The giant pile of stacked bowls started to waver from side to side and threatened to topple over with each passing second. One of the girls grabbed the pile of bowls and moved it to an empty table next to me. She had to make more room for the continuous flow of 12 cent bowls of soup we ordered.
“Eat more, eat more,” she said, shoving another bowl of delicious Thai soup in front of my face. She grabbed a pile of meat with her chop sticks and dumped it into my soup.
“It good,” she said in broken English as she slurped noodles into her mouth. Her cousin took the bottle of Coca Cola and refilled my already partially filled drink.
“Hungry, you want more?” another girl named La-aor said.
“Sure, why not.” I was already three bowls in and there were no signs of stopping. The waiter carried over six more bowls of noodle soup and plopped them down on our table like a bored lunch lady at an elementary school. Chicken broth splattered upward and into the air like chocolate from a fondu fountain at a sweet sixteen party.
Our arms were like a pile of worms squirming this way and that. I couldn’t tell whose hand belonged to whose arm. The constant crisscross was almost like a rhythmic dance as we grabbed one bowl of soup after the other. I couldn’t help but get lost in the flow and the motion of slurp, chew, slurp, stack, grab, slurp, chew, slurp, stack, grab, on to the next one as my stomach grew wider and wider with each noodle and chicken ball I inhaled like a ravished dog.
I grabbed my wallet at the end of the meal to pay for my portion, only to get immediately turned down.
“No, no, for you, it’s free, it’s free.” I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to thank them and couldn’t think of anything I could give them in return. Their gift was greater than one I could have ever imagined.
I was in Lampang, Thailand, and had just spent a majority of the day on an adventure in search for Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat Phrachomklao Rachanusorn. There were no clear directions on how to get to this temple except for a simple blog post with rough directions.
The adventure I took was one of the most eye-opening days on this trip. Here is my story.
I woke up at 5:45 in the morning and caught my train from Chiang Mai to Lampang with 3 minutes to spare.
I stood on the crowded third class Thai train as I watched one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen as we zoomed over valleys and across bridges. The ball of fire peaked up from behind an evergreen mountain and lit up the sky the color of cotton candy. Swirls of blues, oranges and pinks blended together like a creamsicle.
I eventually found a seat in the cargo section of the train, and spent the next hour accompanied by boxes and piles of wood like I was an escapee hiding away.
I knew this journey would be challenging, but I didn’t realize to what extent. After getting off the train, I quickly realized that many of the people in Lampang did not speak English, and if they did, it is very broken and they only knew a few words.
I paid for a taxi driver to take me to a bus station I hoped was the right one. After getting out of the taxi, a Thai woman approached me to ask where I was going. I felt like I was suddenly a professional mime as I tried to tell this woman where I was going. All I needed was a painted face and a black and white shirt and I’d fool anyone around me. Like a medical student realizing the answer to a test question, her face soon lit up when she realized what I was trying to say. She laughed, grabbed my shoulder, and told me I was at the wrong bus stop.
I ended up taking an additional two taxis to get to Chaelom District, an area I roughly knew was where the temple should be, and two hours later, I arrived.
The cab jolted to a stop like a teenager learning how to use the breaks on a car, and I woke up, dazed and confused. A Thai girl, who I had roughly communicated with at the start of the ride, was staring at me.
“Here,” she said. I was finally in Chaelom District. Now I had to make it to the temple.
The Thai girl I had met in the cab told me she’d come up the mountain with me. At that moment, I realized she wanted to help me and make sure I saw the temple and made it back on time to catch my train. She took time out of her own day to help a completely confused backpacker.
On our way up the temple, I met another Thai family, a mother, daughter, and two sons who were visiting the temple.
The original Thai girl told me she had to go, but that this new Thai family would look after me. I spent the rest of the morning talking in broken English with the youngest son of the Thai family, Vmt. I quickly learned that he is in University in Bangkok and is on holiday. His sister is a few years younger, and his brother is a few years older and studies in Chiang Mai. He was shocked that I was traveling by myself.
We wandered around the temple together and were accompanied by a light and friendly silence.
At the top of the temple, I watched Vmt hit a gong three times and followed suit like a lost school child. I felt like a Thor wanna-be as I swung the handle towards the gong and made contact. It echoed through the mountains as if it were a deep rumble from a giant stumping through a valley.
“It’s what we do as tradition,” he said.
The temple is the most beautiful temple I have ever seen in my life. It’s a fairytale setting come true. Rainbow pillars sit on the edge of mountain rocks making it look like a Chinese folklore. Smaller white pillars sit on the other end of the temple as if they were tiny clouds that got stuck on the top of the mountain.
The horizon stretches for miles as Chaehong District sits beneath it. Meandering roads up the mountain mark the long path we took to make it up to this secluded spot.
I was the only non Thai person there. I spent a lot of the day in silence walking next to this Thai family who took me under their wing. However, I felt extremely comfortable and welcomed alongside them. They took pictures with me and we spent most of the day exchanging smiles and laughter at nothing in particular.
On the way down the mountain, a few women were talking in Thai about me. I knew this because they kept looking at me, talking, looking at me, talking. It was funny and I couldn’t help but smile at them.
A younger Thai woman looked at me and said, “I am going to Lampang, would you like to come with me?” My mouth gapped open in shock.
“Really? You wouldn’t mind?” I said. It was a two hour drive and she was offering to take me with her.
“Yes, I live in Lampang I can take you!” She said with a huge smile on her face.
I couldn’t be more thankful.
I met her three cousins, mom, dad, and three other family members as we piled into a pick up truck.
“Do you mind sitting in the back of the pick up?” She said to me. I didn’t hesitate. “Not at all!”
I plopped into the back of the pick up with three Thai girls. We spent the next hour and a half laughing as I grabbed my knotted hair and showed it to them. We took selfies and tried to block our faces from the unforgiving wind which toyed with our hair and licked our faces dry.
They shared their bananas and fruit with no name with me.
Before taking me to the train, we went out to lunch which they treated me to. I still had a few hours until my train, so we went to a temple together afterwards. While they prayed, I explore the temple which was filled with local Thai people. I was the only foreigner once again and loved every second.
They took me to the train and dropped me off a half an hour early.
But a day like this doesn’t end without a mishap. My train was delayed forty minutes, so I bought a banana roti at a nearby stand. As I sat stuffing my face with fried pancake goodness, I listened to an announcement in Thai and watched as a train pulled away from the platform.
Hopefully that wasn’t mine, I still have fifteen minutes, I thought to myself as the gooey goodness melted onto my tongue and zapped my mouth with deliciousness. An hour later I quickly realized that, yes, that was my train, and that the next one was at 2 a.m., 7 hours later.
What does one do in this situation? Quickly get into a monogamous relationship with Chang beer, reevaluate your life and your life decisions, and chug that beer as quickly as possible. Then, realize that busses exist, take a sketchy walk to the bus station, and hop on the next bus to Chiang Mai.
Problem solved. I was home by midnight.
To this day, I am still thankful and taken aback with what both of those families did for a complete stranger. Not only did they take me to the train, but they treated me to food and took me to a temple with them.
None of this would have happened if I had been with another person. The sheer fact that I was by myself (and completely lost) brought me this incredible, life changing experience. I sat on the bus on the way home almost with tears in my eyes as I realized the gratitude and sheer kindness that I had experience that day. I was unable to give anything in return, or nothing to the extent that both of those families had given to me. They asked for nothing in return, and simply took me in with their family and gave me a natural Thai experience.
The kindness of strangers makes me realize how beautiful this world truly is. I loved the challenge of not speaking English, of getting lost and found, and of finding my way through a town in Thailand I had barely even heard of. This is why I travel solo. It’s not easy, in fact, it can be very tough at times. But the experiences such as these are the reason I go for the challenge, the reason I search for off the beaten path places such as these.
Solo traveling is scary at first. Hell, you’re by yourself. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Allow the world to give you experiences and embrace them with open arms.
Let yourself be free. Don’t have any expectations. Once you let these stereotypes go, so many opportunities are given to you and you will have so many experiences you may not have had otherwise.
I was hesitant to go at first because I knew it would be a challenge, and there was a big chance I was not going to find the temple. However, I wanted to try and see if I could find it. If I never went I would never have known if I could do it.
And I did it.
And you can, too.