countless beautiful and deserted Phuket beaches.

Some of the nicest beaches of Phuket are the Phuket beaches mentioned below.

Bang Tao Beach

The beautiful Bang Tao beach is located next to the upscale Phuket Laguna complex where a number of excellent 5 star Phuket hotels are located.

Kamala Beach

Kamala beach is one of the most popular of Phuket beaches and is located only a few minutes drive from Patong beach. Travelers looking for a Phuket beach area which offers a peaceful surrounding should consider booking a Phuket hotel or resort in the Phuket beach resort area of Kamala.

Karon Beach

The most popular of Phuket beaches after Patong beach is Karon beach and is located just south of Patong. Karon has a long beach and numerous resorts line this Phuket beach. Tourists visiting Phuket with children often prefer the somewhat laidback atmosphere that Karon beach has to offer.

Patong Beach

Patong beach is the busiest of all the beaches of Phuket. The vast majority of entertainment and business venues are located in Patong beach. If travelers are looking for a Phuket beach resort area where they can party until the early hours of the morning then Patong beach is the ideal choice for them.

Surin Beach

One of the most upscale Phuket beach areas is the area around Surin beach. If tourists do visit Surin beach then they should definitely try the excellent and inexpensive seafood which is served at the Surin beach side restaurants.


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 7 of 7)

One evening, after a meeting, the abbot invited me to join him in his kuti. As I climbed the steps, I noticed the glossy handrails and the huge, gleaming floor of the veranda, both energetically polished with coconut husks until the coconut oil buffed the wood to a deep luster. This was a work of love by his monks, out of respect, and as a soon-to-be-ordained novice monk, I would become skilled at polishing the abbot’s veranda - on my hands and knees!

The interior of his kuti was much smaller than I had expected, with the standard two shuttered windows, now open, and bare walls. His outer robe hung on a rack. A water jug, cup, and alms bowl sat near the door, with a candle and some incense on a table toward the back. Except for a few incidentals - a razor, sandals, mosquito net, umbrella, some writing materials - this was the extent of the abbot’s worldly possessions.

We entered the tiny hut to the flurry of two geckos scurrying off the back wall, and as the abbot lit a candle and invited me to sit, the muffled sound of thunder in the distance reminded me that I was in the presence of a special being. He offered a cup of water, after which we sat in silence. I felt a profound peacefulness in this man’s presence, and already a deep admiration had formed, even though I had only known him for a short time. I could have silently sat with him in this little hut forever.

The locusts and cicadas were beginning their evening serenade, beckoning to the pair of geckos that circumspectly made their way to the door to embark on their nocturnal hunt. In the distance could be heard the “gecko, gecko!” of their kinsmen, as soft rain began pattering on nearby leaves - the vapors of the ocean falling upon the forest to begin the journey back to their Source.

The abbot continued sitting quietly without speaking, and I, out of respect, sat silently as well. This man’s quiet, sincere demeanor touched me deeply, and no words were needed in this atmosphere of complete confidence and ease. Silence is so powerful.

He presently asked how I was doing. I said fine. We talked a little about my practice, the visions I had been having, but then all too soon, I knew it was time to go. I stood up, put my hands together at my forehead and bowed, feeling an overwhelming respect and appreciation for this gentle being of few words who accepted me so unconditionally, and who had given up everything to dedicate his entire life to helping others find their way out of confusion.

The rain that had begun as barely a trickle was now a torrent. The vast heavens again opening their floodgates to unleash angry clouds and storms that drove across menacing, slate-gray skies, and with crashing thunder and blinding lightening as my solitary companions, I returned to my hut.

I felt such a profound gratefulness, an appreciation not only for this abbot, but for the entire group of monks and nuns who willingly gave up the security and comforts of home and family to risk their lives in pursuit of this elusive truth; this unfathomable mystery that held the secret to mankind’s only hope. If it wasn’t for them, and all the other monks and nuns before them that paved the way, how would Janet and I have ever stumbled across meditation?

Traveling to Southeast Asia answered many questions for us; one of them being whether journeying to a distant or magical place to acquire our answers was necessary at all. And we determined that it was . . . and yet, it wasn’t. The wisdom of eternity rested nowhere but here, within us; where else could it be? It has always been right here in our hearts, but we had always been too busy and full of ourselves to see it, and because this wisdom is within us, who could teach us but ourselves? We must truly be our own teachers, for no teacher can uncover this wisdom for us. But this place . . . I don’t know, it seemed . . . magical. Maybe the constant danger, knowing that one’s life could be snuffed out in a moment, helped us go deeper. We had always found deep concentration illusive whenever we were safe.

We inherently knew that there are those who might point us in the right direction, perhaps help us move out of our own shadows so that this wisdom of eternity has an opportunity to surface, but we also knew that we must eventually travel the path ourselves. And when that wisdom did surface, we knew it would forever change our destiny. We are the ones who must make the effort to change, and only through our own efforts can we accomplish this transformation.

We had never run across many people who genuinely thirsted for this cursed freedom that costs it’s seekers everything, and we were beginning to understand why only a handful of each generation attempts it, because it’s just too difficult. But once you’re cursed, you’re cursed, and there is no going back. Your “bridges of security” have all been burned.

The experiences we were having in Thailand already confirmed that we didn’t know anything of value, and a few days later, some things happened that we probably would have been satisfied never knowing.


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 6 of 7)

By E. Raymond Rock
At that time in 1981, Thai families could lose as many as half their malnourished children to diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever, dengue fever, hepatitis, rabies, dysentery, cholera, malaria, hepatitis, Japanese Encephalitis, and snakebites as well. The cremation fires remained busy. The first entire cremation I actually witnessed involved a small girl, six years old perhaps, so beautiful, her long, black hair combed so carefully with a pink ribbon tied on the side. She looked as if she were only sleeping.

The dramatic memory of the episode remained with me for weeks, as the monks warned it would, and it was some time before the skulls that appeared on my kuti wall every evening in the candle light, departed.

I vividly recall the fire becoming extremely hot once the branches were lit, and in only moments, her shiny black hair sizzled, and then was gone. Next, the skin on her face blistered, and was gone as well, exposing the white skull underneath. The little body blackened quickly, its limbs curling up into a fetal position, and then it began cooking.

In those days, the cremation pits consisted of nothing more than four long stakes pounded into the ground with the space between filled with stacks of dry limbs and twigs. The parents would place the body of their child on top of the heap, after which they would stand stoically by to watch it burn. The mother would throw candy into the air, and the father, sitting on his heels, would smoke cigarettes. Expressing emotion was not considered appropriate etiquette by the Thais, and yet at times I caught glimpses of mothers off by themselves crying quietly. It wasn’t considered proper to make a spectacle of yourself.

The villagers appeared to accept these tragedies calmly, while Westerners like Janet and I were horrified. The villagers believed that one’s karma predestines the length of her or his physical life, and that little could be done to change things, a detached attitude that didn’t make sense to our logical western minds with a pill for everything. Let’s face it; our well-trained senses were all that we could rely on at the time, and we believed nothing existed beyond these limited senses. But then, where did my past-life recalls at Shasta Abbey come from, and my other meditation experiences, how did they all fit into this logical picture?

Deep in my heart, I had inklings that this universe involved much more than was obvious, and now I wondered what was keeping me from seeing this “more.” Was my strong logic blinding me from seeing extraordinary things that possibly exist outside the range of my limited vision? Perhaps my search for freedom at some point would take me far beyond a limiting world that ensnared me so. Perhaps someday the expansive worlds alluded to by these monks and nuns would be revealed. I was learning that this freedom could not be endowed by something else; a greater power for instance, I had to work toward it agonizingly by myself. Well, almost myself - Janet was with me every step of the way.

Evenings were a blessed relief in Thailand; warm, but without the smothering heat of the day that gratefully always surrendered to the night’s relative coolness. If we weren’t in the sala at dusk, chanting, we would be sitting out in the jungle meditating (hoping to high heaven that a snake wouldn’t crawl in our laps, or a mad dog take a bite out of us).

At other times, we would be found gathered under the abbot’s kuti. His kuti was fancy, with a profusion of tropical plants and flowers on all sides. The kuti itself was small, but because it was built in the middle of a large, ornate, elevated veranda supported by high, elaborate pillars instead of the ordinary four by four stilts that propped up our huts, the whole structure had an appearance of a massive building. The living quarters inside the hut were about the same size as ours; but because it was built on a large platform, the entire structure was large enough for the entire community to sit underneath.

The abbot would be perched on a high seat, being fanned slowly with giant banana leaves by one or two senior monks, and except for fierce mosquitoes buzzing around and preparing to feast on us (and hopefully not carrying a bad strain of malaria), all was deadly quiet, as the monks would continue to fan their abbot. The humidity was tangible; the still air heavy and laden with moisture with a storm usually brewing during the rainy season. Nobody spoke or moved after we all filed in and found a seat on the concrete floor; it was perfectly silent, a powerful silence with these monks and nuns sitting peacefully together, not making a sound.

One evening, I was sitting there, serene, watching Janet with the nuns across the way and wondering how she was doing, when I noticed a small brown scorpion crawling up my leg and onto my lap. It was as if I attracted scorpions; some kind of scorpion karma maybe. But I just sat there, trusting it wouldn’t bite me as long as I didn’t move . . . (Hah!).

The devious arachnid scurried sideways over to my wrist, and with smiling, beady eyes, stung the hell out of me! The pain was interesting, like ten bee stings at once accompanied by unbearable pins and needles running the entire length of my arm. I tried to concentrate on my solar plexus to ease the throbbing, and all the while the little terrorist just sat there, tail in the air, looking up at me as if to say, “Had enough?” Actually . . . I did, and eventually it scurried off, leaving me sitting there with thirty minutes of pain contemplation. Another of my many teachers!

Occasionally, the abbot would give a talk. When I attended his first talk, I expected it to be deep, very moving. I imagined him saying something in the order of . . . “You will never find the Source in your “self.” You can analyze yourself forever and not find it, but when that self, the one who is looking, is put under the pressure of intense meditation for a long time, ahh, . . . the self disappears, and there is the Source! Can you imagine yourselves beyond consciousness? Can you envision timelessness? Can you grasp the immensity of eternity? Some things you will fully experience with meditation, but never be able to utter a word about them to anyone. There are no words to express them. You are the Source; you are Reality here and now. There is no such thing as progress toward the Source, only a steady realization that you are presently blind to this fact. Each moment is eternal in itself, time being but an illusion of consciousness that creates previous and future moments. Everything happens now. Without insight, your past will be your tomorrows and your tomorrows will be but a phantasm of yesterday, as your dreams and the dreams of all beings intermingle. The barrier of consciousness will keep you from these truths for as long as you cling to the fantasy of individual experience. Look forward to the day when experiencing ends. May you find truth. . . .”

But in actuality, of course, his talks were much more practical and targeted, centered around our simple struggles to overcome the kilesas - our greed, hatred and delusions - which are fueled by our insatiable desires. And I didn’t have to go very far to find them. First things first I suppose.

Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 5 of 7)

By E. Raymond Rock
The contact with the monks at the Zen monastery in California, our experiences with the monks and nuns here in Thailand, and our deepening meditation all had an incredible impact on this phase of our spiritual lives. Our observation of life expanded into a wonderful perspective, as our worldly appetites fell away, and our spiritual faculties began to flower. This created a radical difference in the way we experienced everything, and although we were circling around life again, it was from a different, more refined vantage point.

My false center or “self” - that part of us we fabricate and call individuality - was also gradually fading, and although this idea of a personality still clung to me like sweat, it was definitely weakening. I originally thought that when this false personality weakened, I would become a doormat, a wet noodle, but I was surprised when the opposite occurred. A certain, inexplicable wisdom and contentment clicked in, enabling me to make decisions without the constant static of “me” in my head that so often led me down proverbial Shangri-La’s that quickly turned into hells.

Long ago, I gave up the idea of one religion or another being the ultimate answer, and no longer could I tolerate somebody else telling me what to think or believe; I had to find out for myself. Now I knew that the answers were nowhere but inside.

I could see, even back then, that any religion’s attempt to organize the Truth, or organize the Freedoms we were discovering, only created and supported a “self”’ rather than dismantle it. And it was becoming painfully apparent to us that through the actions of this fabricated “self,” our destinies were created.

Furthermore, only through insight would our destinies and our false “selves” be resolved; it was up to us. Laying back and waiting for some all-powerful God to zap us into sainthood was not working at all. It seemed as if the Freedoms we were searching for could not be endowed upon us from an outside source; we were stuck with the task of discovering them for ourselves. And this involved sacrificing everything we had ever believed in.

My previous faith closed its ears to any mention of inquiry into one’s soul. I know this for a fact because I asked a priest once. He said that meditation was an invitation to the devil. Interesting. He insisted I follow the Catholic Church exclusively and leave everything in God’s hands, and not worry about understanding anything; we were not meant to understand, only to worship, only to believe - “God is the authority.” (All reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s premise that if Christ returned to earth today to teach true, disciplined righteousness, the Church would not be happy)!

So the Church was no help at all to someone like me who relentlessly questioned all authority, and only years later did I understand what the root problem had always been - “me” - that strong self-identity that the church said was supposed to not question authority! This “me” was what eventually had to be dismantled, but I didn’t know how to do that and the Church either wasn’t aware of the “self,’ or chose to ignore it. Therefore, I could only take one step at a time. The three freedoms we had stumbled across had helped immensely, but we urgently needed that fourth one.

One day, shortly after arriving at the wat I noticed the abbot standing near the smoldering cremation pit. When he saw me, he waived me over. As I approached, I again noticed that his eyes seemed strange. I had thought before that his eyes were different, but now this was confirmed; they were curiously empty, yet very alive, as if they were looking through me and focusing on the forest behind.

He asked if I would help him with something, pointing to a black, tarry lump lying not too far away in the leaves. I didn’t know what he was pointing at, but I nodded in agreement and followed his lead as we collected a good bit of dry wood, which we placed on the embers of the almost burned out fire in the cremation pit. After the fire got roaring again, we gathered some large, dead leaves to protect our hands and carefully picked up the infant’s hot, small, half-cremated torso, and placed it back on the fire.

I couldn’t help but think about the wide chasm that existed between Thai and American culture, and how mentally tough the Thais must be to live under these third world conditions. I felt sorry for these destitute villagers when I first arrived, but soon learned that happiness had little to do with wealth, or comfort, or security; it had to do with unconditional love - not a clinging love, or what might be called attachment, but real, unqualified love.

After we placed the baby’s tiny body back on top of the fire, the abbot looked at me for a moment, and then said, quietly, "You are here now, therefore, you are permitted to be a complete failure in the eyes of the world. You can stop fighting life.”

What an incredible, emotional statement. Tears streamed down my face as if a dam had burst. I didn’t know whether placing the baby’s body back on the fire triggered them, or relief in knowing that I would no longer have to live up to the expectations of a competitive world. Whatever triggered them, it was liberating. Where exactly was I? Where had I been all my life?


Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 4 of 7)

These monks at Nanachat had a mystique about them . . . unmistakable, but difficult to explain. They were hardly noticed, so unassuming and restrained, childlike in many ways, and our hearts couldn’t help but go out to them. This was not Bangkok, where city monks took on the robes only to gain merit for relatives, or for reasons other than dedicating their lives to meditation and enlightenment. This was the real-deal at Wat Pah Nanachat, and I wondered if the stories of narrow escapes with death at these wats were exaggerated. I had a funny feeling we were about to find out.

The next morning I ran across a villager and a monk, chatting and busily working on a carcass. It was lying on a bamboo table in the shade of some banana trees near the sala, and appeared to be an animal, or something. They seemed to be skinning it. Mmmm. I didn’t think monks did that? So I moved closer, and discovered what it was that they were working on - a human skeleton! “Whoa,” I thought, recalling my cherished autopsy picture, “maybe I should round up Janet and head back to good ol’ Colorado right now!” This was really ghoulish - they were actually scraping dried flesh off the dead, gray bones.

Later that day, overcome with curiosity and a sense of the macabre, I asked around about the skeleton. What I pieced together was that it apparently had been curing in a sealed box under one of the kuties for two years, a necessary process so that the flesh could be more easily removed without damaging the bones. The two years had now expired, and it was time to scrape off the flesh before shipping the clean bones to Bangkok for pinning and bleaching.

During the years that the body was being stored, many monks inhabited the kuti in order to overcome their fear of ghosts, and, as could be expected, had unusual meditation experiences. The skeleton’s ghost was believed to roam about the monastery grounds every night looking for its children.

The remains were that of a young woman from the local village. She and her husband (the villager who was scraping the bones) would visit the monastery regularly to offer food and listen to dhamma talks, or sermons. The couple had a beautiful, healthy little boy and another child on the way. They were very much in love, and looked forward to an uncomplicated life in the village, raising their children and growing old together.

It was obvious that this couple wasn’t asking for much . . . were they? They were happy with the simplest of things; farming, raising kids, and then dying in the same village where they were born. This was 1981, just before Thailand became westernized to the extent it is now, and the humbleness and humility of these people overwhelmed us time and again.

The story of the skeleton continued: After their daughter was born, the woman began experiencing pain that steadily worsened. It became so intense and unrelenting that she could only lay curled up in bed all day. With no money available for treatments in Bangkok, village remedies and aspirin were her only option, and the pain finally became unbearable. One night she asked her husband to bring their children into the room and just hold her. She was saying goodbye.

Her soft crying was not so much from the pain now, but from what she was about to ask her husband to do. She wanted to die, the pain was too much, and yet how she could abandon her young children? What would become of them, and her husband? Her dreams were shattered. She asked her husband to leave his gun on the table.

He refused! How could he do this? He felt ashamed and unworthy, that he could not make her well. He would take his gun and rob somebody, and get money to take her to Bangkok, but there was nobody to rob; the monks had no money, and neither did the poor villagers.

The woman he loved was in pain, and he was helpless to do anything about it - except help her to kill herself. How could he live with such a thing; he would have to kill her himself and spare her the horror of pulling the trigger. Then he would kill himself . . . but what about the children?

He couldn’t do it; all he could do was place the revolver on her table and quietly walk out of the room, unable to look into her eyes. A few moments later, a gunshot rang out.

It was a sad story, and I couldn’t help wonder who really pulled the trigger. If she did, was it wrong for her to take her own life? Yes, according to the monks, it was, but I reserved judgment myself. How could I know what she was going through unless I stood in her shoes?

I would watch the monk and villager chatting and working on the skeleton from a vantage point across the courtyard, and occasionally I would notice the small, gentle villager with stooped shoulders put his knife down and become silent, looking off into the forest. His lined face and weak smile revealed the pain of a poor villager’s life that had come undone, and now he was doing the only thing left to do, fulfill a promise to the woman he loved for almost his entire life.

Her dying wish was that her skeleton be displayed in the main hall for all the monks to contemplate every day, reminding them that death can come at any time, and that death was always painful, and therefore they must not tarry in their efforts to find freedom in their hearts and hopefully not experience death too many more lifetimes.

The poignant story and the actual experience of seeing this skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull affected me deeply, much deeper than any lecture about us being merely “bubbles in a stream which could burst at any moment.” I was actually living the Buddha’s words now.

Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 3 of 7)

What a friendly, carefree monk! We felt at home already, but he wasted no time in getting down to business. He asked me to remain in the courtyard for a moment while he and the other monk escorted Janet to the nun’s section. Before they left with her, the British monk asked if I wanted to say goodbye. . . . Hmm. Why should I say good-bye? Janet and I were staying at the same monastery, weren’t we? But I did as he suggested and said good bye. (You should never second-guess a British monk).

As I watched her disappear into the trees, which, by the way, happened to be my last personal contact with her for months, I thought back to the train ride, and how apprehensive she was when she noticed the small, thrown together shelters in the rice fields that farmers used as protection from the monsoons. She was certain that we would end up living in one of these flimsy huts that afforded zero protection from snakes and creepy things, and I was right, she was scared to death.

But not to fear; her first kuti (hut), although older, was substantial, made of timbers with a tin roof and perched on stilts for protection against her anticipated despicable critters. Her fear however was not entirely without foundation; an active family of seven geckos claimed the hut as well, causing her to lay awake the entire first night curled up in a rigid, fetal position being careful not to touch the mosquito net that hung from the ceiling and which she tucked firmly under her little bamboo mat . . . while imagining things crawling all over her.

Eventually, the nuns gave her a nicer kuti with only two geckos, and then finally a new and beautiful one with only a single lizard . . . but it was a big one.

Although Janet and I would see each other at a distance while attending community meetings, meals and so forth, we weren’t permitted to speak with each other without a monk present. Those were the rules; established so that no misunderstandings would arise with villagers who supported these monks, a support that relied upon mutual trust. The villagers would take care of the monks and nuns necessities, and the monks and nuns would devote their lives to nothing other than conquering their kileses (greed, hatred and delusion), and finding enlightenment. The monks and nuns were the villagers’ ideals.

The British monk returned after getting Janet settled in and handed me the traditional small, rolled-up bamboo mat that would serve as my sleeping and meditation rug, along with an old, dinged aluminum teapot that was my water kettle. After a brief stop to fill the kettle at the water barrels, he began escorting me to the far side of the monastery.

As we were walking along, a mangy dog with a missing ear and absent clumps of fur ran into the forest not far ahead. The monk pointed and issued a stern warning to stay away from stray dogs that might wander about the monastery looking for food, adding casually that a monk and nun were both presently taking anti-rabies shots after being attacked on the porch of the sala! Well . . . I was relieved to hear that rabies shots were available, but not too thrilled about rabid dogs running loose all over the place.

We continued about a hundred yards on a narrow trail through a green cave of dense foliage with tropical flowers spilling out of bamboo thickets; which seemed to be welcoming me, and then, suddenly, there it was - my personal little kuti! I had been picturing it in my mind for months, and it looked simply wonderful; quiet, peaceful, just the thing for an itinerate loner like me.

By Western standards, it was tiny, only six feet by seven feet, but more than enough room to stretch out. It was made of sturdy timbers and perched on stilts seven feet high to keep out snakes and ants, with ten steps leading to a small porch. Inside were a few pictures tacked to the wall, apparently from a previous occupant - an autopsy photo of some poor chap cut from top to bottom, (a monk's aid for contemplating the body), a picture of a Buddha image, and a picture of a lotus blossom. There was also a small, cut-in-half tin can that I later used to heat a few tablespoons of water over a candle to shave with every morning. Probably what the prior tenant used it for. I mentally thanked him.

My kuti came complete with two shuttered windows, to keep out the rain, a mosquito net tied to a ceiling beam, and some candles, matches and incense sitting on an exposed two by four. Small pans of kerosene were fashioned around the bottoms of the exterior stilts to discourage ants, scorpions and termites, and the roof was covered with tin, a beautiful tin, the sound of rain upon which will remain with me the rest of my life. My little kuti was perfect!

Living at a monastery in Thailand costs nothing, as long as you follow the rules - one meal a day, etc., and of course you must be on your best behavior. Besides the rules, we had to quickly learn a wealth of cultural things, for example; exposing the sole of one’s foot is akin to exhibiting one’s middle finger, so I soon learned to sit puppy-up, or flat on the concrete floor of the sala with my feet curled demurely underneath - no furniture or pillows to sit on at Wat Pah Nanachat! Just wood, concrete, and the jungle floor.

The regional police station would subsequently hold our passports, which we cheerfully surrendered upon arrival. We couldn’t have cared less; our intention was to stay forever in this paradise that offered such a rare opportunity to meditate with little disruption.

The smiling British monk wished me luck, then turned and disappeared down the trail. I waved, while at the same time glancing nervously in all directions for signs of snakes, scorpions, or mad dogs, and then made myself at home in my little kuti, that to me was more beautiful than a mansion with gold-plated faucets.

Life in a Thai Monastery (Part 2 of 7)

We caught the 600-kilometer, overnight milk run into the sparse, destitute countryside of the northeast, making uncountable stops and heading for who knows where. The ancient train clicked and clacked grudgingly through Bangkok’s innards; miles of dilapidated buildings leaning toward the rickety tracks, populated with on-the-edge people surviving on next to nothing, with many of the old and infirm sitting hopelessly beside their makeshift dwellings, waiting . . .for what? Death perhaps?

It caused me to pause, as I reflected on the fate of all beings, rich or poor, good or bad. This is our destiny; death, and it comes to every one of us, whether it comes easy and sudden or slow and painful, and I hoped with all my heart that Janet and I would not have to go through the uncertainty of a physical existence too many more lifetimes.

Finally, we chugged past the squalor that was Bangkok and headed toward the Cambodian border, and found ourselves gazing out grimy windows at countless rice fields, their magnificence painted across the endless South Asian landscape. We saw great plains dotted with tiny villages, framed against a night filled with endless stars, red streaked morning skies, and a yellow-white day. Eventually these plains gave way to occasional patches of forest, and soon, we could see tangled thickets of jungle ahead. Suddenly, I feared for Janet.

The monastery was supposed to be a dozen kilometers from the train station in Ubon, but none of the cabbies or moto drivers had ever heard of it. Maybe it was the way we were pronouncing it? Finally, a slim, young Thai on a tiny motor scooter indicated that he knew where it was and offered to take us there for a reasonable fee. Great!

Now this was a small bike, and Janet and I, complete with stuffed backpacks, must have weighed in at a good 350 pounds, but the driver, undaunted, somehow squeezed everything on, and with almost flat tires, a little luck, and a lot of smoke, we soon found ourselves in the forest surrounded by the deafening chatter of tropical, hooked-beaked birds. We paid our driver thirty baht (about a dollar), and made our way on foot into the dense, damp foliage following a path under a canopy of seemingly infinite trees. This was the entrance to Wat Pah Nanachat, a Buddhist monastery or wat.

This was just what we were looking for! Living in the forest deepens meditation they say - something we confirmed at a Zen monastery in California, and the jungle, the animals, and the natural world seemed connected at the hip to the Source of all things or that mysterious Reality that some may refer to as God. We felt safe and comfortable here, in contrast to the cities that are man-made, here we were closer to the freedoms we sought, and closer to what we actually were; elements of the earth that would return to the earth.

It was odd how the Freedoms began revealing themselves to us. We vowed to find truth in this lifetime, but we didn’t realize at the time that this truth involved a number of freedoms. We had already found three; three so powerful that we were propelled headlong into this far-flung adventure where our lives would be at risk every moment. We knew in our hearts that there were more freedoms, but how many more? This whole thing was a mystery to us, and we had no inkling of the outcome. It was baffling.

All we wanted to do right now was to live in the forest meditating silently and quietly, and Thailand supported this. The Thais understood the value of meditators; and how the Thaïs’ day-to-day lives were positively affected by monks who meditated. Unfortunately, meditation back home was still a lark, a New Age marketing tool which at worst became a moneymaking enterprise of unscrupulous meditation teachers, and at best, nothing more than a therapy or relaxation technique of some kind, Few understood or cared about its deeper aspects.

Not many places in the West offered free room and board just to promote the unique consciousness that positively develops from still minds. Intellectualism rules the West, and although it has produced technological and societal milestones, the people are not happy, at least not as happy as the third world Thaïs we met out in this countryside. Technological advances take their toll - on people’s hearts.

There was no movement in the open courtyard as we approached. A large wooden structure, the sala or meditation hall, loomed ominously ahead surrounded by water barrels strategically placed to catch rainwater from its tin roof; no running water or electricity out here. A bell platform with six steps stood a little way from the sala, and alongside the platform was a cremation area. There were windows; or openings in the sala walls, so large that it appeared as though walls didn’t exist; you could look straight through the building as if it wasn’t even there. It created an incredible illusion of airiness.

The setting was peaceful, but not necessarily quiet. The animal chatter is unending in the forest, changing every hour, as the different animals go about their routines. They say that forest monks can accurately tell time by listening to the noises of the jungle; I can attest to that; and I even got pretty good at it myself!

As we continued walking toward the sala, two monks approached; one smiling broadly, undoubtedly aware of who we were since we had corresponded ahead of time, making the proper arrangements. (A little diversion from flying by the seat of our pants).

“Greetings,” he announced, his delightful British accent bouncing off the forest. “The Rocks I presume?”

Thailand Vacation Series - Thai Foods & Cooking

Thai foods and cooking
Thai food has become in recent years one of the world's favorite cuisines. When we speak of "Thai food ", we are in fact talking of four very distinct regions in the country, each with their own culinary traditions. We are speaking too of the dishes created in the royal courts and palaces of Old Siam, that have been passed down through many generations of chefs, and finally into public domain.

Good food also comes up from the street level, and many of Thailand's most popular dishes can be found at the smallest food stalls and restaurants. And there is the influence of China, India, Malaysia and other neighbouring countries. So all these different factors come together under the label "Thai food", and you will find them in varying degrees at any Thai restaurant you care to visit, anywhere in the world.

One of the most distinctive aspects of the cuisine is its use of herbs and spices. With regard to the spices, some Thai dishes are very hot, but by no means all of them. The herbs have another function, in addition to providing flavour, in that they all have to varying degrees various medical and therapeutic benefits.

Thailand has a long history, going back to ancient times, of the use of herbs for medical purpose, and this in turn has permeated the ways of cooking and preparing food. Coupled with its low-fat qualities and its essential freshness, this helps make thai food one of the healthiest anywhere. Another important aspect about Thai food is the hospitality and friendiness, the sheer enjoyment of good companionship and of eating that is such a powerful element of the Thai personality. Sharing a meal is an important part of the day for any Thai person, and meal are very seldom taken alone. That is why all the dishes are generally served at once during Thai meal, and why there is a communal spoon placed alongside each dish for people to help themselves and to serve others.

A Thai meal ideally is a communal affair, principally because the greater the number of dinners the greater the number of dishes that can be sampled. Diners choose what ever they require from share dishes and generally add it to their own plate of rice. All the dish are serve simultaneously, or nearly so. The object is to archive a harmonious blend of the spicy, the subtle, the sweet and sour, and a meal is meant to be equally satisfying to the eye, nose and palate.

Thailand is blessed with many varieties of plants, herbs and spices which ensure s balanced diet. Today, visitors can both relish classic Thai menus and the benefits of a natural diet, and study the art of Thai cooking at several specialist schools in Bangkok and major beach resorts.


Thailand Coup, Bangkok Still The Place To Visit

by: Fred Tittle
Coup in Thailand, this is not the first coup in Thailand, but the first in a long time. If you have been to Thailand recently, or follow the politics, this coup is not surprising for many reasons. Many people see to much corruption at very high levels, the extrajudicial handling of the drug problem, the sale of a major Thai communication asset to a foreign country, the way that the Prime Minister handles his opposition, using whatever means to silence them, and for the military the Muslim uprising in the three southern most provinces. The political fighting in the capitol is further making the military nervous with the now ousted Prime Ministers plays to keep his power despite a large and vocal group of people that want to see him out.

The military involvement with a Muslim insurrection in the south has to be troubling to them, and they want to open negotiations with the insurgents to work through the problems and come to a peaceful solution. Towards this end, the Thais have for the first time a Muslim General, General Sontai, controlling the military, and who appears now to be the new Prime Minister. Thailand being a mostly Buddhist Country, are very tolerant of minorities, and this would seem to be a better track to travel than trying to muscle through the issues using force, which is seen as not working and counter productive.

All Thais love the King! The Thai King is the longest ruling monarch in the world today, whose 60th anniversary was a huge celebration. Amazing to see if you walk through Bangkok, is all of the Thais Wearing yellow shirts proudly proclaiming their love for the King, several weeks after the celebration. This new Commander of the military is close to the King, and if he has the King’s support, the people will support him as well.

No one has been hurt yet! However, it is pretty much assured that in the rush to cover the story, and be the most dramatic and sensational, the international news outlets will wreak more damage on the Thai people than the Coup, or the ousted Prime Minister. Not only will Thailand suffer, but the smaller countries that border Thailand will suffer as well, notably Cambodia and Laos, which receive a lot of overland tourist traffic from Thailand. Tourists that are in Bangkok now are a little nervous, but they will be safe, and will have a great story to tell when they get home. Thailand is a great place to visit as it always is and will continue to be. Book your tickets now, come and see the new Bangkok airport and you are sure to find some great rates, See you here!


Chiang Mai Nightlife - Cheap Fun After Dark

By Jim Allen
Budget travellers and backpackers are known for their love of a fun evening no matter where in the world they end up. For those who reach the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, there are plenty of opportunities for nightlife excitement, with the added bonus of it being really, really inexpensive.

Dining and drinking are probably the first things that come to mind. Fear not, the food in Chiang Mai is not only delicious and the helpings large, but the cost is amazingly low. Filling meals can be found from street stalls and vendors in Chiang Mai for less than 25 baht - that's about sixty cents! Eating at restaurants will cost a bit more, but if you stick with the local Thai food establishments and avoid the hotel restaurants, you'll still be amazed at the serving sizes and the prices.

As far as drinking goes, imported beer at the expat pubs is very reasonable, but if you're not picky, a large bottle of the local spirits will last you and your friends the night and will only set you back around 120 baht ($2.90 US). Of course, if you overdo it you may continue to pay for it the next morning.

Another favorite nightlife activity in Chiang Mai is shopping at the famed night bazaar in the middle of the city. Here you will find all kinds of foods, crafts and other goods from the region. There are plenty of bargains to be had here, but be ready and willing to haggle. A word of warning though, so called antiques here are often fakes.

Finally, if you like to dance, there are many popular discos in Chiang Mai. Cover charges are reasonable, and if you practice basic caution and stick with the more well known ones such as Bubbles disco at the Pornping Tower, they are also very safe and friendly places to relax for the night.


One night in Bangkok

By: Ann Corba
By the end of October in Thailand finishes so called “rain season”, so now it’s just the right time to visit this country and to see all its sightseeing. Before going to one of its sea resorts, most of which have recovered from the last year’s tsunami, it could be very interesting to spend some time in Thailand’s capital – Bangkok. Bangkok is 8-million metropolis. You can live here for several years but still find something new. However 24 hours is quite enough to fall in love with the city and to see the best it can offer. For the last 200 years Bangkok has been the residence of the Tai’s kings. Live in Bangkok boils up round the clock. All the big shops and small stores are open 24 hours a day. The night is the best time in Bangkok. No heat, bright lights… Even the mud, so usual for the oriental city seems to hide under the cover of the dark. Impetuous Bangkok’s nightlife attracts a lot of people, mostly tourists from the West. All bars, clubs and discos are always overcrowded. Noise, smoke, different shows (go-go, burlesk etc) and Thai’s massage become the symbols of unforgettable Bangkok’s nights. When the night is over, if you still have forces, you can enjoy all the traditional attractions tourists usually visit. As Thailand's capital, Bangkok boasts the outstanding monuments of country’s past. Bangkok's best temples include Wat Trimitr with its five and a half ton solid gold Buddha, Wat Po with its huge reclining Buddha - the first traditional massage school in Thailand, (massages are avalable.) and Wat Banjamaborpitr - the White Marble Temple - one of Bangkok's most beautiful temples with impressive Thai architecture. Even if you're short on time you should visit with the Grand Palace - Bangkok's most famous landmark is a former residence of the Kings of Thailand. In November Bangkok hosts the Royal Rattanakosin Loy Krathong Festival. Loy Krathong is celebrated in different styles. This special festival includes a revival of traditional ceremonies, games, contests and competitions: Krathong Competition, and Thai costume contest. The festival lasts several days. You can choose only one of them – and see the most beautiful Thai’s traditions and the most impressive national dresses. Now, when you saw it all you can continue your vacations on Phuket, Pattaya or any other resort. Many tourists after visiting Bangkok decide to see Laos or Cambodia that are not so far away.
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